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.

Clare Castle – parkrun location 49

Clare Castle parkrun in SW Suffolk today for my parkrun tourism. It was just its fourth run, and so had been my nearest not visited. The run here allowed me to complete the Suffolk parkruns once again.

The route is around the country park, a spot I’ve been to a number of times, with the delightful site including the eponymous motte and bailey castle, as well as the former Clare railway station, and sits alongside the River Stour, with the parkrun crossing the river six times. It’s a varied route, a lot among trees, the majority on rough tarmac or concrete, but a fair bit that’s along the old railway line is on gravel/dirt/leaves, plus some grass. The slightly more challenging footing contributed to me being almost a minute slower than Southend last week.

Afterwards I climbed up the motte to the castle, from where there was a grand view down onto the finish area.

So, that was different parkrun location number 49 – I’m not sure whether number 50 is coming next week.

Southend – parkrun location 48

More parkrun tourism for me today: parkrun #80 at location #48 was Southend, joining a couple of friends, one of whom lives in nextdoor Leigh. The course is very pleasant, being three laps of Gunners Park, itself part of a larger nature reserve formed from former military use as its name hints. It includes three laps of the lake and a section along the sea wall (see photo view).

It’s almost flat and 95% on tarmac so despite slightly heavy legs from a cycle ride yesterday, and a bit of a breeze, I decided to go all out for a good time. I passed Claire part way through my third lap and she gave me a mental kick to push on hard to the end. Official time 23:24, knocking seven seconds off my parkrun PB so very pleased with that.

I cheered in Bruno, and then jogged back nearly a km to find Claire to run in with her and to try to give her the mental support she’d given me. She got under 37 minutes for the first time, with the last km being the fastest, so great result for her too.

Then the rest of the morning catching up with friends before trailing back to Suffolk.

March – parkrun location 47

A visit to March in Cambridgeshire this morning for parkrun #79 at my 47th location. After a warm-up jog, I quickly got chatting to people – it rapidly became clear that it is a particularly friendly event with a lot of mutual support going on for the full range of abilities.

The route is four laps of the pleasant park: out and across the grass, back on a firmer surface alongside the old course of the River Nene (about four miles from the modern straight course), up the dozen or so stairs, down the grass slope and back to the start. I’ve had a few steps before, but this was my first parkrun with a flight of stairs.

I’d planned to take it a little easier this morning, but I got caught up in the moment and ran with the 24-minute pacer. (They had 27 and 30, plus 1-minute-run-1-minute walk and 2-minute-run-1-minute-walk pacers too, the first time I’ve seen that – great idea.) It didn’t really feel like a sub-24 morning or course (I’ve run under 24 four times), and I had on my trail shoes which I don’t think are quite as fast, but I felt sorry for Clive who’d offered his services and didn’t seem to have any takers. We set off very briskly but soon steadied the pace.

First lap was reported as 5 seconds ahead, which was fine, but I was already feeling that I was pushing too hard for this morning’s legs. After the next half-lap, we were 7 seconds ahead, so I eased up a bit along the river, and we finished bang on target. The third lap was hard, but we were 5 seconds ahead again by the end, but I was now really starting to wilt. On the fourth lap Clive (PB 21:21, ex-military and a personal trainer) really earned his keep, as did Hugh (PB 22:51) who’d by now joined him in pushing me round, cajoling, encouraging, and insisting that I persist, with some very emphatic pointing at the ground alongside them telling me to get myself there, to lift my legs, to lengthen my stride. So I pushed my weary legs on, feeling that I was definitely slowing down, but tried to power up the steps and then find anything left for the run for the finish.

Final time 23:49 – very satisfying, and on more rested legs they would I’m sure have taken me close to my PB. I also found later that I was 18th of 153, my best relative position (11% through the field) yet. Good job Clive and Hugh.

Once I’d got my breath back, I lingered to clap and cheer people over the finish line, said thank you to the run director and a few volunteers, and was on my way after a good outing for the legs.

Mulbarton – parkrun location 46

It was bright and sunny when I left the house, but started raining heavily once in Norfolk, and it was a gloomy scene when I reached the puddle-strewn car park on the edge of the common at Mulbarton just south of Norwich.

