Sunday, March 20, 2016

My First Parkrun, London,UK, 3/12/16

Last week, Sidney and I went to London. It was our 6 year wedding anniversary and he wanted to see his girlfriend. I am pretty accommodating, but I had one requirement. If I went to see Natalie Merchant with him, he had to run a race with me.  (Yes, Natalie Merchant is "his girlfriend." It is no secret he is infatuated with her.)

At first, I had Sidney convinced to travel to the Lydd (a remote coastal town) to run a 20 miler. I also had him convinced, briefly, that he really wanted to run a marathon in March so this would be perfect!  But once Sid returned to full time military orders his ability to train was reduced from 8-10 milers with me to 3 milers with the dogs. We both realized that a marathon for Sid was not happening. There was no reason to spend 2 days of our vacation trekking out to the middle of nowhere for a 20 miler he would not be prepared for or interested in running.

I found a 10 miler about 45 minutes away. Sid was willing to do this.  This would likely be he longest run I would get but we did not plan on renting a car so I wasn't sure if this would work for us.

However, as luck would have it I recently began coaching a wonderful man (Alan) from the UK.  In his assessment he mentioned that he enjoyes weekly "Parkruns".  I asked what that was. He sent me a few very informative links and I learned just how wonderful these Parkruns are.

Each Saturday all over the UK, and other parts of the world, there are Free 5k races.  I googled the events map and found that there was a parkrun schedule 2 miles from our hotel.  Sid agreed to run with me to the race, race the 5k, and then run home!  I was so excited to run my first overseas race, even if it was just a 5k!

The way a Parkrun works is amazing. Once you register for free and you are set up with a barcode.  You print this out (and if you are smart, you laminate it).  You bring this barcode to the race.  After a brief meeting, everyone is sent off.  Volunteers line the course directing runners. When you finish you are give a token with a barcode on it as well.  As soon as you catch your breath, you walk over to a volunteer who scans your Parkrun barcode and then your token.  About an hour or so later you have online race results.

The event was so efficiently organized. We ran over to the race, arriving just 5 minutes before the start, found the pre-race meeting, ran the event, handed in our token, sat for a few minutes and by 45 minutes later the event was over and the park was cleared out.  It was if nothing had happened.  It was like a flash mob of 5k runners just converged and took over the park for less than an hour and then suddenly were gone.  I just loved this!

So how did my first 5k overseas go, you ask? Well, not so good.

I have not had back pain since January.  I was so happy.  I had run two marathons pain free and countless training runs without needing to stop.  I had not pushed my pace in training, but I had almost forgotten what the pain felt like. I was not sitting as much for work and making sure to stretch and find time for some crunches (not as much as I should, but it was working nonetheless).

Saturday morning, after the first night of sleep in the hotel bed, I woke up unable to stand. I could not walk without pain. I could not stand long enough to make a cup of coffee from the Krups machine.  I still wanted to try to run.

I hoped that the muscles would relax during the jog over.  We took our time making our way to the park. I needed so many breaks on the way that we almost missed the race completely.  If we did not find it so easily we would have been too late.  We arrived at 8:55 for a 9:00 race!

As we stood at the start, I turned to Sid and said "These next 3 miles are going to feel like 100!"

He asked what I planned to do. I said "Run hard. Maybe if I move fast it won't be as bad as the slow run here? This will be the only chance I have all week to run sub-8 pace or better? I have to try!"

The signal to start was given and I tried to run. My pace was about 7:30.  I still felt some lingering breathing difficulty from the pneumonia and I had left my inhaler at the hotel.  Everything was just going wrong.

I didn't even make it one mile before I had to stop from pain so bad that it buckled me.  Down to my knee at .9 miles in I waited in pain for Sid to catch up. When he caught me, we walked a bit and I briefly couldn't hold back my emotions. This was the first time my back pain brought me to tears and not from the pain.

I have been managing the sadness of not being able to run well for almost a year now. But now my heart was broken.  I was pain free for almost 3 months. I was starting to believe that maybe all this distress was behind me (despite doctors telling me that I won't get better).  Butt now, in London, at a simple little 5k that I had looked so forward to, the pain was back and so much worse than ever! It just hurt my heart.  I never had pain when standing.  I never had pain when walking.  I wanted to just run 3 miles, but here I was hardly able to stand.

Sid just said "I am so sorry".  He knows how much this breaks my spirit.

After a few minutes of walking the muscles loosened some.  We jogged a very slow mile while I gathered myself and thought about realistic options.  The last mile was finished off with a run/walk. We logged a time of 32:55. I was 17th from last in a field of over 150.

The run/walk home was horrible, but we had to get there.

For the rest of my vacation, each morning I woke up in severe pain. Running was almost impossible first thing in the morning, but we did run each day when my back could handle at least one non-stop mile. Walking was easier but still painful. I needed to stop and sit often.  This was the worst my back has ever been.  I was considered ending my running streak and taking up a new sport. I could not imagine running pain-free anymore and now even walking caused pain.

Despite the back pain, London was amazing.  Because we did not have a car, I managed to still cover over 80 miles on foot during week seeing sights and being a tourist.  We took the Tube out to London Tower and ran/walked/sat on benched stopping at every tourist location on the way (Tower Bridge, London Bridge, Big Ben, the Eye, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abby, Hyde Park, etc…)  We saw a great play.  We shopped.  We walked along the Thames at night. We ate great foot. We drank great wine. We SLEPT!  Oh how I have missed sweet sweet sleep!

On the day we were supposed to see Natalie Merchant, Sid was up all night with either a stomach bug or food poisoning! (ok, maybe all the food was not so great). He could not leave the hotel for over 12 hours. But just before it was time to go to the concert, he started to improve.  He wanted to try to go, so we went.  Natalie Merchant did not disappoint. :)

The best news for me is that after just one night home, back in my own bed, my back pain disappeared. I have been able to stand, walk, and run again pain free since my return!  This is hopeful.  I am not yet ready to quit.


  1. So cool that you enjoyed London and parkrun (which is simply a weekly dose of fabulous running community spirit). Hope your back troubles clear up.
    Cheers, Andy.