I had my first experience of Parkrun today and I loved it.
The run started with a rookie tactical error. I received a "first-timers briefing" about 10 minutes before the race start and when that was complete, I wandered slightly away from the start to warm up a bit. By the time that was complete, the start area was packed and I was stuck quite near the back.
When the gun was fired I was going nowhere fast as after the start there are narrow paths which are roped off which means really bad congestion for the first 3-400 metres. The upshot of that is I spent a good 30 seconds having to walk at the start and consequently completed the first Km in 6 minutes 26 seconds. I mentioned in my graduation post that I was gunning to break 30 minutes for 5k so I was clearly quite badly behind schedule.
No matter, even if 30 minutes was now unlikely, the best thing to do was to try to settle into a steady pace and make sure that I didn't gas myself. That plan worked OK for a while and my second Km was slightly quicker at 6:14. At that point I had some running room as we started a lap of a lake, I was passing a few people who had gone off too quickly. I now totally get why people say "you get pulled along by a crowd" because without trying to dramatically step up my pace the 3rd K was registered in 5 minutes 30 seconds.
All of a sudden 30 minutes was back on the cards and told myself to just try and maintain steady rhythm. I was just about able to do that but having overtook another 20 or so runners I came up behind a lady and her two daughters who were 'blocking' the path. I had a quick glance at my Garmin and I had actually sped up even more so rather than try to barge my way through or ask them to move, I settled in behind them to gain some breath for a final 'push'. The 4th Km was recorded in 5:33 and I was now well ahead of my 30 minute target.
For the first half of the last K, I just sat in behind that same lady and her kids (they were going a really nice pace) but as the path widened and the home straight beckoned, I accelerated again and went past them and then I went past another couple of runners - it was all going swimmingly until I heard footsteps gaining on me from behind. I asked my legs for one last push but they had nothing more to give, I couldn't even maintain that pace and in the last 100m I was overtaken by (I think) 6 others runners including lady and both daughters. With about 50m to go, my Garmin beeped to indicate I had completed 5km and said that the last Km was done in 5:23 so the GPS was thrown a bit of a wobbly somewhere (probably in the woods during the 3rd Km). I crossed the line with my Garmin showing a distance of 5.06Km in 29 minutes and 27 seconds.
As I type this, I am still awaiting the official result but it is safe to say that I did break 30 minutes and in doing so took about a minute and a half off my previous PB.
I was completely pooped at the end but after doing the barcode stuff, I dragged my weary legs to the swimming pool cafe and had a coffee with a couple of regulars who laughed at my rookie error and said that the organisers were looking to change the area of the start because field sizes had swelled so much in recent months.
In truth that bout of walking at the start probably didn't cost me much at all in terms of finishing time. With a faster start, I would not have been able to maintain the faster pace I managed later.
I really enjoyed today, the folks were friendly, the volunteers were great and my run surpassed my hopes but Parkrun will be only an occasional treat for me. Saturday mornings are normally a good time for me to get some work done but more than that, these last few weeks have made me realise that I enjoy slow running more than busting my lungs going fast. So Parkrun once every 5 or 6 weeks would be my thought.
Update: Official Time was 29:31