I waited in the car for a while, and the rain turned to drizzle, then I got out and warmed up my legs a little with a jog around, then joined the growing numbers of people for a little chat.

We were then all taken across the common to the start and the briefing. The route is 3.75 laps of the common, which is more interesting than it probably sounds, with a variety of conditions underfoot, slopes up and down, trees, a few sharp corners. The rain stopped for the run itself, which was an improvement, though of course the ground was by now rather damp. One chap I overtook on every uphill and he overtook me on every down, but as the up came last, I managed to beat him.

I finished in 23:58, which I was quite content with, and was 31st out of 100 runners.

parkrun tourism – the story so far

So with venues 42 onwards now immortalised in this blog, I wondered what I could remember of the earlier locations – do they all merge into one or are they still distinct. With a fairly modest tally, I found I could mentally picture them all (Northampton caused some hesitation, but it soon came back to me), though full detail of all of them is missing.

1 – Bury St Edmunds. Where it all started. I don’t remember much about this first visit but it must have been ok as my first time of 30:29 was beaten on each of my next six visits over the following two months, falling to 27:27. Two laps of Nowton Park have since become quite familiar, though with one day run backwards, and some tweaking of the course for the winter. As elsewhere, numbers have grown quite a bit, adding to the mud challenge in the wetter months, and initially sparking my parkrun tourism though I’m now less frightened of mud than I was.

2 – Fell Foot. Three months after my parkrun introduction, a holiday in the Lake District meant that the parkrunning could continue. In principle a gorgeous view up Windermere but in practice my eyes were more focussed on the ground to make sure of my footing on the slippery grass and muddy sections. Some short but sharp little ascents.

3 – Thetford. Second-closest to home, and so a natural progression. A rather different atmosphere to Bury St Edmunds and clearly a different population mix, with many more slower runners and a lot more people who know each other. Potentially a confusing course to describe or understand as a concept, but not really difficult in practice to run. A lot of lumpy grass.

4 – Keswick. Another Lake District holiday gave me the opportunity for more exploration, particularly as the Keswick railway path had long been on my list of places to explore but which I’d never quite got around to. A gorgeous out-and-back route crossing the river several times, with a very slippery first (and therefore last) bridge, and a slightly tricky boardwalk descent/ascent where the original railway route had been destroyed by the Keswick bypass. Glorious views up to the slopes of Skiddaw. Definitely among the most scenic of the first 45.

5 – Harwich. A meet-up at the bandstand, then a little bit of grass at the start and then mostly along the prom and back. On my second visit, the course had been adjusted and there was much less grass and more prom.

6 – Barrow. A lot of up and down in a very undulating town park, all on hard surfaces. My slowest parkrun of the first 45, partly due to the hills but mostly due to the hard work of fellwalking the previous day.

7- Gorleston Cliffs. A net downhill parkrun as it starts at the top of the cliffs and finishes at the bottom, with two downhill sections and one steep uphill, in between being straight runs along the top or bottom of the cliffs on hard surfaces with great sea views.

8 – Peterborough. A very busy start but once it thinned out after the first kilometre or so, a delightful run around the lakes next to the Nene.

9 – Bedford. A town centre park, almost level. A busy start but nice and easy on tarmac with gentle corners for a good time. A new parkrun PB of 27:08.

10 – Workington. Out and back mostly along an old railway line. The weather was foul with strong winds and heavy rain, but having pushed hard for the first half uphill and into the wind, the downhill with the wind behind me was very quick and I knocked a minute off last month’s parkrun PB, achieving 26:07.

11 – King’s Lynn. A pleasant course in a town centre park, including a 180° turn on each lap.

12 – Penrhyn. My first parkrun to start inside a castle, and my first outside England. Somewhat tricky hills and some mud, but a great course looping around the castle with views to Snowdonia.

13 – Norwich. Heavy rain caused me to seek out a tarmac parkrun, but the tarmac paths turned out to be underwater for significant sections. Rather busy and looping around a rectangular course not the most exciting.

14 – Gunpowder. A return to familiar ground as I watched this park being created when I lived in north London. A very pleasant loop around the still maturing country park, and the unique (so far) opportunity to start a parkrun in one hemisphere and finish in the other.

