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.

Three countries, three runs

Before last year, going on holiday was generally reason not to be running, but with my commitment to run in more different locations, and to maintain fitness without the excuses of travel (leisure or business), that has changed. My runs while away from home may sometimes be shorter or easier, but hopefully most offer plenty of novelty. First up from this trip away for some sailing in the Baltic was Denmark: a 6km circuit of the Copenhagen lakes. Quite a few other runners about including a tall muscular blonde going at just the right pace who I enjoyed following, then overtook for a kilometre while she followed me, then we swapped places again.

After a train journey from Copenhagen to Kalmar in Sweden, we sailed overnight to Visby on the island of Gotland. Overnight watches could have been an excuse to take things easy but instead I headed out for a 7km Swedish run past the port and then along a delightful promenade, partly under the old town walls, then past a large campsite which seemed to settle well into the landscape and not be a blot. Lots of people about including a few other runners, all slower than me.

We had more sailing around Gotland, then another overnight sail, heading SE to Klaipeda in Lithuania. I was on deck from just after 1am, seeing three watches as I didn’t feel tired and was enjoying the various other tall ships visible in the dark and then more as the dawn broke. Klaipeda was to be a port in between two legs of the Tall Ships Race, which made for some great explorations on foot and by bike, and for an interesting 5km Lithuanian run relatively early on Friday morning – later we spent more time exploring some of the square-riggers, and enjoying the party atmosphere with Lithuanian music vying with Omani bagpipers from the RNOV Shabab Oman II.

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.

Monsal Trail – longest yet

  This week’s runs have seen me on the Thames towpath just south of Oxford, from home to Drinkstone and back, knocking five minutes off my Thetford parkrun PB from two years ago, and then today’s big one.

I was travelling to near Manchester, so I’d always thought that if the weather was good I might spend some time walking or running in the Peak District. As I was late away from home, I decided that a run would be a good option, and had selected the Monsal Trail near Buxton, a former railway line now restored for use by walkers, cyclists and horse riders (I note they rarely say runners), with several tunnels and high bridges.

I had planned a 10-12km run, but once out I found the idea of making it a bit longer grew on me – perhaps because most of the planned first 5km was gently downhill so it was bound to feel relatively easy. I turned round at 8km with the possibility of a 10-mile run, but on the return leg I decided to push on. Of course, the way back was gently uphill, but although I was a little slower it wasn’t excessively hard, and so I ran on past the car at Millers Dale, ran to the western end of the Trail and turned back to the car.

Total distance was about 21.7km, a smidgen over a half-marathon and my longest run yet. I was tired but not wiped out, and indeed the worst outcome was once again sore patches on my lower back/upper bottom from my sweaty shorts. As I didn’t wear my running belt (having the hydration vest on) I can eliminate that as a potential cause. It is the shorts. More testing is needed to determine whether it is this particular design (I have two identical pairs which I use for almost all my running at the moment) or something generic to me.

But the ability to just choose to run a half-marathon distance almost at will is very encouraging. Running twice as far still seems an awfully long way, but there’s time to build up to that, and I needn’t run quite as fast.

The scenery of the run was delightful with steep gorges and flowery meadows, the railway line cut into shelves on the side of the hill, striding across the river on high bridges, and many tunnels – I was impressed with how well the Garmin coped with those, presumably reverting to its “run indoor” mode relying on my arm swings until it could get a GPS fix again when I emerged.

Official photos and reflections

The chunky entry fee for Sunday’s  London 10 Mile run included “free” photographs. Most of my 18 are actually of other people entirely or I’m barely visible.

But two are reasonable photos, at 5 and 10 miles…

The official results put me in 1086th place (based on chip time), about 34% of the way through the field, my best relative position in a long race, helping me put things in a bit more perspective.

By a curious coincidence, I was 1086th across the start line too, which all sounds very even and satisfactory, but my two halves were uneven, the first being 43:30 and the second being 45:20, and it’s those lost 110 seconds that are annoying me. I was 972th at 5 miles, so I overtook a net 114 people in the first half and was overtaken by a net 114 people in the second half. That latter was particularly dispiriting.

My mysterious benefactor who had unwittingly spurred me on at several points is now identified as Harriet Kiddy, and I’ve been able to thank her via Strava. She in turn thanked me – she’d been chasing me for a few miles: great to hear that I’d been a little help to her too, and it added a further little cheer to the post-event analysis.

Looking further ahead, one analysis of the London Marathon course has ascent of 54 metres, about a third of the London 10-Mile, and almost all of it very minor rises: no hills!

