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Saturday, 31 December 2011

My first parkrun audio blog

Here is a link to my first Audioboo style blog post. I just thought I'd give it a go to try it out. It was a "one take" effort, so not perfect. Please feel free to comment and let me know if you think this new format adds or detracts from my blog!

Click here to have a listen, it's less than 2 minutes long!

Thank you parkrun!

I think its only right that my very last parkrufan blog post of the year is a big, big thank you to parkrun, parkrun HQ and in particular everyone at my home parkrun in Coventry for making it another fantastic parkrunning year.

I feel very fortunate to have parkrun in my life and I know I am extremely lucky to have a parkrun almost on my doorstep, less than a 10 minute warm-up jog away. My one wish for would be parkrunners for 2012 is that many more of you are as lucky as I am to get one of these fantastic events in your local park.

Its been another amazing year of growth for parkrun, doubling the number of events and runners each week. Lets hope we see similar growth in the 2012 olympic year. Lets hope parkrun gets Brittain running!

Thank you once again to everyone that makes parkrun the amazing event that it is week in and week out. You all do a great job, thank you!

Friday, 30 December 2011

A chance to be a parkrun tourist

Coventry parkrun and its race director are taking a well earned break tomorrow. This gives me and the rest of the Coventry parkrunners a great opportunity to become parkrun tourists.

For me it will be my first parkrun at any location other than Coventry. I have considered running at other parkrun events before, but the location of the Coventry event is so convenient for me that there has never been any good reason to head elsewhere.

So this cancellation of the Coventry event forces me to become a parkrun tourist for the first time, something I have really wanted to do for quite a while. In fact, it means that I manage to tick off one more of my targets for the year right at the very end of the year. This time last year I stated that running at another parkrun location was something I wanted to do in 2011.

So then the question is where should I do my parkrun this weekend? The closest three seem to be Brueton, Braunstone and Leamington. And for no particular reason other than it probably being the closest I have chosen Leamington.

If I understand correctly this means it will be a PB of sorts, being my first run at that location. I also hear that Leamington may not be the fastest of courses, but given my current state of injury comeback that doesn't bother me at all.

I'll try and blog my thoughts on Leamington parkrun and becoming a parkrun tourist for the first time at some point over the weekend. Happy parkrunning one and all!

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Review: parkrun targets for 2011

Almost exactly a year ago I wrote a blog post setting out my parkrun targets for 2011.

I thought now would be the right time to look back at those targets and see how well (or poorly) I have done. I haven't really looked back at them or given them much thought this year and with all my injury problems over the last 7 or 8 months I am not expecting to have done very well.

I split that original blog post into two parts, general aims and some specific targets. I will rate how I have done in bold immediately after each aim and target. So here goes.....

First of all I set out some general aims as follows. I said I would like to:

- Complete 50 parkruns in total and get the 50 parkruns t-shirt.
At the time of writing (23rd December) I have run 48, with numbers 49 and 50 planned for Christmas Eve and New Years Eve. So I may still achieve this aim.

- Run at least 30 Coventry parkrun events in the year, but hopefully nearer to 40 if possible.
25 so far, so maximum of 27 - FAILED! But closer than I expected.

- Achieve at least 5 new PBs.
Ouch! I only managed 1, way back in February - FAILED. But what a PB, a 25 second improvement from 18:14 down to 17:49, so I am not too disappointed!

- Win my first parkrun event.
SUCCESS, winning my first and only (to date) event on the 12th February, getting that huge PB in the process.

- Perhaps I might even do my first parkrun at another location.
FAILED, but there is always next year!

From those general aims I set out the following definitive targets.. I must:

- Get a new PB before the end of February.
SUCCESS - that huge PB!

- Take my PB below 18 minutes before the end of April.
SUCCESS, that very same run!

- Take my PB below 17:45 before the end of 2011.
FAILED, but so so close!

- Finish in the top 5 of the male points table.
FAILED, unfortunately too many missed events and the latter part of the year running in the mid-field and towards the back certainly haven't helped.

- Finish in the top 10 in at least 75% of events attended
FAILED, I have managed this in only 13 of the 25 events I have taken part in. So only just over 50%.

Considering the injury filled year I have had, I didn't do too badly with my aims and targets. Lets hope next year goes just a little bit better, hopefully with a few less injuries!

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Christmas parkrun fun

It was another fantastic morning for a parkrun.

I wouldn't say it is exactly mild today, but running at 7 minute mile pace for 3.1 miles in three layers (with the top layer being felt!), two hats, two pairs of socks and gloves was a little too much as it turns out! I very nearly overheated I think.

Yet another superb parkrun though. An amazing 225 parkrunners finished the run today at the Coventry event. An incredible turnout given what day it is.

After the parkrun and the catch up with parkrun friends, three of us headed off for a bit of an extra run - in our Santa suits!

We headed out on a route of about 3 miles or so. This part of the run was just as much fun as the parkrun itself. I suppose three men running along busy streets is not something you see everyday.

Every few seconds we were getting flashed and beeped and plenty of waves. You would think most of this would be from cars with young kids in the back, but surprisingly many of the most enthusiastic wavers were women on their own. I think women must love Santa. There aren't many days of the year that three 30 something men can run around in fancy dress and get waves from women!

It was a lot of fun and felt great to put so many smiles on faces. Even if many were probably laughing at us rather than with us, but I'll take that anyway.

Looking forward to doing again next year!

Friday, 23 December 2011

parkrun at Christmas

As we all know, parkrun is brilliant the whole year through, but I for one believe it becomes just a little bit more special around Christmas time.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and (as far as I know) every single parkrun around the country (and beyond) is intending to stage its weekly event as usual, subject to the weather of course! Thanks to a core group of fantastic volunteers every parkrunner knows that they can turn up at any one of these incredible events and enjoy their usual parkrun fix. All these volunteers are giving up the morning of Christmas Eve willingly and free of charge so that others can run. That in itself is pretty amazing.

Now if you are as lucky as we are at Coventry parkrun, you may find that your local parkrun is putting on a Christmas Day event too. Please check the Crispy Christmas Compendium to be sure. Now, if a parkrun on Christmas Eve wasn't amazing enough, you can also run on Christmas Day! Not only that, but you will find that there will be people there to volunteer just so that others can run. These people, volunteering for free for the good of their local parkrun community are just brilliant! and we should all be very grateful to them.

The fact that we get these parkrun events so close to (and during) Christmas isn't the only thing that makes me think parkrun is a bit more special at this time of year. All you have to do is look around at parkrun this weekend and you will notice how happy everyone is to be there. parkrunners are always happy to be at parkrun, but the smiles will be a little broader and the banter even more friendly. There will be people in fancy dress, whether its an official Santa run or not, and everyone will be having just a little bit more fun than usual. I'd even go as far as to say that the friendliness and Christmas spirit that you see at parkrun at Christmas time can put you perfectly in the mood for the big day.

If you do manage to make it to a parkrun on Christmas Eve and especially so on Christmas Day, please do remember that the volunteers are giving up their time so that you can run. So if you can spare the breath during your run, or alternatively before or after the run, do try to say thank you to each and every volunteer or possibly even a shout out a "Merry Christmas!" as you pas them. The volunteers will be happy to be there anyway, but this little gesture of goodwill will go a long way.

Finally, I'd just like to wish everyone a very good parkrun for tomorrow and Christmas Day (if you are lucky enough to be doing one) and a very Happy Christmas and New Year!

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Santa parkrun is....great fun

Yesterday saw the second official Coventry Santa parkrun. Considering the very cold conditions it was still a very good turn out at just under 150.

It was good to see so many getting into the Christmas spirit. Plenty of full Santa suits, a Rudolph, a present, lots of Santa hats and even a very festive Elvis Presley made it to the start line!

On Friday I laid down a challenge (on the Coventry parkrun Facebook page) to other parkrunners to try to beat (what I believe) is the Coventry parkrun record for a fully suited up Santa. Last year, at the first annual Coventry Santa parkrun, I managed a time of 18:35 to finish in 2nd place.

I even mentioned this "record" time to my brother, knowing that he would probably be the fastest Santa on the day, with me still in no fit state to run anywhere near that kind of time. I thought this was a very risky tactic for my record, but what value does a record really have if no one knows it even exists?

And so the challenge was set!

Running at my own pace, again significantly quicker than last week, but slow enough to feel that I wasn't risking injury I was a long way from the front of the field so had no real idea who the lead Santa was.

It wasn't until nearly 18 minutes into the run that I had any idea whether my record would be broken. At this stage I saw that my brother Andy was indeed the lead Santa and he seemed to be on target for one or two seconds either side of my record time. It looked like it would be very close.

