The return of parkrun

Runners at the start of Southampton parkrun

Saturday was a bittersweet day. I should have been taking on Castle to Coast triathlon. It was cancelled in 2019 because of strong winds and in 2020 because of Covid-19, so I was excited about doing it this year. I was training hard, but I got a cold a month ago and had not done any exercise since then. Pete and Stu were going to take part in the event with me. In September 2020, Pete tore his Achilles. Then last week, Stu twisted his ankle whilst out running, so after 2.5 years of training, all three of us were out. However, there was a glimmer of hope with the return of parkrun.

Last year, M started doing gymnastics. The classes are on Saturday mornings, but it wasn’t a problem as there was no parkrun on the horizon. On Sundays, she has swimming lessons, so apart from infrequent cancellations, she is unable to take part in junior parkrun. Stu used to swim at a good level and I was a gymnastics coach, so we decided to play to her strengths. The term has been extended for two weeks because some classes were cancelled, so even without Castle to Coast, I wasn’t expecting to be free. I feel sad that Stu is unable to run (or walk), but it meant that I was able to return to Southampton parkrun.

Arriving early at parkrun

Stu agreed to drop me off near the Common as he was driving to the swimming pool with M. This meant that I was able to stroll down from the top of the Common. I did a bit of gentle jogging. When I struggled to jog downhill, I knew it would be a tough run. I was so pleased that I had plenty of time and wasn’t in a rush.

I said hello to a few volunteers and then headed over to speak with fellow Run Director, Kate.

Volunteers gathering near the finish line of Southampton parkrun. There are a flag and finish sign in the foreground.
Run Director Kate signing in volunteers.

After a brief chat with Kate, I saw my usual running buddy, Pete. I said that I was aiming for 35 minutes, so he agreed to run with me. We headed over to the very wide start line.

A view of runners across a wide start line on Southampton Common.
Around 500 people gathering at the start of Southampton parkrun. They are spread about 150m wide.
Approx. 500 people gathering at the start of Southampton parkrun. They are spread about 150m wide.

Once at the start line, Pete and I had a chat with Rosie and Emily. It just felt so lovely seeing so many familiar faces. The runners were distancing themselves and I didn’t feel nervous about being outdoors with a large group of people. We had a couple of minutes of talking and then the Run Director and the Event Director spoke a few words… and then we were off.

Thank you to the volunteers

As well as having a wider start line, the route has been modified to help with social distancing. The current route involves running up to the top of The Common twice. The first time, runners turn right at the crossroads and head back down to the bottom of the hill. The second time, runners head straight on at the crossroads towards the playground. After passing the playground, runners head onto the gravel path towards the normal finish line.

I can understand why a new route has been chosen and I prefer not having the finish line in sight for so long. The only thing is dislike is that we do not pass the finish during the run. I always enjoyed seeing all of the scanners and funnel managers as well as watching for the first finishers (and hoping that I was going fast enough not to see them). I had also been hoping that it would make it easier for Stu and me to run with M. (My plan for future events had been to take M around the first half of the route, by which time Stu would have finished, so I could leave M with him. I’m too slow for that to work for him!)

Anyway, with the new Covid Framework requiring a barcode scanner per 50 runners, I knew there would be a lot of volunteers.

A wide row of people in pink high vis vests waiting to scan runners' barcodes. Some of them are waving at the camera.
The timers standing ready near the finish of Southampton parkrun. They have pink high vis vests on and are holding mobile phones.

We were also fortunate to have two fantastic timers: Kate and Phil.

The run itself

I started off on the main path with Pete, towards the back. We chose to go at a steady pace and I wasn’t too worried about passing anyone. I knew I would find the hill tough as I’ve not run recently. It was also much more humid than I expected. Partway up the hill, my former colleague Colin went past and then further up, we saw Caro. I had a few walking breaks as I just didn’t feel I could run the whole 5km.

When we finally got to the second downhill, I felt so relieved. There was no sprint finish, I just headed for the finish and crossed the line with caro.

How did I do?

One of the first finishers at Southampton parkrun. A young lad sprinting for the finish line in a red vest and black shorts.

I took over twice as long as the first finisher, who crossed the line in 16:33. However, I may have had twice the fun. It was just so amazing getting back to something that I love. To add to the celebratory feel of the event, Uke Box Glory were near the finish line serenading the runners.

A group of around 10 people playing ukuleles on Southampton Common.
A man in a pink volunteer vest by he finish flag at Southampton parkrun.

After we’d got most of the way down the finish funnel, I took a few selfies with Caro. She was wearing her parkrun apricot vest, whereas I had on my parkrun Adventurers ugly Christmas t-shirt from 2020. I know it’s only July but the top didn’t get many public airings in 2020 and parkrun Adventurers were celebrating Christmas in July, so I decided to join in.

Tamsyn and Caro in the finish funnel at Southampton parkrun.
Tamsyn and Caro in the finish funnel at Southampton parkrun.

Although it certainly wasn’t one of my finest runs, I finished in under 35 minutes, which was my aim.

Tamsyn's results for Southampton parkrun #402: 34:04.

I’ve recently installed the parkrun Extended Info Chrome extension. This Chrome extension makes it quick and easy to explore various data, such as how others in your age group performed:

Screenshot showing where Tamsyn's finish time was within her age group.

I can see that I finished ahead of 9 people in my age group.

I’ve now got a fastest time for 2021 set and have until the end of the year to ensure that it starts with a 2!

Socialising afterwards

By the time I made it to the barcode scanners, there were no queues. There were only 561 runners, which was the event’s smallest attendance since 2nd November 2019, which was a particularly stormy day. I said goodbye to Caro and then took a few selfies with Colin before catching up on each others’ news.

A selfie of Tamsyn smiling at the camera. Colin is over her right shoulder smiling at the camera. In the background a ukulele band can be seen.

We were joined by fellow Run Directors Jill and Malcolm White. We were enjoying talking, but I knew I had to head back to be picked up by Stu… and also I was being eaten alive by insects.

A selfie of Tamsyn walking away after Southampton parkrun.
Tired but happy!

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