Unencumbered by having some landowner permissions dependent on the full lifting of restrictions, parkrun was able to return in Northern Ireland on June 26th – unlike England, Scotland and Wales. I’d already booked a trip, but was only in Northumberland till the Friday before, allowing me to hop on a ferry from Cairnryan and head over.
I picked a small event, both to avoid any over-excitement and to make sure I wasn’t a part of a tourist invasion – though that didn’t happen on this first weekend. Limavady is a small town in County Londonderry, with the run taking place in a long, thin park in the middle of town. It’s not quite a mile round, so to get the 5k it’s three laps then a little bit extra (more than you might want, if flagging) to the finish.
Outside of a pandemic, they use the leisure centre for changing etc., from where it’s a short walk to the start. They had suggested using the closer car park in the hospital, but it really isn’t far from the centre and I just parked there.
There was a general feeling at the start of relief as much as joy at being back, with people slightly amazed that it had been 66 weeks since the last event – many had expected to be paused for just a few weeks. Overall, although I felt a warm glow as I finally got to the finish, it felt more like the “oh yes, that’s parkrun” feeling I’ve had when overseas, in which case that acts as proof that it’s really no different in a foreign country. I suppose I’d explain that feeling as showing that it felt no different, and very familiar, even after a year out.
The paths, as you can see, are fairly narrow, though no problem with under 100 people (59 on this day). Anyone who has started too far back can use the grass to avoid getting stuck. There’s a tight turn at the far end, round a loop then back onto the same path, so for a very short period, runners/walkers are going in both directions. It’s not flat – the first straight is slightly downhill, there’s a short and sharper uphill after the turn, and a little more uphill to come at the end of the lap.
Although I’ve had to resign myself that being slower that a couple of years ago is now a feature, not a bug, I managed not to be lapped, and this was the fastest I’ve run in a long, long time. Proof that just being around others wakes up my competitive side. There were a few spectators watching from the side of the park – a lapped course makes that relatively easy. In fact, if you were particularly keen, the park is narrow enough that you could go from side to side for each lap, and support someone multiple times if you really wanted to gee them along.
It was perfect weather for running – cool but bright – and just a joy to be back. I wasn’t sure if I’d get the bug for parkrun every Saturday again, but it came back pretty quickly. More to do with the pleasure of finishing than the uncertainty of “how much will this hurt?” at the start, for me, but definitely still there.
Results from Limavady parkrun, event 255, 26/6/21.