Welcome back parkrun!

At 8am on Saturday 24th July there were thousands of people in England anxiously checking their social media accounts, checking their weather apps and trying to remember familiar routines/habits. It was a day that many thought would never arrive, after hopes had been dashed on a number of occasions over the past year.

Yes, after 16 months, 70 weeks and 497 days, parkrun returned to England (and a few other places in the UK like the Channel Islands, Bressay and Kirkwall in Scotland, the Isle of Man and the Falkland Islands!).

Back on 14 March 2020 thousands of parkrunners took part in parkruns across the world; I was one of them, running on that day at Salcey Forest, Northamptonshire. Numbers were down on that day, and many of us ran with a sinking feeling that this might be our last parkrun for a while, as news of the escalating global Coronavirus pandemic was ever-present. And a few days after that last run, our fears were realised as parkrun global announced that, due to the pandemic, they were putting parkrun on ‘pause’ and that no future events would take place across the world until it was safe to do so. However, I don’t think there was a single parkrunner that realised the pause would last for quite so long.

Over the parkrun ‘pause’ there were various virtual races and running events that helped to fill the parkrun-shaped hole in my life, and I wrote about some of these in my last blog post, but although these helped a little, that void ached and it always seemed like something was missing. There’s a much-bandied about saying in the parkrun world, that parkrun is “more than a run in a park”, and never did it seem more true. Because parkrun IS so much more than a run in the park. It’s the parkrun community, the social element, the friendships made and rekindled each Saturday, the ‘fitting in’ and the acceptance, the feeling of belonging no matter how you participated in parkrun – whether as a gazelle, a snail or a much valued volunteer.

So we endured the first lockdown in the UK, and watched as the numbers of Covid cases started to dwindle, with hope in our hearts that as the numbers sank, we might see parkrun return in the Autumn. The central team who run parkrun excelled in keeping the communications going throughout this period, with weekly bulletins explaining what was needed in order to bring parkrun back again. Over the summer they explained that they intended to bring parkrun back in countries as a whole; that they wouldn’t start parkruns up in some states/counties where Covid cases were low when other areas within the same country were not able to start due to higher prevalence of Covid cases. Although this was frustrating, it made sense. Even though Covid cases were very low in Devon and Cornwall at the time, if parkrun HQ had announced that they would re-start parkrun in those counties there was a very real danger that lots of avid parkrunners would simply get in their cars and drive to Devon/Cornwall, with the result that those events might become overwhelmed with very high numbers of parkrunners.

On July 3rd 2020 parkrun returned to New Zealand which had been hugely successful at eradicating Coronavirus from the country. The parkrun podcast With Me Now streamed a live broadcast of this re-start, with presenters Danny and Nicola being joined by parkrun Global COO Tom Williams in the UK, and roving reporter Hannah Oldroyd taking part in Pegasus parkrun in New Zealand. This was such a joyous event and as I watched it live I found tears running down my face, realising how much I missed parkrun and how wonderful it was that it was returning, albeit on the other side of the world!

parkrun Global continued to work extremely hard during this period, commissioning a rapid review of the evidence surrounding COVID-19 transmission in outdoor settings by Canterbury Christ Church University, entering into discussions with the DCMS, conducting weekly “intent to return” surveys amongst parkrunners, and seeking feedback and suggestions from the global parkrun community, across 22 countries, as well as from public health bodies and governments around the world. A COVID-19 Framework was developed, which detailed how parkrun events would be delivered where there remained an underlying level of COVID-19 in the community. And then came the watershed moment, on 7th September 2020, when Nick Pearson, parkrun Global Chief Executive Officer Nick Pearson announced an intent for parkrun to return in England towards the end of October.

There was so much excitement at this announcement, and there was much buzz on social media with conversations about the return. Although everyone I knew seemed incredibly excited about parkrun’s return, I had growing feelings of unease. The new Covid-19 framework included measures to ensure that the amount of time runners spent in close proximity was kept to a minimum, which was only sensible. But it was suggested that run briefs were kept short and sharp, there was to be no celebrating milestones or other events, and instead of going to the café afterwards for lots of socialising and parkfaffing, everyone was to just run and leave. Results were not to be processed in the café or other places where people huddled over the computer; instead they would be processed by one person at home. Whilst I could understand why these measures had been suggested, it seemed to me to be taking all the fun out of parkrun. For me, parkrun is so much more than a run in the park, and the socialising bit was what made parkrun special; the coming together as a community. If we merely turned up, ran a 5k and went home, we might as well do it on our own at a time that suited.

However, it was one of the other suggested Covid-19 guidelines that became quite controversial and divisive, with different camps taking polarised views. It was advised that when parkrun returned, parkrunners were asked to ‘stay local’ rather than travel to different areas to parkrun. Again, this seemed sensible; Covid cases were rising in the UK but some areas had significantly greater numbers of Covid cases than others. And so one had to question whether travelling to a different area just to do a parkrun was wise, particularly as there was a fear that you could be asymptomatic and yet transmit the virus to anyone you came into close contact with. However, what exactly did “stay local” mean? Only go to your ‘home’ parkrun? Only go to parkruns within an arbitrary number of miles from your home? I’m lucky – there are 20 different parkruns within 9 miles of my home, but if you’re in a rural area you might only have one. And what about if you happen to be in a different part of the country from your home on parkrunday? If you’re in another part of the UK due to work, or on holiday, or visiting family, would it make any difference to go to a parkrun in that area as you’ve travelled there anyway? Of course, all those with the parkrun tourism bug, like me, suddenly felt restricted, and it was not helped by the keyboard warriors taking to social media and judging when anyone dared suggested they were intending to do some parkrun tourism!

However, within a few weeks of announcing that parkrun would start again, and with the numbers of Covid-19 cases rising sharply as the UK entered a second wave, it was announced that parkrun wouldn’t be starting in the UK in October after all. There was another false start in June 2021, when a second date was announced for parkrun to re-start in the UK, but then this date was put back and the re-start of parkrun delayed for a second time. The problem this time, was that although restrictions had been eased and the DCMS had agreed that outdoor events could take place, many parkruns took place on private land, or council land, and landowner permissions had to be obtained for parkruns to restart. And again, parkrun HQ announced that they wouldn’t go ahead with a re-start date until the vast majority of landowners had given permission, because they didn’t want parkruns that had got permission to be swamped by runners from neighbouring areas where there wasn’t permission granted yet to re-start. Some councils were very hesitant to give the go-ahead, and sadly some events fell by the wayside and it was announced that they wouldn’t re-start. One of these I felt very sorry about – Fire Service College in Gloucestershire – because I had really enjoyed visiting there a year before with friends but on a very hot day and I had to walk a lot of it as it was so hot, so I had been looking forward to going back on another less hot occasion and possibly ringing their ‘firestarter’ PB bell!

But finally, after two false starts, a third re-start date was given of 24 July – although sadly only in England, and not in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland where they had stricter Coronavirus regulations. As the date approached there was much chatter on social media with people barely daring to believe that it might actually happen. The re-start date was at the time of the UEFA Euro 2021 football tournament, so there were also many parodies of the “football’s coming home” song, changing the words to “parkrun’s coming home”!

Over the pause, some changes had been made to the parkrun model, to make the events more Covid-secure, such as getting rid of the old timers and scanners and instead having volunteers use the re-vamped virtual volunteer app for these functions. The yellow hi-viz jackets for volunteers had been replaced by bright pink ones, which clashed horribly with the parkrun apricot tops! And some parkruns changed their courses slightly to allow for a wider start line, and brefings being done more spaced out. More volunteers were needed too, as it was recommended there was one barcode scanner for each 50 participants to avoid queues building up, although with scanning being done via the app it did allow for the faster people to run and then jump on scanning duty.

And of course, there were personal changes in circumstances too – I could no longer run due to arthritis that had developed in my knees. I was determined to take part however, as I thought the day would never arrive, and so decided to volunteer as tailwalker at my home event for the first one back, using walking poles .

Unfortunately, the parkrun weather fairies hadn’t realised that parkrun was back, and rather than a lovely sunny day to greet us on our first parkrun after the pause, we had drizzly and at times heavy rain. It didn’t matter though, it was just glorious to be able to gather in a park and enjoy the fabulous community aspect of parkrun, however we participated. And after a brief briefing – we were off! As tailwalker I soon fell in with a woman who told me that she lived in one of the houses that backed onto the course. She said that she used to watch us doing parkrun over whilst having a coffee, but over lockdown she had started walking around the field for some exercise. And so on our first day back she had decided to join us. As we approached her house I was very touched to see her family had put out a “Welcome back” banner on their fence!

In the end, it was as if we had never been away! It was so lovely to see so many familiar faces, some of whom I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic. Over the previous few months I had joined up with a team of four of us who were virtually running Route 66 in the USA – now our “Exit 17” team could actually meet up in person! And when I went home, I watched the live feed that the parkrun podcast “With Me Now” had made of the re-start, and joined in with the chatter on social media with everyone discussing the joy of being back.

It’s been six weeks or so since then, and I’m happily back into the swing of parkrun being back. And over that time, parkrun has returned to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and today it returned to Ireland too. Although I had thought I would just stick to my home run for the first few months, it was only the third week in that I did a bit of parkrun tourism as I was invited to attend a friend’s 100th parkrun in Bramley, Leeds, and so I used it as a reason to visit family in Leeds. But I’m going to save writing about that for my next post!

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Lockdown running, cancellation of parkrun and no-fomo!

When I started this blog it had no particular theme; I just intended to write about some of the places I had visited and the activities I had enjoyed. Gradually, however, my blog posts seemed to become entirely parkrun-based. This wasn’t intentional but during 2019 the parkrun tourism bug bit me big time, and I found myself eagerly planning where I would parkrun next whenever I had a spare weekend. My parkrun tourism trips also started taking longer out of my weekend as I went further afield; often staying overnight on the Friday night, and then going to the café for several hours after parkrun on a Saturday morning before driving back in the afternoon. As a result, I found that although I would ‘write’ the blog post about that particular parkrun in my head on the journey back, I often found that I didn’t transfer them from my head to actual words online.  Before long a significant backlog of parkrun blog posts had built up in my head, and looking back at the blog I am shocked to discover my last post was nearly two years ago, in August 2019.

And then in March 2020 the Coronavirus pandemic meant that all parkruns across the world were cancelled, and the UK went into ‘lockdown’ at the end of March, during which time we were confined to our own homes and only allowed to go out for essential journeys such as to go to work (if unable to work from home), for food shopping or exercise in the form of solo runs/walks/cycles. No more would my weekends be spent travelling to different parkruns and then berating myself over the coming week for not finding the time to sit down and write about it! Looking at my last blog post, I wrote about the Wilson Index and ‘fomo’ – fear of missing out if I wasn’t able to do a parkrun that would fill in the gaps on my Wilson Index. This now seems so ridiculous; with a very real fear present in the form of catching Coronavirus, it seemed laughable to be worrying about missing a parkrun with an arbitrary number.


So I decided that I would spend the time in lockdown productively, by writing up my backlog of parkrun tourism posts. I also rashly ordered a crochet kit and dug out some jigsaws, thinking I would have lots of time to fill indoors since I couldn’t go out. Looking back on it now, over a year later, how wrong I was! I think lots of people panicked about being isolated and locked in the house, and rather than finding myself with lots of spare time indoors to fill, I found that time being taken up with zoom quizzes, virtual meet-ups with friends, online talks, as well as online yoga and workout sessions. parkrun itself put on a weekly “great big parkrun quiz” at 9am every Saturday morning, which was then followed by online meet-ups of the parkrun tourism community, and before I knew it my whole Saturday morning could be taken up with parkrun activities even without the parkrun itself! The parkrun podcast I listen to – and love – called With Me Now also streamed an enormous amount of content. Rather than just being a once-a-week podcast, it started doing daily parkrun pictionary, and live interviews with interesting people. And when parkrun resumed in New Zealand, With Me Now broadcast the event live.  One of the run directors at a parkrun in Germany, Neckarufer parkrun, also put on a quiz every Sunday to run during the period when parkrun was paused – called the Quarantine Quiz – and I started doing this each week and found a whole new community of parkrun addicts that have become friends. I actually started to get a new ‘FOMO’ – fear of missing out on some of the brilliant online content that was being put out! And so over a year later and after a second lockdown in the UK, I find that I still haven’t written a single post from my backlog of parkrun tourism events, despite ordering a customised parkrun apricot top with the words “get down shep” on it to try to motivate me into getting back into writing.


