It’s been many a year since I ran on the track in Stanley Park, Blackpool. Last time would have been a school sports day when my Green Flash plimsolls would have propelled me off the bend in the third leg of the 4x100m relay or over the hurdles.
The playground may have lost its lethal high-tower slide and gained a whole range of new and more exciting wooden climbing frames and swings, but some things about the park never change. The white clock tower at the centre, the lake with the ducks and the ice cream kiosk, even the trampoline pits are still there, though not in use.
And here I am with my mum ready to cheer me on (as she used to on sports days), only this time I’m running much further. Gathering by the track, warming up with a lap on the lovely springy surface. It’s the perfect day for a run. Grey and overcast, but not cold, and unusually for Blackpool, barely a breath of wind.
There are some tasty looking runners here. Club vests much in evidence. My brother who has come to wish me well too points out an old guy in a veteran’s top – one of those wiry old harriers, with the familiar runner’s hunch and legs that are knots of muscle. “He looks like he’s had that kit for 50 years,” my brother says. “Watch him beat me,” I reply.
We chat to a runner from Accrington, here with his wife and little girl who delights in running round the track with Daddy. Only his second 10k, but he ran his first in 51 minutes. It’s the usual friendly atmosphere of a race and I’m glad my family are experiencing the running camaraderie too. It really does feel like a big parkrun.
Some confusion about where we start on the track and which way we’re running, but we’re soon all huddled up and ready for an almost casual, 3,2,1 – go! A lap and ¾ of the track then out the back of the stands and away into the park and out beside the road.
It’s a little congested and slow to start, but I feel fresh and strong, and amazingly, the expected nerves and anticipation haven’t really kicked in. I want to enjoy this. To run well, but relaxed, not pile the pressure on, even though it’s flat and probably my best chance of a 10k PB this summer. It’s my first 10k of the season, it’s just a marker.
At the first kilometre beep, I allow myself my only glimpse at my Garmin, just to check my pace – 4:56, spot on. The numbers have stopped me haring off too quickly and I feel good, like it’s almost easy. Just keep it there.
My friend from Accrington draws up beside me. “Come on you”, he encourages and I stick with him for about a kilometre. But the field hasn’t yet thinned out enough to make it easy. And as I drop behind him to squeeze on past another clump of runners, I begin to fall fbehind.
Run your own race, I remind myself. You don’t know anything about how he runs. Maybe he goes off really fast and then struggles. It’s only his second race, he should be able to smash his PB just from having the confidence of completing the distance.
And so I pile on through the park on old familiar paths and routes. Out around the bottom of the lake, past the bandstand, then back along the top where I used to feed the ducks.
At the two little bridges over the lake where we scattered her ashes, I blow a kiss and say “Hiya Nana”. She’s have loved this, to see me run. Her last, best and most precious gift to me was to set me on this path, to fitness, friendship and happiness.
Out of the park and running along beside the road, then back in and along the avenue of trees near the golf course that was always our route into the park. It seems so much shorter now.
Back around towards the lake and gardens and then turn right at the clock tower and head into the track for a half a lap and then back out to repeat the loop again. My Dad’s made it to the park and I see Donna taking photos as I pass.
As so often I find myself running alone. I sense runners come up behind me and hold onto my pace, but I rarely have anyone I can tag onto for any length of time. Anyone who comes past, I make work for their overtake and when I can, I hang onto them for as long as I can, keeping pushing my pace.
I’m halfway round and feeling okay. It’s not parkrun pace and I sense I may have drifted away from my optimum speed a little. I dig in and push on. A girl in a pink top and yellow sleeveless jacket runs beside me for a while, then pushes on. Maybe it’s just the bright pink and dark ponytail, but she reminds me of Kate, a Fetchie from Edinburgh who I met when she did the Town Moor marathon, so I resolve to keep up with her.
It takes me some time, maybe a kilometre, but as I stretch out I eventually go past her. Now my aim is to keep her behind me. I’m out on my own again, trying not to let anyone else go past me. As we pass the 4 mile marker, my legs and hips are starting to ache, but I think to myself “Two more miles – you can run that if you’re dead.”