I then had to wait another 6 minutes until I had finished to find out from Andy that he thought he had missed it by 1 or 2 seconds. As it turned out it was 3 seconds. A great effort but not quite this year!

With it being Christmas eve next week, a number of us have agreed to get a bit more use out of our Santa suits this year and do the same again. The question is, should Andy (or anyone else) beat my time, will it count as "the record" or does only the official Santa parkrun count? I'm sure there will be plenty of friendly banter discussing that next week!

Looking forward to another (unofficial) Santa parkrun next week! Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Friday, 16 December 2011

The parkrun 50-club

I am now rapidly approaching my 50th completed parkrun.

As I am sure most readers will be well aware and no doubt already members of, completing your 50th parkrun gets you into the 50 club and entitles you to the fantastic 50-club t-shirts. Adidas, one of parkrun's official sponsors gives these away to all parkrun 50-club members for free. Isn't that amazing! Not only do we get all the fun of parkrun for free, but once you reach 50 runs you get a t-shirt for free. Not only that, but if you have seen the new 50-club (technical) t-shirts, they are fantastic and far nicer than the old Nike ones. They look the part, I believe they are made of the right materials and are therefore breathable and they are the must have parkrun status symbol!

There are of course also the elusive 100 and 250 clubs and the associated t-shirts, but they are (probably) many years off for me t the current rate, so I'll concentrate on the 50 club for now!

It's has been an up and down parkrun year for me. There was the high of my 17:49 PB in February followed by months of disappointingly recurring injury problems. Those injury problems have significantly hampered my progression towards joining the parkrun 50-club. At one stage I was on target for reaching the milestone in late September. That shows just how many events I have missed.

I said that I was approaching my 50th "completed" parkrun. I say "completed" because there have been a few (maybe 3 or 4) that I have started and not completed. Amazingly, with all the injuries I have had, only one was due to injury. The others were runs started with my kids and stopped half-way. The kids enjoy parkrun and want to complete one (well they do before they start), but half way through they have always had enough and its better to stop before they hate it (or me!).

So the 50th run and joining the 50 club beckons. I believe I have completed 47 parkruns now. As long as I don't have any injury problems in the meantime, tomorrow will be number 48, Christmas Eve will be 49 and (I can't do Christmas day) New Years Eve (Coventry parkrun #99) will be my 50th!

Hopefully I will be one of the last parkrunners to join the 50-club in 2011 and if I don't manage that, then one of the first of 2012. 50-club, make room for another member, I'm on my way!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

A few Christmas running bargains

Just a few running bargains that I have spotted on Amazon this evening:

Santa parkrun 2011

Its the week of the Coventry parkrun Santa run and my Santa outfit has made it back down from the loft and is ready to go.

I loved the Santa parkrun last year. Probably in part because I nearly managed my first parkrun win, missing out by about an inch, but also just because I think its fun to run in fancy dress, particularly when you still run well.

A few years ago my brother and I did the Coventry fun run dressed as ladies. Out of the 5000+ finishers that year we came 19th and 20th I think. I find it pretty funny that dressed as ladies (and I mean full dresses, filled bras and handbags!) we still managed to finish so close to the front. So I think I enjoyed the Santa parkrun last year for similar reasons.

To be honest last year was the first Coventry Santa parkrun and as a result the number of people in fancy dress wasn't that high. This year I expect it to be a much higher percentage of Santas, Elves, Reindeer amd other Christmas themes.

If you are thinking of buying a Santa suit for your own Santa run then I have found this selection on Amazon:

If anyone is fancies the Coventry parkrun Santa run it takes place the Saturday at 9am in War Memorial Park in Coventry.

I'm pretty sure there will parkrun Santa runs all over the country over the next couple of weekends. In fact I have just found that you can find a full list of Santa runs here.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Another beautiful day for a parkrun

A little bit of a delay posting this one after a busy weekend, but what a lovely day for a parkrun we had in Coventry on Saturday.

There is no doubting that it was a touch on the chilly side, but crisp and sunny would be the best way to describe the conditions. We are now reaching the time of the year when anything other than moderate conditions sees the numbers reduced down to the core of passionate parkrunners. That said, Coventry parkrun still managed to exceed 150 runners. Given the fact that it was cold enough for the course to have plenty of icy patches that isn't a bad turn out.

It's easy to let cold and icy weather put you off from turning out at parkrun. I think those that don't turn up are missing out. They probably have no idea how many actually do turn up whatever the weather. Its pretty incredible to see to be honest. The most amazing of these occasions is when we get snow. These parkruns have to be the most enjoyable of the year. Everyone knows that we run at our own risk and almost everyone takes it easy and just has a great time as a result. Safe to say I am probably one of the only parkrunners looking foward to the next parkrun in the snow.

I believe at least one or two parkruns around the country weren't so lucky this week with ice stopped play in a couple of cases. Safety first always has to be the sensible approach of course.

Almost unbelievably Coventry parkrun saw a winning time of 16:14 which is some going in decent conditions but, given that half the course was more suited to speed-skating than running, this is very impressive. I never did find out which one of Torville and Dean it was! It might even have been Wilf O'Reilly (who?)!

As for me I managed another stepping stone back to full fitness by completing the whole course running (albeit at a comfortable pace) without stopping once. Fingers crossed my softly softly approach to this comeback will continue to work.

Friday, 9 December 2011

parkrunday Tomorrow!

Its every parkrunners' farourite day of the week tomorrow - its parkrunday! (the new name for Saturday)

Personally I'm looking forward to it a great deal. It should be another stepping stone back towards full fitness.

Luckily there have been no side-effects whatsoever from my midweek physio pummelling. So much so that I felt confident enough to run today without fearing any risks of soreness prior to parkrunday tomorrow.

I managed to run slightly over 2 miles today, in a little over 18 minutes, averaging what my iPhone says was 8:46 per mile. I only stopped then as it was time to get back to work. It didn't feel like it would be any great risk to have run further. Better than this was the fact that I ran the whole time. Only last week at parkrun all I felt up to was 3 minutes jogging in any one stretch and now I have managed 18 minutes at a faster pace without any signs of trouble.

I have a lot more confidence as a result of todays run and I believe that I should be able to run at a similar pace tomorrow and hopefully run the full 5km (3.1 miles). I don't exepct that to cause any problems at all as it felt completely fine at that speed today.

It feels great to be slowly working my way back up to speed and it feels even better to be able to start a run of consecutive parkruns. Fingers crossed that continues and I get a really good run of events without any signs of injury.

And so I fall back into the Saturday morning routine of getting up early to get breakfast down, warm up and stretch before our beloved parkrun. I may even consider jogging up to the start line rather than driving. I think I am up to that too.

parkrunday tomorrow - bring it on!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

More (but less) physio pain!

Another Wednesday and another painful deep massage session with the physio!

This time he "had to apply much more pressure" in order to reach my pain threshold, or so he said. It was true to be honest, when he started off applying the deep massage it was nowhere near as bad as last week.

As I assume that any decent physio could, he could clearly tell that I was reasonably comfortable and he proceeded to increase the applied pressure of the massage until I reached (breaking point) similar pain levels to last week. Whether it was just his sadistic side or the fact that deeper massage is better for me at the moment I don't know. I can only assume that he was just pushing me as far as he could for beneficial purposes. The greater the applied pressure the better chance of breaking down the scar tissue I suppose.

He assured me that the calf injury must have improved since last week as he "really did have to put a lot more into the massage". At one point he even told me that his thumbs were really painful. I could only laugh and say "good!". That was me getting him back for last week when he said "I could say I'm sorry but I'd be lying" and "its not going to hurt me!".

The banter between us is great. Even if it is one way (from him) once the pain really kicks in! I think that may be one of the indicators he uses to know when he has reached my limit. i.e. I shut up. That and the biting the pillow, the red face and the fact that I am trying to escape through the base of the treatment table as I arch away from his grasp!

I am very pleased to say that we have scheduled another session of pain for a week today. "same time same place" he said in a slightly too jolly tone. Of course. What fun! I can't wait!

Some very promising signs though. Last week I hobbled away from the session an almost broken man. This week I was positively prancing across the car park. Not quite skipping, but walking pretty normally. So it can't have been that bad, can it! Or perhaps, hoping beyond hope, the leg really is improving. Fingers crossed there will be no bad reaction tomorrow and I can start to plan towards parkrun this coming Saturday. I may even try to jog the whole way.

