Who goes to Paris and doesn’t take the opportunity to run the world’s most romantically-shaped parkrun course which happens to be located in one of the green lungs of Paris, the Bois de Boulogne? Well a lot of people apparently. With an average attendance rate of 33 people, after almost three years, it’s not only tourists who are missing out on this gem of a 5km. The city’s 2.2 million residents, many of whom are presumably runners, have also proved immune to the charms of parkrun of which there are currently two events in the French capital. The second, parkrun Montsouris, started in October 2016 and has an average weekly participant number of 21.5.

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parkrun is a little less popular in France than in England;)

I’m a big fan of small parkruns so low attendance isn’t a complaint just more of a concern. When a parkrun is dominated by tourists, it must be more challenging than usual to fill the volunteer roster. In fact, a couple of weeks after our visit, I saw on Facebook that the event in Bois de Boulogne had been cancelled due to a shortage of volunteers. Looking at the event list, this appears to have been a one-off so kudos to the core event team for that.

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Attendee and volunteer numbers for Bois du Boulogne parkrun April to Sep 2018.

We were staying in the 16th, about 2km from the start line, so I jogged to the Bois Du Boulogne with the aid of Google maps. To be honest, I was fretting all week about making it to the start line, and more importantly making it to the toilet, just before I made it to the start line. There is a public toilet at the entrance to the park at the Porte d’Auteil metro station but I completely bypassed this, unintentionally. The good news for nervous bladder owners is that the Bois du Boulogne being a park, has plenty of shrubbery. Even better, unlike in Australia, you don’t have to worry about dying ignominiously with your pants around your ankles thanks to a poisonous snake lurking in the undergrowth.

Once I found the parkrun flag, I discovered a huddle of excited, fellow tourists. There were two girls from New York doing their first ever parkrun, and an elderly couple and their daughter from the UK. I also spoke briefly to a West Australian on holidays, whose local parkrun I had done on New Year’s day this year.

Our event, on June 30, turned out to be one of the busiest of the year, the weekend of Paris Marathon notwithstanding when numbers swelled to 190 (April 7).

The English gentleman, who was in his seventies, claimed that it was his dream to die while running parkrun. We laughed as if this was a joke but I knew exactly what he meant; parkrun was his happy place and a testament to being active irrespective of age.

In addition to worrying about getting to the start line, I had also spent much time in my hotel frowning at the description of what looked to be a very complicated course. The problem wasn’t my French but my inability to convert the words into an image in my head that made sense of the map on Google. I was oblivious to the heart-shap until I had finished and saw it on my Strava profile!

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The wonky-heart-shaped route of Paris Bois du Boulogne parkrun.

I needn’t have fretted – as is usually the case – as the marshals did a perfect job of keeping runners on track and turning in the right direction. The marshals and the Run Director all spoke English which was very generous of them. They probably knew the chaos that would ensue offering directions in French. The course is flat, with a combination of tarmac roads and trails paths, so it’s a good course for a fast run if you’re in the mood.

A young Australian, one of the small band of regulars at Bois de Boulogne, was celebrating her 100th parkrun and had brought cake but I couldn’t stay as I had a flight to catch to Copenhagen.

I have a number of French running buddies in my Nomad group in Perth so I was aware that to enter any race in France, one has to provide medical clearance. I assume that to avoid being called a race, parkrun in France publishes the results not in order of crossing the finish line but in alphabetical order by first name. It’s quirky, n’est pas? Your parkrun profile will still record your placement as with any other parkrun globally.

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Results in alphabetical order.

In the end, all the worrying was a waste of time – when isn’t it? – and I was very glad that I hadn’t surrendered to the voice that told me to drop this parkrun tourism lark for an easier, more sedentary holiday (as I have done on trips to Singapore and Melbourne). I may not have gone up the Eiffel Tower, nor seen the inside of the Cathedral of Notre Dame since 1985, but in the summer of 2018, I did complete parkrun du Bois du Boulogne in Paris. If you get the chance, I recommend that you do the same.

Beginners’ guide to parkrun: five top tips to get you started.