15 – Northampton. Car parking a challenge even when arriving half an hour early. A pleasant town centre park with long tree-lined avenues. First outing for new shoes and got a new parkrun PB of 25:47

16 – Swindon. Returning from holiday near Bath, a stop outside Swindon for this loop around a country park. My first parkrun with pacers, who were well organised.

17 – Lowestoft. A very warm welcome for visitors. It was a glorious morning for a run along the lower and upper promenades, albeit with a stiff breeze in the face on the return legs and two short but sharp climbs from the lower to upper prom. The start was wonderfully broad so there was no problem with people getting in each other’s way. The first ascent was a bit busy with people walking; the second was quieter and I attempted to power up it with arms pumping madly, somehow managing to make that my fastest km. New parkrun PB of 25:45: my fastest 5k for 7.5 years and my 3rd fastest ever.

I was so enthused that I ran another km back to the car. I got changed and then had a lovely walk along the coast to Great Yarmouth. Thus completing the Suffolk coast from Manningtree. A great day on foot.

18 – Colchester Castle. Lovely with varied scenery including the castle, the park and the river, and good support from the marshals and other runners. It was only the second parkrun I’d experienced with pacemakers: those at Swindon worked well, but it was somewhat chaotic here. The pacemakers were jumbled at the start rather than in sequence, so I was briefly ahead of 23 but behind 32 minutes, and half-way round the first lap, I was overtaken by the 25-minute person, frantically trying to catch the 26-minute person; I followed the latter most of the way round (gaining going downhill but losing ground going up) but still finished inside 26 minutes. It is rather hilly and twisty for a fast time, especially with damp surfaces, so I was pleased with that.

19 – Milton Keynes. After the pre-run briefing for newbies and visitors (rarely important for visitors, but you never know), the throng were asked to move backwards to get behind the start line, the side effect of which was to put me at the front of the 424 runners (albeit with a fairly broad front), a novel position for me.

It’s a very pleasant route, and gains from its single-lap course (many town-centre parkruns being constrained by the size of the available park). There’s a good section along the Grand Union Canal, where after 1km I was caught by the 25-minute pacemaker. We then went over a road where cars honked to cheer us on, up some steepish zigzags where I overtook the pacemaker and quickly down the other side of the hill to the lake. Although the pacemaker eased past me again, the thought had germinated in my mind, and was growing roots, that if I could only hang onto her for a bit longer, this was going to be a really good time for me. So, around the lake, over two weirs and a bridge to the next lake, and although I was working hard, the pacemaker was pulling away. I started to think that 25 minutes was going to be out of reach but a good time wasn’t. I gradually caught up another runner but as I pulled alongside her, she sped up; the third time I managed to catch her and get next to her, I said that I was now relying on her, and she responded that she was relying on me. I eventually pulled ahead but she overtook on the final straight with a kick in her legs that just wasn’t in mine but I pushed hard, now cheered on by the pacemaker from the finish line. Time: 24:59, a new parkrun PB by 24 seconds.

What a fabulous morning. After fresh thanks were given to my three heroines (including the race director) there was opportunity to cheer on lots more runners as I walked back to the car.

20 – Penrith. A lovely outing at Penrith parkrun with the sun shining on Cross Fell and other Pennine summits. I took it relatively easy after yesterday’s fell-walking, but my legs were happy, so my attempt at “relatively easy” was a 5:10/km pace which would have seemed unattainable only a few months ago.

21 – Brandon. My first trail parkrun. On a cold morning where I wore gloves for the first time this year it was through the woods with a multitude of tree-roots hiding under leaves, dodging many impressively large wildlife-created holes in the middle of the tracks, and coping with a fair bit of sand underfoot. An interesting and beautiful change, though twisting my ankle in the third km on a tree root was painful though clearly not serious: I ran slowly for a while and decided I could keep going, but perhaps that wasn’t wise as it was much more painful later in the day. There were cakes galore at the end to celebrate several people’s 50th parkruns, but my discipline held and I turned them down.

22 – Clacton Seafront. Three laps each starting with a long gentle incline along the upper prom, and a steep descent onto the lower prom – so many people seem to descend slowly but surely that’s the easy bit (on dry, ice-free tarmac)? Anyway, a chilly but lovely outing with the sun rising over the aquatic wind turbines, and another 32 seconds knocked off my 5k PB. Woo hoo!