Monday, 5 December 2011

parkrun is...only 5km

There are so many running events out there that are available to the general public. These range from the really short to the ridiculously long but, of them all, parkrun must have the best distance to balance being long enough for serious runners, short enough to entice those starting out and just about perfect for everyone in between.

I think we are all well aware of the 3 most common distances for major organised runs. Those being the 10km, half and full marathons. We all see plenty of these advertised all over the country and beyond. These are intriguing, enticing and the mainstay for serious runners, or those going out on a limb for the sake of a challenge. But are these distances really the way to attract new people into running? After all none of them are exactly easy to achieve if you have never run before. They all require significant periods of training, or at least they do if you follow proper advice. Perhaps that is the attraction and maybe that is why they are so popular. But I do often wonder how many people do these for the first time and are put off for life. Or how many people only do these events once a year and don't really get into running in between, because they find that this kind of serious running just isn't for them. That would hardly be surprising with this type of "in at the deep-end" approach. They are just a little too far for many.

There are of course longer organised runs. I'm talking about ultra-marathons. These events are just incredible and certainly not for the beginner. I often read John Kynaston's Ultra Running Diary blog. I once read about him "hitting the wall" at something like 63 miles, only to somehow recover to complete the last 31 miles of a 94 mile run. Incredible, but as I say, certainly not for most of us.

Over the last few years we have also seen events such as the Sport Relief mile take off. Obviously this is a charity event and is concentrating heavily on raising money rather than the distance, but it is also a well chosen distance for younger kids. However, the mile isn't really long enough to be a regular run for most people. You hardly feel like you have started before its over. Its not really quite a distance run.

So we come to the perfectly placed 5km distance of parkrun. Its nowhere near as daunting as a 10km or half marathon, where we are all normally tempted to start our timed distance running. It can be walked in well under an hour if jogging becomes too tough. For the average parkrunner it tends to take somewhere around 25 minutes, with many more finishing between 25 and 40 minutes. For most people 5km is an achievable distance. It is only 3.1 miles after all. Its also important to say that it doesn't matter what time you do it in, there is no cut off time (other than for politeness to the organisers if you are likely to take over an hour say).

You don't even need to train to run a 5km. Of course you can train, but you don't need to. If anything, parkrun (can  and probably will) become your training. Most likely, parkrun will make you want to run and to train, if nothing else, just to improve your parkrun PB.

These days there are even iPhone apps to encourage us to run. One of these, the very popular couch to 5km running plan concentrates on getting non-runners up to running the 5km parkrun distance. 5km is clearly a target that people in the know believe is the right distance to aim for to get non-runners running.

The fact that parkrun courses tend to be circular (or similar), and often cover multiple laps, it is normally pretty easy to drop out where you started without completing the course if you find it to be too far. You can always try again the next week.

The parkrun 5km is also challenging enough to attract numerous club runners each week and many of the really decent club runners at that. All over the country we see many, many sub 17 minute runs (and frequently far quicker than that) every week. These are not times to be sniffed at. You can't just turn up and run sub 17 minutes, you have to be a fast runner to do those times. This only goes to show that the parkrun 5km distance is attractive to really decent runners as well as to the rest of us.

Thank you parkrun for choosing 5km, its perfect!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

A personal worst, but I couldn't be happier!

Well somehow I managed it, a parkrun without getting injured!

More than that, I managed to set myself the challenge of not going too fast and I stuck to that too. I had decided to partly jog and partly walk, setting the balance between the two states of relative slowness as felt appropriate during the run. As it turned out I was able to split it roughly 50-50 and it felt great just to have done that. I did feel one very slight twinge during the second lap, but I immediately slowed to a walk for a while and when I sped up to a jog again there were no issues with the dodgy calf.

In the end it took me 38 minutes 40 seconds to finish in 153rd place out of 160 and I really couldn't be happier with that. It's a stepping stone back to fitness. I know I could have done a bit more or gone a little faster without problems, but I'll save that for next week. The great thing is that I am back doing parkrun and as a result I have taken one step closer to that elusive parkrun 50-club t-shirt, which I can't wait to earn.

To be perfectly honest, I don't think I enjoyed it any less than any other parkrun that I have taken part in. Don't get me wrong, I love giving it my all for a really fast time, but I enjoyed it yesterday just the same.

I have to say a huge thank you to the volunteers. I have often experienced their encouragement whilst running towards the front of the pack, but it was great to see that the levels of support were just the same for those at the back. I felt a little embarrassed the first couple of times, especially when I was walking, but I soon realised that I shouldn't. It was genuine encouragement and it helped give me that usual warm feeling of being part of the parkrun community. Thanks again volunteers.

A day on and I am very glad to say that I have had no bad reaction to the walking and jogging, which is great news. So now my attentions turn to parkrun next week. Hopefully I'll get on the bike once or twice this week for fitness purposes. I may even try a jog round the block in the week. The aim now has to be to work towards jogging the whole way if and when the calf is up to that. Whether that is possible next week I shall have to wait and see.

All in all I think I'll need to build my confidence in the calf gradually over the coming weeks and months, but yesterday was certainly a good step in the right direction.

Friday, 2 December 2011

To parkrun, or not to parkrun (tomorrow)? That is the question...

To parkrun, or not to parkrun (tomorrow)? That is the question...

And the very simple answer would have to be "not". But things aren't really as simple as that.

On Wednesday I had my session of pain with the physio and my calf is still very sore. On Wednesday evening I fell ill, have been in bed since and still feel pretty bad and dehydrated. So common sense tells me that running at parkrun would again be a bad idea. However, as I was reminded last week you don't have to run at parkrun.

I discussed my return to parkrun with my physio on Wednesday and told him that my intention was to return to parkrun this Saturday and try to mostly walk with a bit of jogging. He agreed that this should be safe. If anything he was saying that I should try to progress a bit more quickly than the 1 minute walk 1 minute jog (at walking pace) that I was suggesting. So in theory that was what I wanted to do tomorrow.

I suppose the sickness has changed things a bit. But the way I am progressing today, I expect to feel fine by tomorrow morning.

The parkrun 50-club t-shirt is also still there on the horizon, just five runs away, which is another big tempting factor. I saw what they looked like last week and can't wait to earn my own. How can I claim to be a "parkrunfan" if I don't even have the t-shirt?

If I do my parkrun tomorrow I think it is safe to say that I will beat my recent all-time slowest time of 33:14, set when pacing my friend Mike round at the spooky Halloween run. By beat I of course mean "run slower than".

All in all I think I should be up to a part walk, part jog at parkrun tomorrow. The fresh air will no doubt do me good after being in my bed for most of the last 36 hours!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Physio pain!

Wow, did my physio give me a good going over on my calf yesterday!

Its the first time I have seen him for a few months, probably since August. I was seeing him for at least a couple of months about my ongoing calf strain. In August we had finally reached the point where the strength and flexibility of the calf seemed good and he basically thought he could do no more to help me and it was just a case of more strengthening exercises and a gradual comeback.

Well yesterday it was as if he and my calf were making up for lost time. He did the usual assessment for the first session back and decided that the softly, softly approach was out the window and we were heading into the realm of deep massage!

In my semi-pro footballing days I had a number of persistent injury problems, the worst of which was my right hamstring. Those hamstring strains were often treated by the club physios with deep massage. I had remembered it being a painful experience, but the mind is clever and blocks out memories of extreme pain, as I'm sure mothers of two of more will agree. Not that I am saying that deep massage and childbirth are in the same league. I found childbirth quite painless to be honest!

So the physio set about the massage, nice and gently to start with, before gradually building up to the point where I wouldn't have been surprised to look round (I was lying on my front) and have found a 50 stone man putting all his weight through my calf muscle.

How my leg didn't break I have no idea. More than that, with all the straining against the pain, I have no idea how I didn't let out a little (or big) puff of wind straight in his direction.

We briefly discussed a few products that might help with the massage process. One of which was the 66fit Foam Roller that I have since found on Amazon. As follows:

Eventually our friendly conversation turned into a one way stream of him telling me "I'd say sorry, but I wouldn't mean it" and "its not hurting me". This and my will not to cry (too much) finally turned my resistance to pained delirious laughing. I had to let it out somehow.

Finally he eased off and slowed to a stop. I got off the physio table and found that my pummelled leg was now reduced to hobbling again. Luckily that hasn't lasted, although the calf is still sore. I suppose its bound to be for a day or two. Then the physio happily turned his thoughts to "next time". Oh no, I have another 3 or 4 weeks of this. Thankfully he has given me a week to recover, both physically and mentally.

