We’re no strangers to welcoming tourists who come to sample our excellent parkruns, but Englishman Gregory Bailey is a bit different. He has completed nearly 250 parkruns, but has never done the same one twice! Last week he traveled to Montréal to complete his first parkrun in Canada, and here’s what he thought of it.
I’m fortunate to live in an area well-endowed with parkruns, West Yorkshire in England: with Leeds and Sheffield and other sizeable towns nearby, there are probably 20 parkruns within an hour’s drive of where I live. So, when I first heard about parkrun in 2013, it seemed natural to travel around and try out the different courses. One thing led to another, and it soon became a weekly ritual that I would go to a new parkrun each Saturday. I got to know other people with the same habit and we would share notes and parkrun experiences, forming something of an alternative parkrun community for people always on the move. Now I am approaching my 250th parkrun, still without ever having done the same one twice. A few months ago, one of my friends from the parkrun touring community, Morgan Daniels, who has a mere 130 to his credit, challenged me to do a Canadian parkrun sometime in 2018. In fact he suggested Nose Hill in Calgary, but I said I’d been to Calgary and had no intention of going again! So we settled instead on Montreal, where I would do Frederic Back parkrun.
That rather lengthy introduction explains why I was standing by myself at the start line of Frederic Back parkrun, Montreal at 09h30 on July 28, still rather jet lagged and tired. I had chosen an Airbnb about a mile from the park, and had done a rehearsal run around the course the previous day so that I would know what I was up against. It was a warm and sunny morning, but we were in the midst of our own heatwave in England so I was at least used to that – my last three parkruns had all been very hot mornings.
I got to the start line where there was a handy yellow “depart” sign, only to find no-one in sight as the 09h30 start time approached, which was rather alarming since I’d flown 3,500 miles to be there. What was also rather puzzling was the strange noise coming from the trees: a loud buzzing sound which sounded like crackling electric cables. I had heard it when walking around the previous day but it was much louder in the park. As I stood at the parkrun start, all alone, I was able to contemplate this strange noise but couldn’t work out what it was – I started to wonder whether maybe the flight had caused me to have a nasty attack of tinnitus. Eventually, to my relief, I saw a line of runnerly-attired people approaching some buildings nearby. Turns out they meet up elsewhere and then walk to the start. After a brief briefing we were off and I was doing my first Canadian parkrun. I made an immediate tactical error by not going off quickly at the start. Frederic Back is a bit deceptive – you think it is flattish but it really isn’t; in fact it slopes down gently for 2.5km and then up gently for 2.5km (this is a one lap parkrun). So the sensible thing to do is to go off quick to take advantage of the downhill start, but this I failed to do. By the time I was ready to think about speeding up, the easy bit was over and so I was labouring on the uphill sections on the far side of the park.
I should say something about the park itself. The site was a former calcium quarry and cement works and is undergoing beautification in an ongoing project. My French isn’t up to much, but I managed to glean that from the information boards. It is a long rectangle, and the path around the perimeter is well-suited to parkrun, being just over 5km in length. One-lap parkruns are a rare treat since most at home involve 2 or 3 laps since the parks are not usually big enough to allow one lap. (My local parkrun here in Wakefield does shoe-horn a single lap into the park but only by means of a very convoluted route folding in on itself.) The perimeter path at Frederic Back is nice and wide – no problem of overcrowding at the start, though the small numbers at the moment also mean that wouldn’t be a problem – and gently sloping for the most part. The views over the body of the park are not, as yet, as pretty as they no doubt will be when the project is finished, comprising a lot of scrubby grass and shrubs and some scattered buildings and roads and areas of digging. All over the park there are large grey spheres with what look like electrical equipment inside – anyone know what these are for? It is also important to mention that near the start/finish line of the parkrun is the circus tent which is global HQ of Cirque du Soleil. Next door to that landmark is a large industrial plant which looks like some kind of recycling centre. It is a park of contrasts!
There is a plan to make a lake from the old quarry, which will make it similar to several parkruns here in the North of England in former coal mines and industrial sites – Poolsbrook parkrun near Chesterfield springs to mind, and also Rother Valley which is a one-lap circuit of a lake on reclaimed land. I have often thought that parkruns should twin up with others of a similar nature, so Rother Valley would be a good parkrun twin for Frederic Back.
My run went relatively well on Saturday. I overtook two blokes after about a couple of km but then as I was labouring uphill they overtook me again and disappeared , but I managed to keep other parkrunners in view which meant that the problem I have sometimes had on parkruns with small turnouts – viz, being totally alone and not sure where I was going – did not arise. As I continued with the course, I periodically heard the bizarre electrical buzzing sound again, which did nothing for my concentration. I did at least manage a marginally faster final km to finish in a time of 23m16, pretty slow for me on a parkrun of this sort, which I put down to the hot conditions, jetlag and the off-putting buzzing worry. I was 7th out of 27 runners, frustratingly only a minute behind the person in second place; my best-ever finish was in Derry City in Northern Ireland where I was 4th, so if I’d run just a bit better I could have bettered that here, but it was not to be. In fact if I’d just managed to be 30 seconds quicker I could have been 3rd!
Anyway, it was nice to be welcomed over the finish line by the RD, Tracy and once I’d got my breath back – recovery took longer than usual too – to have a chat and get a few photos in front of the Canadian/Quebec flags draped over the fence. I also had a chat to fellow visitor Alexander Tweddle, who had come 2nd (the first place finisher was Unknown). He was in Montreal travelling with musical theatre; his job takes him all over the place, ideal for the committed parkrun tourist! Whilst we were chatting, the electrical buzzing continued, but no one seemed to take any notice, which made me wonder again whether it was all in my head! Nasty case of tinnitus if so. Once everyone was home, we went to the “TOHU” café, where Tracy was kind enough to sub me a cup of tea, since I had come without cash. In return I promised to write a run report, so here is that debt discharged.
Now I’m home, after a 5 hour delay at Toronto airport while they fixed the brakes on the plane. My next parkrun is a bit of a come-down after the glamour of Montreal; I will be at Northampton for the new one at Sixfields Upton.
Since I left Montreal, I haven’t heard the buzzing any more, so my concern about tinnitus has diminished. I googled it yesterday and it turns out to be caused by cicadas in the trees. Apparently the noise they make when trying to attract a mate can be as loud as a pneumatic drill at 115 decibels. It certainly didn’t sound like it came from an insect: it definitely sounded electrical.
I enjoyed my weekend in Montreal, and especially the parkrun – it’s just a pity I won’t have the chance to do it again and improve on my time.
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