Parkruns and Christmas PB’s

Christmas time is always a difficult time to keep up with training and even more so to maintain a suitable nutritional plan. Since I was spending the holidays with my family in the UK, it would be especially tricky. Without my training buddies or scheduled classes and with so much else to be done, training could really be derailed.

First order of business: Schedule an official training break.

Guilt slightly assuaged, I researched some local gyms, the pickings turned out to be slim. I was going to have to work harder if I was to counteract all of the wonderful British comfort food I would be binging on (Thank you for not commenting on the quality of British food).

Luckily, in the UK, there are Parkruns, offering weekly timed 5km runs in 300 locations across the UK (and more internationally) to keep me honest and motivated. And, they had special extra runs on both Christmas and New Years Days.

I planned a series of four runs during my Christmas vacation.

Pbh 25 dec 4

Christmas Day

I turned up early on Christmas Day to a field of 330 runners, who apparently had nothing better to be doing Christmas morning.

Last year at this event I achieved a PB and I hoped to do so again today. I had been getting tantalisingly close to a sub 30 minute 5km, and really wanted to accomplish it before the end of the year. If that was to happen, it had to be today. I was well rested and the reality was that time was running out.

As I stood at the start line shivering, my mind was occupied in thinking about how cold it was.

How can I be cold after flying in from Canada?

But soon I heard the countdown and there was no time to think about the temperature…

The start of this event is quite slow and congested. My strategy was to try to remain consistent and not waste energy trying to get ahead early on.

And I ran

And I ran

And when I wanted to stop I kept running

And it felt good.

I felt like I had settled right on the top edge of my ability, my heartrate was consistent around 165bpm.

165?? The number looked too high, but I knew by the feel that it was OK.

As the second lap drew to a close, I could almost smell the turkey – Just a little faster…

(Photographer! Stand up straight, smile….. and go!)

Pbh 25 dec 1

There’s the finish – Sprint!

My training buddy, Kay had given me the helpful tip that if one didn’t feel like throwing up, the effort wasn’t hard enough. So, I have never felt so gratified to feel sick in my life!

I wasn’t sure what my time was, but my GPS indicated that I had beaten the 30 minute mark. I headed home to enjoy Christmas with my family (who made no secret of the fact that they considered me to be crazy, running on Christmas day, or more accurately, running at all).

When the times were posted later, it was official: 29:29.   My own tiny Christmas miracle.


The next Saturday, I lined up again, this time in Huntingdon, with my good friend Martin.

Martin has been around since day one of my running adventure in 2007 and now, although we live an ocean apart we still try to take the opportunity to run when it arises. Happily, Martin had recently had surgery to correct a pesky heart condition that had been rather hampering his progress, and as such was just beginning to return to running form; however, this would be his first outdoor run in over a year.

Huntingdon is a two-lap cross country course, which, after a good rainfall contains some interesting ‘water features’. This was the case today.

We lined up at the muddy start line, and then we were off. There was much sliding around muddy corners and attempting to jump (often unsuccessfully) over puddles that could be mistaken for small ponds.

Hdn 27 dec 4 Hdn 1 Jan 6

Around 2km in, Martin was beginning to tire, so we switched to a walk/run strategy. As we continued, I offered tips that only a year ago I was having trouble implementing myself! As we came up to lap two, Martin told me that he would take a break before continuing and that I should go ahead.

I picked up speed and this time, knowing the course better, the second lap was easier. I crossed the line in 32:33 and went back to wait for Martin. Only a couple of minutes later he appeared:

He had tricked me!

As I ran with him for the last 500m, he told me he had decided not to stop after all. He finished in 37:10, well under his prediction and a PB for him on this course. Sometimes it’s not about going as fast as possible. Sometimes it’s just about spending time (and hopefully) encouraging friends. I’m excited to see how far he can take this now that he is free of the health problems of the past.

New Years Day – Double Header

The second special run was on New Year’s Day. Huntingdon and Peterborough coordinated to offer a double header.

9:00am Huntingdon, 10:30am Peterborough.

The Huntingdon course was considerably drier this time (though, that is not to say, dry). I should have paced myself for a 10km run, but I didn’t. I went out far too fast and by 3km I was feeling a drop in energy levels.

“Oh no! I still have another even to go”

I slowed to the pace that I really should have been running from the start and I finished in 31:54.

No time to relax – back to the car, try not to get mud everywhere. Change to road shoes, quick trip down the motorway to Peterborough, swallow an energy gel, drink some water, and get ready to do it all over again. The Huntingdon runners were evident as we milled around as their legs were covered in mud.

There was a 31 minute pacer at Peterborough, I thought I might try to stay with him.


OK then, just keep running.

Wow, two 5kms is so much harder than 10km!

Pbh 1 Jan 1

This 5km felt like an eternity, thank goodness for the enthusiastic volunteers. I felt awful and wished I had actually been out drinking at midnight, so at least I would have a good excuse.

Finally I saw the finish line getting closer, my sprint was no doubt lacklustre, but I made it in 33:06. So really not that bad.

Combined time: 1:05:00, OK stop complaining now.


There was one more Parkrun outing planned for this trip and I chose Peterborough (it’s closer, and cleaner). I almost didn’t go as I wasn’t feeling at my best, and to make things worse, I woke up to rain.  However, since Martin had agreed to come for a last run before I returned to Canada, I dragged myself out anyway. The day didn’t start out very well when I made a wrong turn and almost missed the start. Coincidentally, Martin was also running late, so we “ran late” together towards the start line!

We didn’t get to stop at the start line.

I spied a 32 minute pacer but she seemed to be drawing away from us. I decided that I should probably just make this an easy run and enjoy it. I ran with Martin until he opted to walk. The pace was nice, a little slower than usual I thought, I hoped I wasn’t going appallingly slowly. I felt I was making reasonable progress, and I wasn’t overly taxing; I fell into a good rhythm. With about 350m to go  just as I was thinking of speeding up for the finish, as if by magic, I overtook someone and found myself staring right at the back of the 32 minute pacer!

Pbh 3 Jan 2

“I thought you were long gone!”

She smiled and encouraged me to sprint the finish. I didn’t need telling twice, I was so happy.

32:05, given the rushed start, really not bad. I ran back to find Martin, meeting him within 500m and accompanied him to the line. It was  a PB for him and a solid result for me. We went for tea afterward, an enjoyable way to end my trip.

Pbh 3 Jan 3Pbh 3 Jan

Now, back to reality, and real training!

(And thanks to the wonderful volunteer photographers at the Parkruns for the amazing pictures!)

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