I left his company with a jovial "see you next week" and I even shook his hand and said thank you as if I had really enjoyed it, when actually I just wanted to cry at the prospect of doing it all again next week!

I can't wait. Not! Lets hope its a slow week.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Whatever happened to the Crispy Challenge?

Whatever happened to the Crispy Challenge? I hope to find out.

Unfortunately (for me) I hadn't even heard of parkrun when the 1st "Crispy Challenge" took place and I found out about "Crispy Challenge 2" far too late to join in.

So "what is the Crispy Challenge?" i hear you cry! As far a I can tell from the Crispy Challenge pages of the parkrun website, entrants to the challenge are invited to record their personal parkrun time targets to achieve during the period of the challenge. The website appears to suggest that the 1st challenge ran for 6 months and the second for 5 months.

I believe the idea is to see if you can use the challenge to encourage yourself to beat your target, set new PBs and even go beyond your target. I suppose the fact that you have submitted your targets for all to see can be just what some people need to make them get out there and set that all important PB. Its a great idea and I bet it works for a lot of people. I know it would work for me!

Now, the Crispy Challenge page suggests, and has suggested since November 2010, that (and I quote) "Crispy Challenge is taking a short break, but rest assured, CC3 will start sometime in the new year - stay tuned to Crispy Corner in the weekly newsletter for more details.". Admittedly it doesn't mention which 'new year', so perhaps 2012 is as good a target as any. I know that all at parkrun HQ are always extremely busy running parkrun and getting new events off the ground so this is honestly just a gentle reminder. I for one would be very interested in seeing a Crispy Challenge 3 started.

So parkrun HQ, and Crispy in particular, what is the plan for the Crispy Challenge? How about Crispy Challenge 3 for 2012? With 2012 being an (sorry "the") Olympic year you could maybe make it run right up until the start of the Olympics.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

My Sweatshop monthly prize win

I have just found this very old post, which I wrote in November 2010 and for some reason never published. So I thought now was as good a time as any!

Every month, at each different parkrun event, one parkrunner is selected to be the recipient of the Sweatshop monthly prize. The prize is a free pair of trainers fitted at a Sweatshop store.

Back in September 2010 I was lucky enough to be choosen as the winner of the prize for the Coventry parkrun for September. I had only heard about the prize in early August, probably about the time the July prize was announced. As a result I had set myself the challenge of trying to get as many PBs as possible in September in an attempt to win the prize.

As it turned out I managed 2 PBs during the month of September, taking 5 and then a further 7 seconds off my PB in the process. I also had a really good run of positions finishing inside the top 6 on all 4 occasions: 6th, 4th, 6th and 2nd. These were my 4 highest positions at the time.

I can only assume that it must have been a weak month (performance wise), as it seems that often 3 or even 4 PBs are required to win the Coventry prize most months. But I do feel I improved significantly as a result of the challenge of trying to win the prize.

At the next parkrun event a few people congratulated me and told me I had earned the prize. Others told me to make suse I went for the best pair of trainers possible. I did some research about the trainers stocked by Sweatshop and tried to work out which suited me best.

I waited a few weeks before heading off to Sweatshop to pick up my prize. I actually did this on my birthday to make it a bit of a parkrun birthday present as well. I choose to go to the Milton Keynes Sweatshop rather than the one in Birmingham, simply as we know Milton Keynes a little better.

The shop assisstant in Sweatshop was very helpful. I told him straight away that I was the parkrun monthly prize winner and we talked a little about how great parkrun is. He observed me running in my old trainers, and he told me they were completley shot and giving me no support at all. I told him I wanted to go for the top of the range Asics Gel Nimbus 12 Mens. He completely understood and said they were the "sports car" version of my existing ascics Stratus 2 "hatchbacks". At £105 [at the time] they came in at over double the most I had ever spent on a pair of trainers previously. I felt very fortunate to have been given these for free, just for doing something I loved doing!

I tried on the Asics Nimbus 12's and they felt amazing. So much cushioning! I realised immediately that the life of my old pair of Stratus 2's had expired. The shop assisstant observed me running again and said that they were perfect for my running style.

Since then, I have been a bit protective of my Nimbus 12's to be honest. I have only worn them 4 times so far. And that is in over 8 weeks since getting them. I have protected them from snow, rain and all the resulting mud. In the mean-time I have continued to wear the old Stratus 2's, but I think the new year will see me move over to the Nimbus 12's for every run other than the wettest and muddiest of conditions. I am starting to fear that any niggles I am feeling are due to the lack of cushioning in the old trainers. They have certainly seen better days.

I feel very lucky to have been choosen as the winner of the Coventry monthly prize in September. It would have been many more months before I would have considered buying myself a new pair of trainers and I certainly wouldn't have gone for such an expensive pair. Thank you very much to parkrun and Sweatshop!

[and now for a little update as of November 2011]

The  Asics Gel Nimbus 12 Mens trainers were fantastic, but with the mileage I have done since, even these are now only used for walking rather than running. Great trainers, the best I have ever had for sure! Even better now that I have just found them for £60 on Amazon. What a bargain! I might even be tempted to buy another pair even though I don't need them for a few months at least.

Monday, 28 November 2011

The views of a parkrun first timer

As I mentioned in my blog post yesterday, this weekend I introduced my brother-in-law to parkrun.

I thought this was the perfect opportunity to do a bit of an interview with him to find out the thoughts of a typical parkrun first timer. And this is how it went....

Q. How did you first hear about parkrun?
A. Through you! [me - Ian Wilkinson]

Q. What were you expecting parkrun to be?
A. A handful of running enthusiasts, with a couple more people to help out.

Q. How often do you run?
A. Typically twice a week. About 3km at most. I'm not a runner!

Q. Have you ever run a 5km before?
A Yes, but only ever on my own, never in a race or at an event. Not normally that far in a training run either.

Q. What did you think about parkrun on Saturday and how it is run?
A. I didn't expect it to be anywhere near as professional as it was. The standard of the runners, marshalls and general organisation was far higher than I would ever have thought. The barcode results registration system is brilliant and so simple for everyone.

Q. What did you think about the distance being 5km?
A. Its a very good distance to choose. You don't need to be as much of a runner as for a 10km, which is the typical lowest distance for organised events. What I mean by this, is that it is a more achievable distance for non-runners to get started.

Q. What did you think of the website/results system?
A. Again I was so surprised at how professional it is. parkrun must be as popular as it is in part due to how easy it is to register and get your results. I can already see how addictive this would become, seeing your times each week and having that PB target there each week.

Q. Would you do a parkrun event again?
A. Yes, the next time I am in Coventry!

Q. Will you be telling others about it?
A. I certainly will, but there is no event near us [the Wirral], so it's not very accessible for me and my local friends.

Q. Would you like a parkrun nearer to you? Where would you suggest?
A. Yes. I wouldn't want to drive to one, so it would need to be pretty local so that I could jog, walk or cycle to it. I think Ellesmere Port has a nice park. The wooded area at Eastham Ferry would be great for a trail parkrun.

Q. Do you have any criticisms of parkrun or any suggestions of how it could be improved?
A. Nothing to do with the parkrun event as it is, but purely on a personal note I would love to see a parkrun nearer to home [as mentioned previously]. I realise that as parkrun continues to grow this will become more likely.

Q. Is there anything else you would like to say?
A. As a parent of relatively young kids, I think this could be a great family event. Perhaps a shorter version could be run a couple of times a month. Maybe a 2km or 2.5 km run just for kids, possibly with shorter laps to allow them to drop out easily if they have had enough before the finish.

Some interesting answers there. Particularly the suggestion for the kids events (I know there are already kids events at other parkrun locations). The request for a Wirral parkrun just reminds me how lucky existing parkrunners are to have a parkrun on or near our doorstep. Lets hope that parkrun continues to grow so that others can be as lucky.

I'd like to say a big thank you to my brother-in-law (Chris) for both obliging me in letting me take him along to his first parkrun and then for giving me his thoughts by answering my questions. Cheers Chris.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Introducing a friend to parkrun

This weekend we had my brother and sister-in-law with us and even though I knew I couldn't yet risk a run myself due to the on-going injury problems, I still managed to convince my brother-in-law to make his parkrun debut.

I have certainly mentioned parkrun to him a number of times over the last year and a half that I have been taking part at Coventry parkrun. I must have been pretty convincing when recommending that he give it a go "one day" as he turned up with trainers and jogging bottoms and raring to go.

