I’m not at all interested in the parkrun alphabet challenge, which is to complete a parkrun that begins with each letter of the alphabet (aside from X, which doesn’t yet exist). I am however, interested in experiencing as many different parkruns as I can. A couple of weekends’ ago saw my 34th run, at my 11th different venue. That venue was Brueton, Solihull.

There’s no real reason why I chose Brueton, just that it was within reasonable commuting distance and was one that I hadn’t completed before. I was aware beforehand though that it’s relatively flat, and I planned to ‘race’ the event to get a benchmark time with which to build my ensuing 10k training plan on.

I arrived early enough to park in the small car park at the end of the park (around 70 spaces). You get three hours of free parking, but you still need to obtain a ticket from the machine and display it in your car. I then set off down the path leading from the car park to the start as part of my warm up.

Following the first timer’s briefing, I lined myself up at the start, next to the 20 minutes marker. I’m not sure if it was just my experience on that particular day, but the start at Brueton was a little strange. There’s a big starting pen, which is sectioned off using rope/chains, where you can line yourself up next to the time markers, like I did. Whilst stood in position within the pen, some late shows jogged up to the front of the pen and waited, rather than joining the pen.

What seemed to happen was akin to how many races are started. The pen was opened, and everyone started to move forward before being given the go ahead to start, at which point those at the front ran off with everyone behind following on. Not only were those late shows now starting ahead of me, but I had no idea where and when the actual start was. There was no signal, no siren and no indication at all, not that I heard anyway. As everyone around me started to progress into a run, I decided to start my watch and get on with it.

20 minutes would have put me in the top 25-30 on that day, but there were far more runners ahead of me now than that, more than 100 I would say. Brueton parkrun is a two-lapped course, shaped as a figure of eight. As we approached the second corner, which was the start of the bend on the upper section of the ‘8’, such was the congestion and bottleneck that I had to resort to a walk. Looking back at my Garmin data afterwards, this probably lasted for around seven seconds. I didn’t hold out much hope for my time after this but got a move on as soon as I could regardless.

Brueton also has a lead bike, which I was very surprised to see coming back down the centre section of the course as I was still heading out. It, and the runner who was flying behind it, must have been a full kilometre ahead, and I was only 1-1.5km in. I looked back at the results later that day and he ran a 14:26 (!), breaking the course record in the process.

My run was beginning to go better than expected. After a poor first km (4:22), I managed to pull it back in the second with a 4:08. The base of the ‘8’ has a turnaround point next to the River Blythe, before re-joining the main straight section back to the top. It’s quite a simplistic parkrun, but very pretty. Anyway, this turnaround point suffers from a touch of tree cover, meaning GPS can be a bit sketchy. My track for the first lap showed me taking a bit of a swim, but it was pretty accurate for the second lap.

Returning towards the start/finish on the straight section involved a very slight incline. It was by no means a ‘hill,’ but it definitely required a small increase in effort. 4:20 for km three. The second lap is unexpectedly slightly different to the first, around the top section of the 8. The reason it was unexpected was probably more to do with the fact that the field had opened up at this point and, despite there being more than 550 runners on the course that day, I was running on my own around this section, which felt quite odd given the numbers there. Soon enough though I was back on the main section among the other runners.

The end of the fourth km came up just before the final turn-around point, in 4:17. I had turned this around nicely. There was no chance for a PB today (I wasn’t expecting one anyway) but given the start, I was still on for an impressive time. The final km turned out to be the fastest, but it became apparent part way up the main path that 5km would be up on my watch before it was on the course. Any UKA race, I would normally go by the course as opposed to my watch, especially given GPS accuracy. I approach parkruns a little differently though, particularly as they are not chip timed, and the actual distance that you travel depends on how far back from the start that you are when the RD signals the start. There are always at least a few seconds before you start moving too, again depending on how congested the start is, so I tend to go by my watch rather than the course at parkruns, rightly or wrongly.

Here, today, there was also the added variability as to where and when I started as opposed to where and when the actual start was. So, when my watch signalled the end of the fifth km around 10 seconds before the official finish, I stopped it for a 21:16 and proceeded to the end. Official time was 21:55. I did check back afterwards at my GPS track v the course map and description on the Brueton parkrun homepage, just to check if I completed the second lap correctly. It seemed very odd that I was running around a section on my own before re-joining the path amongst other runners. I wondered if I had run an extra bit that wasn’t part of the course, but the two seem to match up accurately.

I would be keen to do Brueton again as it was a nice parkrun, but the start really wasn’t great. Maybe it was just on this occasion. I would start closer to the front next time.

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