In a walled garden behind the coffee shop at Marlay Park in Dublin you can see a real live peacock, colourful feathers and all, pecking serenely on the lawn for your admiration.
Peacocking probably isn’t in keeping with the volunteerism and community spirit of parkrun, the weekly timed 5k run popping up in parks across the UK, Ireland and beyond. Nonetheless, I feel like crowing about my run at the Marlay parkrun this morning.
It was my first ever parkrun – and I clocked a new 5k personal best too.
It being the first parkrun weekend of 2014, there were plenty other newbies there too – Christmas excess and New Year resolutions surely motivated a fair few of the 400 runners who turned up at Marlay Park this morning. Luckily, the weather was perfect for running: sunny, calm and crisp instead of the storms that have been battering Ireland this week.
Armed with my laminated barcode, I arrived just as many of the runners were gathered near Marlay House for a mass warm-up – dynamic, not static stretches. I could feel the familiar pre-race bloodbuzz, but with less of the usual starting-area tension and more of a relaxed vibe. I was mindful of my 5k personal best of 21:28, set a few weeks earlier at the Aware Christmas Run – how would the intervening Christmas blur of biscuit tins affect my running?
I’ve run in Marlay Park before, so I knew most of the Marlay parkrun course already. The run starts on the grass before joining the path for a lap of the concert field in front of Marlay House. Unlike the narrow, crowded starting pen of your usual race, the starting field of runners this morning was spread out wide across the grass, so that when the starting siren sounded we charged off like cavalry. This made the first corner a little hairy, as everyone bunched to swing onto the path – but that was the only slight discomfort of the run.
That lap of the concert field was the first kilometre, which I covered in around 4 minutes and 5 seconds to put me roughly on schedule to set a new personal best. But even at that early stage my legs and my breathing were both heavy – from my Christmas excesses perhaps, but also from my Christmas running streak and my long run on Christmas Day. This first parkrun was threatening to give me a hiding.
The second kilometre took us along a forest path by the lake. Due to the recent rain the gravel path was muddier terrain than I’m used to, so I had to expend some valuable energy in picking my steps and taking extra care not to slip. That said, it felt exciting to run through the woods in almost single file – the thrill of a new experience, and a nice change from road races and street training.
The middle of the course swings uphill to the back of the park, so we had a steady climb for the first half of kilometre three. Now my breathing was noticeably heavier. I almost laughed to recall how I ran a marathon with greater ease back in October than I was running this 5k today. My parkrun wasn’t getting any better – I went through the third kilometre in 13 minutes, which meant I was slowing down.
Thankfully, I turned things around after that. I didn’t have to use any mantras, although by now I’ve brainwashed myself to belief subconsciously that “I’m running faster than I think”. No, I must admit that I threw the parkrun community spirit to the ditch and got good and competitive.
Now don’t judge me too sternly, but… into the fourth kilometre I saw up ahead of me on the path a lad who was probably only around 12 or 13 years old. He was running with the natural exuberance of youth and seemed to weigh less than a flea. I wasn’t going to be beaten by this pipsqueak, this non-shaver.
So I pulled up beside the lad and then overtook him, kicking on and leaving him in my wake. Yes, I admit it – I took down a child.
The fourth kilometre was downhill, so I picked up momentum and felt the legs loosen slightly. By now the race buzz was in my bloodstream and I had my gameface on. We passed the 4-kilometre marker in around 16 and a half minutes, so as we turned for the final lap around the concert field I knew I was finishing strongly and was even within striking distance of a new P.B.
Next up ahead of me was a guy in a light cotton tracksuit that made it look as if he was running in a pair of pyjamas. Just as defeat to a minor would have been unthinkable, I could not countenance the indignity of losing to someone in pyjamas. My target was clear: take down Pyjama Man!
And take him down I duly did. I don’t like to look back at the tears and trembling of those whom I take down. “Leave the man some dignity,” I thought, “despite his choice of attire.”
Turning at the top of the concert field, I looked down the course and saw the finishing chute ahead. Show me a finish line and I’ll kick for home, no matter what has gone before. I closed in on two guys running side by side, and I decided to save my energy for a final kick past them.
So, like a seasoned miler, I sat behind them until we got onto the grassy last hundred metres run-in to the line. Then with one last kick I blasted past them and ran in home.
At the line I got my finishing token and my time called out to me – 20:55, a new personal best!
My first parkrun was a great success, then. I’ll go back to Marlay parkrun soon, and I hope to do the other Dublin parkruns during the year too. My other goal for 2014 is to get under 20 minutes for 5 kilometres, so that’s more motivation for me to keep up the parkruns.
And once I go sub-20, wait and see how I’ll be peacocking then!