23 – Cambridge. A visit to Cambridge parkrun this morning. Although I’d run most of the route on previous visits to the country park (before I’d even heard of parkrun), it was my first visit for the parkrun. Well organised and with one of the most enthusiastic and vocal crowds I’ve experienced at parkrun. Despite the start being divided up into finish times, there were a lot of people in front of me who wanted to go a good deal slower (including walk) which was a little frustrating on the narrow paths. Still, very enjoyable through the autumnal woods and around the lakes, on another warm (12 degrees) morning. The slowish start, coming down with a cold, the twisty route, and it being my tenth consecutive day of running might have taken the edge off, but it was still satisfyingly brisk, being my second-fastest parkrun (albeit measured rather short), so very satisfied with that.

24 – Great Notley. On a very foggy morning this was very pleasant and friendly – underfoot a mixture of gravel paths, grass, mud, and sand. Probably attractive to look around the country park, but not much to be seen in the fog today. And a sudden hill half-way through, which I’d been warned about but still was a bit of a shock emerging from the fog, with a large bird sculpture on top – part of the parkrun route being to tap the sculpture.

25 – Ipswich. A twisty and varied run around the park.

26 – Kesgrave. A fairly linear course on mostly grass with a bit of sand and some woodland trail. My first Christmas Day parkrun so a good few people in fancy dress but mostly regular locals with very few visitors.

27 – Millom. Described in the briefing as “not terribly quick” (the average time is 35 minutes) and today as “a bit sticky underfoot” (people lost shoes in the mud). I managed 8th, my best result by a long way – ok, the field was only 43, but still my first time in the top quintile.

28 – Carlisle. The first of two runs today on my first New Years Day double. They were on their alternative course, five laps around Chances Park: I always have a soft spot for anywhere with a ha-ha. Two young women overtook me on each of the five downhills, and I overtook them on each of the five uphills, which made for a very social run. Having come 19% of the way through the field yesterday, today I was 54% of the way through, which goes to show how such figures are need a heart-attack-inducing dollop of salt in their interpretation: today was one of my top-20 5km runs in terms of pace, too. Then a jump in the car and brisk drive to Keswick for the second parkrun of the day.

29 – Great Cornard. With the ground frozen, it was a good day for a run on the playing fields – a surprisingly interesting route they’ve managed to create for what is fundamentally a run around the football pitches. A large number of marshals, all cheerfully calling out Good Morning as I passed, which was lovely. I was still coughing away without any improvement, but it was my fifth best 5k pace, so it’s not affecting the running too much, though I did have a good few minutes of coughing afterwards.

30 – Hockley Woods. Met with friend Claire who’s recently taken to parkrunning and has decided to do all 16 Essex parkruns. A cool (minus two) morning under blue skies made for a glorious run through the undulating woods on firm ground. The organisers have put a vicious little hill in at the end of the first lap, which I hoped wouldn’t also be in the second lap but it was. Got my breath back then went back to run in with Claire.

31 – Chelmsford Central. A busy parkrun around the twins parks of the centre near the river, on a mixture of tarmac and grass. More marshals/volunteers than I’ve seen before at a parkrun: 43 yellow-bibbed cheerers-on, plus others made for a great atmosphere. I was planning to take it a little easy after a really tiring week travelling, but somehow managed a parkrun PB of 23:55 by two seconds. Had a few minutes cheering in some other runners, then went back to run the last few hundred metres with my fellow parkrun tourist Claire, who knocked 26 seconds off her PB – great stuff.

32 – Catton. Catton Park was landscape gardener Humphry Repton’s first commission, begun around 1788. It was ploughed up in World War II, and then after the war much of the country park built on. The remainder opened as a public park in 2007. The run is gently undulating on a full circuit of the park on grass/mud and gravel, part of it through woodland, then a figure-of-eight including the hard central path twice. A very busy start but after that plenty of space. Another 17 seconds off my parkrun PB, down to 23:38.

