Buggy Parkrun

Photo credit: David Edgar

New parent James Edgar finds out the secret to buggy parkrunning success.

Sixteen months ago my daughter was born and, as the cliché goes, my life changed. However, many things didn’t change including the fact I’m a runner and that I’m insatiably competitive. So as soon as she was old enough, I took Grace out in a running buggy and soon after did my first buggy parkrun. After that first parkrun I posted on Facebook and half-jokingly asked the Serpie parent community what their buggy PBs were so that I could compare.

I got a lot of response, including discovering that the unofficial Serpie buggy parkrun record must be Nick Torry’s 15:57 at Dulwich Parkrun. Rather terrifyingly, Nick runs this with his twins in a double-buggy (he has named himself Nick Twin-Buggy on the Parkrun database for this purpose). It raises quite a few eyebrows amongst non-regulars at Dulwich when Nick starts at the front, but they soon realise that they won’t be held up quite as much as they thought.

I also got a lot of useful advice. Buggy parkrunning is more complicated than I expected. Will your child enjoy it? Where do you start in the field? Will you wake up your baby by sprinting too hard at the end? So, I thought I’d ask some Serpie parents a few questions (and there are a few ex-Serpies too as, unfortunately becoming a parent has a habit of taking people away from the club).

Photo credit: Gemma Greenwood

First and foremost, what do the kids think of it? Wes Harrison, ex-Serpie who now lives in Sydney with our former women’s cross-country captain Natalie Kolodziej-Harrison, says his daughter, Felicity, loved the start when she was young, laughing out loud. Felicity has finally reached the end of her buggy parkrunning career, which ran from when she was six months old to three-and-a-half years old, but has now graduated to Little Athletics. Her younger brother, Theodore, has now taken her place on Saturday mornings.

Richard Taylor, who does Fulham Palace Parkrun, says his son, James, seems to enjoy it – looking at all the other runners, dogs, birds, boats and everything else. I recognise his comment that his son “seems” to enjoy it – I find it tough at times to know what Grace is thinking as she tends to just quietly watch everything. However, she would let me know very clearly if she was unhappy, so I take that as a win.

Another couple who met at Serpies, Gemma Greenwood and James Adams, run with their twins, Isaac and Amber. They usually run at the Great Denham Parkrun and now that the twins are three years old they keep people around them entertained by singing, waving, pointing out planes and making juddery noises when they go over bumps. Pleasingly, Gemma says that she has never had to stop due to the kids not wanting to be there anymore. The Torry twins (Caspar and Ophelia) go with their mum, Laura, every other week and found the recent addition of a bicycle bell to the buggy hilarious.

Alex Elferink has done about ten different Parkruns with his daughter, Clara, but frequents Gunpowder Park near Waltham Abbey. He says that it is good daddy-and-daughter time, particularly because they make sure to arrive early to allow her time to play. Then she says “daddy running” and claps the other runners as they make their way round.

But now to the issue I’ve found most surprisingly difficult – where do you start when you’re a fairly nippy runner but have a buggy with you? I started quite near the back on my first outing and quickly discovered this was a bad idea – the buggy constrains your ability to pass much more than it does your speed. Most of my Serpie parents say to try and start at or near the front if you are allowed (Parkruns generally say you should start at the back, but only some of them enforce this), and off to one side so runners can see you.

Lars Menken, with his son, Lucas, says he would rather start a little too fast than get stuck behind people and suggests trying to find a run with a wide start line like Bushy Park or Gunnersbury. He also says that for people in the middle of the pack at a Parkrun with a narrow start you just have to accept that it isn’t going to be a day for a speedy run.

Photo credit: Alex Elferink

There are some other key tips from experienced buggy parkrunners:

  • Get a good running buggy; although the most important thing is to ensure you have a pushchair that has either a permanent fixed front wheel or one that can be fixed. It saves space in your house to have one buggy that can cover both fixed for running and agile for everything else.
  • Second hand is a great way to get a running buggy as lots of people’s good intentions don’t go anywhere fast.
  • Make sure the tyres are pumped up – it is hard enough running pushing a little one and the buggy, so make sure flat tyres are not adding to your workload.
  • Make sure your kids are well wrapped up when the weather gets cold – you won’t feel it because you’re moving, but they will.
  • Running buggies are big, and particularly so with twin ones, so make sure the one you buy fits through the front door – this is not a joke, Gemma Greenwood found their first running buggy was brilliant except for this rather unfortunate snag.
  • Some running buggies only go up to 15kg limit, which kids will probably grow out of during their fourth year – so check the weight limit if you want to run with them when they’re older.

There is a strong camaraderie amongst buggy parkrunners. Lars says that where two runners on a London towpath never acknowledge each other, this is not the case for buggy parkrunners who always do when passing each other in a race. You also find a lot of support particularly because people often think it is harder than it is. Lars says that at the start people are offering to help, but by the end they are asking if they can jump in to the buggy. Laura agrees, saying that she and Nick really appreciate the congratulations they get afterwards when they have run with the buggy.

There is also the rivalry you would expect from competitive Serpie types. Gemma mentions her ‘nemesis’, who is another twins’ parent who runs at a very similar pace, and Wes Harrison has his arch rival pram-daddy de Pomeroy who has run a personal best of 17:23 to his 18:10. And running with a buggy gives a new twist to the age-old battle of the sexes: Gemma says that men suddenly try and speed up if she comes past them as in her words, “No-one wants to be beaten by a woman pushing around 30kg of children in front of them!”. I have found that there are some pretty strong sprint finishes when I am coming to the end with Grace as it definitely places a target on your back to be pushing a buggy.

In terms of pace, the received Serpie wisdom is that a buggy only adds 60-90 seconds to your overall time, with some extra allowance for double buggies and particularly hilly courses. I originally thought my time five minutes outside my usual was ok, but it turns out that if I want to compete with the Serpie buggy speed merchants I need to get a move on. However, Alex comments that it is good to mix it up and not always go for a fast time because, as Gemma points out, ultimately this is about getting out for a run with your kids. I’ve found that having a baby along for the ride is a great conversation starter so you can have a lovely morning out however you choose to approach the run.

James Edgar has been a Serpie for over a decade and is currently learning how to fit running around a new baby.