A report from the inaugural Woolpit parkrun

The volunteer team was small but very efficient and friendly, setting up the course, conducting the new runners’ briefing, and even finding time to help with the all-important selfie. Some of the equipment for the course seemed non-standard: apparently the official kit hadn’t arrived so some Kennel Club Rally equipment had been repurposed.

Ready by the start line, with parkrun tourist buffs

Fortunately for an inaugural with an inexperienced team, the turnout was manageably small. The course instructions given were a little vague, but one of the runners who is on the core team confidently declared that he’d run the course 57 times already during 10 years of planning for this event, so just to follow him.

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Distances build

Week five saw another 11km slow run before work on Tuesday which at the moment still requires a fair bit of running in the dark. Wednesday was what I suppose you could call fartlek, being 3km of my normal slow pace (6:59/km), then 3km jog with Lucy and Brindley, and then 3km at marathon pace. Thursday was a full 8km at marathon pace.

On Saturday I paid my fourth visit to Harwich parkrun. I planned to get a course PB, but that only required beating 26m08 which I was pretty confident I could manage. I had new running shoes, my 8th pair of Brooks Adrenaline GTS, my first of the 20th edition. New shoes always give an extra little boost – fresh grip, fresh foam, and no doubt a small psychological extra too. Harwich starts off with a little loop and then downhill onto the prom, so the result was I found I’d started with a good pace.

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A quarter of the way there

So, I’m four weeks into the 16 week marathon training plan. The long Sunday runs still aren’t all that long, but the weekly mileage is consistently above what it typically is, and my legs are hopefully getting more used to running when tired without too much objection.

Week two: three midweek runs from home, a gentle parkrun at Ellenbrook Fields with Alex, and then 13km in the King’s Forest. The long run was ideal conditions, sunny and dry underfoot, cool but not cold, and no wind, and though the terrain was very familar to me, I really enjoyed it. As a long(ish) run, once again was really easy – at the end I felt I could have gone on for much longer, and it was nice to be on (easy) trails for a change.

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Marathon training plan one week in

The first week of 16 in the marathon training plan is complete. As I said in my previous post, this was an odd week, with the original plan mauled about a good deal. Let’s see how the remaining 15 weeks stand up to encounters with real life: this week’s deviations were planned from the start, but I’ve managed to fit the remainder of the plan around my current non-running intentions.

Monday was supposed to be short, a gentle introduction. Why do most training plans seem to have us starting almost from scratch? It can’t be at all unusual for someone aiming at a marathon to have run a half-marathon the previous week, as I did.

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South Woodham Ferrers (66)

Looking east down the River Crouch from near the start.

So having completed Cambridgeshire again last week, today it was time to return to Essex, and to South Woodham Ferrers parkrun on the River Crouch. I parked the car as instructed in the car park of Marsh Farm Animal Adventure Park, but there were surprisingly few other people about, and as I jogged down the path to the river, when I got to the south end, I turned back and looked along the path: no-one was behind me. However, I continued on, and found that almost everyone had parked in the car park for Marsh Farm Country Park, which is rather more convenient.

And they’re off…

After the briefings, we moved across the car park to the start, and were soon underway. The course runs around the car park onto the sea wall, which it follows for a little while before descending onto the marshes and going inland for a little while, eventually reaching another river wall at Clementsgreen Creek which we followed for a while before reversing our route on a track below the river wall, then taking a different route back to the River Crouch, eventually rejoining the outward route which we followed back to the finish funnel. I didn’t manage to find anyone to latch onto for an extended period today, four people fulfilling the role, each for a little while: the first three I eventually overtook; the fourth sprinted away from me every time I caught her up, and in the end finished eight seconds in front of me.

River Crouch looking upriver

A really lovely course. Final time 25:39, finishing 26th of 103.

Incidentally, I came across the 5000m dash-board today, which shows the numbers of people who have run all the parkruns in a particular area, and how others (including me) are progressing. It reports that there are only two people who’ve run all the East of England parkruns, and there are only another two people who’ve done more than 60 of the 70 runs in the region – clearly completion, or being very close to completion, is not a widespread thing. The site says I’m 18th equal on the list, and with 22 more to go I will take a while to rise up the rankings.

parkrun catch-up (numbers 98 to 104)

It’s been a little while since I posted here, during which time I’ve had a few more great Saturday morning parkrun experiences, so here’s a brief recap:

Harlow parkrun – location 60 for parkrun #98

me, Alex and Catherine

Harlow parkrun (my 60th different parkrun location) was an opportunity to meet with my friend Catherine and her daughter Alex. It’s described as an “undulating” course, and that sums it up: not actually a huge amount of ascent (just 53 metres) but it makes its presence felt more than one might expect. There’s a mixture of woodland and some very brown grass. The uphill start was very congested, but after a while I was able to stretch out a bit. Once I’d finished, I went back to find Catherine and and Alex and ran the last lap with them. We chatted for a while then Catherine took Alex off to get her ears pierced.