33 – Wimpole Estate. Naively I had thought that with the temperature at zero all night, the ground might be firm, but it was definitely not. Wimpole Hall is near, and I set off with the car white from snow, and gentle snow falling most of the way there but barely settling. They were on their winter course to let the regular course recover: apparently it’s the busiest National Trust parkrun outside of London. Much of the run is on stony paths among the trees but the stones making up those paths are polished and slippery; a fair bit was grass and a bit was on some very impressive mud – I came away with my t-shirt muddy, never mind shorts and shoes. A great change of scene, and once again the wonder of parkrun got me out of the door when it would have been easier to conclude it was rather chilly and wet for a run.

34 – Lancaster. Two circuits of Williamson Park, home to the impressive Ashton Memorial – a really beautiful park, though perhaps less so today in the very heavy rain. The route is about 10% level, most of which was under water (over the top of my shoes in places), and the rest is hill. Strava has it peaking at 31% gradient, which may be overstating it, but it was certainly steep.

35 – Linford Wood. At the pre-start gathering, locals and marshals were very keen to keep us off the paths so as not to obstruct other users, which is fair enough though the commitment to the process suggested some local friction. A very pleasant route, starting off through the eponymous wood, then joining the MK redway network including four underpasses before returning to the wood, the remainder being constantly twisting and turning but with tarmac or a hard resin-bonded surface underfoot throughout the run, all gently undulating. Weather overcast but very bright so it was lovely in the airy woods.

36 – Huntingdon. An extremely welcoming bunch, and an enjoyable run around the country park. Having read of mud the previous week, I wore trail shoes, but I might have done better with road shoes, but no matter. The leg strain (my Valentine’s Day injury) is still there, but after four days of rest I felt for the first time that it is improving.

37 – Maldon Prom. Another with Claire, and this time Bruno too. I like to think I helped inspire Claire to take up parkrunning, and she in turn has inspired another friend. A glorious sunny morning with a stiff breeze blowing in across the Blackwater estuary bringing the evocative smells of the sea. A really lovely course with loops around the ornamental lake, the park, and out along the prom onto the breakwater and turning round at the statue of Byrhtnoth (Ealdorman of Essex who died in 991 at the Battle of Maldon, his name meaning bright courage), all with great views across the estuary and of the boats including several Thames barges.

A busy start (it was a record attendance), but the boost that comes from the thrill of overtaking people at the start helped keep my energy levels up (or maybe it was last night’s pizza) and I knocked another 15 seconds off my 5k PB, so really pleased with that. Got my breath then jogged back to cheer on Bruno as I passed him and run back in with Claire.

Calories worked off apparently 495, calories expended on gorgeous hot chocolate and superb Victoria sponge afterwards, about 495. A fab morning.

38 – Rickmansworth. Travelling to lunch with my parents-in-law gave me the opportunity to visit relative newcomer Rickmansworth for their 5th event. Normally it’s two laps around Bury Lake and Batchworth Lake, but with some work going in the park, today it was three and a bit laps around the pleasant Bury Lake.

I set off too fast – Strava says my first km was my 2nd best yet (and the best doesn’t really count as it was slightly downhill and wind-assisted) – and thus I struggled in the second half, though still achieved a decent time after being unwittingly dragged around the third lap by a woman who overtook me but I wouldn’t let get away – she was delighted to be thanked afterwards.

39 – Brentwood. Weald Country Park was this morning’s home. I’d never been here, a sad omission as it turns out to be delightful, with rolling grassy hills, woods and lakes. After the usual pre-run briefing to watch out for hazards including other park users, which here also include tree roots, mole hills and rabbit warrens, as well as dogs, geese, horses and deer, we were off: as it happens I only had to give way to humans and horses.

A really beautiful course, among my favourites I’ve visited so far in terms of scenery, though also among the hilliest and being a trail run needing a lot of care about where I put my feet with a lot of uneven terrain. After my finish, I jogged back to find Claire, who it turned out had taken a tumble in the woods and was a bit cut and bruised and with damaged glasses, but still as cheerful as ever as we ran the last section together.

Cake and hot chocolate afterwards not quite up to the standards of Maldon, but very acceptable.

