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.