Felixstowe parkrun – parkrun #99

The plan to meet up with a friend in Clacton was abandoned as she wasn’t well, so Lucy and I went to Felixstowe for my second visit, where parkrun is along the prom: pancake flat apart from the gentlest of rises over the entrance to the pier. I set off too fast (5km PB pace) and couldn’t keep it up, but still finished in a good time. It’s a course with out-and-back in one direction, then out-and-back in the other. So by the time I’d finished, Lucy had gone past the finish into the second leg; I got my breath back then went to catch up with her, but it took far longer than I’d expected, and I only caught up at the second turn-around point. We ran in together, she knocking 45 seconds off her PB, which was fab.

We then went for a paddle (in my case) and swim (in Lucy’s case) in the sea to cool off, followed by a lovely ice-cream. A brilliant start to the day. I still can’t quite believe I’m going running with Lucy – it seems so unlikely.

Letchworth parkrun – location 61 for parkrun #100

My 100th parkrun was at Letchworth yesterday, my 61st parkrun location, en route to lunch in Surrey. This is the local parkrun for a couple of friends who were there to help mark the occasion, though Kate didn’t feel great as one of her contact lenses was malfunctioning and making her feel sick. Lucy was on finish tokens: I got a “99½” as I finished the first of two laps, and a nice cheer across the finish line. A surprisingly tough course: about three-quarters of it is on tracks and around field edges, with the relatively modest undulations (macro and micro) making their presence felt more than the numbers might have suggested, and lots of dodging around holes underfoot. Fortunately, despite a month’s rain in 36 hours, the previously dry ground meant that Calamity Corner didn’t live up to its name, being merely sticky, but I can see how it would be interesting in the winter.

Lucy with the prized token number 1 – neither of us are ever likely to be handed it at the end of a run

Ford parkrun – location 62 for parkrun #101

Ford parkrun is named after Ford Park in Ulverston. We’d popped up to the Lake District for the August Bank Holiday weekend. At one point I’d considered visiting Whinlatter, another Cumbria parkrun I haven’t yet been to, but Ulverston was closer and fitted in better with plans for today, so our weekend started off with me running the parkrun while Lucy watched and cheered with the dogs. The course description on the website is one which risks sowing confusion rather than light, and makes me grateful I’m in the middle of the pack and so usually need only to follow the person in front (but see Fritton Lake).

The start and the green field of the park are overlooked by the Hoad Monument, but once underway the focus is on the many twists and turns which make for an interesting run. Still recovering from the pain in my bottom (self-diagnosed as a strained piriformis muscle), I tried to take it easy, but found myself as so often finding someone to latch onto and pull me round a little faster than I felt comfortable with – we both accelerated in the final circuit of the field, but she pulled away for a sprint finish while I’d already given what I could. On only its third run, the organisation was excellent though the marshals were rather quiet.

Littleport parkrun – location 63 for parkrun #102


Lucy and I visited Littleport parkrun at the start of September, thus allowing me to complete Cambridgeshire again (for the third time). It was a decent sized crowd gathered outside the leisure centre on a beautiful summer morning for two-and-a-bit laps of two grassy field, linked by a relatively narrow trod and a broad tarmac path for a bit of variety. I’m still suffering from the effects of relatively little running (and too much gained weight) but was reasonably satisfied with my run. I joined Lucy as she went past with half a lap and the extra bit to go: she was finding it a bit tough with the conditions underfoot being more demanding than her previous two parkruns at Southend and Felixstowe, but still recorded a decent time.

Manor Field, Whittlesey parkrun – location 64 for parkrun #103

A visit to the inaugural parkrun at Manor Field, Whittlesey made me a little anxious as I know inaugural-chasers can risk overwhelming new parkruns, but fortunately the numbers weren’t excessive. It isn’t something I plan on making a habit, but it was interesting to experience the first time once. Today’s visit also enabled me to complete the Cambridgeshire parkruns (for the fourth time). As was to be expected, there were various announcements of thanks to those involved in getting the parkrun off the ground, and not quite the practised fluency that one can get where they have more experience, but all seemed well organised.

