Good food, good company, parkrun, long run – a perfect weekend. Rob offered me still more good hospitality and boy was I tempted. A beautiful location, being spoilt rotten, and away from the backpacker gang for a little longer. Lonely Planet mentions as a downside ‘possibly a slightly greater sense of entitlement’ to backpackers here, since they’re richer, and that does fit a little too often for comfort. Plus they’re young so basics like closing a door without slamming it haven’t yet occurred to them.
I moved on, though, on the Sunday bus. Staying Saturday night gave me the chance to join in with Hamilton Road Runners’ Sunday long run. The prospect made me nervous – jokes that I could only get to 5k were based on the last month’s reality, after all – but it was the perfect long run. We started early, five of us exploring (that’s just my perspective, of course) Hamilton in a 20k route that took us past the university and through the gardens while old friends ribbed each other with gloves off and the summer heat crept in as we got towards 9.00. Finishing back at the clubhouse, where the parkrun had started, I was even tempted to nudge up to half marathon distance by going the long way round the lake but decided to quit while I was ahead. Fabulous. The day before, I’d talked to Kevin, first-placer at parkrun, and he’d invited me on his long run. A trail run that sounded great, and shorter than that a couple of weeks before, when he’d run his longest distance ever.
That latter run had been 55km, however, which still left a 40km for Sunday. Yikes. I had no hesitation in saying I wasn’t fit enough.
Later, Rob dropped me off at the bus stop and we parted company. Until I get my next trip to NZ sorted out, in any case. A few hours later I was in Taupo and picking a hostel. The Blackcurrant backpackers has the highest ratings, but looks like a concrete motel monstrosity from the outside. Inside, though, I was alone in a dorm for 8, individual beds, a comfortable lounge and plenty of space to sit outside.
Taupo on a Sunday evening was looking good. It’s a small town, all grid work streets and low buildings, businesses in the centre and a few pubs on the waterfront, looking over the huge lake, which is the product of volcanic activity. Figures:
Max depth 186 metres, surface area 61,600 ha, total volume 59km cubed.
I liked the place immediately and booked for two nights. I watched The Gilded Cage in the tiniest cinema screen I’ve yet been in – 11 seats and not the biggest viewing area, but it worked and the film was a charm.
On the window of the cinema a Wednesday evening 5k was advertised. Hmm.
Reading: Last Light. Apocalyptic thriller, leavened with the bread of ‘ooh, what if’. Much more pap-like than the author intended and there, 2/3 the way in, the hallmark of **** writing – one of the characters thinks ‘god, this is like a film’. C
onversation starters (presented to lay bare their awfulness): “what is the longest tunnel you’ve been in?” “If snow could fall in a flavour, what flavour would it be?”
After a week of travel, moving on almost every day, I hopped on the bus for one last long trip, all the way from Gisborne in the East to Hamilton. I had done no preparation for this parkrun; exactly where it would start, I didn’t know.
And that didn’t matter, because New Zealand’s parkrun community have opened their doors to me, which is wonderful. Event director, Rob Hammington, had offered to put me up and even met me at the bus stop, just the start of some wonderful hospitality.
For the last hour or so I of my bus ride I was entertained by a bruising older Kiwi – 73, you know – telling me stories of the tours he’d heard about and been on, his temper when younger, sport in general and boxing in particular. I couldn’t work out if he was an ex all black, but he certainly hung around with some, Kevin Skinner is an old mate of his, athletic coach Tom McIntyre a relative. I liked his story-telling style, always giving me the names of the people involved, even if it was just a story about his neighbour, and even if he had to pause to remember who they were…”I was building a deck for – who was it? Yes, Barbara Symes, and she wanted me to…” At Hamilton I hopped off the bus and Rob and I spotted each other straight away – we’ve never met, but Facebook had given us some idea of who to look for.
After an evening of being made to feel at home and fabulous food, I was ready for an early start. The lake is about 3.7km round, so we can do a full loop and the route starts at the yacht club where the running club (Rob is President) meets for a Saturday run at 7.30. We were there for the warm up. Some club members went off for their session, others were setting up the course already, and still others made their way to the start/finish area (not quite the same place, but a stone’s throw if you were so inclined) to get set up.