As well as my blog post writing going by the wayside, I was worried that my fitness and running habit would also disappear. I am not a natural runner at all, and don’t find it easy to motivate myself to go out for a run, finding every excuse not to. Attending parkrun every week, entering races and joining a running club – Eton Manor AC – gave me a framework to encourage me and motivate me. At the beginning of lockdown, we were allowed – and actively encouraged – to go out an exercise daily, and I had read a lot of articles encouraging people to build their immune systems, and to use exercise to combat the isolation and depression that may develop from being ‘locked’ away. But it’s one thing understanding the benefits of running and exercising outdoors, and quite another to have the dedication to keep doing it regularly on your own. Fortunately, actual runs, training sessions and races were replaced by virtual races, and I was amazed by the creativity and the amount of different virtual challenges that emerged in this period.

The first of these ‘Virtual’ challenges that I took part in was the Adidas City Run 1 Hour Virtual Challenge. I’d taken part in the Adidas City Run 1 Hour race a couple of times previously, and signed up to take part in again in 2020 long before we had even heard of Coronavirus. It’s an unusual race format that I really like; usually races are based on distance – 5k, 10k, half-marathons or marathons – but this one is based on time instead. A one-mile course is marked out in the City of London, and the idea is that everyone runs laps of this course for exactly 1 hour – when the klaxon sounds everyone stops running and it calculates how far you’ve run. With a snappy strapline of “How far will you go?” the idea is to challenge yourself to run as far as you can in 1 hour. Because I’m a slow runner, on a distance-based race I quickly find myself at the back and running on my own, which can be quite lonely, whereas with this race everyone is just running laps and so I find myself always surrounded by people which is a novel experience for me in a race! And the course bends around on itself so that you can see people at different stages on the lap, giving lots of opportunities to wave at friends who are running at different paces. With giant clocks along the route counting down the hour, somehow I always found it psychologically a lot easier to keep going, as you can see that the amount of time you have left to run for is constantly getting smaller, whereas on a normal race counting up the distance seems to me to make it harder. The event was due to take place on 5th April 2020, and I was really looking forward to it. When it was announced that they would be holding the race virtually instead of in person, and that you now had to just run for an hour on your own on a route of your choice, I was disappointed and felt that it just wouldn’t be the same. In the run up to the race they requested suggestions for tracks for a Virtual 1 Hour playlist, and sent out the Adidas tops with runner numbers on, and so on the day I set off with the playlist in my ears, wearing my top and noticed quite a few other people wearing the tops too. And I found that I managed to run for the hour without stopping and felt a sense of achievement even though I didn’t manage to run further than the last year’s race.


My running club also got in on the act with the virtual challenges which proved to be a great motivation to me whilst we couldn’t meet up for club runs. The first race fixture that was due to be held shortly after we went into lockdown was the Eton Manor 5m handicap. This was quite easy to replicate virtually as we had the route established and set up as a Strava segment, so all we had to do was run the 5m route in our own time at some point over the week it was due to be held, and submit our times to the club facebook page, where the captain worked out the handicap times and subsequently who the winner was. The previous year I had actually won a bottle of wine for being the first female, thanks to an 8-minute head start on everyone else, with the handicaps being calculated based on your current 5k form. I’m an incredibly slow runner, so I set off expecting to be overtaken very quickly and was amazed to find that I had run the entire first lap of the two lap course without being overtaken, and then to find with only 100 metres or so to go, a club member who wasn’t running but who had set off on a bike from the finish line back down the course shouted at me “You’re in the lead!”. I thought that there was no way the club could replicate the real handicap race with a virtual version, and that I wouldn’t be as fast without people actually chasing me down, but amazingly I finished 12 seconds faster than I had run the previous year!

EM Virtual handicap

Following the success of this, the club also held a number of team and individual challenges that got increasingly more creative and complex. Some of these were virtual versions of the annual races that would normally appear in the club calendar, such as mob match against local club Orion Harriers, in which the 5k route in Epping Forest was marked out with sawdust at the side of the trail so that everyone could run safely on their own. Amazingly I managed to stick to the route through the forest without the aid of marshals, just by following the sawdust trail.

orion harriers

Three of the ‘virtual’ challenges I took part in over the year were relay, or team challenges. Now I’ve always had a bit of problem with team races, as they remind me of when I was at school and always the last to be picked for team games, and hate letting the team down by being so useless. The one time I agreed to take part in a relay for the club was one Christmas when I agreed to take part in the Christmas Cracker relay, where each team consisted of 3 runners, and the teams were evened out so that the slower runners were paired with the faster runners. Even then I found it a bit dispiriting as even though I was in the ‘slow’ runners leg that set off first, the relay route started with an uphill section and by the time I got to the top all the other runners had disappeared for dust! However, with a virtual team relay there was no such problem. We each ran our relay leg on our own in our own time, and recorded the time. For some of the challenges we didn’t know who our team members would be until they had run their legs, and we would watch the spreadsheet slowly become populated as each person ran their legs. For others, we knew what team we were in, with team names and team captains, who were all very encouraging despite how slowly I had run my leg! We also had fun with the team names – for one relay competition we all had names of fast animals ( I was in the Cheetahs!) and for another we all had Star Wars characters which gave me the chance to dress up for Team Leia!


But by far my favourite challenges over the year were the creative ones, where you didn’t have to be a fast runner to succeed. The first of these was a straightforward Strava Art Challenge, where we had to be creative with our routes so that the breadcrumb trail on Strava made a picture. I tried to do a tennis racquet first of all, but found that running in straight parallel lines was a lot harder than I thought with no marks on the ground to keep me on the straight and narrow. So for my second attempt, I tried a flower, and got my bearings by putting a bright coloured jacket down in the middle of the field so that I had something to aim for.

As the restrictions on running together continued throughout the year, my club created more and more imaginative challenges. I am immensely grateful to captain Paul Boddey and others, like Paul Manson, who put such effort into coming up with such creative ideas and that kept me motivated and encouraged me to go out and run when I didn’t really want to! One of my favourites was the Eton Manor Mile Bingo, which evolved over time. For the first Mile Bingo competition, a bingo card was created with a variety of different times on it. The idea was simple – get out and run a mile – exactly a mile – and if the time you ran it in matched one of the times on the card you could cross it off! You could have as many goes as you wanted, and we tried collectively to get a full house in the fortnight that the game was running. As the game went on, it became more and more difficult, as various times were crossed off. I tried several different techniques; just going and running a mile and leaving it to chance, or setting a mile time on my Garmin and trying to speed up or slow down in a vain attempt to hit one of the remaining unclaimed times, which I had written on my hand! Neither technique worked very well, but I found that I wanted to go out every day to have a go, and if I didn’t succeed with the first attempt would run another and then a third, and before I knew it I had significantly increased my daily running mileage without thinking about it. In the autumn, we revised the Mile Bingo but this time with a card for the men and a card for the women in the club, with a competition to see who could cross off the most numbers.

EM bingo

The Mile Bingo was given a Christmas twist in December 2020 with an Advent Bingo competition, which was, frankly, a genius idea. All you had to do was run a mile & time it. Then just like a real advent calendar, the club had a virtual Advent Calendar with 24 windows, and behind each window were three random times. You could run as many miles as you liked, but could only enter one mile time each day. Every day at 8pm the calendar window was opened and if your time matched, or was close to, one of the times behind the window, you scored points. An online table kept track of the scores, when the last window opened on 24th December, whoever had the most points won a prize.  Up until this point, I generally would run perhaps three or four times a week at most, feeling that I needed my rest days, and I’d never been one to do a ‘run streak’. But this challenge tempted me to run every day and once started, I didn’t want to stop and break the run streak. When a local road that was about one mile away announced that every day at 6pm one house would reveal the next in a series of decorated Advent Windows, I decided to run there, watch the opening and then run back so that I had a choice of miles to enter.

The excitement of finding out every day at 8pm whether I’d won points by running a time that matched was replicated with the next Eton Manor virtual challenge – Snakes and Ladders! This was simple to do, but complicated to explain! Everyone had a snakes and ladders board printed off. Each day you could enter a throw of the dice by running any distance – in miles or kilometres. You entered that time into the competition, and every day at 8pm your throw was revealed – the number of miles/km you had run matched a pre-set throw of the dice, which could be anything from “move forward six spaces”, or “move backwards three spaces”, or “stay where you are” to “move to square 77”! You then carried out your move on your board, moving up the ladders and down the snakes accordingly. I really enjoyed this because I could compete with the fastest of gazelles in the club as it was so random!

It was a commonplace piece of street furniture that provided a bit more motivation last summer and throughout the year – the humble postbox! Danny Norman mentioned on With Me Now that he had been reading up about the Royal ciphers on postboxes and looking out for the different ones on his runs. This led his co-presenter Nicola Forwood to come up with the game and hashtag #postbox bingo, where arbitrary points were awarded for finding postboxes with different Royal ciphers, with the rarer ciphers gaining more points than a common or garden ERII. Suddenly I found myself noticing different postboxes and varying my running routes in an attempt to find a rare Victorian Penfold design or an even rarer Edward VIII. Hours of fun to be had as well as frustration at running down roads, seeing a postbox and running up to it in hope only to find it’s a common or garden ERII!

Having amused myself hunting down postbox ciphers over the summer – and running much further than I would have done without the motivation – I was excited when the Eton Manor captain announced that the next virtual challenge in January 2021 would involve postboxes. Thinking I might have a head start if it involved finding the different ciphers, when the actual challenge was announced it had nothing to do with ciphers. Instead, you had to start and finish at your home address, and run past 5 postboxes, tagging them by tapping them with your foot or elbow on the way. Fastest wins! Although I don’t generally enjoy races or challenges where the fastest wins, being a snail, this one was a postcode lottery in which those who lived most equidistantly from five letterboxes had an advantage – as did those who could plot an efficient route that didn’t involve crossing too many roads that sapped your time as you waited for a safe time to cross the road!

postbox em

One of the most popular fixtures in the Eton Manor fixture list in ‘normal’ times is called “Pubs on the Run” – which pretty much does what it says on the tin! Members set off from the clubhouse and run on a pre-determined route to a number of pubs, stopping to have a drink in each one! So what to do in a pandemic, when all the pubs were shut? The Virtual Pubs on the Run in April 2021 had a twist – and it wasn’t that all the pubs were shut! Like the postbox challenge, you had to start and finish your Pubs On The Run virtual route at your home address, and then you had to “tag” 8 pubs on your route. But the killer twist was that the pubs had to be tagged in alphabetical order. The word “The” didn’t count, which then led to lots of discussion about whether “Ye” should be allowed to count as a Y, and also whether a wine bar counted as a pub! Hours of fun and planning was had even before I attempted my run! And when I was actually out on the run, and tagging with my foot a pub (ok, gin bar!) called Mother’s Ruin, another club member ran up behind me and kicked the same pub much to the surprise of people in the road who must have wondered why random runners were running up to the pub and kicking it! 

pubs on the run

I didn’t just take part in my running club virtual runs – there were various race organisers that took their races online and into the virtual arena too. One that I took part in and really enjoyed was called the City Scramble, arranged by the Race Organiser. The first time this ran it took place in every borough across London; the second and third times they added in various towns and cities across the UK. I started with one in Walthamstow, then did one in Newham for the second City Scramble, and then in the City of London for a special Christmas City Scramble. The premise was simple; you decided whether you were going to run a 5k or 10k route. At 9am on the morning of the City Scramble day you were sent a set of clues. You had to run to the location of each clue and find some letters indicated by the clue – for example, the second and last letter on a blue placque. When you had collected all your letters, they formed an anagram of the finishing location – like a giant treasure hunt. I was thrilled when I worked out that the letters we had collected for the Christmas City Scramble – T S E Q P O N E R R A U S R E A T – was an anagram of Paternoster Square! One of the nice things about this challenge was that we were able to do it in socially distanced teams, abiding by the Covid regulations in place at the time but allowing for the camaraderie that we had so missed during full lockdown days.