40 – Mount Edgcumbe. I’m staying in Plymouth over Easter, walking another chunk of the South West Coast Path. I had a lovely 25km walk yesterday so started today with slightly tired legs. In anticipation of this, I pledged only 2 rather than my normal 3 runs for this week, but I decided not to let that stand in the way of my increasingly traditional parkrun tourism, so in good time I walked across Plymouth in my running stuff while carrying my day’s rucksack including walking shoes and clothes, to catch the 8.15 ferry across the water to Cremyll and then the walk up the hill to Mount Edgcumbe House.

With hindsight, the word “Mount” in the name of the parkrun should have been a clue. This may be the hilliest in the UK, with about 150 metres of ascent, and it’s net uphill too as the start is at the bottom of the hill but the finish is part way up.

So a hard run for me, but I was pleased to be only four minutes slower than usual despite the challenging course and tired legs. A glorious run with superb views across the Sound and up the Hamoaze and lovely sections through the woods too, and the splendid House itself – plus my first parkrun accessed by ferry.

Just time to catch my breath, get changed and catch the bus along the coast for another 22km of the coastal path at a slower pace.

41 – Mersea Island. One of the parkruns where a quick check of the tide times and weather forecast before planning a visit isn’t a bad idea. The marker boards for tide depth towering six feet above the causeway give pause for thought, though I’ve only seen a few inches on the road myself. Met with friends on arrival: my gaggle of people I’ve inspired to take up parkrun or who’ve then inspired others has growth to five. A cloudy and windy morning, but a pleasant course with views of the Colne estuary and the sea, a pleasant wooded stretch and some lovely smooth grass which was very exposed to the onshore winds blowing straight in our faces. A decent time, a little slower than some but still better than the 2009 time that until October last year I was resigned never to beating, and now seems slow.

42 – Preston.

43 – Hadleigh.

44 – Roding Valley. New parkrun PB of 23:31.

45 – Fritton Lake

 

Fritton Lake – parkrun location 45

Plans to visit Clacton parkrun with Claire were put on hold for several reasons, and so I decided to head north to avoid the rain, selecting Fritton Lake parkrun, between Beccles and Great Yarmouth.

Located on a private estate used among other things for outdoor activities and woodland lodges, the signage on arrival was poor, but by the expedient of following others I found myself in the right carpark. Later, at the start line, there was an announcement that the current system of parking permits was being changed to allow the display of a parkrun barcode in the car to authorise parking. There was no information that I saw at the carpark, and certainly none at all on the website, that referred either the old or the new system.

I wandered from the car to the start area, and hung about waiting for the new runners briefing. Maybe I missed it, but if so it was very subtle – I suspect there wasn’t one since when we assembled at the start line, some of the core elements of a new runners briefing were there, but in the worst implementation I’ve yet seen: it didn’t greatly matter to me, but for a genuinely new runner, the “passive welcome” was lacking even if any active welcome from individual enquiries might have been great.

The route was described as “broadly two different figures of eight, overlaid” which was far from helpful, but it’s not unusual for me to run a new parkrun without understanding the route in advance: usually it’s just a question of following the people in front, well supplemented by signs and marshals.

Most of the route was through woodland, at times with views of the lake, with quite a few tree roots and holes to avoid, plus a bit of bracken, bramble and nettle to skirt round in a few places, but nothing difficult in very dry conditions.

However, the route-finding was far from obvious once I lost sight of the people in front of me. Bring a compass and orienteering skills! It turned out I went the right way but I had long periods of doubt, and there was luck involved. There was no-one in front of me for significant stretches with multiple possible turnings and though I checked and there were people behind, I worried they were following me blindly. When Natasha Rout who had been following and eventually overtook then called “which way?” at a fork, I had no idea!

I found myself thinking of Mo Farrah’s final 10k track race on Friday night, and every time the Natasha who was on my shoulder for quite a while pushed the pace a little, I pushed back a little harder. Very motivating, until she inched past me and then I started to run out of energy a few hundred metres from the end. Unlike Mo, I lost by 15 seconds, but still a good run.

Final time 24:43 and 19th out of 71 – not my best by some margin, but a moderately tiring week and a rather twisty course with roots and holes to watch out for. Hopefully I haven’t tired my legs too much for the planned 10-mile run tomorrow morning.

More signage and/or marshalls needed, but a lovely spot for a run (in dry weather, anyway).

parkrun tourism

For those not in the know, parkrun tourism is the deliberate visiting of multiple parkrun locations, and has become a popular activity for growing number of parkrunners, with its own jargon.

