For the last couple of years my home town of Tralee, Co. Kerry, Ireland, The World has been gripped by running fever. The Tralee Marathon, first run in 2013, has been a great success, and is now complemented by a schools running programme and a regular series of shorter races.
And now, almost inevitably, Tralee has its own parkrun. The first Tralee parkrun took place this weekend, and I was there to take part.
Just as the Tralee Marathon was an immediate hit, I’m glad to report that the inaugural Tralee parkrun was a success too. Exactly 150 people, of all ages and speeds, turned out on a bright, crisp morning in the Town Park (or “the Green” for some locals). And of these 150 I finished 5th overall and first in my age category, with a time of 19:58 – just nipping in under the 20-minute mark.
What’s more, this was my first race in Tralee since my school sports days.
The Tralee parkrun course comprises three laps of the park, starting near the Ashe Hall and going clockwise along the church side, then the Presentation girls’ school side, then past my old secondary school, CBS The Green, then along by the Siamsa Tíre theatre, and back around the Ashe Hall. To make up the exact 5-kilometre distance, on each lap there’s a short out-and-back detour behind the Presentation school and beside the old athletics field. The course rises noticeably going up to The Green school but gives it back with a descent on the Siamsa Tíre side.
I enjoyed the Tralee course, but for a parkrunner wearing a no-nonsense PB-chasing game-face it mightn’t be ideal. A three-lap course means the faster runners will have to overtake the slower ones and the walkers. That out-and-back detour has a 180-degree turn around a traffic cone, which will slow you down a little.
But even a PB-chasing curmudgeon like me knows that parkruns are as much about the socialising, participating and not scaring other park users as about the fast times.
That’s easy for me to say when I’m feeling happy after a good run. My recent time of 20:47 at Tymon parkrun in Dublin was a post-Christmas workout that was slower than my real form. A sub-20 minute 5k is closer to my current capabilities, and I hope to make sub-20 the norm during 2015.
The thrill of a race in my home town obviously helped. I blasted out hard at the start and had to remind myself to settle into a more sensible pace. As an imperialist I was glad that the three-lap course allowed me to make splits in miles, 5 kilometres being roughly 3.1 miles. I finished the first lap in around 6:30, or 19:30 pace, but I factored the fast start into that.
On the second lap I had to pick my way past some walkers and slower runners. One pair of people I passed let out a sigh and an “Oh God, we’re so slow!” – whether that was good-humoured self-deprecation or genuine demoralisation, it made me feel a little guilty. I also felt awkward thundering past some of the older people shuffling towards the back gate of St John’s Church – I have no problem with bowling over other park users in Dublin parkruns, but how dare anyone do it to my native OAPs! Anyway, no one gave out or shook a walking stick in anger.
Fearing I’d get frustrated if I checked my time and was off sub-20 pace, I didn’t look at my watch at all on the third and final lap. I was still feeling a little post-Christmas sluggishness and that led me to think I was working harder than usual in a race. Still, as I came to the last few hundred metres a voice in my head convinced me to sprint for the finish. I can remember the voice saying that if I didn’t, “you’ll be sorry”.
And so I blasted off around the back of the Ashe Hall for the run-in.
Imagine my surprise and delight when I crossed the finish, checked my watch and saw that I had sneaked under 20 minutes for a time of 19:58. The voice in my head was right: a 20:01 time would have left me devastated. Kids, ignore what your juvenile parole officer says: always listen to the voices in your head.
Well done to the organisers and volunteers who got the Tralee parkrun off to a great start. I’ll give it another go on a future visit home – although before that I may be doing a longer race in Tralee. More on that soon.