One of the best things about running over the last year was that as I couldn’t go out and run with other people, and travelling away from home to a run route was frowned upon, I was forced to discover new routes that I could get to on foot from my home address. I discovered that the Southern edge of Epping Forest was only a mile from my house, and started to explore running on the trails in the forest. This brought new challenges through running on tricky technical routes, and I once tripped on a tree root and fell quite heavily. But I also found all sorts of amazing places, and can really understand why the Japanese so love “forest bathing”. The forest looked different in different weathers, and with the changing seasons. I started studying other local runners’ Strava trails to find new places to run, and it felt like a mini-adventure to set off along a new trail, to follow my nose and see where I ended up. It was amazing how often I left what seemed to be crowded pavements with the anxiety of trying to keep a social distance away from other people, to enter a deserted forest with only the occasional dog-walker or runner passing by, yet with signs of tree-houses, dens and tree-swings showing that other people did indeed enjoy the forest too. 

For a few months whilst parkrun was paused, a mysterious, anonymous character called the Walthamstow Hare, set a weekly ‘trail’ along a 5k route. The idea was that the Walthamstow Hare would run the trail, and everyone else was a ‘hound’ to see if anyone could catch the hare. Whilst I was never going to challenge anyone for the crown, or stand a chance of catching the hare, I used the challenge to find new 5k routes, including venturing into Wanstead Park for the first time. The nearest entrance to the park is around 3 miles from my house, so it suited a longer run for me. It’s thanks to the Walthamstow Hare that I discovered a path in Wanstead Park called the Chestnut Trail which was signposted and a lovely one-lap route, going through a bluebell wood, alongside a lake and with a tea-hut on route to stop for a coffee or ice cream!

In June 2020, some 3 months after parkrun had been put on pause, parkrun introduced the concept of (not)parkrun. The idea was that instead of running a 5k parkrun all together on a Saturday morning, you could run/walk/jog a 5k anywhere on any day and record the time it took you on your parkrun profile. And you could see a set of ‘results’ to see how you had done that week. It was lovely seeing the names of fellow parkrunners on the website, even if I wasn’t seeing them in person. And so that we could see the faces of fellow parkrunners doing (not)parkruns, Walthamstow parkrun held an initiative called the Rainbow Wave! Each week we had a different colour of the rainbow, and we just had to go out and do our (not)parkruns wearing something in that colour and take a selfie. All the resulting selfies were posted in a weekly report, and at the end we had a glorious Rainbow Wave collage to cheer us all up!

rainbow wave

So parkrun is due to start again in England in a couple of days, on 24 July, and I’m already very excited. I am also very grateful to all who have kept me going and motivated to get out there over the last 16 months. Although we haven’t met in person as a community, the parkrun community has stayed strong and I have made new parkrun friends over the last year through social media and our shared love of parkrun. However, over the year I have developed arthritis in my knees and so I can’t run at the moment, and may not be able to ever run again. But I hope to be able to walk around and also volunteer in future, and have put my name down to be the tailwalker on Saturday. This blog post has turned into a mega-long post, but I did have 2 years to catch up on! Hopefully I won’t leave it quite so long before my next post; I also have quite a few blog posts to write from parkruns I did before they stopped – two of which I have found out are not going to restart. And you never know, I might even start writing about something that isn’t parkrun-based in the not-too-distant future!  

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The wilson index, fomo and the parkrun inaugural dilemma!

Oh Mr Wilson, Mr Dave Wilson, or “the man who has ruined parkrun” as he was once jokingly call on the With Me Now podcast; what have you done? Once upon a time, my choice of parkrun was merely based on location, being the nearest to wherever I happened to be on parkrunday. All this was changed with the introduction of the wilson index and now my choice of parkrun is often dictated by its event number.

For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, let me explain. For some time, I have been aware of a brilliant unofficial extension to your parkrun profile called Running Challenges. Simply download the Running Challenges extension on google chrome (or Firefox on android phones), add your parkrun barcode number and you can then see a whole host of completely useless but fascinating (well to me, and all other parkrun nerds) stats such as your total parkrun distance run, your average parkrun location and your NENDY (nearest event not done yet). It also has a number of sections based on unofficial parkrun challenges such as the alphabet challenge (running a parkrun beginning with each letter of the alphabet), stopwatch bingo (collect all the seconds in your finish times from :00 to :59), and a load of crazy challenges such as the Compass Club (run at a parkrun with north, south, east and west in its name), pirates (seven seas (Cs) and an aaaarrrrr (R)), or Stayin’ Alive (3 x BeeGees: 3 parkruns beginning with B and 3 beginning with G). As you complete each parkrun, the site automatically updates with the latest info and when you complete a challenge you get a virtual badge that appears on the top of your profile. Some people have even gone as far as getting the virtual badges made up into real badges – I haven’t gone this far yet!


One of the things I love about the Running Challenges is that they’re achievable by anyone who is prepared to put the time and effort in, they give you goals to aim for, and is not based on running ability. I am a slow runner, and I will never be able to finish first, or get a high age-grade, and even getting a PB seems a bit impossible now as I get older. Yet I can get the Christmas Day and New Year’s Day Double badges just by turning up on those days! Attend a particular parkrun 100 times and you get a ‘singleton’ badge, even if you walk it every time. And there’s great fun to be had in planning where I’m going to go to get my J or Q letters for the alphabeteer challenge, or looking for parkruns that contain one of the compass points, like Lowestoft for example.

At the top of the Running Challenges profile there is a section for your wilson-index number, named after its creator Dave Wilson. For a long time my wilson-index number was 0, and to be honest I didn’t really understand what it meant. Hover over the words ‘wilson-index’ and you get an explanation: “The maximum contiguous series of parkrun event numbers you have attended (at any event), starting at 1.” Nope, still didn’t make sense to me. Never mind, I didn’t understand it and therefore just ignored it.  Until over the last year, it suddenly seemed as if everyone was talking about it.  Well, everyone on the various parkrun facebook groups I belong to, that is. And Danny and Nicola on the With Me Now podcast kept discussing it too, with a friendly rivalry to see whose wilson index was the highest and discussing each week whether they needed the event number of the parkrun they were going to attend the following week for their wilson index score. Gradually I made sense of it: each parkrun has a number, being the number of times that particular parkrun has taken place. So when a new parkrun starts up, its first week will be event number 1, the next week will be 2, and so on. My home parkrun of Walthamstow has run 336 times, so next week will be run number 337.

But because the wilson-index starts at 1, until you have run an inaugural parkrun your wilson-index remains at 0, even if you have run a parkrun with every number from 2-500. When I ran my first parkrun back in 2014, my home event was already on event number 79. And other parkruns near me were on numbers in the hundreds. The lowest event number I had ever run at was #12, when I ran at Salisbury’s 12th event when staying in Salisbury for the weekend. So to get my wilson-index kick-started and off zero seemed nigh-on impossible to me. At first this didn’t bother me; it wasn’t something I was going to be able to achieve so I ignored it. And yet the more that it was mentioned on With Me Now, and in the facebook groups, the more left out I felt. This was a game that everyone seemed to be playing, and I couldn’t join in. I started to become a little bit resentful of those people who had discovered parkrun in its early days, and who were able to run at parkruns with low event numbers before they became established. I had a feeling that I had missed the boat on this one, and I was never going to be able to catch up and join in.

stats 2

Then there was an announcement that parkrun UK was going to be starting up 200 new events. With lots of new events starting, there would surely be the opportunity to run at events with low numbers as surely some of them wouldn’t be too far away from me. But then another moral dilemma struck me. Along with awareness of wilson-index event number chasing, I had become increasingly aware of another issue that was a stumbling block in my desire to get started with the index – in that going to inaugural events was now heavily frowned upon. Listening to old episodes of the parkrun show podcast (the forerunner to With Me Now) it seemed that going to inaugurals used to be a ‘thing’. In fact, to get on the global ‘Most Events’ table and be declared an uber-tourist, you had to attend 30 different events and 10 inaugurals. When a new parkrun was starting up, it would be announced on the podcast and in other places, and lots of parkrun tourists would turn up from across the country to support the parkrun. It was felt that the best people to have at an inaugural were experienced parkrunners, as they knew how it worked and needed minimal explanations of the scanning system, wouldn’t forget their barcodes or go home with the finish tokens (hopefully!) and could step in and help the volunteers out if needed. It became a friendly thing too – the same tourists would turn up at a new parkrun and friendships were made and re-kindled and these tourists would look out for each other at the next inaugural they went to.

However, over time it became such a thing that new parkruns found that they were inundated with hundreds of tourists turning up to their first parkrun, and volunteers became overwhelmed. And it may be an urban myth, but I heard that one parkrun event had to close after its first week due to complaints from local residents. I can certainly see how this might be a problem; if local residents are used to walking their dogs or taking their toddler for a walk in their local park on a Saturday morning and they may be a bit disgruntled to find that their park is now overrun with 500 lycra-clad runners, the car park is full and they have to wait half an hour in their local park café as it’s full of parkrunners wanting their post-parkrun coffee fix. Also, the volunteer team, who may be completely new to parkrun, and who may have been expecting 50-100 runners could be completely overwhelmed if 5-10 times that number turn up and may be less willing to volunteer in the future. So new events stopped being promoted, were kept hush-hush, and if the word did get out there would sometimes be an impassioned plea from the Event Director asking tourists to stay away for the first few weeks at least, until the event had become established.

From being a thing that was actively encouraged, going to inaugurals quickly became so discouraged that anyone even making a gentle enquiry about a new parkrun starting up or saying that they were going to an inaugural in one of the facebook groups would be roundly set upon and made to feel like they were doing a really bad thing. It became the unofficial ‘rule’ that it was only ok to go to an inaugural if it was your ‘local’ parkrun. But what constitutes ‘local’? In Scotland or Cornwall or Wales it may be that a new parkrun setting up 15 miles from your home is the nearest parkrun to you, whereas in London, there may be 5 or 6 parkruns that are nearer than a parkrun 15 miles away. And then even going to the second or third event of a new parkrun started to be discouraged, so that the event could become properly established before tourists started to go to it.

As interest in the wilson index increased, and inaugural-chasing was increasingly actively frowned upon, there was an inevitable tension that was established. There were a number of discussion threads on social media with people saying that the wilson index encouraged people to go to inaugurals as you ‘needed’ to attend inaugural in order to get your wilson index score off zero. I remember listening to one With Me Now episode where Danny poured scorn on this, saying that no-one ‘needed’ to attend an inaugural; that you could still play the wilson index game by working your way through all the other numbers and then if an inaugural started up near you, you could attend that one and your wilson index number would shoot up. Also, if you attended an inaugural in order to kick-start your wilson index you only needed to do so once and could then give inaugurals a wide berth.  

And so on a visit to my brother in Leeds, I noticed that there was a new parkrun that had started up – Storthes Hall – which was on its 5th event that weekend. Shortly after that, I was staying in Devon for the weekend and saw another new parkrun – Haldon Forest – which was on event number 3.

And then one of my colleagues, who regularly goes to Oak Hill parkrun, told me that they had announced at Oak Hill that they were setting up a new parkrun in Hendon, called Sunny Hill.  She is not a member of any parkrun facebook groups and doesn’t listen to parkrun podcasts so she was unaware that going to an inaugural was frowned upon. She said that a number of people from Oak Hill parkrun were going to go along to the inaugural to support them, and asked if I wanted to come along too.  Sunny Hill was about 13 miles from my house, but I probably pass around 6-10 parkruns on the way there, so could I count it as local?