Part of my wandering was driven by an effort to visit less muddy locations in the winter than my home parkrun of Bury St Edmunds, but in 2016 I started to visit other parkruns simply for the pleasure of visiting new places and new people, running courses of different characteristics. Ironically some of them have been more muddy than Bury St Edmunds as I’ve become rather more relaxed about varied terrain.

There is a most events table on the parkrun UK website, and a similar global one, so for UK parkrunners at least, someone visiting 20 different venues may be regarded as a semi-unofficially a tourist – but make up your own rules.

I’m aiming to visit all of those in the East of England region (55 at the time of writing) but I’m in no particular hurry to get there – it’s the journey rather than the objective that’s the fun thing. Others have been picked up usually in association with holidays or other times away from home.

The map shows the parkruns I’ve so far visited.

Roding Valley parkrun – location 44

A visit this morning to Loughton, in Essex but for country bumpkins feeling like the NE edge of London, for the Roding Valley parkrun – my parkrun location 44. The run is around a park/recreation ground next to the eponymous river: flat and a mixture of grass and tarmac plus four bridges. Easy-going for a run and pleasant enough without any real thrills.

I didn’t feel in tip-top condition (and was desperate for a pee), but I wasn’t going to let the 25-minute pacer stay in front of me for too long even if she did seem to be going rather fast. I pulled past her and though after the first km it became clear I was going “too fast” I tried to keep it up and latched onto a young girl who unwittingly pulled me along for the first 4km before she accelerated slightly while my legs really started to complain and I slowed slightly.

I stopped my watch after it had recorded 5km, giving me a final time of 23:22 knocking 9 seconds off my 5km PB. Really pleased with that. The official time was 23:31 which was also a parkrun PB – by one second.

I jogged back to run the last few hundred metres with Claire, then we had cake for Roding Valley parkrun’s sixth-month anniversary: really excellent it was, too.

Hadleigh – parkrun location 43

My 43rd parkrun location was Hadleigh in Essex. I’d been here once before, in January, for the Legacy 10k on the Olympic mountain bike course, the hardest 10k I’ve done by some margin.

The parkrun was easier, but still quite challenging. It starts off with a lot of downhill, initially with hairpin bends and then more than 20 more gentle zigs and zags to descend still steeply, regains a bit of height then loses more to get down to the level of the marshes. A fairly level section near the railway line is followed by an ascent on grass which I’d been warned about but which didn’t seem too demanding in the circumstances, and then a long steep ascent back up those “gentle” zig zags which seemed far from gentle on the way up, the gradient peaking at around 17%.

The woman in pink in the photo chased me for much of the run, tending to be slightly faster on the flat but slightly slower on descents and some ascents, but in the end she had more in the tank for the long uphill slog.

I finished in an official 26:20, not too bad in the circumstances but more than two minutes slower than Bury last week.

After I’d recovered and cheered over the line a good few finishers, I jogged back down the hill to find Claire who was tail-runner today, or tail-walker as we should apparently now call the role. I would encourage people to come to parkrun who are combining running and walking, and wouldn’t turn away someone who wanted to walk it, but I’m less convinced that parkrun should be encouraging people who want a Saturday morning walk, but that’s a decision that has a range of passionately held views.

Afterwards, Claire and I had cake in the café, joined by Roderick Hoffman, a parkrun tourist for whom this was event number 199, with Beckenham Place reserved for his 200th in three weeks. He had a lot of interesting stories to tell about his 199 events. My medium-term target remains to visit all of the East of England parkruns, though that’s a moving feast with Billericay added last week and Clare and Haverhill probably not far away.

Volunteering

This is me (in red, centre photo) enjoying Bury St Edmunds parkrun back in April, and at the time of writing still the banner photo for the event on Facebook.

I’ve now done 72 parkruns. Volunteering is exactly that – voluntary – but nevertheless it is a truism that parkrun wouldn’t exist without volunteers, and having volunteered just once, it was about time I improved my volunteering ratio. I’m currently running a little less as I prepare for next weekend’s race, so an email plea for volunteers on Thursday saw me offer my services straight away – I’d volunteered for next week some weeks ago, so it’ll be two in a row.