London 10 Mile

Today was the day that running training for the last 17 weeks has, at least nominally, been heading towards. Although I would have been going out running anyway, I’ve been working to an Mbition training plan with today’s London 10 Mile in Richmond Park (originally advertised as the Royal Parks 10) as the objective. I successfully ran all 51 of my training runs (plus a small handful of sneaky extras) so had put in the work.

It was a longish walk from the south where we’d parked the car near the Robin Hood Gate, across the park to the event village, but a lovely one on a sunny day, with no traffic other than cyclists and a few deer. While Lucy went to investigate whether there was scope to buy an event t-shirt, I queued for the toilets, which gave me opportunity to pin on my race number and sort out my bag and other bits and pieces. The long queue moved swiftly, and after that was sorted I dropped off my bag.

There was no news from our friend Claire whose suggestion this race had been, and who has also been training for it, and so I guided Lucy to my suggested spot for her to watch the start which also allowed for an easy short walk to the 3-mile point, and then I went to my yellow pen, the second of the four pens. It was already getting busy and the 90-minute pacemaker was some distance in front of me, unreachable in the dense mass of people, and I wasn’t much in front of the 100-minute person. I wasn’t looking for a formal pacemaker but it did suggest there would be a fair few people in front of me looking to go more slowly than my 85 to 87-minute target.

The start was delayed by 15 minutes for reasons not explained, but that period did allow for a minute’s silence in memory of those killed last night, and an emphatic round of applause for the emergency services.

Eventually the first pen was underway, and after a short pause, our pen was too, getting me across the line about four minutes after the gun. It was very busy and slower than desired along the first straight, but once I’d turned the first corner and been cheered on by Lucy, it wasn’t too challenging to start to overtake people, both up the first hill and down the other side. I expected there to be some people a bit slower, but there were some very slow people who really should have been much further back in the fourth pen if that’s all they could manage at the start.

The scenery of Richmond Park is sublime and there was plenty of opportunity to enjoy it as the route wended its way to the south-east corner by Robin Hood Gate and then began its circuit of the park. I found myself running alongside a woman in pink in the second mile, and we more or less matched each other until about 7.5 miles which I think was helpful though with hindsight perhaps caused me to push a fraction too hard, though that was mostly driven by me aiming for a specific time and thus a particular pace on my Garmin.

After turning the north-east corner at Roehampton Gate, there began a slow drag of 2.7km gaining 66 metres of height and all into a stiff breeze and increasingly warm temperatures. I waved to Lucy as I passed her, she calling to me from the right-hand-side when I was expecting her on the left. This section was challenging and maybe I pushed too hard here, though once we turned the north-west corner by the Star and Garter Home, the next side was downhill or level so did give time for the legs to recover somewhat, and I did one km in 5:00 and my average speed thus far was bang on target at 5:21/km.

However, turning the south-west corner at Kingston Gate then produced another significant little hill, just 30 metres but at a gradient of up to 10%. The painful ascent was enlivened by tree surgeons sitting in a tree overhanging the road and cheering us on. Great fun but it didn’t have much impact on my legs which had had enough by the time I got to the top, and never regained their freshness. My intermittent companion in pink now pulled away from me, though initially not far. The ascent was followed by a steep descent which improved the speed but didn’t do much to help the legs – long and gradual would have been more helpful.

After a brief circuit at Robin Hood Gate to add a few metres to the route, it was back towards the event village along the outward route, which meant a gentle but persistent 1.7km uphill with another 30 metres of ascent in warm sunshine. I was determined I wasn’t going to walk, but the pace dropped dramatically to around 6:18/km, the lady in pink disappeared into the distance, and I was feeling demoralised as I was passed by dozens and dozens of people whose legs were in better shape than mine. Eventually I crested the hill and the remaining 900 metres were downhill and then level: although easier, my legs were struggling and I could still only manage 5:39 for the 16th kilometre.

As I approached the final turn into the finish straight, after a run with relatively little support, the crowds suddenly appeared and the air was thick with “Come on Stephen” (names being printed on the race numbers), which was great to hear, and plenty of hands out for high-fives, but it wasn’t really needed by now as it’s always easy to find a last smidgen of energy for the end with the finish line in sight. I passed Lucy close to the finish, and crossed the line in a chip time of 1:28:49, some 98 seconds slower than my PB which had been my primary target and 2.5 to 3 minutes slower than my dream target.