In the end I decided to go, on the premise that I would never attend an inaugural again once this one was done. And I am so glad I did – there were 140 parkrunners at the inaugural, and everyone was incredibly friendly and encouraging, and the volunteers made me feel extremely welcome and thanked me for attending. The local mayor was there and gave a lovely speech, and the RD gave a great run briefing, which started off with 3 questions which we had to answer either yes or no to, which from memory went as follows:

RD: Is there anyone here who is running Sunny Hill for the first time?

Everyone: YES!

RD: Are you excited and looking forward to running Sunny Hill parkrun?

Everyone: YES! (big cheer)

RD: Are you ready to run Sunny Hill parkrun?

Everyone: YES!

RD: WRONG ANSWER! No, you’re not… you haven’t listened to the run briefing yet…

As we got underway, I found myself running behind a woman who became my ‘carrot’ to chase – sometimes she was in front of me, sometimes the other way round. At the end I had a quick chat with her, and was surprised to find that she had come down to London from Bristol, and felt a bit better about my inaugural qualms, only to discover that her son was on the core team and he had asked his parents to come to the inaugural and so they had come to support him.

Afterwards, I joined my colleague and her friends for coffee in the lovely café in the park, which seemed to cope admirably with all the extra people. It felt really special to have been there at the start, and every time I see or hear a mention of Sunny Hill I feel a little nostalgic; it was special to have taken part in the very first Sunny Hill parkrun. I would love to run in another inaugural but have promised that I won’t, and will stick to my promise.

And shortly after this, I was able to run in Kingdom event #2, and then Uckfield #4, so my wilson index is now on 5. I then discovered some more new parkruns that were accessible, and started planning when I was going to be able to run them, starting with Cyclopark which I planned to do on it’s 6th event. But then disaster struck, and I had a sudden unexpected illness which meant that I haven’t been able to parkrun for a month, and may not be able to parkrun for some time to come. So I’m massively suffering from FOMO at the moment (Fear Of Missing OUt!) I guess that’s the problem with the wilson-index; you only get one chance to take part in a particular event and if things don’t go to plan, you will miss it. And who knows if there will be another new parkrun that is accessible so that I can go to event number 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11… etc.? Oh, Mr Wilson, you have so much to answer for!

wilson index

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Isabel Trail parkrun: the one beginning with I!

Over the last four years as my parkrun habit has developed, I have visited a number of different parkruns across the UK, from Barnstaple to Portobello in Edinburgh. I am quite often away at the weekend, visiting friends or family, or for other reasons, and as soon as I know where I am staying I look to see where the nearest parkrun is and work out if I can fit a parkrun into my weekend schedule. But I have never travelled away at the weekend with the sole purpose of visiting a particular parkrun – until now!

I have also enjoyed taking part in the various unofficial Running Challenges, and adding virtual badges to my parkrun profile on the Chrome Extension when I achieve these challenges. One of these is the Alphabet Challenge. This does what it says on the tin; to become a parkrun Alphabeteer you have to run at a parkrun beginning with every letter of the alphabet (except X as currently there are no parkruns beginning with the letter X and eXeter doesn’t count!).  At first, I didn’t plan to get specific letters but just mentally ticked them off as I did them. So when I was staying in Lincoln for the weekend whilst singing at the cathedral, I was pleased to find I could get to Lincoln parkrun and back in time for a rehearsal, bagging an ‘L’ in the bargain, which I needed. Clearly some letters are easier to get than others, and it is amazing how the letters ‘S’ and ‘W’ seem to appear in parkruns near to wherever I was staying. As my alphabet started to fill up, it was obvious that some letters were a lot rarer than others – such as I, J, Q, U, Y and Z. At the moment there are no parkruns in the UK beginning with Z and so hard core wannabe Alphabeteers make special trips to Poland to bag the nearest Z, the others being in South Africa or Australia.  If Zennor in Cornwall ever starts up a parkrun it had better be in a huge park that can cope with hundreds of runners as it is sure to be swamped with alphabet chasers! It became apparent that if I was to stand a chance of completing the alphabet challenge, I was going to have to make some journeys and do some tourism specifically at those coveted, rare-letter parkruns.

Just after New Year, a budget hotel advertised a sale with rooms from £29 up until the end of March. I thought that this might be my chance to bag one of these rare letter parkruns, and so I started to do some research. Until recently, the only parkruns beginning with the letter I in the UK were Inverness in Scotland and Ipswich in England, with Inch in Ireland being a long way to get to, however desirable. I very nearly made it to Ipswich last year when I was staying with friends in Suffolk, but then in the end did Kesgrave as it was nearer to where I was staying. But then in December 2018 a new parkrun started in central Stafford with the fabulous name of  Isabel Trail parkrun, and so I booked a room in the budget hotel sale on a spare weekend in March and got set to bag my ‘I’.

I was interested in why the path the course is run on was named the “Isabel Trail”. I didn’t notice any signage referring to the Isabel Trail whilst I was there, and so was none the wiser even after visiting. A quick internet search shed no further light either – googling for “Isabel Trail Stafford” brought up the following entry on Wikipedia: “In December 2018, a parkrun (a free weekly timed 5k run/walk) was launched in Stafford for the first time, on the Isabel Trail, a public foot/cycle path which follows part of the course of the former Stafford-Uttoxeter railway.  The run/walk takes place every Saturday morning at 9.00am, and starts at the southern end of the Isabel Trail, by Sainsbury’s supermarket.” Which told me about the parkrun, but not why it was so named.  Another entry on the Stafford Forum website asked why the trail was called the Isabel Trail, prompting one answer which said “It might be named after Lady Isabel who was the last inhabitant of Stafford Castle before it was destroyed in the Civil War. Or it might not – I don’t really know”.  This lead me down an internet wormhole as I then looked up Lady Isabel and found the following: “In 1643, Lady Isabel Stafford briefly held her ground at Stafford Castle against the be-sieging Parliamentary forces, but upon falling the destruction of the then ruined castle was ordered.”  All very romantic, and I half expected to see knights and jousting along the route!    

As I drove up the M1 and M6 from London on a Friday night after work, I did slightly question my sanity. And I also had a bit of an ethical environmental crisis about driving for 3 hours merely to run a parkrun, especially as I passed so many other parkruns along the route. I didn’t get to the hotel until gone 9.30pm and too late to see if there were any other tourists around, so I settled down for an early night.

On Saturday morning I woke to find that it was rather windy outside, and as I opened my curtains I saw two squirrels who were very nearly blown off a tree branch outside the window! Storm Gareth, which had been raging for the previous 3 days across the UK but which had died down on Friday, seemed to have been replaced by a new storm – Storm Hannah. I anxiously checked the list of parkrun cancellations on the website, which had reached 50 parkruns, and checked the event’s facebook page, very relieved to see that it was still going ahead.

The hotel was only 1.5 miles from the start, and I left far too early. In the car park of the hotel I met a cow-cowl-wearing tourist who I shall call She Who Does Not Want To Be Named who had also travelled to Stafford specifically to do Isabel Trail. SWDNWTBN told me that parkrun had been an absolute godsend to her since she lost her husband. Saturdays were always family time for her, and since discovering parkrun she had found a whole new purpose to Saturday mornings, and since starting to tourist she had met loads of people, bumping into them at different parkruns. This is one of the things I love about parkrun tourism; meeting lovely people and swapping tales of our parkrun obsessions!

I had seen on various social media posts that you could park in Sainsbury’s car park and if you spent £5 in the store they would refund the cost of parkrun, easily done if visiting the café afterwards. However, when I got there I couldn’t see where the Sainsbury’s car park was and so ended up parking in the long stay and paying £4.20 only to find after paying that it was directly opposite the Sainsbury’s car park!

I walked to what I thought was the start where a huddle of volunteers were having pre-run doughnuts – a great innovation! I was impressed with volunteer Vicky’s tent which was erected to host people’s bags/belongings in the dry – a great idea. Although I do realise this relies on the parkrun having a “Vicky” who is prepared to turn up early and put up the tent as part of set-up each week.

I then realised the start was a bit further along, so walked along to where a number of runners were gathering. The first timer’s briefing was excellently delivered by Lee Barnard – as this was only the 15th event about a quarter of the field were first timers, although with a good smattering of parkrun tourists there and a very straightforward out-and-back route, it was quickly done.


And then onto the main run briefing. This was my 25th different event, and 71st parkrun overall, so I have attended many run briefs in the past as well as delivering them as an RD. But this was the first time I have experienced so many people repeatedly talking through the run briefing. Even though David, the RD, was using a megaphone, I couldn’t hear a thing as people around me talked throughout it. I said “shhhhh…” and asked people near me to be quiet for the briefing, and they apologised and stopped talking for about 3 seconds before starting again. 


And then we were off. The course is a flat as a pancake out-and-back route along a tarmac path. I thought with the numbers of runners there that this might cause a problem as the faster runners coming back were running on the same path as the slower ones going out, but it didn’t as it was very well organised. There were signs along the route telling runners to keep left, and ‘caution runners’ and lots of cheery marshals along the route. They also had some km markers showing how far you had to go. I particularly liked one mini-marshal called Lily with very cool wellies who was high-fiving everyone on the way back. I do like a course where you can see the faster runners coming back, and if you are running with friends/family who run at different paces you can wave to or high-five each other along the route. At the turnaround point there was a marshal standing right in the middle of the path at the end of a line of cones, so no way that you could miss him and go too far, like I’ve done on other out-and-back routes! The route also goes over one bridge and under a number of others, some with some interesting graffiti on!

I was pleased with my time which was faster than I’d run in two months, due to the fast, flat course. One of the benefits of touring is that I often see innovations that I can take back to my home parkrun – in this case it was the nifty baskets for putting finish tokens in after they had been scanned.

Afterwards I had time to go to the café which was in Sainsbury’s, which also has toilets, and had time to chat with other tourists and also the volunteer team who were gathered whilst the results processing was being done. Isabel Trail parkrun is a lovely event with a very friendly and welcoming community – I’d heartedly recommend it. And if you want to tie it in with something else to make a weekend of it, the National Trust’s Shugborough Hall and Estate is only about 5 miles away.

Thank you David Panton and his team of trusty volunteers for a lovely parkrun.



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Haldon Forest parkrun: the one with the mountain bikers

Saturday 9th March saw me staying in Crediton, Devon, for the weekend so that I could attend the AGM of the Lundy Field Society. As the AGM didn’t start until 1pm, there was time to fit in a parkrun in the morning. I had travelled down the night before, staying in an AirB&B in Crediton itself, so a quick look at the Tourist Tool and I could see that the 3 nearest parkruns were Exeter Riverside, Killerton and Haldon Forest. I had done Exeter Riverside on a previous occasion, and whilst I would like to do Killerton one day, I had an idea that it was a bit hilly and tough and I wasn’t sure I was up to it at the moment. But the idea of doing Haldon Forest grabbed me – my last parkrun was at Storthes Hall where I discovered the delights of running through trees, and wanted to see if the experience would be replicated at Haldon.

Wikipedia didn’t tell me much about the area, however. It merely stated: “Haldon Forest is a forest located in Devon, England. The forest consists of several different woods. Geographically, Haldon Forest is located between the towns of Chudleigh and Exminster and is south of Exeter. Not to be confused with Headon Forest.

However, the Forestry Commission website was a lot more informative, telling me that Haldon Forest Park was 3,500 acres of woodland just 15 minutes from Exeter, with 4 walking trails, 5 cycling trails, Go Ape, Go Segway, picnic areas, bike hire and a café. No mention of parkrun, but as this would only be the third event it will probably take some time before it appears on the website.

After two days of nearly constant rain, by parkrun eve I was wondering whether it might be a mistake to opt for a trail parkrun. Having ‘liked’ their facebook page to keep an eye out for any last minute cancellations, on Friday Haldon Forest parkrun shared a post from Killerton parkrun on their page which said: “Muddy Course!!!!!! What a surprise……. What is not a surprise is that I insist that you wear trail shoes tomorrow. NO old road shoes. The paperwork for slips and trips is onerous and avoidable if you follow my request. In addition to this the rangers are going to struggle to collect injured participants so you’ll have to hobble back, which is not as fun as it sounds.” Fortunately, I had packed trail shoes, but wondered if Haldon Forest might also be a mud-fest and momentarily considered switching to Exeter Riverside.