I have to admit that I have bombarded most of my family and friends over the last 18 months, almost giving them no chance to say "no", by saying "you must come on Friday so that you can join me at parkrun on the Saturday morning". Perhaps that is why they all come on Saturday's! My brother-in-law is not the first friend that I have managed to drag along having succeeded once before (not that either needed dragging really), and I certainly hope they will not be the last. Other friends out there beware the "you should come on Friday night" trick!

Yet another one of the great things about parkrun is getting to share it with someone for their first time. Its pretty clear (from the fact that my blog is dedicated to it) that parkrun is very important to me, and like a child, or anything you are proud of, it feel great to show it off to your friends and family.

I believe its hard not to be impressed with parkrun when you see it in action for the first time so interests me to see what my friends think of it. With this blog now back in full swing I therefore decided that it would be a good idea to come up with a few questions for my brother-in-law to record what he expected, and then how he found parkrun to be after his first run. I hope to be able to share his thoughts and comments in this blog within the next couple of days.

For me, I just feel happy to have been able to share the wonder of parkrun with another one of my friends. I will now try to work on my next lucky friend (victim!).

Saturday, 26 November 2011

They were the perfect gifts for this injured parkrunner

I have spent enough time in this blog talking about how I have been injured this year and how much I have missed parkrun. Now I thought I should cover one of the lessons that I have learned about my body and the compression gear that I have found that works for me.

My injuries this year started with a hamstring strain which has been followed by a recurring calf strain. For my recent birthday I was lucky enough to get my first ever items of running compression gear. I received both a pair of compression calf guards and some compression shorts, similar to the examples shown below. The compression shorts are very similar to cycling shorts.

Both these items helped me get through a number of weeks of recovery, including a few parkruns and a 26 mile bike ride (on the same day as a parkrun!), without re-injury. My latest injury problems came when I wasn't wearing these items. I think I have learned my lesson as to how valuable these are to me! These compression items are particularly necessary as the morning parkruns turn a little colder and the muscles aren't quite as happy about running.

There are many makes and styles of compression calf guard and shorts available at a range of prices. All I can say is that these items have worked well for me and it will probably be a while before I risk running without them again. Whether the benefits are real or only in my head, for me, they are well worth the price.

I would be very interested to hear how anyone else has got on with compression gear if you have time to share your thoughts.

I haven't yet purchased any compression tights (trouser length), but I suspect they may be on my list sometime in the future. Does anyone out there have an opinion on compression tights? Again I would be very interested to hear.

I suppose I could attempt to explain why or how these items work, but I am not an expert. I could talk about the claims that they are beneficial both during and after a run and that they can even speed up recovery if worn over night. These are all plausible claims, but I don't have that kind of in depth knowledge. All I can really say is that if, like me, you have struggled to recover from recent leg injuries, then this type of item has worked well for me and they may work for you too.

I am certainly not suggesting any particular brand here and this blog post is not a review of the items shown above, these were just the first ones that came up in a quick Amazon search, but at least they show the idea.

If you think that compression gear may be the answer to your own injury woes then please do a little research yourself. All I hope is that compression gear could be the answer for you as I hope it will continue to be for me too.

Friday, 25 November 2011

parkrun is.....for everyone

parkrun really is for everyone.

This is one of the great things about running in general but particularly parkrun. It doesn't matter whether you are young or old, fast or slow, fit or trying to get fit, or like most of us somewhere in between. The fact is that parkrun is as much for you as for anyone else

You may run or jog every day of the week, or perhaps you have not run since you were forced to at school, either way you are welcome on the parkrun start line each and every week. Better than this, you don't even have to tell anyone that you are coming (apart from the one time registration before your very first parkrun event of course) and there is no forced commitment. You can join your fellow parkrunners every week, or you can come once in a while, it really doesn't matter. parkrun is there for us whichever weeks we want to do it and everyone is welcome

The great thing about this is the amazing spread of abilities that we see at all parkrun events. There will always be a couple of youngsters or seasoned veterans completing the course at break-neck speed, and there will be a few at or around a fast walking pace. The latest results from Coventry parkrun are just one example of this. But the majority will come in between those extremes and will be spread out around the course so that whatever speed you run at, there will be someone else, or perhaps many others running at the same speed. This really is the good bit. You don't have to run very often before you start noticing the same faces around you during each of your runs. Soon there will be words exchanged, friendships made and perhaps even friendly rivalries will build up. There will certainly be plenty of pre and post race discussions about parkruns gone by or coming up.

It doesn't really matter which of these situations you find yourself in, it all boils down to the same result, you find your reasons to come back again and again, week after week. Its almost inevitable that parkrun becomes addictive and you can't imagine not getting up at 7am on a Saturday morning to prepare for a run. Of all things to do at 7am on a Saturday morning and you find that preparing for parkrun is something that you want to do.

I have been lucky enough to find myself towards the front end of the pack on many occasions. Once I have finished, like most parkrunners, I will catch up with my new parkrun friends. Those that have finished around me, way ahead or behind me, the volunteers on the day and those I have volunteered with in the past. The list of people you will call parkrun friends can't help but grow week after week.

My attentions are often drawn to those finishing over the next 20 minutes or so. Almost without fail you notice the expressions on the faces of the finishers, in effort as they approach the line, turning to smiles and pleasure after crossing that line. Whatever their finishing time, most parkrunners look as though they feel they have done something they are pleased to have done or are that they proud of the result. Its a great feeling and almost everyone shows it no matter their finishing time or position. This is another reason why parkrun is for everyone. You can set your own running goals, whatever they may be and parkrun can be the platform to help you try to reach them.

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Thursday, 24 November 2011

parkrun growth 2011 and 2012

I understand from the latest "the parkrun show" podcast and today's parkrun newsletter that only one more new parkrun will start during the remainder of this year. That being the new Ally Pally parkrun, Alexandra Palace in London starting on Saturday (surprise!) 3rd December. Apparently that makes 54 new parkruns started this year, taking the total to a whopping 107!

I also believe the reasoning is that it is not the most convenient time of year to start a parkrun, the uptake may not be great and the scheduling of the yearly anniversaries alongside everything else that we all have to fit in at this time of the year would not be ideal. Someone at parkrun has obviously given this due consideration and come up with this very sensible conclusion. I'm sure the parkrun team don't mind stepping off the pedal for a couple of weeks at this time of year either. I think we would all agree they deserve to.

If I remember rightly there was something written in a parkrun newsletter around this time last year which stated an intention to double the number of parkruns over the course of 2011. So a massive "well done" to the parkrun team for beating that target. Week on week (apart from the coming few) we get closer to the utopia of having a parkrun nearby wherever you find yourself each weekend. I think we all owe the parkrun team a big thank you for that prospect.

Another target I recall was for 2012. Again this is a vague memory, but there was some mention of a target of 212 parkruns (in theory again doubling the 2011 target of 106), by the end of the 2012. This target sounds tough. I for one would love to read an update article as to how those at parkrun think this is likely to go over the coming year. Waht is the plan and is there a list of those coming at the start of 2012. Maybe that could be a topic for a parkrun newsletter or the parkrun show podcast in the coming weeks. It sounds like the parkrun team will be very busy facilitating that kind of growth. Lets hope it all goes well.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

parkrun can be a stroll in the park

I was very grateful to receive a timely reminder this morning from Coventry parkrun Event Director (and general Coventry parkrun hero) Jason Douglas, which basically bores down to the fact that parkrun can be whatever you want it to be. I was reminded that it is not a race, and that if I can only manage a jog then that is fine and if I am not up to jogging then walking is fine too.

This reminder came just at the right time for me. After walking the kids to school this morning, and hobbling the whole way, I had come to the decision that I couldn't possibly risk running at parkrun this weekend. Literally minutes later the Facebook message came through and I had the sudden realisation that "not running at parkrun" doesn't have to mean that I can't be there. I do have other options available to me. I could walk, jog, or even volunteer.

Well this was a bit of a Eureka moment for me. I hate missing parkrun each week and I have missed so many over the last few months, occasionally volunteering instead. But now I have seen the light and realise that as long as I can manage to walk I can do my weekly parkrun. Now rather than miss out I can join in over the coming weeks and if and when it feels like the calf is ok, I can break out into a slow jog. This is like a huge weight off my shoulders. I no longer need to beat myself up trying to decide whether or not to do my parkrun each week, I can go along and walk or jog as feels right each week. I can see and talk to all my friends at parkrun, which is a huge part of it for me, and I can get another parkrun under my belt as I head towards my 50th parkrun and the parkrun 50-club t-shirt which has remained agonisingly just out of reach since the start of spring this year.

I can use a progressive walk, walk/jog/walk, jog/walk/jog, jog (I think you get the idea) approach each week to gradually build up my confidence and head back towards running a parkrun.

