Adam Bird


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Friday, 10 June 2022

Queen Elizabeth parkrun - event 407

Queen Elizabeth parkrun

On Saturday 4th June 2022 I ran the Queen Elizabeth parkrun, which was the 407th time that this particular event had been held. It was also my 81st parkrun at my 16th different event and was by far my most enjoyable. I enjoyed the event so much that I've found my way back to my blog to write all about it!

Since I last wrote a blog post, a whole load of everything has changed. The global pandemic caused a seismic shift in how we live and go about our lives that recounting everything would take more than a blog or two. I should probably take a few minutes and re-read what I wrote back then and to see how much of it resonates. But I digress, this post is about my parkrun journey and a new obsession which I want to document for safe-keeping.

My first parkrun was back in July 2014 when I ran the Great Lines event. Over the subsequent years I had run occasionally at the Great Lines and even did some touristing at Hastings and Bexley, but it wasn't until the Cyclopark event came to Gravesend that I started taking it seriously. Since parkrun resumed after the pandemic enforced break the parkrun obsession has turned up a notch and I've found myself becoming a fully fledged parkrunning tourist with a whole new vocabulary.

One of those new words is 'Alphabeteer', which means parkrunners who have run at events beginning with every letter (except X as no event exists for that letter). This type of challenge appeals directly to me, what with my football fan ground-hopping experience and general appetite to visit new places.

I'm planning on writing blog retrospectives for the other events, whilst making no promises! But this is how we ended up at Queen Elizabeth country park last Saturday. I needed a Q as part of my attempt to complete the parkrun alphabet and what better time to do it than on the Queen's jubilee weekend? There is actually a Jubilee parkrun which would arguably be more appropriate (plus there's not many J's) but Spennymoor in the North East was a bit too far for a one off!

I like to do my research of events before I attend, aside from the usual how to get there basics. There is plenty of YouTube content and bloggers who write reviews of different events and what to expect, so I knew this one was likely to be hilly. I had actually driven past the park earlier in the year on the way to watch Gillingham play Portsmouth and was actually quite terrified to realise that 'hilly' did mean hills, like proper ones! I'm used to running (and moaning) about the hill at Cyclopark, which I promise never to again. So I was full of trepidation about the upcoming course.

Upon arrival, accompanied by Steph, Hayden and Phoebe (Oliver was in France on a football trip) we realised today's parkrun was going to a rather unique affair with lots of people in costume celebrating the Queen's jubilee. One participant even came dressed up as her majesty with a wig and long flowing white dress (which was caked brown with mud by the end!).

We parked in the main carpark, but there are closer carparks to the start, keep driving down the hill past the main carpark, the road will swing around to the left and the alternative car park is on the right with the start not far behind.

After customary photographs of the purple event sign we made our way to the start of the course and stared up at the looming hill. The incline is a lot steeper than I had anticipated and Steph said that I was mad for contemplating running up it. The welcome meeting was delivered by a gentleman who had obviously done this many times before. It was well rehearsed, humourous and contained all of the vital information a tourist would expect to need on a first time course attendance. Before we set off further up the hill for the start line we had time for a quick photo opportunity and a film recording for our contemporary's at the Queen Elizabeth, Casino parkrun in Australia who were celebrating the Jubilee as well. A virtual greeting was exchanged and we headed off upwards 400 meters roughly to the start.

As the start was a good way up the hill the first part of the course wasn't as daunting as I'd imagined. The course begins with an upward climb of 200 meters or so before swinging around to the right where it flattens off. The path changes from wide shingle to single trail with wide grass verges offering plenty of space for overtaking. The path soon starts to descend and the fun really begins to start. There's something about running downhill that brings out the child in me, but gravity definitely helps! Aided by physics any pace lost at the start is quickly made up as the at first gentle downward slope becomes quite steep and I found myself putting the brakes on through concern of falling over. At the bottom of the hill the course takes another right turn as you head back towards the starting point. The trail path here undulates up and down like a rollercoaster which offers short bursts of exertion and elation in equal measure. 

Soon enough you begin to approach the turnaround point which leads you back up the hill via a sharp hairpin. As you do, you go past the group of volunteers as they prepare the finishing funnel. Steph, Hayden and Phoebe were part of this group as Stephanie had volunteered for the first time as a barcode scanner. As I ran past Phoebe I high-fived her and Hayden in quick succession. I held out my hand for Steph to join in and she completely ignored me. She obviously wasn't looking as my high-five turned into a cheeky 'up yours' as I ran by.

Be careful at the hairpin, there's a fair amount of loose stone which is called out in the pre-event briefing. But turning around the corner you are faced with the daunting climb ahead of you which I was determined to run as far up as I could. In fact I surprised myself and made it past the start line before I slowed to a walk. It's reassuring being with a group of like minded people who are all of similar ability and so I wasn't the only participant who had started to walk. Up past the start the hill starts to level out a little bit so I started to run again and continue the gentler climb. A little further on and the hill regains some of its gradient so I gave it another fair attempt before stopping to walk once again. I didn't actually mind at that point because the surroundings were so calm and peaceful it was an opportunity to take everything in. The path was in the forest surrounded by tall trees and the sun was trying to break through the cloudy start to the day. In some places the trees cleared and you could see tantalising glimpses of the valley out across the South Downs offering some wonderful views.

The top of the hill came sooner than I anticipated and just as the first loop, the course turned right onto a trail path with wide grass verges. The second loop shares all of the same characteristics, but on steroids. The downward section was longer, windier and such good fun! I had a smile on my face the whole way down as I windmilled my arms and managed to overtake a few people. It felt almost on the verge of dangerous and I loved it. I was wearing road shoes and there were a couple of instances where I slipped in the mid slightly and for the first time seriously regretted not owning any trail shoes.

After the exhilaration of the downward leg of the second loop the path rejoins the bottom part of the first loop and it's over the series of rollercoaster undulations back to the finish.

I thought I was home and dry after the long hill had been conquered, but one of the last undulations had a sting in its tail and beat me - a short walk cost me a vital few seconds and was my only frustration of the day. Either way, my final time at the finish was 31:23 and if you'd offered that to me the night before I'd have bitten your arm off! My barcode token read 108th, but the official time later in the day said 107th out of a field of 188 participants. I'm not quite sure why there was a discrepancy, but at least I know who to blame! 

As Stephanie was scanning and the kids assisting by collecting the barcode tokens it was an opportunity for me to take stock. I stood mostly smiling at myself and half contemplating attempting another go at that second loop. I had enjoyed it that much! Instead I offered support to the remaining finishers and admire one particular chap who had run the course with a buggy. His biggest challenge wasn't necessarily pushing the buggy up the 1.2km hill, but trying to fight the forces of gravity on the way back down.

We had been up since 6am in order to travel to the event and as we had travelled all that way we had decided to make the day of it. So as the event ended we walked back to the car and head further south through Portsmouth and into Southsea where we met the coast and found breakfast at a cafe on the beach which was the start of a whole other adventure.


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