But the lure of the trees drew me and I found myself following my sat nav along a very steep, hilly single track road at early o’clock to Haldon Forest. The course page is very clear about the parking situation, stating that there is “300 car parking capacity in the main Haldon Forest car park. Car parking is chargeable at 0 – 2 hours £4, 2 – 4 hours £5. All day £7. Annual parking pass for £30 is available.” Even though I had arrived early, one parking ticket machine was not working, and there was a queue for the other one – so you need to leave plenty of time for buying a ticket. I then noticed that you had to have change for the machine although it did state that payment by notes or card was available from the Rangers’ Office, and I didn’t have change. Fortunately, a kind parkrun cow-cowl-wearing tourist wearing a Killerton apricot top said that he had lots of change in his car, and was able to change a £5 note for me into pound coins to put into the machine – thank you Mr Killerton Tourist!

Incidentally, in the briefing, the RD mentioned that there had been some grumbles about the cost of parking. Personally, I didn’t mind paying £4 to park, especially once I found out that Haldon Forest is a non profit venture so all of the parking fees go back into maintaining the forest. The RD also mentioned that if you volunteer you get free parking which is a great incentive to get the volunteer roster filled up.

As far as facilites go, Haldon Forest has everything covered. Ample parking, toilets and a café all on site. Plus a ‘Go Ape’, so you could make a day of it and go and do some ziplining and have a high tree-top adventure after parkrun!

By this time several parkrunners were gathering, and it was nice to meet fellow tourist Nicola Stott who I had been in conversation with on facebook earlier in the week, and who was their with husband Ian, son Tom and their beautiful bearded collie. There were quite a few dogs there although the course page notes (and it was re-iterated in the run briefing) said that “Unfortunately due to a narrow incline section cannicross harnesses are not allowed at this event”.

I noticed some banners advertising the Forestry 100 Running Series and made a mental note to look this up when I got back home, especially as running through trees is now my favourite new thing! The Forestry 100 Running Series is a series of 10k trail runs through forests to celebrate 100 years of the Forestry Service, one of which takes place in Haldon Forest.


The RD then indicated for everyone hanging around by the café to follow him down towards the start. This was about 5 minutes walk from the car park – I took a bag and a layer but there wasn’t really anywhere to put it when I got there, and in hindsight it would have been better to leave it in the car. It was pretty cold, windy and looked as if it was going to rain, and lots of people were commenting on how cold it was as we stood around waiting for the briefing. However, the parkrun weather fairies came up trumps again, as almost as soon as they heard “go” they turned on the sunshine which looked magical as it streamed through the trees.

The RD then gave the briefing, using a megaphone, in which he warned us to ‘leave something in the tank’ for the hill that was on the first loop, which filled me full of dread! He also mentioned that there was a mountain bike event taking part, which was also marshalled, and that at various points the mountain bike course crossed with the parkrun course and you might be asked to stop and wait for the mountain bikes to cross at various points.


And then we were off. I was expecting a mud fest, but amazingly there was only one place that it was slightly muddy, with the majority of the course taking place on well-marked trails that were not at all muddy. The course is described as “2 loops along wide forest trails with one narrower incline. The trails take in lovely views and go through beautiful scenery.” And it was absolutely beautiful. At various times we seemed to be running along the Raptor Trail, which made me think of dinosaurs but apparently refers to birds of prey that you might see on the trail. The steep incline, which I had to walk up, was quite soon into the run and had an encouraging marshal at the bottom who told me that fortunately I would only have to do it once. And at the top of the steep incline the route ran along a ridge with gorgeous views across the countryside, where you could even see the River Exe.

At one point there was an interesting sign of what appeared to be a dinosaur falling backwards. At the end I noticed that there was a volunteer, who I think was the Forest Ranger, who had a similar little card in a see-through pocket on his hi-viz jacket. When I asked about this, I was told this was a “Zog” card – and he had them to give to any small children that he saw that were upset. This all relates to a ‘Zog” trail – an activity trail for children; Zog being a character similar to the Gruffalo.

At one point there was suddenly a noise from behind me that made me jump; it was a mountain biker who appeared from a trail from the left onto the trail that I was running along. I guess if you are into mountain biking, this would be a brilliant place to do it – at various points along the parkrun there were mountain bikers including some young children on bikes.

I did a pretty slow time, but it didn’t matter – it was such a beautiful course and at times I was just enjoying being in the forest and listening to the birdsong and trying to be ‘mindful’ of my surroundings. After going through the finish funnel and collecting my finish token, you then had to take your token to the scanners who were 5 minutes’ walk away by the cafe, and I couldn’t help thinking that this might result in a number of tokens going missing, despite a notice asking you to leave your token in a box if you didn’t want a time. The scanners are situated right by a nice café called “The Ridge” – sadly I couldn’t stay for coffee and parkrunchat as I had to get back for the AGM but another time I could easily while away some time over a coffee, enjoying some parkrunchat.

The results came out very promptly after the event, and I was pleased to find I had got another parkrun stopwatch bingo number, as well as event #3 towards my Wilson Index score! I had a lovely morning at Haldon Forest – it’s an excellent addition to the parkrun family, and a big “thank you” to all the volunteers who made this possible – especially the cool dude in the bear hat – start ’em young!

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Storthes Hall parkrun: the one with Nicola and Poppy and the low Wilson Index number!

Only a week after running Pymmes parkrun I found myself in a position to be able to tourist again as I was in Leeds for the weekend, to combine a trip to visit family and celebrate my niece’s 17th birthday with going to the National Cross Country Championships at Harewood House, Leeds, where a number of people from my running club were taking part. In my last blog post (Pymmes parkrun: the one at Pymmes O’clock!) I commented on the poll run by the With Me Now podcast which asked tourists how they chose their parkrun tourism destination – whether for “aesthetics and beauty” or for “community feeling” – and said that my choice of tourism venue had, until now, been based on practicality and geography, rather than any other factors. Often when I’m away for the weekend I have time limitations and so I just go to the parkrun nearest to where I’m staying. However, there seems to have been a whole flurry of new parkruns starting up over the last few months, many of them in Yorkshire, and I found myself being spoilt for choice this weekend. Within half an hour’s drive of my brother’s house there are now a good 15 parkruns that I haven’t done, and so which to choose?

Rather than going for the nearest, or for ones I knew were particularly beautiful (like Fountains Abbey or Nostell Priory), or for ones beginning with letters that I haven’t yet got for the Alphabet Challenge (Temple Newsom, or Dewsbury to name just two) I thought I would take a look at which events were particularly new and therefore would help towards my Wilson Index score. For those who don’t know, the Wilson Index was devised by Dave Wilson, who at the time of writing has attended 239 different events, and is defined as “The maximum contiguous series of parkrun event numbers you have attended (at any event), starting at 1”. So when a new parkrun starts up, the inaugural event of x parkrun will be event number 1, the next one is run number 2 etc. When I first became aware of this score, given in the Running Challenges extension to your parkrun profile on Chrome or Firefox, I dismissed it as being totally unachievable to get a score higher than 0, for me anyway. When I ran my first parkrun at Walthamstow, the event was already on number 79, and until last weekend I had only run 5 other events with an event number lower than 100 (12, 27, 35, 53 and 54) and as I hadn’t run an inaugural event my Wilson Index was firmly set at 0. And there was where it would stay in the immediate future as far as I could see.

Then a number of people starting discussing Wilson Index scores, on the With Me Now podcast and on various parkrun facebook groups, and more and more it seemed to be becoming “a thing”. I found this very frustrating at first – I’m a bit of a number nerd, and love a challenge and this soon started to get into my head and started to bug me. One of the things that I love about the parkrun Running Challenges is that they are all pretty achievable, no matter if you’re a very slow runner like me. I’m never going to come first in my age category, or finish as first female, or win races outside of parkrun, but I can tick off the various challenges just by running on Christmas Day, or doing a parkrun in every month of the year (all-weather runner challenge), or finishing on every second of the clock (stopwatch bingo) or by running the BeeGees for the Staying Alive challenge (three parkruns beginning with B and three beginning with G) to name just some of the challenges. But there was no way that I could turn back the clock and be in at the start of my home parkrun, Walthamstow. And the vast majority of parkruns anywhere near me were all pretty well established. I started to slightly resent the people who had been parkrunning for years who were now talking about filling in their missing Wilson Index numbers – if only I had discovered parkrun 10 years ago. There is also the consideration that, unlike many years ago when attending an inaugural parkrun was encouraged, now in the UK attending an inaugural is somewhat frowned upon and discouraged unless it is your local parkrun, as new parkruns have found that they’ve been swamped by inaugural-chasers and tourists travelling miles to attend a new parkrun. I can certainly appreciate that if you’re setting up a new parkrun and you tell the landowner/council that you expect a couple of hundred people to turn up, and you train up your volunteer team likewise, they may be rather overwhelmed if over 500 people turn up. And locals who are used to walking their dogs in a park on a Saturday morning may be slightly disgruntled if they suddenly have to dodge hundreds of lycra-clad runners producing complaints that may, in the worst case end up with the parkrun being shut down before it’s barely got started. So I seemed doomed to have a Wilson Index of 0 forever, and not able to join in with this challenge.

But recently, as I mentioned above, there has been an initiative to start up a whole load of new parkruns and they seem to be popping up every week. So rather than getting frustrated by the fact that most of my runs had high event numbers, I thought that if I was staying somewhere for the weekend with a choice of events, if I could do a relatively new parkrun I could fill in some of the lower numbers on my Wilson Index and then if a new parkrun pops up in my local area in the next few years I can do that one and I won’t have so many missing WI numbers to collect.

So for last weekend (23 Feb) I had a look around to see if there were any new parkruns with low event numbers in the vicinity of where I was staying in Leeds, and found there were two: Frickley Country (event #7) and Storthes Hall (event #5). I had heard lots of good things about Frickley, and seen various posts from tourists who had been there and had had it at the back of my mind as a contender, particularly as it would give me an F for my Alphabet Challenge! But I hadn’t heard anything about Storthes Hall, and only found out about it on the night before parkrunday. The lowest number I had in my Wilson Index was 12, so I needed both numbers. And they seemed to be equidistant from where I was staying. It was only late at night on the Friday night that I read the course description again for Frickley and noticed this sentence which filled me with dread: “The course is undulating, with a challenging hill section at 1K point, however the views from the top are worth the effort of the climb.” A ‘challenging hill section’? I struggle even with the slight incline at my home parkrun, let alone a challenging hill section. Right, that was decided then – Storthes Hall it was. I had a quick look at the Storthes Hall facebook page to make sure that the event hadn’t been cancelled, and saw lots of photos of people running through trees on no discernible path, and made a mental note to wear trail shoes.

I asked my brother if he had heard of Storthes Hall, which was situated in Storthes Hall park, near Huddersfield, but he hadn’t. It sounded rather grand, and I wondered if it was a National Trust property or some other posh country house with grounds. Wikipedia stated that “Storthes Hall is a part of the township of Kirkburton, West Yorkshire, England. A heavily wooded area, it comprises a single road, Storthes Hall Lane, which links Kirkburton with the nearby villages of Farnley Tyas and Thurstonland. Two of the most significant properties in the area are Storthes Hall Mansion (now a private property) and, further west, Storthes Hall Hospital (partly redeveloped as a student village but with the main administrative block surviving as a derelict building).” I noted that the course page described the course running “along to the perimeter of the old hospital”, and also that parking is on the Huddersfield University, Storthes Hall Student Village, which made me think that the parkrun was in the grounds of the old hospital, although there is also an “important note” on the course page which states that: “As this course is on private land, whilst it can be enjoyed with us every Saturday morning at parkrun, please note that freedom runs are not permitted.” This made me think that it might be in the grounds of the Storthes Hall Mansion.

