The other day I, unexpectedly, became the first woman across the line at parkrun. My parkrun times have slipped a bit since my heyday of 2017, when I had a phase of regularly getting a time below 23 minutes. That’s when I got my PB of 22:23. Lately, my time has consistently been around 23:40, which is still pretty good for a normal person.
While my times remain pretty consistent, my positions change depending on who else is there on any given day – and the luck of the draw. In recent weeks I’ve ranged from fourth in my age category (although I’m usually first) to a triumphant first lady overall at Sandwell Valley parkrun.
For me, being first lady at parkrun is the absolute dream. That’s pretty good for a woman of my age, right? I achieved it for the first time late in 2018 and came close twice at the end of 2019. There was the perfect storm (literally) at my home parkrun of horrendous weather, combined with the Rugby World Cup final. That was the lowest turnout at our home parkrun I’ve ever known. I was second lady that week. A few weeks later, I tried out a new parkrun locally and was leading for the first lap. But then another woman sneaked past me and I couldn’t catch her. But second was a very respectable finish.
The way we manage to do parkrun every week (I literally took part in every single parkrun of 2019, usually as a runner, but a few times as a volunteer), is by always doing parkrun wherever we need to be on a Saturday morning. So if my son has an away rugby or football match, we don’t miss parkrun, we just do a run close to the game.
So when he had his first indoor athletics competition in Birmingham, we looked for the closest parkrun. It was literally in the same park.
We arrived at 8.30am, only to discover it had been cancelled. Luckily, the parkrun website has ‘other parkruns nearby’ for every event. So we looked for the closest one. And that’s how I ended up doing Sandwell Valley parkrun. Normally, when we run elsewhere, we check the results beforehand and work out where we could come if we ran out our usual pace. At Sandwell, I literally had time to check the website for the whereabouts of the toilets (luckily, right in the car park) before we arrived.
The start line was very narrow and I was about a third of the way back, with my daughter, who had been moaning. She didn’t want to do parkrun, she was aching from ballet, she was too cold… So we got a very slow start, but then my daughter yelled ‘I’m going to do this one fast!’ and she was off like a rocket. It was actually a struggle to catch her at first. But I caught her and overtook her, then I overtook several more women.
The start is over a humpback bridge over the M5. There is then some more uphill and some downhill. As the first icy morning in a while, there were a lot of slippy patches. I’d decided I didn’t need my new trail shoes for the parkrun we were supposed to do, as that was on tarmac, but a lot of Sandwell Valley is on trails. There were some big frozen puddles to run round.
By the time I got to a large lake – Swan Pool, the runners had thinned right out. I could still see my husband ahead and I couldn’t see any women at all. He usually finishes around the time of the first lady.
There was a long frosty stretch of path along the lake, but I ran carefully and didn’t slip. Then I realised I could see a woman some way in the distance, ahead of my husband. I was disappointed as I’d been pretty sure I was the first lady. But she was so far ahead of me that I had missed her.
But then I realised we had to run two laps of the lake. The woman I had seen ahead of me wasn’t ahead of me at all, she was actually some way behind.
Sandwell Valley is a beautiful parkrun. It’s hard to believe you are in Birmingham at all. It was such a lovely, sunny morning too. What better day to be the first lady?
Although after the lake we did run right alongside the M5 briefly, which was strange. Then there was a killer of an uphill, which slowed me right down. Then it was back onto the humpback bridge over the motorway and downhill to the finish line.
‘How many other ladies have gone through?’
‘You’re the first.’
YES! The man in front of me turned round to congratulate me on being first lady.
My time was 23:37, which is very consistent with what I usually run, despite the slow start and the slow bit on the icy path. My husband had come in 12th out of over 200 runners, which is his best overall position ever. I was 22nd overall, which isn’t my best ever (I was 9th the last time I was first lady).
My daughter crossed the line in under 31:40, which is better than usual for her. She said it was her favourite parkrun ever. Even better – she was first in her age category for the first time. There were six girls in her category, so that was a real achievement.
So the other parkrun being cancelled turned out to be really good for all of us.