There’s no gold in them there hills

Hills, it would seem, are not conducive to a quick running time. This is a bit of a self-evident fact, I realise; however, I had not understood quite how much of a hindrance a hill can be when you’re looking to motor for a few miles.

The reason for hills featuring so regularly in my running is that it is nigh on impossible to run any sort of distance around here without encountering some sort of slope. I may have mentioned this before on this blog (see, for example, any post that involves me talking about running) but those are the perils of living on the edge of Dartmoor, and the benefits far outweigh the odd gradient grumble.

Last weekend, however, I was not in Devon. I was nowhere near a hill. I was, in fact, at sea level; with ‘level’ being the operative word. Welcome one and all to the Lee-on-the-Solent parkrun…

Lee parkrun 1

Here we have five flat kilometres on a promenade. A promenade that’s level. And not muddy, or covered in deep puddles. It has no hills. This was very exciting to me.

It was a good morning for running as well: cloudy but without too much wind. I imagine that the wind can be your enemy on this particular course on a blustery Saturday morning. There was an entertaining briefing for us first-timers and then a large group of runners lined up on the start line. More accurately, we all lined up behind the start line, a great big group stretching backwards along the promenade. There were 268 of us! The largest group ever seen at the Parke parkrun (my local) was 200 runners. The biggest turnout at Lee-on-the-Solent? 430 runners! It has only started this year, but it seems to be popular.

Being a course newbie, I had the traditional trouble of trying to work out where to stand for the start. I looked around me, trying to size up my fellow runners. I neither wanted to be boxed in, nor swept along in the ultra-fast group, so I attempted to place myself amongst similarly skilled runners. I picked my spot and waited for the whistle.

The first couple of kilometres are an out-and-back, heading east to start off with, before turning around a cone and working your way back to the start. I probably went off a little too fast – I was excited by the lack of hills, remember – but it was a smooth surface to run on and it was nice to just open my legs a little and stretch them out. We passed the start and carried on west, heading towards the edge of the town. Once there, you spin around another cone and begin the final leg back to where you began.

Lee parkrun 2

I wasn’t looking at my watch as I went so I had no idea what sort of time I was running. I found that it was hard to judge my speed over an entirely flat course, as I am used to slowing down to fight my way up a hill and speeding up as I descend again. But I clicked the timer off as I went over the line, grabbed my finishing token and waited for my vision to return to normal. The time, I was somewhat surprised to find, was pretty quick. For me, at least. My previous parkrun PB, set at Parke, was 23:49. I ran the Lee-on-the-Solent parkrun in 20:37.

That is quite a difference. That’s what hills will do to you!

As a postscript to this little adventure, I realised that I had also – slightly inadvertently – beaten my target time for the year, set somewhat arbitrarily back in January. I had hoped to run 21:50 in 2015 and I have now gone under that. I’m starting to wonder whether I can get to 20:15 in 2015… I better get back to the training.

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