A mediocre performance at a free to enter timed 5k run would not normally merit the honour of a rare post on this blog. Belton House parkrun #1, however, was perhaps the one of the more important events I’ve taken part in.
Over a year in the making (and nearer two if you include the previous failed attempts), Grantham finally had its parkrun, albeit as close as it could physically be – technically Belton House being in the small hamlet of Belton on the outskirts of Grantham. Although I was privvy to the details in how the parkrun was founded, I only played a very minor role in its establishment.
Originally it had been suggested that Grantham would have its parkrun at Wyndham Park. As a Grantham Running Club committee member I played a role in dismissing the proposal as I saw the course as overly twisty and narrow in places – with three passes of a footpath known locally as dog shit alley perhaps not conducive to encouraging new runners – part of the ethos that makes parkrun such a success. There were also issues with a cycle path running through the route, a lack of any toilet facilities pre-run and inadequate parking.
Belton House, on the other hand, had almost everything a parkrun could wish for: generous hosts in the National Trust who would provide parking, toilet, and cafe facilities. An almost entirely off road route with some exceptional scenery and the ever delightful herds of deer that always bring a smile with their grace when jumping fences as they flee when you run towards them.
It was many months of negotiation between the National Trust, Grantham Running Club and Grantham Athletics Club, before the go ahead was given for Belton House parkrun. A route was finalised and rehearsed a couple of weeks before the first official run. I was racing on that day, but had the opportunity to recce the route a week before, on a wet and windy morning. I was impressed with the land that had an astonishing draining ability. Local roads were flooded, you would barely know it had been raining for nearly three days solid.
It was a similar story when I awoke for the first Belton House parkrun. Wet and very windy conditions prevailed. For the first time since moving from Coventry to Grantham two a and a bit years ago, I enjoyed the ability to be able to run to a parkrun rather than face a lengthy drive. It was tempered by a lethargic feel and some distinct stiffness in both hips, but all the same I was glad to be out running.
There were plenty of familiar faces at the start line as most of the parkrun volunteers come from Grantham Running Club or Grantham Athletics club and I spent the minutes before the start chatting with a number of them. There were whispers I would be the sure-fire first place finisher but I knew there were at least two other runners who on paper are significantly quicker over 5k than I am.
There were around 200 runners taking part, which is not a huge number, but a manageable amount for a first attempt and impressive given the miserable conditions. The pre-run speech by Event Director Gordon was long and mostly inaudible (He had forgotten his loudhailer) but it was respectfully observed by the field. A few minutes later and the countdown was given and we were off.
With hips a little stiff I set off as swiftly as I could while not making quite the suicidal start that some around me made. As seen in the picture above, around a minute into the run, I (in the white long sleeve top – no club colours for me at a parkrun (it’s not a race!) was around fifth, with the eventual first place finisher, but not the winner, Jake Richardson on my far right, also making a sensible start. The picture shows clearly the rain that has fallen, it doesn’t illustrate the near gale force wind that blew directly into us for the opening section of the two lap course, before we thankfully turned left and onto the grass section of the lap.
I passed the child who had slipped ahead of me and found myself fourth, running comfortably, but not that quickly. Matt Emery was a clear second halfway around the first lap and the early leader Philip Nind was around 5 seconds ahead of me. The first two were uncatchable with my tight hip flexors. I would normally have settled for fourth but I fancied the distinction of finishing in the top three of the first Belton House parkrun, so I spent the remainder of the first lap slowly hauling in Philip. I caught him as we started the second lap. I thought for a minute about tucking into his slipstream into the wind, but felt the time was right to put in a surge and break his tow, so this is exactly what I did. By the time we passed the golf course for the second and last time I had a clear gap which I could relatively easily maintain.
I had the rest of the lap to try and enjoy the run as best I could – the last remaining deer fled over the fence as I passed, and I began to lap the backmarkers – with far less difficulty than at other venues such as Newark and Peterborough. With not so much a sprint finish but a slight increase in pace, I finished third in 18:44, just under 50 seconds behind Jake in first and 30 behind Matt. The times were not quick but I reckon the wind was worth at least a minute on the final times. A quick handshake with those finishing ahead and behind me and it was off to watch the rest of the field come home.
I spent the next fifteen minutes or so watching the rest of the runners finish, each passing runner emphasised the overwhelming merits parkrun has in encouraging runners of all abilities. I then jogged home, very slowly as the left groin had tightened significantly and the wind had, if anything got stronger. Happily though the pain was temporary. The first of hopefully many Belton House parkruns was done.