I had given it my all, and as I walked to the table with goodie bags, it was something of a drunkard’s walk, only just managing to propel myself in the right direction without falling over, and having claimed my water, protein drink, fridge magnet and packet of crisps, I had my cherished medal hung around my neck, walked out of the finish zone, and collapsed on the grass. After a short while I recovered enough to have a drink and message Lucy as to where I was. Gradually I recovered strength and after eating my crisps, drinking the water and the protein shake, I went to collect my bag while Lucy queued for some food.

The food queue was lengthy, and though the food was excellent we barely had time to eat it before we went over to the finish straight to wait for Claire who’d had time to post a Facebook message that she was at Mile 9, which we noticed six minutes later. She was a few minutes yet, and we cheered a few others across the line before she appeared, jogging cheerfully, in company with Paul Wright. As her longest run before today was 11.7km, she did very well to finish, though clearly had a few breaks as she had managed to take a lot of photos on her phone including ones at every mile.

So, it is done. I knew it was going to be hilly (by my standards, at any rate – there are plenty of hillier races) but the combination of the hills, the wind in the face on the leg heading west, and the warm temperatures, made the time target prove to be too challenging and in the last quarter I paid for having managed that target pace in the first three-quarters. However, I wasn’t that far off the objective, but nevertheless feel a little disappointed and dispirited. With an objective in 10.5 months which is 2.6 times as far, it also isn’t very motivating about my capacity to run such a long distance, either.

Clearly I need more practice on hills, and I need more long runs both to get my legs more used to distance and to start to reclaim some confidence. Would the two half-marathons I had my eye on in August and September help or hinder that, I wonder?

Little ones

Wednesday saw me realise that the need to drop the car off at the garage meant that the window for a run was short, so it was just a brisk 3.5km across the village and back rather than the intended 5 or 6km tempo run.

Friday by contrast was planned to be short. Inspired by the Strava Mile sweepstakes, I decided to run a brisk mile – something I’ve never aimed at before. Although I’ve done intervals with fast runs, they’ve been embedded within a larger effort and so I’ve never focussed on them individually.

I did a warm-up run of 2km fairly gently (though 12 months ago it would have been at my limits), then paused to get my breath while leaving my heart and muscles nicely warmed up, then ran back. I was somewhat frightened by the 4:10/km pace initially, and couldn’t quite keep that up, but knowing that I needed to beat about 4:33/km, I kept ahead of that and set a new kilometre PB of 4:23 and mile PB of 7:05. Very satisfactory.

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside

Landguard Point

The picture is at Languard Point, with the sea behind me, the exit of Harwich Harbour to the left, and shows a bit of the nature reserve, cluttered with the accumulated remains of several centuries of military defences and hemmed in by the Port of Felixstowe behind and the seaside world of leisure away to the right. The boardwalk is really bouncy to run on – great fun. A lovely spot.

My longer Sunday runs have been around the lanes near home for quite a few weeks, and while each has been somewhere different and included new roads, there has been a certain sameness about them, and it was time to shake things up a bit.

So this morning it was ho! to Felixstowe for a visit to the seaside – not entirely novel as I’ve run here a few times before, but not for a while. I ran south-west to the tip of Landguard Point, then retraced my steps and continued north-east to the first Martello Tower then along the prom, past the pier for a while before turning to run back to the car. By the time I finished just after 9am it was 23° and there were already sunbathers out, with lots of other people taking a stroll on the prom, together with a few other runners.

There were the smells of rubber from things being inflated, of cooking food, and of chlorine from the leisure centre. The last is a bit of an obstacle at the moment as the prom has been closed since last June for a short distance to allow some works to be carried out, which means a little diversion around the leisure centre, a route that has confused my Garmin each time I’ve done it.

The intention was for a run of 8km at 5:37/km but my legs felt great after a gentle week and I committed one of the sins of the taper period and ran both further and faster, but not too seriously so. I will need to be very careful to rest properly towards the end of this coming week, but no harm done today. It did at least have the benefit of giving me fresh confidence as there was so much in the tank to push a little harder and plenty of energy when I finished. It has left me in fresh doubt though about whether to adopt the run-walk strategy that I used successfully on my 10-mile race at the Lee Valley Velopark (and last Sunday’s 15.3km) or to return to my more normal “run it all” approach and trust to the energy gained from the taper and the occasion to see me through. Something to ponder.

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.

New shoes

As my main road shoes (I have another pair of trail shoes) are coming towards the end of their recommended life, I treated myself to a new pair of Brooks Adrenaline GTS shoes, my fourth such – this is the 2017 model, and I’ve had two 2016s and a 2014 pair.