The parkrun is another around playing fields, and to be honest these never sound terribly appealing when reading about them online, but they can still be very pleasant and quite varied in reality – if they are “around” playing fields, then what is on the edge? In this case, the biggest edge feature was King’s Dyke and Ashline Lock which we ran past twice, plus some tree-lined sections and the distinctive smell from the leisure centre swimming pool. Once again I found someone to latch onto and she pulled me round, all the more helpful today as my GPS watch had a fit part-way round and claimed I was elsewhere in Whittlesey and then back again, and thus all the distances and paces were up the spout.

Afterwards, as I was cheering on some of the slower runners and chatting with one of the marshals, I heard and caught sight of steam and smoke from Union of South Africa pulling a train along the track on the other side of the river – I was too slow to grab a picture, but it was still great to see, especially as such a surprise.

Coldham’s Common parkrun – location 65 for parkrun #104

Andrew is one of the 13 Bushy pioneers who ran the first Bushy Park Time Trial, the format which evolved into the parkrun we know today.

Today we were on our way to Chester, and at one point had considered a stop in Kettering for parkrun, but the weather forecast suggested it would be raining hard there, and a sunny summer’s day when we can also have a ride on the train would be a better time to visit Kettering. So we picked Coldham’s Common – the second parkrun in Cambridge, thus allowing me to complete all the Cambridgeshire parkruns (for the fifth time!). Although originally Lucy had been going to run too, in the end we decided to save that for another time and get back on the road northwestwards as soon as we could.

The route is two circuits of two sets of playing fields, linked by a gate which needs to be used in both directions, and is thus potentially something of a bottleneck, but which was very well marshalled and didn’t cause me any problems. I latched onto another runner partway round the first lap, and she pulled me along at a decent pace. We both accelerated in the final few hundred metres but she pulled away with a better sprint finish than I have. After barcode scanning, I looked to thank her but she’d disappeared so we hit the road for Chester.

With the closure of Heartwood Forest parkrun, that takes my East of England tourism tally to 47 out of 70, two-thirds of the way. Although the journey can be more fun than the destination, I’m enjoying the target (even though it keeps moving) and the journey – it will take me a while yet to finish, so lots more interesting places to visit, and some to re-visit.

Tring parkrun – location 59 for parkrun #97

This morning’s visit was to Tring parkrun, the most westerly parkrun in the East of England region. It was hot and it was hilly, but beautiful too.

A few visitors to Tring

The RD, Anna, gives her briefing

And they’re off!

The route is fairly steeply downhill, then a gentle incline up the grassy valley, then a steep wooded zigzag up onto the ridge, along the woodland ridge, then downhill to the bottom of the valley, gently back up the valley, a steep “Heartbreak Hill” then along an avenue of trees to the finish – delightful.

The avenue of trees, scene of a few sprint finishes after the challenge of Heartbreak Hill

The climb up to the ridge is quite challenging for a Suffolk lad, but the run down with a decent gradient and reasonable footing was thrilling, with my Garmin recording my peak speed at below 3mins/km and me grabbing a Strava segment at an average of 3:30/km, which is astonishing for me – definitely the fastest I’ve ever run.

The picture is taken from the ridge route which forms the middle kilometre or so, and is the first time in 97 parkruns that I’ve stopped on the way round to take a photo. The finish is on the other side of the valley at the right-hand end of the avenue of trees in the centre of the picture.

This is the only parkrun I’ve done which has cow marshalls, to try to keep the cattle out of the way of the runners or to direct runners around the cattle if that fails. In practice, I saw a few at the start but after that it was only cowpats that presented a hazard.

A view of the finish line

A day out in Norfolk including Blickling parkrun – location 58 for parkrun #96

Today a visit to Norfolk, starting with parkrun at Blickling Hall, a large National Trust estate. After I’d had a little warm-up run, I stood guard over a frog as it gradually made its way from the danger area where runners were assembling towards the long grass where it would be safe.

Once it was out of the way, the new runners briefer told us of the course, with what he described as a “Norfolk hill” to start with.

The main briefing advised that pacer-makers had been withdrawn because they considered it irresponsible to encourage people to go quickly – but if we really wanted to, they had trained first-aiders and resuscitation equipment. It was only 22 degrees, for goodness sake – warm, yes, but hardly hot. If people are affected by that temperature, slow down, but for those not significantly affected, just let them enjoy the conditions while they last.

We set off, and the runners in front of me pushed up a lot of dust into the air – it was worse than last week when I was passed by a couple of off-road bikes on a dusty byway. As we spread ourselves out while climbing the Norfolk hill, the dust dissipated and wasn’t a problem for the rest of the run. A lovely mix of gravel/dust paths across open grassland and through attractive woodland. Although with the steep mountains to climb, the loose surface underfoot, and the warm day, it wasn’t my fastest, I was pleased with my time of 25 minutes exactly. That was parkrun #96, at location #58.