What if I told you that there exists the perfect community-based antidote to our fast-paced, achievement-oriented, internet-soaked, terrorist-fearing, climate-changing, politically precarious modern world? And it’s free. And there’s no catch or downside. Unless you count running as a downside; in which case you might have landed on the wrong blog. Or you’re one of my rare, lovely friends whom I have yet to convert. Yet.

parkrun is the name given to a collection of five-kilometre running events that take place every Saturday morning in fourteen countries across five continents. Each parkrun territory has its own sponsors. Because of the sponsorship all are free to take part in. (Wikipedia)

Today marks the 12th birthday of parkrun, which started with 13 people in a park in the UK and has since grown into a global phenomenen involving almost 1000 events and counting. How can I be part of this deceptively simple concept that brings so much joy and goodwill (and better health) to communities in 14 countries I hear you ask. Well if you check the parkrun website for your country and discover an event in your local area, you are not only exceptionally fortunate but also only a few steps from actually becoming a parkrunner

Here’s how to get started:

 1. Register and print your barcode. #DFYB

Online registration is easy and fast, after which you will need to print, then cut out a credit card-sized slip of paper containing your unique parkrun number and barcode. This barcode is the key to a new world of recorded times, which ultimately accumulate into free milestone t-shirts, and global parkrun tourism opportunities. When paired with the finisher token you receive crossing the finish line, and scanned by a volunteer, your barcode opens the door to a whole world of personal bests, milestones, progress, and borderless parkrun tourism. No barcode, no time. And please don’t offer the barcode scanner your smartphone to scan the screen. It doesn’t work. Ever.

 

Keep your barcode somewhere secure (and dry) so you don’t lose it during the run. As you can see I wore mine out and instead of cutting a new one from my printed sheet, I ordered a laminated barcode disk that attaches to my shoe (shown here with a finisher token). Barcode bracelets are also popular.

2. Show Up Early

img_4528Every parkrun event website contains comprehensive information on directions, parking, the course, and toilet facilities. Study it in advance. It’s a good idea to show up early, though not too early unless you’re happy to help the Run Director and other volunteers set up. img_8523All parkruns plant a flag to mark the gathering point for runners.  Getting there 15 minutes before start time allows for a little chat and the pre-run briefing from the Run Director during which he/she will explan the course (which you’ll already have scoped out online anyway, right?) and ask for first timers and visitors from other parkrun events to raise their hands. Raise that hand high with pride and bask in the ensuing grunts of approval/applause as you’re only a first timer once.

3. Bring a friend/child/dog..

If you are daunted by showing up alone, bring a friend, a child or even a dog. I opted for a child during my first few parkruns as I had no friends (who ran), nor a dog. Thinking that parkrun was some sort of race (see below), I was glad to have a slower runner in my care, providing an excuse for not having to run until I heaved. The daughter who fell and grazed her thigh during her first parkrun, recently celebrated my 50th (parkrun, not birthday) by gliding gazelle-like past me at the 300m mark with a ‘Hi mum’ and staying ahead of me for the entire course. This is the price to pay for spending time with her every Saturday morning. It’s more than worth it.

If you’re taking a child in a stroller, please check that your parkrun event is stroller-friendly. Most are but if there’s a beach-stretch as there is at my local parkrun, it may not be ideal. Unless you’re seeking a special Saturday-morning challenge. If you’re taking a child aged 11 or below, you need to accompany them on the course for their own safety.

parkrun is for the whole family, for people of all ages, and running abilities. Don’t worry about being the slowest. You most likely won’t be. And even if you are, you’re still a hell of a lot faster than the folks lounging around at home, scrolling through Facebook.

parkrun is such a simple concept: turn up every Saturday and run 5km. It doesn’t matter how fast you go. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing. What matters is taking part. (parkrun.com)

4. It’s not a race

‘It’s a run not a race’ is a parkrun mantra. Some runners use it as a time trial and a test of overall progress in increOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAasing speed and fitness. For others it’s a trial to cover 5km at all. It doesn’t matter which category, or the many in-between, that you fall into; it’s all about having fun. And for some people, pushing through the pain barrier is fun. There is some emphasis on personal bests when the results are posted online (and issued via email) but ultimately parkrun is what you want it to be. I go every week on a course that varies depending on the wind and the tide so that even when I run my hardest, I don’t improve on the PB I set nine months ago. And I really don’t mind. What matters most is that I meet up with some great people (and meet new ones) every Saturday morning and enjoy good company and being active. It’s now a bonus if I can keep up with my children.

5. Volunteer

Without volunteers, there would be no parkrun. Donning a parkrun volunteer vest is the best way to make friends and there are numerous roles available so check out the online roster to see where you think you’d like to offer your services. It’s recommended that everyone volunteer at least three times a year and 25 volunteer commitments are rewarded with a free purple 25 t-shirt. The best volunteers cheer, applaud, and high five which you’ll discover during your first run is something much-appreciated.