The primary focus was to be able to run the London 10-mile a week on Sunday in shoes giving their best. Despite the fact that they shouldn’t need “running in” and are essentially the same as three previous pairs, I thought I’d better give them a little test.

So this morning it was my semi-regular 6.4km loop to Drinkstone and back. Once warmed up, my legs felt good – whether it was a fairly restful few days (ignoring the 15km on Sunday) or the new shoes (physically or psychologically) I don’t know. I’ve also managed to shed a small amount of weigh in the last couple of weeks (Christmas weight, here I come!) which will have helped a tiny bit.

But anyway, the net result of all that, despite deliberately slowing down for a km in the middle, was a new record pace on this route and for a couple of segments within it, and a 6km personal best time of precisely 30 minutes.

So the shoes passed the test with flying colours, and are now put aside for 10 days until it’s time for Richmond Park.

New things

With two weeks to go before the London 10 mile race in Richmond Park, Sunday was my last long run for the next 14 days. My schedule called for 15.3km at 5:37/km and I managed 15.3km at 5:36/km, coming in 9 seconds ahead of plan, so that was pretty pleasing.

Today was a day of experiments, not so much with the London 10 mile in mind, but thinking more of the London Marathon and training for it. So it was my first outing for my new Camelbak hydration vest which allows me to carry 1½ litres of water on my back and drink on the move. The Camelbak also has some small pockets on the front into which I put a couple of Sport in Science gels and energy bars, which I consumed on the run.

The Camelbak worked well. I was unsure how quickly I was depleting the water supply (one can obviously tell when holding a bottle of water, but tucked away on my back, it was less clear) – hopefully I’ll get better at judging that with experience. The tube gently rubbed my neck as it passed from my back to my front, more annoying than causing any physical problems. Later inspection showed that it had arrived with the tube emerging from the left at the back and moving to the right at the front, which I fixed for next time.

The gel was a novel experience, the most difficult bit being tearing it open with sweaty fingers – more experimentation needed, I think. The energy bar was more of a challenge to eat on the run, and presumably slower to be absorbed, but did provide variety to the gel. Plenty of time to experiment on my long runs over the next few months.

Running on the move

I’ve said here and elsewhere that I’m using travel with work as an opportunity for my running, not an excuse. But that doesn’t mean it is without challenges.

Some can be tackled with planning: when I need to stay away, but it doesn’t matter where exactly, then I try to pick somewhere where it will be practical to go for a run on arrival in the evening or first thing in the morning.

But sometimes where I’m staying just doesn’t lend itself to running, or I may have colleagues with me making adjusting plans more difficult, or hire cars to drop off, or aeroplanes to catch, or simply no sensible way to bend my day to fit in a run.

There is always scope to get up from a hotel bed earlier, or get home later by stopping off en route.

But tiredness is a problem not so easily addressed. Yesterday I got up at stupid-o’clock to drive to Liverpool to fly to Northern Ireland, and this morning, after a long day, it was an early departure to come back. I’ve yet to have a run in Northern Ireland, but it was impractical to do so this time, so I stopped off in Warrington for a run on the banks of the St Helens Canal, also known as the Sankey Brook Navigation.

My run schedule called for some six-minute fast intervals with three-minute recovery. But my body quickly told me that after early mornings, travel, and not to mention a weekend of fell-walking, it had other thoughts about running fast for six minutes. So I improvised, and if I want to be positive, what emerged was 6km of fartlek. It was hard work, whatever it was.

A run schedule is all very well, and making a gap in the calendar is important, but making sure the body is ready too, that’s a different challenge.

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.

Time to go Forth

Having said the other day that I had determined to use work travel as an opportunity rather than an excuse, I stayed in bed in Elgin yesterday (after all, it was a great bedroom with a four-poster bed and three showers to choose from!) so on the last morning of the Scotland trip I felt I really ought to get out.

So despite a latish night in the bar last night, I set the alarm for 6am and got up and out into a bright morning, running through the streets of Bridge of Allan and out to the north bank of the River Forth. The footpath along the bank of the Forth offered views of the Wallace Monument and of Stirling Castle.

It was a bit of a challenge to get myself out of bed but as so often, once I was outside and running, I was so glad I had done so. Why that lesson is so easy to relate, but after all these years still so difficult to put into practice is a challenging question to answer.

A good cooked breakfast and then the flight from Edinburgh to Birmingham and a drive back to Cumbria for the weekend – I’m not sure whether there will be any weekend running: we will see.