I then headed to the coast for a bike ride and then coastal walk to fill in the last bit of the Suffolk and Norfolk coasts as far as Hunstanton that I hadn’t walked. Glorious day for it, and I did the last 6km barefoot which was lovely though left me with sunburn on the top of my feet, a risk which I hadn’t thought of.

parkrun catch-up: Blackpool (53), Felixstowe (54), Haverhill (55), Great Denham (56), and Pocket (57)

Blackpool (53)

With all the parkruns in Cumbria having been visited, a Lake District holiday saw me heading south down the M6 early on Saturday to visit Blackpool parkrun. It was probably an unwise thing to do as I wasn’t feeling great and it was a cold morning, but I resolved to run it slowly.

The route is two circuits of Stanley Park, mostly flat with a mixture of gravel/dirt paths through woodland and tarmac in the open, the latter with quite a bit of ice to avoid. I latched onto a group who pulled me round slightly faster than I’d planned but still relatively slowly at 28:21 and my first second-half finish since Mount Edgcumbe in April.

Felixstowe (54)

parkrun got rather neglected in the run-up to London. On 28th April I made a return to parkrun tourism, visiting a new course, Felixstowe (my 54th different parkrun, and 90th overall). It’s only their 4th run there, and my first, though I’ve run the route along the prom there quite a few times, and it’s always enjoyable, both because I like running by the sea, and because it’s flat and straight.

When I glanced at my watch after 500 metres or so it was a case of “b*****y hell, better slow down”, which I did a bit, but ran the parkrun faster than expected. After collecting my finish token, I ran a further 900 metres or so to get to the 3.7 miles to #finishformatt, and also knocked a remarkable 75 seconds off my 6km PB (including the stop to collect the token) – my legs are definitely full of life.

The marathon-injured knee briefly muttered at about 1.5km, but then went quiet so I’m hoping that moderation in distance over the next two weeks will allow me to make a decent stab at my 10-mile race in 15 days.

Haverhill (55)

2nd June took me to the fairly new parkrun in Haverhill on the south-west edge of Suffolk to complete the Suffolk parkruns, again. I understand that Sizewell will be starting soon, which should be a lovely course and which it will be a pleasure to have to visit. Haverhill was pleasant enough, and the decent if not exceptional pace set my pulse racing even if the scenery of the playing fields didn’t. Despite some rain, the ground was firm if rutted in places. There were just 68 of us, making it my third-smallest parkrun so far, but a very friendly welcome, good support from the marshalls, and some friendly chat afterwards. I gently pulled my left hamstring on the way round, which is troubling me a little.

Great Denham (56)

Great Denham parkrun on the edge of Bedford was my 56th parkrun location. It’s a very pleasant parkrun, two laps of a fairly new and attractive country park on good paths, very flat. I met a few other tourists beforehand and we had a good chat. The run itself went well – after about 500 metres I found myself running with someone who was going at just the right pace for me, and clearly me for her, and with no verbal communication we had the effect of pushing (or pulling) each other on for the remaining 4.5km. I pulled away by a few metres at the beginning of the final kilometre, but she reeled me in near the end, but I beat her by a second, me finishing with my best 5k time this year and Heather with a PB, both of us having run faster than originally intended. We broke our silence afterwards and thanked each other for being the ideal pacemaker. Each km was fractionally faster than the last, which is my perfect way to run a brisk race.

Pocket (57)

Pocket parkrun on the edge of St Neots was my 57th parkrun location. It’s a fairly new parkrun, and being on the floodplain of the river it is almost completely flat, but is the second-hardest flat parkrun I’ve done (after the Millom mudbath), with much being on uneven long grass, some more on uneven dirt with tree roots alongside the river, and eight little bridges to cross. And it was a hot morning, 22 degrees at the start, so a challenging little run for me today.

Lucy’s first parkrun

After 10 years of well-meant teasing about how odd runners are, Lucy decided she was going to give it a decent stab, perhaps inspired in part by the London Marathon. She embarked with determination on the NHS Couch to 5k programme on 9 April, and with suitable tweaks continued to progress with three runs every week, the plan right from the start being to do her first 5k as a parkrun on 16 June. I’ve been out with her on a few runs, but she’s done most on her own, including a couple while away on the Isle of Wight.

I even got Lucy a mention on the 13th June episode of the Free Weekly Timed podcast with Vassos Alexander and Louise Ayling, wishing her well for her forthcoming first parkrun.