My breathing’s a bit ragged now and I have a few breaths where I cough to clear it and settle back into a rhythm. It’s getting harder to sustain the pace. I almost trip on the heels of a bunch of guys running together, chatting away, taking it easy for them. They push on, and I sense they expect to drop me quickly, but I cling on to this little group for a while and eventually ease on past.
This is a real confidence boost, but it doesn’t last long as, in a pincer movement, two girls go past on either side of me. As my pal Al knows from the end of Edinburgh parkrun, I don’t like being passed by a girl towards the end of the race. But this pair are strong and making it look easy and this time I cannot keep up with them. Shortly afterwards, Kate’s double goes past too.
I’m well into the final kilometre now and I’m trying to push. I sense I have dropped off the pace and worry that I’ve given myself too much to claw back. It’s harder now to get the power down and stretch out. Through the avenue of trees, round the lake, towards the clock tower.
Another male runner is picking up the pace and I match him step for step until I’m jostled at the turn towards the track. Another girl with a long red plait has gained a place on me.
Into the track and only about 350m to go. I’m desperately trying to find another gear, but my legs aren’t listening. I wanted to ease up the gears and then go, but it’s not happening. Halfway down the back straight I kick into my sprint, desperately trying to gain ground on the redhead and another blonde girl in front of me.
I’m pushing and hoping against hope that I’ve done something decent as I hear the announcer saying that we’re looking at around 52 minutes now. Bugger – not so fast as I wanted. But there’s no choice now, my legs literally will not go any faster as I sprint the last 75m to the line, beating the blonde in the red top and clipping the red head’s heels on the line.
52:38 – I should be happy with that as a first run of the season. My PB is 52:14. But I’m a bit disappointed. Maybe I let myself get too comfortable. But on the other hand, I did run reasonably relaxed and I did enjoy it, while not piling on the pressure too much. Oh well, as I keep saying, 10ks not my target this year.
My buddy from Accrington is beaming at a 45 min run. I tell him to come and try the Great North next year.
At the finish I grab some water, a chocolate bar and a medal. My brother thrusts a chocolate muffin in my hand and I pose for photos with my family, red cheeked and a bit out of it. But even with a real tough sprint finish, I’ve recovered quickly enough to suggest there’s a bit more to give if I can find it.
Back to mum’s for some brunch or second breakfast, then packing up my gear and heading back mid afternoon, hoping to get home in time for tea.
And I’m zooming along merrily, listening to some CDs and enjoying the drive. Until I go to change down a gear on a hill on the A66. And suddenly the car starts screaming, as though I’ve gone from 5th to first and I’m losing all forward motion. I come back down through the gears, looking for anything to tale me forward, but nothing. I ease towards the edge of the dual carriageway, desperately hoping to get it into first and keep going, but nothing. I can’t even get enough forward motion to carry me a safe distance onto the verge.
The engine’s still running as I stop and put the handbrake on. I try a couple of times and realise, I’m going nowhere. Finally I turn off the engine and try again. Only now it won’t even tick over. Bugger.
Grab my coat and slide out of the passenger side, thinking I bet I can’t even get a mobile signal. But small mercies are in my favour. It’s cold, but it isn’t raining or snowing or blowing a gale like it was last time we came this way and my phone has a signal.
A couple of phone calls later and a recovery truck is on its way. I thank goodness I’ve had the cover on my car insurance. I’ve never had to use it before, but today it will pay for myself. I’m almost exactly halfway home on one of the bleakest, loneliest spots of my journey and the recovery van gets to me within the hour. But not before I’ve had plenty of offers of help and assistance. Facebook is a very good way of letting people know you’re in a bit of a spot.
I sort of surprise myself at just getting on with it. And once the guy with the truck arrives and I’m warmed up I just resign myself to getting home rather late with a car that won’t go. The little bugger knows I’m planning on trading it in. I was planning to go put my order for a new car in next weekend. The only reason I didn’t do it this one was because I was travelling to Blackpool for the race.
As far as breakdowns go, it could have been a lot worse. So if that’s my unfortunate incident with a car, I’ll take it. But it’s rather overshadowed my lovely weekend travelling to a race. Think I’ll stick with parkruns for a while
Stats and stuff