I really don't mind how long it takes me to get back to running at parkrun as long as this approach allows me to be there each week I will be content just to be there.

I have had various other suggestions such as:
- being the tail runner - the person that follows everyone round and makes sure the marshalls know when the last person has gone through. This would typically be walking pace so could work well.
- being a cycle outrider to take the lead runners in the right direction. With all the marshals around the course this has never been necessary at Coventry parkrun and in any case it wouldn't count towards that elusive 50-club t-shirt. But it is another alternative.

All in all I am just glad to have the had the obvious pointed out to me, that parkrun doesn't have to be a run, it can be a run, jog or even a walk and I can't wait to walk my next parkrun!

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Tuesday, 22 November 2011

I can't run but I can ride

I thought the title to this post sounded a bit like a strap-line to a famous film, i.e. "you can run but you can't hide". But after less than a minute of research (isn't Google/wikipedia great!) it turns out that it was actually a quote (slightly misquoted) from the boxer Joe Louis!

Anyway, back to the plot!

It baffles me how I can't run or even walk properly at the moment without some degree of pain, but put me on a bike and I can pedal away as fast as I like completely pain free. I suppose the range of motion of the calf muscles is greatly reduced and more controlled when cycling. I suppose its good news that I am still able to do something to maintain fitness whilst I am unable to run.

It does raise the question though, if it is not hurting then other than helping maintain fitness, is it actually doing my calf any good? My current plan is to use my static cycling machine to both maintain fitness, but also to promote flexibility in the calf and gradually build strength in the problem areas. But if those problem areas aren't causing pain when cycling it probably means they aren't being used and therefore won't be getting any more flexible or any stronger.

Anyway, shouldn't this blog be called InjuryFan rather than parkrunfan? Its all it tends to be about these days. I'll have to talk about something else soon. Its annoying me, let alone anyone else reading this!

So lets focus on my parkrun comeback. My plan to get back running at parkrun is based around taking my time, using the static cycling machine as much as possible and eventually getting out on my mountain bike. I might even use the parkrun route some time for a freedom "parkcycle" instead. At least I'll get the nice feelings I associate with the Coventry parkrun route.

I wonder if anyone will ever start up "parkcycle" as a cycling equivalent to parkrun? There are probably a lot more council related issues with 250 bikes rattling round the park than runners and joggers. All things considered it is probably a bad idea, so hopefully that won't happen.

I even managed to get up half an hour early this morning for 30 minutes on the static bike before my normal morning routine. Half an hour isn't much, but it is an easy amount to fit in and getting up half hour early is no great problem. I may try and do that again as it was very enjoyable and its a nice feeling to have some exercise under your belt so early in the day. I think I'll try to do the same again tomorrow. Its so nice to exercise without getting injured.

This coming weekend's parkrun is still playing heavily on my mind, I know I shouldn't but I also know I probably will. If I do I must run very slowly or risk almost certain re-injury and I really don't want to restart my recovery yet another time!

Monday, 21 November 2011

The enticing pull of parkrun

I am injured. I have been on and off for months, but I still can't get parkrun out of my head.

I can't resist the thought of turning up on a Saturday morning, seeing the same faces of the like-minded people of Coventry who just can't resist a Saturday morning parkrun and pushing myself to the limit.

For me its about being the best I can be on any given Saturday. Its also just about being there and doing it, "because its there". I have always been the type to try and do something (anything you can think of), take note of how well I did and then try and do better the next time. Whether that be something physical, mental, or anything else you can think of, that is just the way I am. Competitive!

Its only over the course of time that I have found out that not everyone is made like this, and most people would probably think its strange to know:
- how many keep-uppys you could do 15 or 20 years ago.
- how many miles you have walked during work lunch hours (oh and which route you took each time!).
- how long you spent and how many calories you have burnt each and every time you have got on a static cycling machine.
etc etc.

Reading that back I admit it, I am just a little bit odd!

Anyway, its this element of my make-up that finds the nature of parkrun so enticing. Every single week I can step up to the line against my greatest competitor: ME. I love beating myself (not in that way!). I love doing better than I have before, and knowing how much better I was than before. And the fact that the timing is unbiased, and therefore not subject to cheating, is even better.

And the parkrun website is made for people like me. Your entire history of parkruns (and freedom runs - a feature you will not be surprised to hear that I make very good use of) at your fingertips whenever you want it.

Unfortunately, through injury, its been a long time since I could compete with my best times of early this year, but still there is that competitive element (in me at least). I know that each week, during each of my comebacks, I use the time from the previous week minus a minute as my target time and try to get as close as possible. Perhaps this is part of my problem, religiously sticking to a target time, and being disappointed if I miss it (no matter how fast or slow the target), rather than listening to my body.

And so to this coming Saturday....I know that even though I should really be resting and recovering from the injury, that I will still get that nagging feeling to turn up and run Coventry parkrun. The fact I have "committed" by nagging my sister-in-law to come and do it with me the next time they visit is as good as a contract in my eyes. How rubbish would I be if I have to turn down a jog in the park because of this injury. So no doubt I'll be there on Saturday and by Saturday lunchtime I'll be regretting it. I just can't resist Coventry parkrun!

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Disastrous running year

Well what a year its been. I have hardly managed to string more than a couple of injury free runs together since March! The year started so well, with my parkrun PB of 17:49 back in February, but since then its been injury-recovery-injury pretty much all the way.

All these months on and my right calf still isn't right. In fact I'm currently in a state where I can't even walk normally. I spent 6 or 7 weeks seeing a physio earlier in the year. Whilst I was seeing him I must have re-injured myself 3 or 4 times. And since then its been another 3 or 4 times. The most recent was last Thursday when for some unknown reason I decided to go for a couple of  laps round the block, when I had previously decided to leave it for a few weeks. Anyway, given that it was going well and the leg was feeling fine I slowly built the pace until the inevitable happened and the calf started to ache more and more. Come the next morning and I was back to full-on hobbling. Why do I do it?

I have now decided once and for all that any running I do in the remainder of the year will be very slow jogging, if at all! There is the one problem with this, that being that I have agreed to run at parkrun this coming weekend with my sister-in-law. That should be 10 minute mile pace or thereabouts, so hopefully I'll be ok. But perhaps I should be sensible and pull out of that too.

I have found that even when I am hobbling I can cycle without any problems. My current fitness plan is therefore to get on the static bike when I can and hopefully the odd ride out in the coming weeks may be possible too. I just have to make sure I do it, because its so easy not to bother.

I must ensure that I do the stretching and strengthening of the calf this time or it is never going to get better.

I can't even begin to think when I may be able to get back to something like full pace at parkrun or anywhere near my best. At the moment I doubt that my calf will ever by up to it. I just have to do everything I can to try to make that happen. I think I should in theory be able to aim for early spring next year. I have to come back slowly and sensibly and make sure that I don't push the injury this time. Fingers crossed I'll get back to those times eventually.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

parkrun run and volunteer on the same day

Well it is not something I had ever given any thought to previously, but last Saturday I both ran and volunteered at Coventry parkrun on the same day.

"Well how can that be possible" I hear you cry!

I'll start by saying that it was just a spur of the moment thing. I had listened to Coventry parkrun Race Director Jason Douglas's pre-race welcome speech and heard him mention that volunteers are needed each week, but hadn't realised just how short we actually were on this occasion.

Being my first comeback parkrun for over 2 months (out with injury) I was absolutely delighted to have gotten round in one piece without any obvious signs of injury. The fact it was one of my worst times was irrelevant as my finish time of 21:03 was 2 or 3 minutes quicker than my pre-race target. Safe to say it had gone well and I was very happy to say the least.

As I approached the barcode scanning table I immediately realised that Jason was on his own. Normally the race director would not be needed for this task, with sufficient volunteers to cover this activity with 2 people leaving the Race Director to "do his stuff". After having my barcodes scanned I offered my help, which was quickly accepted.

A few moments later I had the second barcode scanning table up and running and the queues very quickly diminishing.

Now, I am not writing this post to "big-up myself", although I was pleased with myself for doing it.

I suppose I am trying to highlight the fact that we all need to remember to volunteer occasionally, especially during the holiday season, to ensure that we always have a parkrun on a Saturday morning for the benefit of all of us. Without the volunteers we have no parkrun. It doesn't take much to offer yourself up as a volunteer 3 or 4 times a year, and that really is all it takes to make sure we have a well run and well marshaled event each week.

