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

 

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