Further on in the Wikipedia page the plot thickened: “An area to the west of The Mansion, closer to Farnley Tyas, was developed as a psychiatric hospital in the early 20th century. The facility was designed by J Vickers-Edwards on a compact arrow layout and opened as the Fourth West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum in 1904. The facility became known as the Storthes Hall Mental Hospital in 1929, as the West Riding Mental Hospital in 1939 and finally as the Storthes Hall Hospital from 1949. Storthes Hall Hospital was one of several hospitals investigated in 1967 as a result of the publication of Barbara Robb’s book “Sans Everything”. Accusations covered a thirty-two week period of serious violent assaults with fists or weapons against male patients of all ages, committed by four named male nurses. It was also alleged that it was like Belsen because it was a “brutal bestial, beastly place” – it was a “hell-hole”. However, the same report found none of the allegations against any named or unnamed member of the hospital staff to have been proved. Storthes Hall Hospital closed in 1992.” Good grief; where on earth was I going to parkrun the next morning – in a “hell-hole”?

So with some trepidation I set off timed to arrive pretty early as I had seen that the car-park was about a 10 minute walk from the start line. As I pulled up to the barrier that marks the entrance to the student village site I was thankful I had read on the course page that the barrier is automatic and you don’t need to take a ticket, otherwise I might have easily thought I was in the wrong place and turned around. Even though I was early, I was greeted by two parkrun car-park marshals who directed me to park in the student village car park, near The Venue, which turned out to be a rather nice café – more on that later. Outside The Venue they had a huge lightboard-type sign announcing “PARK RUN OPEN FROM 9AM”. I’ll forgive them the flagrant breach of the #aowalc rule (all one word all lower case) because of the sheer enthusiasm and joy of the welcome! From The Venue it was about a ten minute walk to the start along a lane towards the Shelley Community Football Club, where there was another café, toilets and showers. A parkrun with not one but two cafés – parkrunners are spoiled for choice at Storthes!

As I walked towards the start area I could see the trees in the wooded area that is the venue for the majority of the parkrun. It was already turning out to be an unseasonably warm day for February, and with the sunshine filtering through the trees it looked so beautiful, and I couldn’t wait to get started. Not sure I’d feel the same on a cold, wet day in November when I’m sure the ground would be quite spectacularly muddy, but on this warm, sunny, dry day it looked about as idyllic as a parkrun venue can be.

As I approached the end of the lane I could see the familiar Hi-Viz yellow jackets of the volunteers and asked one of them if there was anywhere I could leave my top layer and bag as I couldn’t see anywhere suitable. She said that she didn’t know, but another volunteer directed me to another area downhill where she said there was a tent that was used for belongings. I walked down the hill and found a small tent in a field and put my bag in it, thinking what a good idea it was, but also realising that putting up the belongings tent is another job for the volunteer team who have to turn up pretty early as it is. Maybe not something I would take back to my home parkrun.


As people started to gather I had a chat to a few people who were gathering, including three tourists who had come further than me, all the way from the Eden Project in Cornwall. But the majority of people I spoke to were visiting for the first time which is only to be expected with a new event – of the 138 people who ran, jogged and walked the course, 87 were first timers, which made the first timers’ briefing pretty large. The first timers’ briefing was excellently delivered though, after which we walked downhill to the start line with the sinking realisation that this meant the start would be a short lung-bursting uphill section.


As everyone gathered I made my way towards the back as I’m slow and don’t want to get in the way of the faster runners at the start. And then I heard someone speaking to a child, calling her “Poppy”. Now I’m a big fan of the “With Me Now” podcast, in which presenters Danny Norman and Nicola Forwood talk about all things parkrun, and visit a different parkrun each week and talk about it on the podcast. Often I have heard Nicola talk about parkrunning with her daughter, Poppy, and I was aware that Nicola’s home parkrun was Woodhouse Moor in Leeds and they usually visit parkruns in the Yorkshire and Humber region. At the end of each episode they often say where they’re going to be parkrunning at the weekend, and it must have completely passed me by when Nicola said that she was going to be at Storthes Hall, maybe because Storthes Hall wasn’t on my radar at that point. Anyway, I asked the woman standing next to me if she was Nicola Forwood, and she was! It was so lovely to meet her in person; I had run at the same parkrun as her once before – Kesgrave – but didn’t meet her then, and earlier in the week we had had a brief conversation on the With Me Now facebook page. And she is as lovely as she seems on the podcast! As we chatted, Nicola noticed a runner standing in front of us who had a parkrun tattoo on his leg with his barcode number – looking him up after the event I saw that he was Matthew Dyson who usually runs at Oakwell Hall parkrun, which is my brother’s local event. Matthew is nearing his 100th parkrun, so I wonder if he will add a ‘100’ tattoo on his leg under the ’50’?

And then we were off! The lung-bursting uphill section at the start nearly did for me, and I found myself having to use my asthma inhaler for the first time in a long time. It was clear that I was out of condition and so there was no way I was going to get a fast (for me!) time, so decided to relax and just enjoy it, walk when I needed on the uphill bits and try to run the rest. I was encouraged by Nicola’s friend (Becky?) who was issuing a blood-curdling rallying cry at various intervals that sounded so joyful and made me smile. After the uphill bit at the start, the course levels out, and then runs up a gradual hill next to a wall – this is one side of the roughly rectangular shaped course that is run three times. The sun was well and truly out by this point, and there were stunning views across the countryside from this section.

At the top of the hill the course turns right and into the trees for the other three sides of the rectangular course. This was a completely different course and running experience to what I am used to, coming from East London where I mostly plod along roads in built-up areas. There was a very rough path, but you basically picked your way through the trees trying to run in a straight line whilst jumping over tree roots and trying to avoid actually running into the trees! Although it was quite challenging, and not a course where you could switch off as you had to concentrate all the time, it was really, really enjoyable. I really loved running through the trees and made a mental note to try to do this more in the future. I live very near Epping Forest so I’m sure there are lots of trail routes that I could do near me. It helped that it was such a beautiful day and was quite dry; I’m sure it could get pretty muddy underfoot after a period of rain.

There were lovely encouraging marshals out on the route at the corners, including a couple who I had chatted to before the start, and the advantage of a three-lapper is that you get to see them three times around and you can judge your progress along the course by looking out for the marshals on each lap. After the third lap the course turns left towards the finish, again marked by a sign and an encouraging volunteer. Every parkrun does things slightly differently; at Storthes Hall once you have gone through the finish funnel and collected your finish token, you then go to the barcode scanners who are slightly beyond the end of the funnel but instead of the barcode scanners keeping your finish token as they do at my home parkrun, they hand it back to you and further on there is another station where you hand in your finish token by placing it in a box which is divided into 20s. Whilst I can see that this would assist with token sorting, I couldn’t help wondering how many people might wander off after scanning, keeping their tokens, if they didn’t understand you have to hand it in. But I guess the area you hand in your tokens was very close to the scanners, and well signposted so it might not be a problem.

Another innovation at Storthes Hall, and one that I haven’t seen anywhere else, is that they have a visitors book that tourists and other parkrunners can write in – a lovely idea.

I saw the couple of friendly marshals I had been chatting to at the start who invited me for coffee, but sadly I couldn’t stay and have coffee and chat as I had to pick up friends and take them to the Nationals. On my way back to the car I stopped at The Venue to pick up a takeaway coffee, and ruefully walked past their toast honesty bar – what a brilliant idea, and it had an amazing choice of bread, bagels, muffins and loads of toppings, although not sure why they need anything other than marmite! I saw the Eden Project runners in the café, and was very sad I couldn’t stay – it was such a nice atmosphere and I’m sure I could easily while away the rest of the morning in the café, drinking coffee and talking all things parkrun with fellow parkrun obsessives!

I will definitely be back to run amongst the trees again despite getting a PW (personal worst!) time – it is a wonderful parkrun, and I got my 5 for the Wilson Index, so thank you to the RD and all the lovely volunteers! The only thing stopping me returning soon is that there are so many other wonderful parkruns in Yorkshire that I haven’t visited yet – and on my next visit to God’s Own Country I really must go to Frickley and conquer the Frickley hill!

* I’ve since discovered that the lovely “We love Storthes Hall parkrun” artwork featured at the top of this post was, in fact, made by Poppy Forwood!

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Pymmes parkrun: the one at Pymmes O’Clock!

A few weeks ago the With Me Now  parkrun podcast ran a poll on social media asking parkrun tourists how they chose their venues for their parkrun tourism; whether they chose them for “community feeling” or “aesthetics and beauty”. I voted for “aesthetics and beauty”, thinking that I get all the community feels I need at my home parkrun of Walthamstow, which is so friendly and through which I have made many great friends.


But to be honest, until now my parkrun tourism has, in fact, been determined by sheer practicality rather than any aesthetic principals. When I’m at home on a weekend, and not working a weekend shift, I go to my home parkrun, Walthamstow. And when I’m away, I just look for the nearest parkrun to wherever I’m staying, e.g. I went to Lincoln parkrun when staying in Lincoln for the weekend. When I’m at home, to go to any other ‘local’ parkrun would seem like cheating on a partner or being disloyal to my home parkrun! The local parkruns I have done have been through necessity when my home parkrun has been cancelled, or on special extra parkrun days like Christmas Day or New Year’s Day when Walthamstow was not on, or occasionally when my running club has a flash mob event at another parkrun. Yet for a while I have been aware of the NENDY (nearest event not done yet) parkrun listed on the Running Challenges Google Chrome extension, sitting there taunting me: “You haven’t done this one yet – it’s only a couple of miles down the road!”  My NENDY, until Saturday, was Pymmes parkrun, a mere 15 minutes drive along the North Circular Road.

Pymmes parkrun is named after Pymmes park in which it is based, in Edmonton. Now I hope those residents of Edmonton will forgive me but I don’t think of Edmonton as being particularly aesthetic or beautiful. But the park sounded interesting on Wikipedia: “The area known as Pymmes Park dates back to 1327 when William Pymme built Pymmes House there. Prior to 1578 the estate changed hands several times until Thomas Wilson a statesman bought the estate in 1579.  In 1582 William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, Lord High Treasurer, purchased the estate which remained in the family until 1801.  The Ray family owned the estate from 1808 to 1899.  The estate was then purchased by the local council to provide public open space following an increase in the local population.  The park was opened to the public in 1906.  The park contains a Victorian walled garden, bounded on three sides by Grade II listed walls, containing an ornamental pond, herbaceous borders and bedding plants.”

On Saturday (16 February) I was feeling miserable; I hadn’t managed to get out and run for a month for a number of reasons, and felt that I had really lost my running mojo. I wasn’t sure whether I could still run 5k but badly needed my parkrun fix to lift my mood. However, I just didn’t feel up to tackling Walthamstow which is all on grass (or mud when it’s been raining!) and which has a hill (slight incline!) and thought that to get back into running I should try to do a parkrun which was all on tarmac and flat. I also didn’t want my parkrun friends to see me struggling to run/walk as I was so out of shape. Of course, they wouldn’t have minded a bit, and would have been encouraging and lovely as they always are, but it was a little bit of my pride getting the better of me – I didn’t want them to see me struggling. I had to stay local as I was working in the afternoon, so decided last minute to go and tackle my NENDY – Pymmes parkrun.

The park is very conveniently close to the North Circular Road; in fact I must have driven past it thousands of times with no idea that it was there. Although the course website didn’t mention parking a quick search on Google maps showed that there was parking in the streets surrounding the park. And the website mentioned that there were toilets near the start, so all good. I arrived at the park in plenty of time, only to be face with my first hurdle – the streets surrounding the park had parking bays with signs that said “Permit holders only” and underneath that “On event days Noon – 9pm”. Now I didn’t know if this meant that it was normally permit holders only except on ‘event’ days when it was noon-9pm, or whether it was ok to park except on event days noon-9pm! I suppose if I had given it some thought I would have realised that “event days” referred to the nearby Spurs stadium and it was actually fine to park there when there wasn’t a game on. But to be on the safe side I moved my car outside the CPZ and walked into the park.

