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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.