parkrunning down under

Hamilton parkrun

I've been lucky to escape some of the British winter and spend three weeks down under! I'm back in shorts and singlet, running early in the morning to miss the heat of the day and have also taken part in two parkruns - one in Hamilton, New Zealand and one in Melbourne, Australia.

parkrun has grown massively in the UK. We released the figures in the news on 5th January. The performances we have recorded for our handicap scoring system over the last few years have grown as per below:

2014: 2,367,194
2013: 1,530,497
2012: 904,175
2011: 516,728

And now parkrun is becoming established overseas and looks set to be a world wide phenomena.

It is amazing to be able to travel to foreign parts in the knowledge that you can get out and do a timed 5k with like-minded people on any Saturday morning that you choose. I chose to do my first overseas parkrun in Hamilton, New Zealand at 8am on Innes Common. It is slightly earlier start than my UK venue but since I've been down under I've been waking up at the crack of dawn and falling asleep not long after dinner and so I felt wide awake and ready to go well before 8am.

The Hamilton event takes place in a very pleasant park with a lake that is 3,7km around and so the course runs one lap of the lake and then a further 1.3km around a grassy area. It is one of the flattest parkruns I have done and reminded me a lot of the St. Albans event.

The field was made up of all ages, abilities, fun runners, club runners, children, dogs and the odd holiday-maker or two! Announcements were made at the start with achievments (such as those who had completed 50+ runs) noted and newcomers (especially those from overseas) welcomed. The picture shows the gathering at the start and was taken by Michael Newton who has kindly allowed me to use it in this blog.

The run itself was a lot of fun and, with rowers out on the lake, there was a lot to look at and think about. I confess that I went off too fast, on this flat course and I paid for it on the final 1.3km lap but I finished with a good enough time and then we were all invited into the club hut for cups of tea and biscuits! This gave us time to socialise and speak to those who we had been running with and, before myself and my partner knew it, we had organised to meet another couple for a run up a mountain the next day! How fabulous is that? We just turn up, do a parkrun, and make new friends and training partners just like that! The mountain run was wonderful by the way and we will definitely be keeping in touch with our kiwi tour guides!

So after two weeks in New Zealand, where we stayed with family, we set off for Melbourne for a few days to break our journey home. We had to leave our home from home at 3am yesterday morning to catch the flight from Auckland to Melbourne and checked into a backpacker hostel yesterday afternoon. The hostel is only 3km from the start of the Albert Park parkrun - another totally flat run around a lake. Not only that, but the weather has completely changed and, after the heat wave that we've just experienced in New Zealand, Melbourne is cool and even a bit rainy - perfect! "It should be easy to run this one faster than the run in Hamilton" or so I thought!

Melbourne is 2 hours behind New Zealand and so I came up with a very cunning plan - to keep my watch on New Zealand time and so get an early night and an early morning so I would even have time for breakfast before the 8am start, that would feel like 10am. My season's best was beckoning but, alas, it wasn't to be. Last night I found myself cursing what seemed like a good idea to save a few dollars by staying at a backpackers because sleep does not come easy when the place is full of party animals and the party is going on in the room next door! Not only that but I made a school girl error with my choice of breakfast. Upon browsing the shelves at the supermarket around the corner I spotted a package that said "Oats 2 Go" and thought it would be a fast porridgey thing but it was actually a chocolatey liquid meal that resulted in a very gurgly stomach! To cut a long story short, my perfect parkrun became a bit of a slog towards the end but wasn't a total disaster and, wierdly, I got exactly the same time as I did in Hamilton!

The Albert Park parkrun was about twice the size as the Hamilton one but appeared to be made up mostly of out-of-town, out-of-state and out-of-country runners! During the briefing, at the beginning. the organiser asked for a show of hands for those that fitted those descriptions and it seemed that just about everybody put a hand up for one of them! The runner stood next to me asked "Is there anyone here from Melbourne?!"

Once again, it was a friendly affair and I found myself chatting to several runners after the race but this time none were local and all were Brits so there was no offer of a trip to a local running area tomorrow! That's ok though - we've heard about a local running trail called "The Tan" so - with watches still on New Zealand time and plans for an early night with ear plugs we'll be out early tomorrow - and who knows - we may meet some locals who may be able to point us in the right direction for the best post-training cafe for breakfast!

Photo: Gathering at the start of the Hamilton parkrun. Courtesy of Michael Newton