This also demonstrates that it is possible to both run and volunteer on the same day. If you are an early finisher, you can do the barcode scanning after the finish, take photographs, help with the clear up or write the post race report, as Sarj has shown so many times after taking part himself. I am sure that if you are a mid-field runner and aren't too bothered about your time one week, you could also find a spot to take photos of runners on their first lap, before heading off on the parkrun yourself.

What I hope any parkrunner reading this post takes away, is that we all depend on volunteers for our weekly parkrun, so please volunteer as often as you can. And there are ways to run and volunteer on the same day, so perhaps give that some thought too. Any way that you can give a little back will be appreciated by all your fellow parkrunners and hopefully they will do the same for you another week.

Monday, 8 August 2011

parkrun comeback this week or next?

It's been the best part of 2 months since my last parkrun and with only 1 parkrun in the last 3 months I can't begin to explain how much I have missed taking part. Admittedly I have managed to keep my hand in by volunteering a few times, but enjoyable as that is I think we all know that that isn't quite the same.

My physio finally told me that his work was done last Wednesday and freed me to start running again. This was very welcome news.

So I finally got back to running (well jogging really) last week. It started with a 1.5 mile jog at 10 minute mile pace on Wednesday and ended with a huge 2.5 mile run at close to 8 minute mile pace on Friday. I haven't been able to fit in a run since but at least I have started again.

After such a long time injured I am in no rush to injure myself again and will be taking all the time I need to build up slowly. I even had my trainers on this evening, and after my now customary careful test jog around the garden, common sense won the day. My calf didn't feel quite right so I didn't run. I am never that sensible!

With a bit of luck it may feel good enough to allow me a short run tomorrow evening and perhaps again later in the week. What I would love to do is make it to the start line at parkrun this weekend. Fingers crossed I can manage that without risking injury.

If I do make it to parkrun this weekend I think I can guarantee my slowest ever time, but simply being back around my parkrun friends will be enough for me for now. However, give me a few injury free weeks and I'm sure that will soon change. Lets hope I get that far into my recovery wqithout a relapse to see what happens!

parkrun I still miss you, but hopefully I'll be back soon.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

My Injury Troubles Go On and On and On....

Its now been seven weeks since my last competitive parkrun. I did manage one slow parkrun a few weeks later, and I did get myself round the Two Castles 10km three weeks ago, in a less than fit state, but basically I have been injured for seven weeks. And all because of a calf injury, which at the time of the initial injury felt almost insignificant.

To be honest, this year has been pretty much wiped out since March, with the calf injury and the preceding hamstring injury (same leg, so probably related rather than coincidence). In that three month period I have managed to run two 10kms, both in a semi-recovered state, but way below my best. I have also run 5 parkruns (so its not been a total absence), but only one at what I would call full speed.

There was a time, a period of around a year from May 2010 to May 2011, where all that Saturday morning meant for me was:
  • get ready for parkrun
  • do parkrun
  • recover from parkrun
But its now been such a long time without parkrun being the focus of my Saturday morning, that it is already starting to feel normal not doing it. That is not a nice thought.

This current calf injury has been a real pain in the leg, pardon the pun. At first I though it was just cramp. I probably didn't give that initial injury enough time or respect and I certainly tried to run too soon afterwards, inevitably making it far worse. At that point I knew for sure that it was a real injury.

I then started treating the injury as one should. I did all the RICEing, I stretched, I gradually built up the strengthening exercises, started walking, then static cycling, then jogging. I slowly built up my speed and duration of jogging, up to running, to the point where I could manage the Two Castles 10km at maybe 90% effort.

I was even sensible after the 10km, giving myself five days to recover without running, but still stretching and strengthening, only to suffer re-injury getting out of bed of all things! I still don't know why I decided to stand on tip-toes when I got out of bed. I have never done that before, or since, but it was clearly the wrong thing to do. That was the third incidence of the injury! That was two weeks ago yesterday.

This time I decided to get a physio involved in my recovery process. By the time my first physio appointment came round a week had passed. I had been doing all the right things in the meantime, RICEing followed stretching. When I saw the physio, we were able to move straight to the strengthening phase, all the time continuing with the stretching.

At my second physio appointment (4 days after the first) I was making such good progress that we decided to really up my strengthening exercise workload. My 20-20 hindsight tells me that this increase was just a bit too soon. I should have listened to my body during that next 24 hours and built up to the new levels gradually, rather than making a sudden huge leap in type and quantity of exercise. Next time I won't be in as much of a rush!

It wasn't actually the strengthening exercises that produced the 4th incidence of the injury in the end, but I'm certain they were a massive contributory factor. The day after doing the new increased load of strengthening exercises my calf was very sore, and not in the area of the previous injuries, I knew that continuing the same pattern of exercise was not an option. That was Wednesday. I took it very easy, with just a very slow walk that day and none of the strengthening exercises. I didn't feel that I had re-injured myself, but I knew I needed a few days off the exercises to recover. This was not the end of the world and I felt it had been a very lucky escape.

On Thursday the soreness had diminished and I felt up to a lunchtime walk at work. I knew I still wasn't quite walking normally, but my gait was close to normal and I thought a slow walk would help loosen things up. Unfortunately, about 15 minutes into the walk I felt a sudden severe pain in the middle of the calf which abruptly stopped me in my tracks. I knew it was worse than ever this time. Worst of all I was a mile from the office and had to hobble the whole way back. This didn't help.

Yesterday (Friday) I luckily had my next physio appointment already arranged and we discussed where we had gone wrong and how we would proceed, starting again at the beginning of the recovery process.

So I now find myself back at the start of the recovery process yet again. I'm sitting here writing this blog post with my legs raised and the calf resting on an unconventional bag of spinach (I don't like peas!). Anyway, I hear that spinach is better for you! I'm taking it easy and I am on a course of Ibuprofen for the next week.

This is the worst stage of the recovery process for me. I actually don't mind it too much once I can start to stretch and walk properly without feeling like I am doing further damage. That should only be a two or three more days I hope. And once I am back to static cycling I will be a much happier man, but that could easily be 10 days away.

I am certainly going to do the right things again, and try to avoid dangerous things like "getting out of bed" and "walking slowly in straight lines", as my old body clearly can't cope with these extremes of human endeavor and endurance!

With a lot of luck I may make it back to parkrun in a month or so, I am not putting any deadlines on it, but I can't wait to be fit enough to parkrun again.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Injury fully behind me (hopefully). Ready and raring to go!

There's nothiing like a nice snappy catchy blog post title, and that was nothing like a....one of them.

Well its now been over 7 weeks since I injured my right hamstring. The first 3 weeks were a bit rocky, with re-injury and scar tissue to break down, but since then its all been a case of slowly building confidence and gradually picking up speed.

During those 7 weeks I have actually run 24 times, so its not like I haven't been out running, but the one thing that had to stop for most of that period was any running that I would consider "pushing it" or "challenging". For the previous few months I had been doing intervals, hills, sprints and anything else that I could think of to help me improve. But that all stopped until about 10 days ago.

My last 2 parkruns (1 and 3 weeks ago) have been 59 seconds and 44 seconds off my best parkrun time.  Gradually heading in the right direction, but still someway off the times I was easily managing prior to that.

Over the last couple of weeks I have managed to start pushing it a bit again. I have run a handfull of interval sessions, running at or faster than my best 5km pace for 1km at a time. And during the last week I have even been running at full speed downhill, which is how I got the injury in the first place.

I no longer think its a case of "fingers crossed" when I go out to run at pace, it now feels like I am fully recovered and ready to give it my all and get back closer to my best parkrun times. I still expect it to take a couple more weeks before I am pushing for a PB, but I certainly hope to be back withing 30 seconds of my PB this week.

If I am honest with myself I think I am probably looking at around 18:15 tomorrow (within 25 seconds of my PB). Any time close to there or (even better) under that time will help to convince me that I am ready to push on towards my PB again.

I know it is going to be hard work tomorrow, but that has never put me off where running is concerned and I have missed that feeling of pushing it so much over the last 7 weeks that I am right ready for the burn.

Looking forward to a good parkrun tomorrow. Hopefully I stay injury free and get back towards my best times.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

parkrun freedom is....great 10km training

Its just so easy to double up your parkrun freedom for simple 10km training!

For those that don't know already, a "parkrun freedom" is simply the act of running an official parkrun course at any time other than at an official parkrun event.

Once you become a parkrun regular, and learn your local parkrun course, what could be simpler than doubling it up for a perfect 10km course?

If you are training for a 10km event this is great. The more you run at parkrun and the more familiar the course becomes, the easier it is to work out how to run at a specific target pace. Whether you want to run at a specific pace during a training session or just do the distance, a parkrun freedom is just as ideal. What more do you need than parkrun!

