Google Maps might be one of the best apps ever invented but over the Christmas period I discovered one crucial thing it doesn’t do well – indicate the hilliness or otherwise of a hitherto unvisited parkrun.
On my computer screen, the Llyn Llech Owain course at Crosshands looked as flat as a pancake; two laps on a nice gravel track around a pleasant lake, some sections wooded, others open. There was a visitor centre, toilets and a cafe.
But as I learned on Christmas Day, Google Maps isn’t always the most accurate way of assessing a course. Stunning though the views across the valley are, Llyn Llech Owain parkrun is definitely not flat; as well as the short steep sections, halfway round the lake there’s also one of those horribly sneaky inclines that get me every time… and you have to do it twice!
Perhaps I should backtrack briefly. Ever since I started running five years ago, I’ve gone out for a run on Christmas morning. Nothing too energetic, but when the meat was in the oven and I’d peeled umpteen potatoes, carrots and parsnips, it was wonderful to escape the festive madness and get some fresh air and exercise for 45 minutes.
Getting out, albeit briefly, on Christmas Day, has been a crucial date in my running calendar. So when I learned Newport was holding a parkrun on Christmas Day I was absolutely gutted… because I so wanted to be there and I knew I couldn’t. I was already committed to four days’ hiking on Gower, researching and walking routes for our next ebook; three nights in a Travelodge were already booked and paid for.
But while a Christmas Day parkrun at Tredegar House was a non starter for me, the notion of doing a parkrun on Christmas morning caught my imagination. I must have had a fairy godmother looking after me because a quick online search revealed that I too could go to a Christmas parkrun; the Llyn Llech Owain parkrun was not only situated just over a mile away from where we were staying but they too were holding a Christmas Day run. After a little cajoling, Harri agreed to come along with me (though he drew the line at donning a tinsel garland). I knew it wouldn’t be the same as running at Newport where I’d be exchanging festive greetings with my running mates but it was the next best thing and would take me one parkrun nearer my coveted 100 tee-shirt.
Which brings me back to the actual event. Although our hotel was within easy warm-up distance, we decided to drive to the start and do our warm-up there. If anyone has run at Llyn Llech Owain, you’ll know it’s at the top of a hill, and as we climbed, the ice on the pavements got worse. As my fall last week was probably due to ice I was starting to get a little worried about the prospect of running the 5k distance on icy surfaces. I’d removed my sticky sutures on Christmas Eve and I certainly wasn’t in any hurry to have a new set.
We were among the first to arrive and soon got chatting to John, who’d run the course a few times, and Trudy, a first-timer. Harri and I left them to warm up but we didn’t get far because the gravel track was under water and I was reluctant to get wet feet before we’d even started.
Just before 9am there was an announcement that we would be starting 15 minutes late – the closure of the A48 due to an accident and icy conditions meant some regular runners were having to find alternative routes to parkrun.
Unfortunately, the icy conditions weren’t confined to the A48… wearing just running tights and my parkrun 50 tee-shirt I was gradually turning into an icicle myself. Then when we finally started running, the heavens opened and the hailstones hammered down on us. Two kilometres in and my arms were as red as my tee-shirt!
Once we’d set off I didn’t see Harri at all, which is what I’ve grown to expect at any running events we attend together. He loves mud, water and hills and all three were abundant on Christmas Day so he was in his element, finishing 6th out of a field of 39 runners with an impressive time of 21 mins 30 secs.
I was some way behind but, despite the tough terrain, I didn’t completely disgrace myself and managed 27th place in a respectable 27 mins and 50 secs.
So at last I can claim to be a parkrun tourist and, with two wet and muddy parkruns under my belt this week, I’m now only ten runs away from my first 100. Yet, while it was lovely to be able to participate in a parkrun on Christmas Day, it wasn’t quite as much fun doing it in the company of strangers, however friendly they were. One of the nicest things about parkrun is seeing the same familiar faces each week and catching up with old friends and new. Okay, I’ll admit it, I missed the Newport gang on Christmas Day.
I’m sure we’ll pop along to Llyn Llech Owain parkrun again – the hilltop location is absolutely stunning and we definitely didn’t see it at its best this time – but I definitely need to work on those hill reps before my next appearance.