First impressions were that the park needed a little bit of TLC. The “Pymmes Park” sign was graffiti’d over, and the park from the start area looked like a bare playing field/football pitch with little of interest. Not a parkrun that would be chosen for aesthetics and beauty, I thought. I quite like a bit of urban grittiness, so I wasn’t put off and walked to where I could see people were gathering, next to a toilet block. Now for some reason, I find that I always need to go to the loo before running – possibly nerves? – so a parkrun with facilities near the start is a bonus in my book. I walked to the Ladies only to find an iron gate blocking the entrance. On asking if the toilets when the toilets were going to be opened, I found out that they are now permanently closed due to vandalism that happened a few weeks previously.

By this time a number of parkrunners had gathered, and I found myself chatting to a couple of tourists, one from Wolverhampton (Mary Solomon) whose daughter lived nearby, and one from Wormwood Scrubs (the parkrun, not the prison!). All the Ws. I always find chatting to complete strangers very easy at parkrun – we all have something in common and something to talk about and break the ice, as we talk about our home parkruns and other parkruns we have done and enjoyed. I wondered when they were going to hold the ‘first timers’ briefing, but Mary told me that she had spoken to the RD and apparently they don’t hold them at Pymmes. They also didn’t seem to have marshals or signage on the route, but perhaps both are explained by the fact that the route is VERY straightforward – three laps around the park keeping the fence on your right.  This does also mean that the number of volunteers needed is a lot smaller than other parkruns – small but perfectly formed!

The route started off running around the football pitch/playing fields, but about half way around the first of the three laps the scenery started to change. First there was a ‘wetlands’ area, then the walled garden area mentioned in the Wikipedia entry and finally a lake with ducks and moorhens. It was a lot more scenic and beautiful than I had imagined, and with lots of things to look at and keep the interest up. The volunteers were gathered around the start/finish area, cheering everyone on and I made sure I thanked them as I ran past. And surprisingly, despite having not run for a month, I was able to keep running all the way round – perhaps because it was pancake flat apart from a tiny bit of uphill, but that was only about 6 paces long. As I went to get scanned the lovely lady scanning barcodes remarked on how polite I was as I had thanked the volunteers on each lap despite being out of breath!

Having finished in a pretty slow time, I’m afraid I was desperate for the loo and couldn’t contemplate waiting around to see if there was a designated café that people went to, so I just pegged it to my car hoping to make it home quickly. But my impression of Pymmes parkrun is favourable; it has all the community feels, everyone was very friendly, and it even had some pretty scenic spots too! Nice to see some children volunteering too on barcode scanning, and making a fine job of it! Thank you to the Run Director and the volunteers – it was a lovely run and perfect to get me back into running again.

My NENDY has now moved to Finsbury Park, which I understand has some dreaded uphill sections in it, so it may be quite some time before I tackle that one!

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Armley parkrun: the one on Christmas Day

I’m not sure if it is a sign of getting older, but preparations for the celebration of Christmas seem to get earlier and earlier each year, and more and more hyped up and commercial. This year I saw my first ‘Christmas’-themed items for sale in a supermarket in August, and when one radio station announced that it wasn’t going to start playing Christmas songs until the 1st December this seemed extraordinarily late as I was already sick of hearing the Pogues and Slade on the various other radio stations I flick between when I’m driving. One of the main “water-cooler” topics at work in November was about the latest John Lewis advert featuring Elton John, and every supermarket was selling novelty Christmas jumpers or other festive wear, some at quite high prices, as wearing a Christmas jumper in December seems to have become a “thing”. In the running world, there were so many ‘Santa Dash’ runs, especially in London, that they almost seemed to be the norm rather than a novelty.

Now I’m a sucker for a bit of festive nostalgia as much as the next person, can watch rubbish Christmas films like “The Holiday” even though I’ve seen it about 5 times before, and I do own a Christmas jumper. But running through all the Christmas ads and hype is the implied acknowledgement that ‘Christmas’ is all about being together with families and ‘loved ones’, and that it has to be done one way. Even the ad for a certain supermarket that showed how different people’s preferences were for food and drink at Christmas, this still showed living rooms and tables full of happy smiling people, spending time together and enjoying each other’s company.  Of course, if commercial ads had shown a single person, on their couch in a onesie watching telly on Christmas Day eating beans on toast and being perfectly happy relaxing in the knowledge that they have a couple of days off work and can spend it how they like, this wouldn’t sell – and that’s what the ads are all about. The shops need to perpetuate the myth that in order to be happy at Christmas we need to buy as much ‘stuff’ as we can, whether that be presents, groceries or even Christmas jumpers. And this puts an implicit pressure upon us; those of us who are single, whose parents have passed away, who don’t have children and who don’t have the huge family gatherings to go to, start to wonder where we’ve gone wrong in life and this can easily slide into depression.  I started to realise the effect this subliminal pressure was having when a successful and generally positive friend of mine who stopped drinking alcohol a few years ago posted on facebook messages this Christmas including “Turns out being single and sober at Christmas is sometimes a bit hard. Who knew?” and “892 days of sobriety will not be broken by BLOODY Christmas”.  Another single friend who has faced a number of problems this year decided the only way to cope was to leave the country, and packed herself off to a yoga retreat in Thailand.

Last year, the founder of parkrun, Paul Sinton-Hewitt, posted a blog post on the parkrun UK site suggesting that people invite anyone who might be spending Christmas alone to come and join them at a Christmas Day parkrun.  I have a slight issue with the second sentence in the blog – “Sadly, we know that too many people will spend the festive period alone this year” – which puts “being alone” as being a bad thing and something to be sad about, whereas some people may relish the idea of being alone and therefore being able to be blessedly selfish about how they spend their Christmas days without the demands of family or spouses. However, the idea of an alternative way of spending time on Christmas morning to the traditional present-opening/eating/drinking frenzy, and opening that activity up to anyone regardless of who they are or who they know, was attractive. Last year, when this blog post came out, I was working on Christmas day and so couldn’t attend parkrun; the year before I wasn’t quite as parkrun-addicted as I am now, and so the idea of going out on Christmas morning and exercising seemed completely bonkers! But this year my parkrun habit has become well and truly established, and listening to the unofficial parkrun podcast With Me Now discuss the extra parkrun on Christmas Day that a number of parkruns put on and how amazing they were, made me really want to go to one. Parkrunning on Christmas Day seemed to be a real alternative to the hype and commercialism of modern-day Christmas, and one that anyone could participate in, regardless of your religion/faith or lack of religion/faith.

But where to go? I was spending Christmas in Leeds and the nearest parkrun that I knew that was putting on an extra Christmas Day event seemed to be Dewsbury. However, discussing this with my ‘home’ parkrun friends, two of whom are from Yorkshire and have done a lot of parkruns in the area, made me question this idea as they said that it was hilly, with a very steep hill in it. I really don’t like running up hills – I know, I know, it’s good for you – so I started looking around for an alternative. The Leeds area seems to have had a number of new parkruns that have started up in the last year or so, and looking at the Christmas Compendium of extra parkruns, one stood out – Armley – as I remembered Nicola Forwood discussing it very positively on the With Me Now podcast. I looked it up and it was about 20 minutes away from where I was staying, which was the same time it would have taken me to get to Dewsbury. Even better, the course directions stated that it was “flat”. (Reader – they lied!) I only had to explain to the extended family that I was staying with on Christmas morning that I was going to desert them and go off for “a run in the park” (as one of them called it, expressing incredulity that I would want to do such a crazy thing) and I was all set. As I left the rest of the family opening their presents I was aware of how lucky I was that I could just take myself off to run a parkrun, as I’m sure many people would not be able to do so for a number of reasons, such as having to get the Christmas dinner prepped and cooked, or not having the transport to get to a parkrun. I had noticed a number of posts on facebook with kind family members giving presents of a home-made ‘parkrun pass’ voucher such as the one originally created by the parkrun show podcast, effectively excusing them from family duties and giving them permission to go and parkrun on Christmas day. And I also saw on the parkrun UK’s facebook page following Christmas the cutest Christmas card from a child giving the ‘present’ of running parkrun as a family!

I arrived in Armley Park Road at around 8.30am, following the Sat Nav directions given on the website, and found that Armley Park seemed to be quite extensive with what would have been a great view over Leeds as it is quite high up, although it was also quite misty on Christmas day morning so I couldn’t see much. I couldn’t see anyone else around that looked as if they were going to parkrun, and wasn’t sure if I was in the right place. Driving around for a bit I saw some cones and tape which is where the finish funnel was, so knew I was in the right place, although I couldn’t see how to get into the park from where I was. So I drove back to the entrance at the end of Armley Park Road and parked, and pulling up just after me was a woman wearing the familiar tourist cow cowl. She turned out to be a parkrun Yorkshire Regionnaire and so was an excellent person to meet on the way in as she knew just where to go, and where the toilets were – which I was amazed to find were open on Christmas Day! After dropping my bag on the tarpaulin which was laid out for people to leave their belongings on, I noticed that people were steadily turning up, many dressed in festive fancy dress that put my token Santa hat to shame. There were people dressed as elves, reindeer, a brussel sprout, a snowman, Father Christmas and Mrs Christmas, and even a Christmas tree or two!

As over half of parkrun courses in the UK don’t host an extra Christmas Day parkrun, attendances for those that do tend to be higher as people travel to take part, and quite a few people that I chatted to whilst waiting for the off had not visited Armley before. They seemed to be mostly local to the Leeds area though, with a number of people I spoke to being from Oakwell Hall or Bradford parkruns. There were a significant number of people who were at their home parkrun though, and as people greeted each other and caught up with old friends, it occurred to me that in many ways this new tradition of going for a Christmas Day parkrun was very similar to the traditional Christmas Day of my childhood, when we would go to church and greet our friends, all dressed up in our finest clothes, and before and after the service would chat about what presents we had had for Christmas and what we were going to do in the afternoon. There was an article that appeared in the Guardian newspaper some six months or so ago that called parkrun “the new church” and it struck me on Christmas Day as how apt that was. It didn’t matter whether you were on your own, or with friends and family, everyone was welcome and greeted by the smiling volunteers and made to feel part of the community – the parkrun ‘family’.  Some volunteers had hung Christmas decorations on a tree by the start sign, which itself was decorated with tinsel, and everyone was calling out “Merry Christmas” to each other.

After attending the first-timers’ briefing, and then the run briefing, we were off – before I was ready and had set my Garmin! The course is three laps of the park, with some sections on the tarmac path but some sections on grass which was a bit muddy in places, and one area had been coned off because it was icy. I was glad I had brought trail shoes! And despite being described as ‘flat’ it is definitely ‘Yorkshire flat’ or undulating, with the route starting and finishing uphill! All parkruns are welcoming and cheery, and the marshals encouraging, but this day seemed to be extra cheery as many of the marshals wished us a merry Christmas as we went around. I particularly liked the disco-dancing marshal in disco corner who continued dancing throughout the run! There were also people in the park who I have no idea whether they were connected with parkrun or not, or who just happened to go out for a walk in the park only to find over 150 Santas, elves, turkies and trees running around the park. Two of these made an impression with me; a smiley Asian man who stood a little away from the start line at the bottom of the park on his own and who clapped and wished us all a happy Christmas as we ran by, and a family with a small child playing in the children’s playground. This toddler waved at everyone running by and had clear delight in watching us and shouting out “happy Christmas” to us. I later saw a photo of a woman dressed as a Christmas tree who stopped on her way round to greet this child – again, I don’t know if they knew each other but I like to think that they were unconnected and that the spirit of Christmas parkrun infected these spectators as it had done to us participants. Who knows if they might be encouraged to join in in the future? I love this photo as it seems to encapsulate the spirit of Christmas Day parkrun.


