Birkenhead Park 5 Mile Race

In four days I’ve done three runs and they’ve all been amazing. On Tuesday evening, at various points, I wasn’t quite feeling the joy, but it was great to see the Finish clock show a time of just over 51 minutes.

The Birkenhead Park 5 Mile Race was celebrating its 50th anniversary and many people were feeling nervous about doing it on such a hot day. However, the temperature was noticeably lower than the day’s height, down to a tolerable 28 degrees (centigrade) according to the car’s temperature gauge.

Lots of runners standing chatting in Birkenhead Park
Milling around before the run

A lot of the race was actually in the shade which made it less difficult, but it certainly wasn’t easy. I have got into the habit, when I race, to have the app on my phone track my progress, and I only look at it at the end. I go on how I’m feeling and, this evening, I was feeling pretty bushed from the get go.

It wasn’t surprising really, as on Saturday I did Parkrun for the first time in years. And then on Sunday morning, early doors to beat the heat, I did a slow paced trail 10 miler with two Pensby friends. To be honest, I’d completely forgotten that I was doing this race when I did the long run, and was happily talking about the idea of cancelling Tuesday night’s regular club meeting because of the heat warnings.

Then I was reminded. Then I spent most of the day checking and rechecking the weather with a cold wet flannel wrapped around my neck. Then I couldn’t find my water bottle. Then I told myself: okay, just go already.

Fifty years ago, running as a sport for normal people was almost unheard of, and positively discouraged for women, in case their uteruses popped out. The first Birkenhead 5 mile race was an all-male affair with 60 competitors, all under the age of 40. It was set up by the secretary of Wirral Athletics Club, Peter Humphreys, and he’d been invited again, to see off the runners for the anniversary.

On Tuesday, there were 339 runners, of both sexes and a variety of ages and abilities. Indeed two of the guys, who had competed in 1972, were here to run this one too and they were still pretty nifty. The top three all came from Wirral AC, and the top woman was second overall with a superb time of 27:23.

As she lapped me with the other front runners, on the four loop course around the park, I was a bit in awe. She didn’t quite inspire me to run any faster, as my legs were feeling like jelly by this point, but I continued to jog a bit longer instead of walk.

Not that I feel bad about little stints of walking. I used to think it was a fail, but doing more off-road running has taught me that it’s par for the course. Whether to stop and take in the view, to gingerly clamber up and slide down precipitous sections, or to catch your breath. There’s definitely a different mentality to road running.

I did end up catching my breath for a couple of moments on this course but still, my time averaged to around a 10 minute mile pace, which, as a slow 11.5/12 minute plodder, was pretty great.

It wasn’t quite as good as my parkrun on Saturday which was a staggering 9 minute mile pace (28:42) over the 5K course. The last time I’d done Parkrun was Feb 2020, just the first lockdown, and I knocked nearly one and a half minutes off that time.

The reason I’m harping on about times and pace in this particular blog, is that I’m realising that, although I was feeling despondent about my Half Marathon time recently, the fact that I’ve been regularly running over twenty miles a week for a few months, has evidently made me stronger, and that’s certainly starting to show in the shorter distances.

This race was really well organised, with a live band that greeted you around each loop, a small army of water sprayers to keep us a tad cooler, and lots of volunteers looking after us. I think I may come back for its 51st anniversary.

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