I have run a parkrun freedom many times and plenty of those have been done as two back-to-back to double up to 10km. I have run many at a comfortable pace and some at close to full race pace.

However, recently I have started running intervals within the my freedom run. If you are looking to get a 10km PB, intervals are a great way to practice running at or faster than your target race pace. I have tried a few different takes on interval training during a parkrun freedom:
  • 1 minute fast then 2 minutes recovery,
  • 2 minutes fast then 2 minutes recovery,
  • but today I tried something new: half a lap at target pace and half a lap recovery.
This run today was a great way to practice at target race pace. I have to say that if anything it actually made my target race pace feel a little easy. Maybe easier would be a better description!

After running 34 parkruns and 70 odd freedom runs, I know exactly what time I should reach each point on the course for quite a range of target times. This makes it really easy to know my pace for half a lap and to know whether or not I am on course for my target time at various points prior to half way. So much so, that on my 4 half laps aiming for race pace today, I was never more than 2 seconds off my target time (under each time of course!).

Now experts may tell me that each training run should have one specific purpose. And I would reply saying that my purpose today was to run intervals to practice at target race pace. But today I achieved more than this by using the parkrun course. Not only did I run a total of 5km at my target 5km race pace, but I also ran a 10km in a fairly decent time (42:40), with half of it feeling very comfortable indeed. Brilliant for morale!

What more can I say, a parkrun freedom can be a very useful aid when training for a 10km race. Whether your target is a specific time, a PB or just to complete the distance, a double parkrun freedom is simply the perfect answer.

Happy parkrunning!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Hamstring rehab = Freedom parkrun in the sun!

With a bit of luck I am hoping to get out for a freedom parkrun today in an effort to continue my hamstring injury rehabilitation.

Now I'm not sure what the cause was, but since my parkrun effort on Saturday, my hamstring has been very sore. Obviously the initial cause was the original hamstring injury. Now it could be that the Saturday parkrun itself was the cause of the renewed soreness, but I don't think so. The hamstring felt fine on Saturday afternoon. More likely it was all the bending whilst gardening and playing football and rounders with the kids all afternoon on Saturday. It was like an overstretched feeling in the muscle.

Anyway, the upshot was that on Sunday I could only hobble about and I was not much better on Monday either. The grumpiness of injury had shown its head again! Yesterday seemed to provide a miraculous recovery as the soreness had completely gone overnight. The great news here being that it was indeed only soreness and not re-injury. I really had to force myself to be sensible yesterday evening to stop myself going for a freedom parkrun. I knew the extra day would be a good idea. And today it feels even better still.

So thankfully it looks like I can get back out into the park today to do a freedom parkrun, and what a beautiful day for doing a freedom parkrun in the sun! The grumpiness has gone and I can't wait to get back out there, filled with optimism that the injury is close to full recovery and plenty of sunny runs ahead.

Now the question is, what pace shall I do my freedom parkrun at? Last week I did a 23:51 freedom run and then 20:23 at parkrun on Saturday. But I think the recent soreness has made me a little wary. So I think I will do a very gentle warm up, maybe around 9 minute mile pace, for at least 15 minutes. Then, all being well, I will stretch before doing the freedom run. I think a first lap at around 12:00 minutes would be good and if all feels well then I may look for around 11 minutes for the second lap. Then a nice slow jog home.

The great thing about parkrun and doing a freedom run for rehab, is that I am now so used to the parkrun course (having run it more than 100 times) that I know how to run a 12 minute lap or a 11, 10 and even 9 minute lap. This is so helpful when trying to come back from injury in a sensible manner, but also trying to gradually increase speed in a safe way.

After my freedom run I will then have to see what it feels like. I know that I have the dreaded cold bath hanging over me if I feel any kind of soreness. I hate cold baths so much, but whether it is pyschological or of real-physical benefit, I know it helps me. The threat of the cold bath will certainly be enough to stop me pushing it too hard.

And after that I'll just have to wait and see and hope that there are no negative side-effects in the next day or two. And hopefully no soreness! If I get through the freedom parkrun unscathed I can consider another freedom run in the next couple of days, try to increase the pace a little more and hopefully put myself in a position to do the parkrun on Saturday. If I make it to the start line at parkrun on Saturday it would be nice to go a little faster than last week in an effort to gradually get back towards my best times.

Fingers crossed!

Saturday, 16 April 2011

parkrun is....great for injury rehab

About 2 and a half weeks ago I injured my right hamstring training for the Leamington Regency 10km. I had been running really well at parkrun for many months and had finally sorted myself out with my first 10km run since the 2007 Great Manchester run (my only previous 10km). I had been certain that I would smash my PB, but unfortunately the injury meant that wasn't to be.

I did manage to get round the10km in a little under 46 minutes, but that was nowhere near the time I would have aimed for.

So why is parkrun good for injury rehabilitation? Well it wouldn't be a good idea in the early stages of recovery. Certainly not in the first 48-72 hours where RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) is the order of the day. And not too good either in the next phase of stretching, strengthening and then light jogging. But after that, parkrun is a great way to gradually build back up to your best.

So apart from that 10km run I have spent the last 2 and a half weeks trying to do all the right things for my hamstring. I did all the RICEing in the first 48 hours, lots of stretching and strengthening exercises, and a bit of slow jogging. I then reached the point where I was ready to do a longer slow run. What better way to do that than to get to my local parkrun course and run a Freedom parkrun?

So yesterday I jogged up to the park and ran a Freedom parkrun. I started slowly and took it very easy on the down hill stretches (which is where I had the injury in the first place), and then gradually picked up the pace a bit. It was an amazing feeling just to be back out running again. I am terrible at being injured. It really gets me down. I must have been a real grumpy old man the last couple of weeks. I have always been this way ever since all my hamstring problems from my days as a semi-pro footballer (get me!). In those days I would always come back too soon and re-injure the hamstring. Which probably explains why I still have a weakness there now. Anyway, I never took injuries well and I would always let them get me down. This time has been no different. But just getting out for a run yesterday and not feeling any pain was great and totally lifted my mood. I didn't even mind the cold bath afterwards, which I normally hate with a passion. Straight after the run I was filled with optimism with the end of my recovery now in sight.

Freedom parkrun done without injury - check! So on to today and a proper Saturday parkrun. Again, a great way to slowly come back from injury. I normally position myself at the very front of the pack on the start line. But today, I very sensibly (unlike me!) put myself near to the back of the field. This naturally forced me to start slowly. But as spaces appeared after the first couple of minutes I slowly built in confidence and eased my way past many of the others runners. I knew I was going faster than the previous day, but there was no pain, so I was happy to carry on at the same pace.

It was after a few minutes that I realised what a cunning plan the bottle of wine (all to myself. That sounds bad - does 2 bottles shared sound better? No.) had been last night. Had I not had that I would have quickly gained far too much confidence and raced off and risked further injury. As it was, the bottle of wine ensured that I really didn't fancy going too fast!

I completed the first lap in 10:30, far quicker than the 11:30 I was aiming for, and then proceeded to edge my way through the field to a sub 10:00 second lap and 20:23 overall finishing in 30th place. A pretty decent result for taking it easy! I think that works out as my second slowest parkrun ever. The slowest being due to the morning after a bottle and a half of wine the night before. This evidence does seem to suggest that wine is not as good for you as I keep hoping. That doesn't mean that it won't be me fuel of choice for a parkrun again at some point in the future. I don't like to learn my lessons too quickly where wine is involved! Anyway, I'll take that time very happily as I was only hoping for 22 to 23 minutes.

So that is another huge step forward in my hamstring rehab thanks to parkrun. Having so many runners to run with and alongside makes running so much easier. Just the boost I needed on my way back from this injury. Being timed over a course that I have come to know very well certainly helps. By knowing how far you have run in a certain time lets you know what pace you are running. If you can be strict with yourself it is an easy way to gradually run faster over a number of days and weeks. I'm looking forward to next week's parkrun already. Hopefully I can look at a time closer to 19 minutes next week, not quite at my best, but heading that way would be great.

My plan now will be to rest tomorrow and then maybe do another freedom parkrun on Monday. Then hopefully another later in the week and then again next Saturday. The aim will be to knock another 20 to 30 seconds or so off the previous time each run. Hopefully this will help me build my confidence to run faster and faster and head back towards my best.

parkrun really is a great way to come back from injury. And I am so glad that I am backing running again and more importantly back running at parkrun again. I was only absent for 2 weeks, but I really missed it a lot. Thank you parkrun and all those involved in organising it each week.