Rob had evangelised the course, and I could see why. There’s plenty of parking near the clubhouse, toilets right by the finish and the clubhouse has coffee and, if you’re lucky, other treats available at the finish. That’s before you get to the course itself. It was sunny and the lake was rippling in a very appealing way. Rob asked me to give the crowd a quick intro to my travels, so I did that without being stoned for the ‘having a year off’ part and then we were off.
The route takes you all the way round the lake, before covering the first few hundred metres again, then a u-turn round a nicely placed brick wall (which funnels you through the U*) and onto the grass for the last 800m or so. Despite my complete lack of running, I was encouraged at last week’s performance, and wanted to head off with a little more intent this time round. A likely-looking athletic lady arrived just before the start, with a chiselled older athlete just ahead of me on the start line who looked ready to go. Sure enough, both were just ahead early on, but not going away from me, and as we took the solid path with the lake on our right, I settled into a rhythm. Similar to last week, I wasn’t pushing it but was moving reasonably quickly, but eased into second when sitting on Katherine’s (for that was her name) shoulder might have been a better-paced option. Still, as the path swung round the lake I was through 1km in 3:33, which for me is none too shabby, and right on the heels of Kevin (for it was he) in front. I stayed there as we ran along the tree lined path, changing sides as necessary to go past people out walking.
The path is probably three people wide, so not somewhere you can just pass as you please if someone is walking the other way, and it twists and turns towards the end so it just needs a little effort to stay left and keep it sociable. At 2km Kevin was starting to go away, and suddenly it wasn’t so easy to stay with him, but my Garmin beeped a 3:34km – fortunately I’d left it on cycling mode, which beeps every km, rather than running, which tells me every 1.61km – and even though he got away further, another 3:34km for the third, though admittedly by now it was beeping a good 50m before the km markers. Onto the boardwalk in the third km, where the path narrows just a smidge, and the surface becomes wire mesh on top of the wooden boards, and you’re taken left and right by small twists – I remember one that felt a little more dramatic a turn than that, though I’m sure regular running and knowing what was to come round the corner would ease that feeling. As we emerged from the trees back to the clubhouse, Kevin was out of sight – once he heard my footsteps had dropped off he may have just put in some extra effort to ditch me there – and my rate slackened a little. Despite a good surface for most of it the fourth km was 3:57, and I heard the applause for Katherine, behind me, a little too soon for comfort. The U-turn won’t have helped that pace, though, and a 3:50km round the edge of the grass before a left turn into the final 200m was pretty good given the surface.
The lake was so lovely I ran the loop again, with Katherine for company, swapping running stories, before I stopped at the clubhouse and she disappeared. That was her first parkrun, she’d only spotted it the night before, but it is likely to be the first of many, helping her towards a sub-80 hm this year if things go to plan. As they knew my face, people were perfectly happy to come up and chat to me, so I felt amongst friends already, before comparing notes with Kevin and others in the clubhouse. He invited me to join the Hawks (a different club – known as ‘the speedy one’) for their Sunday run. They’re doing 40km, I demurred. He’s the kind of fit runner who has marathons as his longest distance runs – until the other week when the Sunday group slotted in a 55km trail run and he was one of 2 to finish it. Yikes.
I don’t expect to write anything different of any other event, but it’s worth saying for the record – this was a wonderful event, in a great setting, and fantastically welcoming to beginners. Even better, Hamilton Road Runners have taken it on in a great spirit – they provide most of the volunteers but anyone is welcome, and they are reaping the rewards in new club memberships due to the parkrun. The English audience can stop reading there, but for any Americans, as in The Phantom Menace, I’ll explain – they have a symbiotic relationship, what benefits one, benefits the other.
And there’s always a stat of interest (to me): this was my 200th 5k. 189 of those are parkruns – what would I have done without them – and this was my 138th different. 110 England, 11 Australia, 4 Scotland, 3 NI, Poland, NZ, 2 Ireland, 1 Wales and Denmark
*this is not a euphemism, though answers on a postcard please for possible meanings if it were.