Me, Lucy and Claire at Southend parkrun

Claire ran with Lucy so I ran my own race, passing them towards the end of the second of three laps. I recovered, then ran back to find them and run in the remaining part. Lucy was finding it tough, and kept asking how much further, to which I didn’t really have a precise answer. Near the end, Claire ran on in order to get a photo at the end.

Victorious!

Well done Lucy – a great achievement, and shows what can be done with determination.

Claire’s 50th parkrun

Today was Claire’s 50th parkrun, and someone who bear’s his share of the responsibility for Claire doing parkruns (and 10k’s and 10-milers) at all, I thought I would pop down to Hadleigh to help celebrate.

It was a glorious morning albeit rather chilly, with lovely views across the Thames estuary.

Claire was tailwalking with her Dad, dragging her “50” balloons with her, while I pushed myself hard, trying to get the pacing right – in round terms, the first third is downhill, the middle third is gently undulating, and the final third is a fairly challenging uphill, so getting the pacing right is not easy. The analysis on Radio 4’s ‘More or Less’ recently suggested that by some measures this may be the hardest parkrun in the country.

Anyway, something went right today and I knocked 50 seconds off my course PB to finish in 25:25, not bad with 110m of ascent – my running calculator says it was the equivalent of a flat 5km PB, for what that’s worth.

I then had another kilometre run to the car and back to fetch my barcode which I’d carelessly left there (you’d think I would have got the hang of this by now), and then twenty minutes or so of cheering people across the finish, before retiring to the café for a nice hot chocolate and chat.

I then changed from trail to road shoes, popped down the hill to Chalkwell on the seafront, where the sea was almost completely flat, and set off for a run of indeterminate length – both 10km and 10 miles were in my head. My legs initially felt very heavy but after about 4km they seemed much happier and I kept going past the potential 5km turn-round mark. I still felt good at 8km so decided that it was a lovely day for a half-marathon and continued further past Shoebury Ness to the remaining MOD property. On the way back, the pier seemed to linger in the distance for a very long time without getting any closer, but it was good mental practice, increasingly so as my legs tired in the last couple of kilometres.

Very happy with the morning’s running – albeit in three bits, the most running I’ve done in a day.

It was a chilly 1°C at the start of parkrun, and a warm 11° by the end of the long run.

Druridge Bay – parkrun location 52

My 52nd parkrun location for this morning was an icy Druridge Bay, the most northerly parkrun in England while we were spending a weekend in Northumberland. While I was waiting in the cold and then running, Lucy took the dogs for a walk along the beach and found a couple of geocaches.

The route is two (well, about 1.9) very attractive laps of the lake, with some gentle undulations, some in the woods and some more open. And in the frozen north it was my first parkrun in a hat.

There were a few icy patches, but it was possible to find a route around them all without much difficulty.

I’d intended to take it relatively easy, but once I got warmed up I found someone to chase (thank you Jilly Bell), and she pulled me round increasingly quickly so the second lap was 40 secs per km faster than the first (and didn’t need a hat). Good start to the day.

Brundall – parkrun location 51

After doing my home parkrun last weekend, this morning’s exploration took me to Brundall, just east of Norwich for my 84th parkrun at my 51st different course. It’s a fairly new “countryside park”, and on the small side as these things go, so despite a route looping back on itself, it was still four laps of the park. All on grass, with some modest undulations. It was a dry morning: I had deliberately chosen to head NE from home to get further from the rain to the SW.

As at March parkrun a few weeks ago, I fell prey to the temptation of the 24-minute pacer, today Nicole, on a day when I wasn’t quite up to it. It was a very busy start but I managed to keep close to her, but after half a lap she pulled slightly away and I never quite managed to catch her, but kept her not far away and worked hard to keep close. I thought perhaps she was going a fraction faster than needed, but it turned out that she knew from experience that the course is slightly long and had adjusted her pace accordingly, so although I did manage to get 5km done in under 24 minutes, the parkrun finish line took 24:10 to reach.

I thanked Nicole for pulling me round and making me run a bit harder than I would otherwise have done, and cheered a few people across the line.

Castle Park – parkrun location 50

My 50th different parkrun location today was Castle Park parkrun, in Bishop’s Stortford in Hertfordshire. A very pleasant trot around the park with views of a second motte-and-bailey castle (after last week’s Clare Castle) and the infant River Stort, cheered on by a good few spectators including Lucy and two of our dogs, en route to a fabulous lunch with the in-laws.

There was some tarmac but a lot of grass, some uneven and some quite squelchy and slow, so I was pleased with my time. Also as it was a very chilly morning, it was the first running outing for my London Marathon winter top: I had to half unzip it on the second lap as I was overheating, but it will be a good companion on the coldest of winter days.