Park run

This morning, after staying up too late doing nothing much in particular, I was woken at seven by the dulcet tones of the alarm on my phone. This was not the best preparation for a race, I guess. (My best result was when I went to Osaka, on my own, and didn’t do anything fun at all; one of my worst results was when I went to Osaka and my wife flew all the way from Hong Kong with a fruit pie, the day before the race, but there were other reasons for the lamentable marathon I ran on the following day, mostly related to not doing any training for three months.)

I had my wonderfully nutritious pre race meal (am effervescent vitamin pill in a glass of water, two slices of fruit bread and a banana) then got dressed and then got a lift over to Crystal Palace park.

It was a beautiful day. Later on in the morning, ominous grey clouds appeared, but at 8:30 it was a clear, crisp day.

At 8:30 there was also nobody else there, just a Parkrun banner and a road cone at the start line. I ran a kilometre around the lake to try to warm up a bit (very thankful that I wore a tshirt instead of a singlet), stretched a bit and chatted to another runner, and all of a sudden lots of people turned up.

It felt like a very British, grassroots affair. Apart from the roadcone and the banner, there was no ceremony, versus every race I’ve attended in Singapore, where a speech from a Member of Parliament and an over-the-top exhortation to have fun, followed by a man from an aerobics class trying to make you do ten minutes of star jumps, is apparently mandatory. There was an attempt to make everyone warm up (twenty seconds of derisory jogging in the spot, because everyone was probably warmed up anyway) and then a man walked past, yelling that all the runners should stick to one side of the path and not obstruct him on his bike. His invisible bike that he wasn’t riding. It’s not a proper British event until you get heckled by a passer-by with a chip on his shoulder.

Then "3-2-1-go!" and everyone went off like the clappers. The start is slightly uphill, then more uphill. (To my chagrin, when I walked back afterwards I realised that the start is actually slightly downhill, which makes me feel even lazier.)

You go right, and it’s flat, then you go left, and up, then right, and still up, then right again, down a looser path, left, down a bit more until you reach the start, then do it again one and a half times. Simple.

My legs felt dead from a hundred yards in; as per usual, I charged out of the gate far too fast and stuck with the top ten for a kilometre, then gradually fell back until I finished in 27th pace, having been overtaken by both an old man and a young boy. Still, I was done in 21:29, which, although not as quick as my sessions at the track, wasn’t bad after two weeks of almost complete inactivity.

At the end, there’s a man with a stopwatch, and then you’re given a small piece of laminated card with a bar code on it, corresponding to the order in which you cross the finish line. They scan this, along with a bar code you brought along that identifies you, a computer does some work and two hours later I was looking at my results, and rueing not warming up properly. Then again, the winning time was 16:something, and I was never going to get near that.

Doing exercise early on should leave you happy and energised for the day ahead, but I didn’t have a restorative breakfast for another hour or so, and a Danish pastry is not the most amazing diet for an athlete, so for the rest of the day I’ve been a bit of a wobbly mess. But that’s fairly normal for me. It wasn’t normal trying to get my suitcase closed, as in the past two weeks the contents have metastatised into a behemoth of unwashed laundry, child paraphernalia and undifferentiated stuff. But some of that was self-inflicted.

Whether this was good preparation for going to the VAT returns desk at Heathrow to claim two entire British Pounds of tax rebate or not is up to the reader to discern.

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