A trip up north to say ‘hello’ to the family and for football gave me all the excuse I needed to take in what was – until last week – the most northerly parkrun in the UK.

Twenty miles up the A9 from Inverness, the Alness parkrun started up last summer.

The core team have chosen a brilliant spot for it.  Based in Crawl Park, the course takes you into the forest along a narrow trail path following the river Averon and under the A9 at 1k before heading towards Dalmore distillery (1.5km) and attacking the Cromarty Firth, all the while with a view of the oil rig in the distance.  Turn at the end of the pier, and race back the way you came.

Douglas Mason’s got a great video of the run.  He’s got the hang of editing – I need to get practising…

Relying on public transport, it was an early train to get through.  I passed the time studying in the Morrison’s cafe while drinking tea – it was sunny outside, but still a little chilly if you were sitting idle!

As I prepared to walk the half mile to the park to get underway, a car pulled up alongside me asking if I was heading for parkrun.  Why, yes I was!  Turns out this was our day’s tail-walker, Yvonne, who was also there for the first time and needed a bit of help to find the place.  We coped well under pressure, though, and made all the right turns (well, okay, only one turn… and it was left) at the first time of asking.

We were there.

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The way to the start line, and a conveniently describes the route!
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Self-explanatory
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Into the woods
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…and in the end

Compulsory pre-run photos taken, a couple of warm up strides done, and after very little in the way of ceremony we were running.  So little ceremony, in fact, that I wasn’t ready and frantically played with my watch to get it going!

I got carried away, charging off like a hound after the hare that was the leader.  It took all of 300m or so for it to be apparent he wasn’t to be caught, and I found myself in the slightly embarrassing spot of not wanting to be caught as the fool for that start.  Only one thing for it – carry on charging!

First Km: 3m38. 

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Under the A9 around a kilometre in

Just out the other side of this, the path either carries on by the river or turns left through a fence.  I panicked momentarily – no one for me to follow! – before I caught a glimpse of the marshal to the left.  Right…left, it is!  And we were treated to quite the unique view:

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Second Km: 3m51

The oil platform on the Cromarty Firth got gradually larger as I made progress towards the pier.  A little way onto it, I managed a smile and a ‘well done’ to the guy in first coming the other way, and carried on my merry way.

As I turned to come back myself, I realised I was about as far clear of third as I was behind first.  I just kept smiling and greeting everyone as we passed each other, going through

Third Km: 3:56

until I was left to my own thoughts for the last mile.  Oh boy, this was tough now.  Legs felt okay but I was only slowing and I couldn’t do much about it.

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The way back. Photo courtesy of Alan Cruicshank Photographic

Saying hello to the marshals dotted around was the only distraction I had.

Fourth Km: 4m00

As I came through the woods, the guy who’d won it came back by me again!  He commented he had a race tomorrow and went jogging off back down the course (to run in with his daughter, as it turned out).   Leaving me to it, I emerged out back into the sunshine-filled park.  No sprint finish, just glad to cross the imaginary line in the grass.

Fifth Km: 4m20

That shows how daftly quick I’d started – every kilometre slower than the last! Still, it was a really enjoyable course on best Saturday morning of the year so far.

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I’m not sure if it was the unfamiliar face wearing the ’50’ t-shirt, or the cow cowl on my wrist, but either way the volunteers knew me a a tourist and were quick get chatting to me afterwards.  That’s when I found out the winner set the course record the week before!  They invited me to write in their guest book (a great idea, by the way) which I was only too happy to do.

Inevitably, the next person I spoke to was also up from Edinburgh.  The parkrun world is a small one.

I went round the course again for some of the photos above (and below), and headed for the Cafe Picante, where I got talking with a 64- & 80- year old, both seasoned runners with some great stories.  I got to hear all about the local races of bygone years as well, and a little of future aspirations!  Good luck breaking 30, Sir.

The core team were there too.  The results were processes in double-quick time, and I was given the privilege of writing up a run report for their page.  I’ve been immortalised!

Overall, a really enjoyable morning.  Well worth the trip up.

Videos of the course can be seen in all their glory from Craig and Doug, who are travelling around all the Scottish parkruns this year.

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