If there isn’t a parkrun near you, you might consider getting a group of enthusiasts together and setting one up. I have friends in both Malaysia and Norway currently trying to get parkruns up and going. As for my non-running friends? I’m still working on them.

 

Running Ambitions for 2016

In 2015, I sucked. As a blogger, I sucked. Fifteen posts. Hardly enough to to qualify as a blogger. AMBITION #1. Write weekly. Not because the running world needs me to, but because when I’m not being creative, I’m miserable. Except when running, but given that it’s physiologically impossible to run constantly, a blog post or so every week about running, seems like a more viable recipe for joy.

2015Review

In 2015, I had a fantastic running year, with many great races, most of which surpassed my expectations in terms of experience and results. I also avoided injury despite running 2355km, and achieving personal best times in 10km and 21.1km races. As my love affair with running has deepened (one November blip in the romance aside), so has my desire to spread that love. I want everyone in the entire universe (with functioning legs) to experience the joys of running. I want everyone to speak the language of pace, Strava, and blackened toe nails. Running is a journey that nurtures both my brain and my ageing body; it has also introduced me to many fantastic people who are equally in the thrall of placing one foot in front of the other for swathes of time every week. Running makes me feel alive, and powerful in the face of my inevitable mortality. In September, I qualified as an Accredited Athletics Coach Level 1. Basically, this means that I can coach kids at Little Athletics. Ultimately, I’d like to be able to coach adults who want to take up running, resume running, or attain a particular running goal.  AMBITION#2 Qualify as a Recreational Running Coach Level 2.

Then there’s the biggie. I have never had any desire to run a marathon. I’ve found each of my eleven half marathons challenging enough. I’ve been of the opinion, since starting running four years ago, that training for a 42.195km race would be too arduous, too time consuming, too likely to leave me injured and unable to run at all. It would also place too much pressure to succeed at one event. Basically, I haven’t wanted to take the risk. But now, suddenly, I do. I absolutely do want to take the risk of training for and running for my first (possibly only) marathon in 2016, aged 45. Of course, I do. Having warded off injury for 18 months, why not antagonise the Gods of tendons, muscles and ligaments? Why be grateful when you can say I want to do even more?! I happened to be out running by the sea,  feeling strong and happy, when this new resolve to test my body to its limits hit me. Unlike many of the ideas I’ve had while pounding the pavement, this one didn’t lose its lustre once I’d showered. In fact, several weeks on, and I’m pretty excited about the idea – which of course makes sense as I haven’t actually started training, and my targeted event – Perth Marathon – is over five months away. Loadsa time yet to get real. And scared. AMBITION #3 Train for Perth Marathon 2016 (see what I did there? Train, not run? I’m not even assuming I’ll make it to the start line. Best keep expectations low!) Of course, this means that for another year, there isn’t a hope in hell of being able to have a professional pedicure but big ambitions require tough choices – and having ten healthy toe nails simultaneously is an ambition too far.

IMG_2838Finally, I’ve become a parkrun enthusiast. I’ve met so many great people at parkrun, and I once again feel that I’ve found my tribe (having tearfully bid farewell to the previous one in KL in 2014). I’ve run in five different parkrun locations, including my home town Kilkenny, Ireland, and I’ve brought my three children into the parkrun family both as runners and volunteers. AMBITION#4 Run my 50th parkrun in 2016 (only 28x5km more to go!) and earn my volunteer shirt (16 more vollie stints to go). All this is a tad over-ambitious, more so even that the marathon, but hey if you don’t set goals, you can’t hope to attain them, so let’s see how this goes.

So, there it is. Running ambitions for 2016, above and beyond staying healthy and injury-free, something one should never take for granted, at any age. Ultimately, it won’t matter if I achieve any of these lofty ambitions. The true achievement will be in trying. How about you? Ready for 2016?

