I was back on the parkrun tourist trail this week for my 95th parkrun. Victoria Dock is just a few miles away from my home run of Walthamstow, and I had heard reports of it being a fast, flat course, ideal for a PB attempt!
I had set my parkrun PB of 26:03 a few weeks before at Hackney Marshes, on my birthday! With a time like that, just a few seconds over, I was keen to have another attempt at breaking the 26 minute barrier. I felt like I had really run my absolute hardest on my birthday, and I knew that if I stood a chance of beating that performance, I was going to have to bring out the big guns!
The extra motivation I was looking for came in the form of my friend and parkrun uber-tourist Dan who had offered to pace me round. 25 minutes is a comfortable pace for him, in fact, he can run Stevenage parkrun faster than that, off road, pushing a buggy, in fancy dress!
As we arrived at the Docklands I started to have my doubts about how the run would go. Storm ‘Debby’ had hit the UK hard overnight, and as we jogged past the Excel centre on the way to the start we were hit by huge gusts of wind whipping eastwards along the waterfront. With the run route taking the shape of an out-and-back horseshoe, we would be heading straight into that wind for at least 2km. This was going to be a challenge!
The start of the Victoria Dock parkrun is in quite a unique location, right underneath the Emirates Airline cable car which runs across to the O2 arena. Some South-of-the-river parkrunners and tourists even choose to arrive to the start by cable car, making for a memorable entrance.
My strategy for the run was somewhat different to normal. I started my watch, then flipped it over to the underside of my wrist, having agreed to not check the time at all and let Dan take care of pacing. We set off at a pace that felt fast but manageable, and the first few km flew by. The headwind didn’t feel too bad as I stayed right on the heels of other runners to get a little shelter.
As we reached the last turnaround point at 4km, I was starting to struggle. I was working really hard, and I thought that no matter the time I could be happy that I’d given it my all. We saw the finish line up ahead and started a sprint finish, only to find the course diverted past the finish line for an agonising extra 100m loop around the finish area. My sprint had peaked way too soon, this was starting to hurt! I collapsed over the line, stopping my watch to see the time of…..
24:21? Was that right? That was a full 1 minute 40 seconds faster than my PB! I couldn’t believe it! It wasn’t too long ago I was struggling to break the 30-minute barrier. Sub-25 minutes had always seemed completely unachievable, something that ‘proper runners’ could do, not people like me, and yet here I was!
Saturday was a great demonstration for me of how much running is a mental sport. To get your best performances and break PB’s you have to push yourself harder than ever before, way outside your comfort zone, and I find this so difficult when running by myself. Having a pacer or a speedy friend really helps keep me on track and ignore the voices in my head saying ‘slow down, this is too much like hard work!’. Something has clicked in my head recently, a shift in my mindset, and I’m finally starting to think of my self as something other than the chubby woman at the back of the pack. I can’t wait to see what else I’m capable of.
I’m really looking forward to continuing my parkrun tourism this weekend at my first non-UK parkrun, in Denmark! You can read all about my parkrun adventures here, and all about my training towards the Berlin Marathon here, which is now only six weeks away!