Last time I was “backup timer”, and this week I was a “scanner”, in a team of three scanning each runner’s personal barcode and their finish token, information which then gets combined in a computer with the information from the timers to assign a time to each person.

Having been asked to arrive half an hour early, I wandered around 25 minutes before the off, and there was no-one about, but a few minutes later the action started and the various volunteers got briefed on our roles. I stood in front of the start line (off to one side) for a view that is quite different from being in the pack, and watched the stream of humanity go past at just a few seconds after nine o’clock.

Then it was a casual walk over to the tent where the scanning takes place, and a wait, first for the runners to start their second lap, and then for the first finisher. It’s a gentle start, and then the pace gradually hots up as we get towards the middle of the pack where most people finish, and the queue for scanning lengthens. There was much scope for more efficiency as people at the front of the queue weren’t paying attention, and many of them presented their finish token first, or barcodes facing the ground. It was enjoyable working my way through them: I was surprised at how many have their barcodes on a rubber bracelet, though they scanned surprisingly well (with the exception of one or two pink ones).

Soon the queue had been whittled away, and it was a friendly wait for the last few to cross the line. Then packing up, putting away the tent, and carrying stuff back to the cars.

An enjoyable morning, perhaps partly for the novelty, but it’s good to be able to help out. Next week timing again.

Preston – parkrun location 42

Encouragement and magic gingerbread from friends helped me find the energy to get out of bed in good time rather than lie there listening to the rain. I headed down the M6 with the wipers on storm, wondering if it was a good idea, but by the time I reached Preston the rain had stopped and I discovered a delightful town centre park alongside the River Ribble and with a lovely Japanese garden.

I also found almost 400 people celebrating Preston parkrun’s 5th birthday, a number of whom were very welcoming to a stranger from distant lands. I don’t know what amp/speaker system the run briefer had, but any similar group thinking of getting one should get the same – amazingly effective. It was, however, somewhat difficult to concentrate on the verbal instructions and commentary, because standing next to the adult briefer was a young girl who gave a visual interpretation with gestures for everything he said and exaggerations of all his own gestures – it was wonderful and really made my day.

The line-up for the start was friendly but very crowded: I’ve never had so many beautiful women touching me at once. Sadly that didn’t last long and we were off along the bank of the Ribble, and then to the hill which the run briefer had described as steeper and longer than it looks, and he was right, and he hadn’t mentioned the slippery surface. Not a big hill but it punched well above its weight. The rest was very pleasant around the park and under four bridges. And then two more laps: a very enjoyable run, even if some way off my fastest after a tiring week. Not surprisingly I was overtaken by The Flash, but managed to stay ahead of Jabba and Princess Leia, among others who were celebrating the birthday run in fancy dress.

At the finish, there was an embarras du choix of 5th birthday cakes, all being very ably supervised by the girl who’d entertained me at the run briefing, and I made a point of thanking her for that as well as the cakes: hopefully I improved her day even if not as much as she improved mine.

So, after thanking the run director and spending a few minutes cheering in other runners, it was back to my temporary home for the weekend, inspecting the gradually rising cloudbase and to plan a modest fell walk for the afternoon.

Stephen afoot

I started running indoors in late 2007, and after reaching 5km indoors in March 2008, started outdoor running, and entered the first Royal Parks Half Marathon in October 2008. I did two more half-marathons in Reading in 2009 and 2010, after which my running rather lost objective and focus.

In 2014, I discovered parkrun, which gave a fresh objective, and I rediscovered my enthusiasm for running. Successful weight loss in 2016, together with several running friends (mostly online so far) and a growing love of parkrun tourism further increased my love of running.

A chance visit to the London Marathon in April 2017 (in the interval of Harry Potter and Cursed Child) generated a lot of emotion, and I found myself, having vowed not even to do another half-marathon because of the strain the training had put me under, seeking a place for the 2018 London Marathon.

To my delight and surprise, I quickly gained a place running in aid of Guide Dogs. With almost 12 months to go, my enthusiasm for longer distance running started to bubble over, and I thought it might be a good time to experiment with a blog, mixing run reports, thoughts and plans. I don’t expect a wide audience, but it may be interesting to experiment with the format.