Ireland 2015

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Yesterday I did my first non-Australian parkrun in my home town, Kilkenny, something I’ve been looking forward to for months. But I’m not going to write about it yet. I can’t, because I forgot to take a photo of the delicious scones topped with fresh cream and jam which we ate at the Castle Cafe afterwards and being a diligent blogger, who likes things to be complete, I plan to return to Kilkenny parkrun next weekend and take a photo of the after-run delights. I’ll probably run as well:)

IMG_1014I’ve been in Ireland a week and I’ve done much of my running around the Castle Park where parkrun is held. Today though I ventured a bit further afield, and actually ended up IN a field. There is a trail that runs along the River Nore from Kilkenny to Bennetsbridge, and beyond, for around 11km I think but I did not end up on that trail today, despite my best navigation efforts. I was, it turns out, on the wrong side of the river. Still, I took lots of lovely photos of the scenery I took for granted as a child. I was mulling around in the ruins of the old mill when I got an SMS to say my lunch was on the table at my mother’s house. The delights of being home.

I’ve posted the rest of the photos on my Facebook page. Tomorrow I head to Paris with my daughters for a few days. I don’t know if I’ll manage to persuade them to let me run but I’ll try as we’re staying very near the Bois de Boulogne which must be a good place to run. No doubt there will be plenty of Eiffel tower snaps to follow. Á Bientôt:)

Cottesloe parkrun Launch

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The start and finish point for Cottesloe parkrun.

You know I’m already a big fan of parkrun but this morning parkrun just got a little bit better (for me). Cottesloe parkrun launched within running distance of home. Yay! Half an hour longer in bed and a warm-up built into the journey.  Sounds too good to be true? Well good no, but tough, well hell yes!

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Part of the Cottesloe parkrun route

Cottesloe parkrun’s location is stunning, on the beachfront along a path on which I’ve clocked hundreds of kilometres in the past nine months. This morning I think there were about 55 parkrunners some of whom I was delighted to discover I knew already, and not just on Facebook or Strava:)

For the first two kilometres I think I recognised every crack in the pavement. The thing is that to avoid colliding with dogs and walkers further along the beachfront at the aptly-named Dog Beach, the parkrun route must deviate off the path down onto the beach. Almost 1km of the 5km route is in sand. Yes, in not on! This morning’s run felt like a bootcamp, trudging to exhaustion along the beach; my legs were so grateful for the solid surface of the boardwalk back onto the path that it felt churlish to complain about the very, very steep incline. It took a kilometre for my legs to recover from the sand trudging, my 5km time was almost 2 mins slower than usual, and I crossed the finish line calling the beach a b**tch BUT would I do it again?

Hell, yes! What a great workout. If nothing else, Cottesloe parkrun will make other parkruns seem easy in comparison and I’m sure that the sand running must be a great training device. Something that feels that tough and ludicrous must be good for you, right?

To be honest when news of this parkrun surfaced several months back, I was sceptical of how it would work with so many walkers, runners and cyclists already using the path. This morning though this didn’t feel like an issue, mainly I think as there were very few cyclists along the stretch of path and I’m used to having to swerve around walkers.

So, if you’re looking for a parkrun with a little extra challenge, or just want to run 5km by, and on, the beach, head to Cottesloe. My usual parkrun at Heirisson Island has been on hiatus for while but once it’s up and running again – did you see what I did there? – I will try alternate between the two locations.

As there are no parkruns in Australia next weekend due to Anzac Day 100th anniversary, the next event is on May 2  I won’t be there as I’ll be at the Busselton Half Ironman team relay, a story for another day.

PHOTOS from Cottesloe parkrun #1.

My 80/20 Update

I’ve been trying to implement the strategy advocated by Matt Fitzgerald in his book 80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster by Training Slower. This week, I haven’t run any session, other than my interval session, faster than 5:50min/km which hasn’t been easy, especially when it means allowing lots of other runners to sail past. Yes, running slow means leaving your ego at home. To be honest, it’s been hard to shake the suspicion that all this slow running business is in fact making me, well, slower.

However, today I got a little boost and possibly an indicator that this 80/20 thing may be working, even though it is still early days. I took 40s off my 5km time at Bibra Lake parkrun this morning while feeling much more comfortable than on previous attempts (despite the ill-advised breakfast I’d had before heading out the door). I took it easier than usual at the start of the run – getting caught in a crowd kinda helps with that – and had enough strength in my legs to pass all the other women bar the one, a teenager whom I never even saw. She whizzed around in a ‘slow for her’ 21 mins. I’d like to come back as her in my next life.

In the meantime, I’ll stick with the 80/20 system; it still feels counter-intuitive most days, but it makes sense when you read the science behind it. I haven’t finished the book yet, but will post the salient nuggets of information, once I have.

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Not bad for an old bird.