Sunday, January 1, 2012

Whitstable Park Run

The Parkrun was a new one on me up until this recent trip to the UK. My good friend Jim has been a regular at the Whitstable Parkrun for quite some time now, and he suggested I come down and join him at 9:00 am on New Year's Eve for the run/race that happens every Saturday in the same location year round, and at many other locations around the nation at the same time.

The concept is very simple: a free 5k race open to all, and conducted with the help of regular attendees who take turns volunteering and racing. A slick and simple bar code timing method ensures accurate and timely results which are maintained and uploaded onto a website that put to shame many a paid-for road race. Photos are also uploaded, and geez, I even got a free chocolate bar at the end. You can expect about the same level of service from the New York Marathon in 2012...for $255. I guess all events have their place, but it's great to see grassroots events like this encouraging people to get out and run, because ... well ... running's fun and it's good for you.

The Whitstable run is conducted on the Tankerton Slopes right on the seafront, almost guaranteeing that runners will encounter a significant headwind for more than half the race. The course is a mix of pavement promenade and short-cut grass on a single loop run twice.

Matt and me going coastal at the Parkrun.

William completes lap 1. Running is fun!

For the last event of the year, there were just over 100 assembled. I'd run the six miles from Canterbury to attend, while my brother Matt had driven down from West Kent with William, his middle child, to meet Jim and I on the seafront. A few short words and we were off charging down the promenade.

A 3:10 first kilometer (15:50 pace) almost ensured that the second half of my race was going to be a bust, but I was out chasing heels thinking I could sneak an out-of-shape 5k PR (given that I haven't run one at sea level in donkey's years). However, as soon as we turned around shortly after the 1km mark and began forging our way back up towards the start/finish area on the grass above the promenade into a steady headwind, I gave up on the idea of a PR and just ran for effort.

Three guys had gotten out ahead of me; one came back on the grass, but the other two grew their leads to 20-30 seconds by the time it was all said and done. The second and third kilometers averaged a rather pathetic 7:08, the fourth an equally pathetic 3:30, and then the final km on the second lap a miserable 3:45 for an incredibly lackluster 17:33. I'll put this one down to season excesses, numb feet, and a surprisingly tough course (as 5ks go) with a naughty headwind.

Matt and Jim had equally (self-described) poor performances, so it was great to see the youngest member of our party, 8-year-old William, showing us all how it was supposed to be done with an impressive 24:00 run and 35th place finish overall (out of 105).

Finishing up the last race of the year.

Jim describes that look as 'focused'

William showing his onlooking dad and uncle how it is supposed to be done.


  1. Nick, I have enjoyed, and been motivated by, your candid and informative posts. Looking forward to another great year of running.

  2. Top marks to William indeed - definitely one for the future - I will have to get my midweek training together for our next encounter! Cheers, Jim 'Mr. Focused' Smalley

  3. Furthermore, just an additional note to reinforce the value and effect of this type of community based event which I have seen grow significantly over the last year and brings together a wide spectrum of people - all ages, all shapes and sizes who just want to enjoy their running - done so in a very accessible an unintimidating fashion. Whitstable (as well as many other towns and cities) is very lucky to have this event which has certainly made a difference to me, for one, since I discovered it.

  4. Don't do yourself down Nick. Most of us can only dream of a 17:33 5k. (I was dead chuffed to beat 23:00 on my local Parkrun over Christmas, twice.)

    I've just come across your blog and I like your writing style; very entertaining.