Personally, my parkrun was not great in terms of speed, as I didn’t manage to finish in under 40 minutes, but it didn’t matter at all – it was great in terms of general bonhomie! And going around I reflected on my running and vowed to lose weight and try to get fitter and improve my speed in 2019 – a vow that I immediately forgot after crossing the finish line as I was greeted by a volunteer with a tin of Quality Streets and a table bearing goodies in the form of Christmas cake and yule log to share! Oh well, it was Christmas! But it was also cause for an arbitrary celebration for me personally, as by running this parkrun I managed to get:

a) an “A” for my alphabet challenge

b) my 20th different parkrun and therefore onto the ‘most events’ table and permission to join the parkrun tourists facebook group

c) my Christmas day parkrun badge (on the Google chrome running challenges extension)

d) the corner parkrun (#63) on my analogue tracker and hence turning the corner towards my 100th parkrun!

Driving away afterwards, I was full of the usual ‘feel-good’ feeling that I always have after running parkrun, but with an extra special top-up which I can only put down to being the Christmas Day special parkrun factor! Later on that day when the results came out I saw that there were 151 people who ran, jogged or walked the course, including 40 first-timers, aided by 28 volunteers. One of these volunteers was the photographer Stephen Holt who took some really excellent photos of the event, some of which are reproduced here. Take a look at the others on the Armley parkrun facebook page for a better idea of the amazing costumes on the day.

In the following days I looked up the stats for the extra Christmas Day parkruns in the UK, and saw that there were new attendance records set at 27 parkruns, including Dewsbury where I was going to go before switching to Armley. But the most amazing result has to be the new record set at Bushey parkrun, where it all began, and where they had an amazing 2011 participants this year! Danny Norman was one of those 2011 and did some live recording for his With Me Now podcast at the Bushy Christmas Day parkrun, and you get a feel for what an amazing occasion it was as the parkrun ‘family’ (including Paul Sinton-Hewitt who founded parkrun) got together for this special run. And across the UK there were an incredible 67,810 parkrunners and 3,088 volunteers participating in 231 special Christmas Day parkruns. With this number rising year on year, who knows, maybe next year there will be over a million people parkrunning on Christmas Day in the UK!

Thank you to all the volunteers at Armley who made my first Christmas Day parkrun such a delight – I hope to be back when visiting family in Leeds on another occasion. And I hope that attending a Christmas Day parkrun will become a new tradition for me, and that I manage to make it again in future years.



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Lincoln parkrun: the one with the jelly-bean man!

“If you’re going to Lincoln next weekend, don’t forget your thermals!” So said my friend Steph, whilst we sat on the pier in Portsmouth in t-shirts in the unseasonably warm sunshine after running the Great South Run.  Steph is a musician who had given concerts in Lincoln in the past and said that she had always been freezing cold when playing there, yet I didn’t take her seriously as it was so warm. But a week later I came to regret ignoring her wise words when I turned up at Lincoln parkrun in the freezing cold, regretting not having packed gloves, a scarf and a long-sleeved top, and feeling like a right Southern Softie!

I was in Lincoln in order to sing at the cathedral as part of a visiting choir whilst the cathedral choir was away for half term. When I saw the schedule for the weekend, which started with a rehearsal at 10:30am I realised that I might be able to get a cheeky parkrun in before the rehearsal, providing the parkrun course was not too far from the cathedral. Looking at the course page I could see that the venue was Boultham park, which was about 2 miles south of Lincoln Cathedral, so I reckoned I could do it, and I became more excited when I realised I might be able to bag an ‘L’ on my alphabet challenge! The weekend I was there was also going to be their Halloween parkrun, and as partial as I am to a bit of parkrun-fancy dress, I sadly had no time to source a costume or put on Halloween make-up which would take time to remove and make me late for the rehearsal.

On the day itself (27th October) I set off rather early. I have found in the past when touristing that postcodes given on the course pages are not entirely accurate, and so I arrived in a fairly deserted residential street (Hall Drive) and I couldn’t even see the park. But then I saw a group of volunteers carrying the familiar yellow/green parkrun signs, and so flagged them down and asked them if I was in the right area for the car park. One of them kindly offered to show me the car park and then to escort me to the park. When I declined saying that I was going to wait in the car for a bit as it was so cold, he told me to look out for him on the course, saying that they called him the “jelly-bean man”.

After waiting in the car for a bit, I reluctantly left the warm interior and braved the cold -regretting my choice of a short-sleeved apricot t-shirt and capri running pants. I made my way towards the park which was not far away, and found toilets near the main gate to the park. By this time other runners had started to arrive, and everyone was congregating near the bandstand, where you could leave your belongings under safely under cover and not worry about them getting wet if it rained – which it did! I took a moment to admire the effort that some people had gone to with their Halloween outfits, and it is the only time I have envied a person wearing a furry monster costume to run in, as they looked toasty-warm compared with the shivering masses!

After a good newcomers briefing, and then the main briefing, there was just time for a few photos to be taken of the costumes, plus people celebrating milestones and a birthday, before we made our way to the start and the off. My home parkrun – Walthamstow – is a 3-lap course, so Lincoln felt like a home away from home. The route was picturesque, going around a lake and through trees, and along the way the various marshals had gone to some effort with their costumes, including the wicked witch presiding over Sandra’s Corner and a young masked marshal hiding in the undergrowth ready to jump out and scare the runners. And there on the route was the jelly-bean man, complete with scary mask, and who now held out a tub of jelly-beans on laps 2 and 3 for people to help themselves to, and who shouted “Go, girl” as I ran past!

After the run I understand that people go for a coffee in the local bowling club, but I had to rush back to my rehearsal so had to forego that pleasure. Lincoln was a lovely, friendly parkrun (aren’t they all?) and I was pleased to count it as my 19th different venue and my alphabeteer “L” but then delighted when the results came in to find that I had added another second on my stopwatch bingo challenge as well!

The parkrun itself is flat as a pancake, and with sufficient turns to make it interesting all the way round. There is free parking in the small car park but also in local residential streets and the bowling club, and toilets at the main entrance to the park. There is a children’s playground for small non-running family members, and also a café in the park. I’m sure it’s not always so cold – or is Lincoln just a freakishly cold place as my friend had warned me? I’ll just have to go back another time to find out! Thank you to the Run Director and all the wonderful volunteers and runners for the warm welcome – but especially to the jelly-bean man!




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Gunnersbury parkrun: the one that has everything!

One of the problems about my growing parkrun addiction is that I have to be careful not to become a crashing bore about parkrun, and I’m not sure I always succeed! I have to constantly check myself when I’m talking to someone who doesn’t parkrun and make sure their eyes aren’t glazing over as I wax lyrically about PBs, parkrun tourism, alphabet challenges, stopwatch bingo, #DFYB etc. And the relief when you find someone equally as addicted that you can share experiences with and chatter away with parkrunchat galore! About a year ago I was chatting to a friend who is not a parkrunner, and I mentioned the alphabet challenge whilst trying to explain my dilemma in deciding which parkrun to go to on a weekend away. Surprisingly, the concept appealed to her, and so we then went through the alphabet discussing the letters I had ‘got’ and the ones I had left to get. When we got to the letter G, which I didn’t have, she declared “Gunnersbury… you have to come to Gunnersbury if there’s a parkrun there”. She lived in Acton, West London, whereas I live in Walthamstow, East London, and I have to admit my knowledge of West London is somewhat lacking, but looking it up on the map I saw that there was indeed a parkrun in Gunnersbury, and it was about a twenty minute walk from my friend’s flat. So a plan was hatched that at some stage in the future when we were both free, I would go and stay with her on the Friday night so that I could run Gunnersbury parkrun in the morning.

Unfortunately, our diaries didn’t co-incide until the weekend of 28 July 2018 when we both found ourselves free. Having got my first ‘B’ at Boston the month before, I was also excited to get my first ‘G’ and therefore my first BeeGee in the Stayin’ Alive challenge! After a nice evening catching up on Friday evening, and drinking too much wine – never a good preparation for a parkrun – I found myself setting off to walk to parkrun. This would be my 55th parkrun and 17th different event, and yet it was actually the first time that I had stayed somewhere the night before that was within walking distance of a parkrun. As I walked past Acton Town tube and then crossed the South Circular I realised how ideally placed Gunnersbury parkrun is. Situated in Gunnersbury Park, South Ealing, it is within 20 minutes walk from three tube stations (Acton Town, South Ealing and Gunnersbury), 15 minutes walk from Kew Bridge overground station, and with three bus routes going right next to or very close to the park. And the South Circular arterial road runs alongside the park, although I’m not sure about the parking situation. But there can’t be many other parkruns that are so well served by public transport routes.


On my parkrun tourism journey I have visited all sorts of different kinds of parkruns, from seaside ones where you run on a pebble beach (Seaton), to one set in the National Forest (Rosliston), but when running my first – and only – Scottish parkrun at Portobollo in May 2017, I was so impressed I declared it to be nearly perfect. The only thing it really lacked was a loo – see my run report here: Portobello parkrun which I entitled “If Carlsberg did parkruns… So I was pleased, on entering Gunnersbury park, to find a large café with loos that were open at that time in the morning, and that even had a few parkrunners in there having a pre-parkrun coffee – ooh, the novelty! I asked them for directions to the start, which they gave and asked me if I would be at the front or the back. When I said I would be at the back, they said “Great… see you there then!” I was wearing my parkrun apricot, so on the way out of the café I was then greeted by a lady with a lovely soft Irish accent who assumed I was a local and asked me where the start line was. I discovered her name was Marion McElligott and she was touristing from Tralee in South Western Ireland, visiting family nearby. She was another first timer at Gunnersbury, but an experienced parkrunner, and we had a lovely chat about what a marvellous thing parkrun is. It turned out she had tried to run at Gunnersbury a few weeks’ before on another visit, but turned up only to find the parkrun had been cancelled due to an event on in the park. A timely reminder that when doing a spot of parkrun tourism it’s always best to check the website and their facebook page to check that the run is still on, especially if you’re making a special effort to travel there. I thought that Marion might have travelled the furthest to get there, but discovered in the main briefing that there were tourists visiting from Cape Town and from Sydney, making my trip from East London seem trifling!


Despite being in the middle of a heatwave, we had actually had some rare rain the night before, so I was pleased to see that they put a large tarpaulin down on which people put their bags. I had a quick look at a very appetising cake that had been brought by someone to celebrate their 100th parkrun, before I went to join a small crowd gathering around a lady who was holding up an intriguing sign saying “First time at Gunnersbury? Let me explain”. Sadly, she didn’t explain the meaning of life, or why Gunnersbury is named Gunnersbury, but she did give a very good new runners’ briefing in which I learned that the route was a slightly altered route to their normal one, and the finish line was not in the same place as the start line. This did lead me to wonder about the safety of my bag placed on the tarpaulin, but then I noticed as I ran around that they had a marshal on bag-guard duty – they’ve thought of everything! This marshal was also guarding a baby in a pram – not sure if it was his baby or if he had just offered to look after the baby as well as the bags to allow the mum to run – it was her first time back at parkrun after having the baby!

Anyway, after the main briefing which was delivered excellently by the RD standing on a small crate so the 419 runners there could see – and hear – him, we moved to the start which the RD requested should be a wide start line so we all fanned out in the wide space. This was a novel approach to me, but was refreshing as I normally find that at the larger parkruns if I start at the back it can take me 20 or 30 seconds just to get to the start line, whereas here no-one was that far back with such a wide startline. The course is two slightly undulating laps of the park which is amazingly scenic and with a variety of different terrains. There were so many interesting features along the route: a lake with an 18th century temple built for Princess Amelia, the daughter of George II, a large country house, a museum, some wooden animal sculptures, a cricket field, lots of lovely trees and various signs that I vowed I would go back and read after the run. There was so much to see that before I knew it I had finished! There were even lots of things to do for non-running parkrun families, including a children’s playground next to the start. And then there was the lovely café for the post-parkrun coffee and cake. In fact, the only very slight downside was that on one section of the course, the path had deteriorated quite a bit and was in need of re-surfacing so was a bit of a trip hazard. But Gunnersbury park was quite a revalation; I must have driven past it along the South Circular thousands of times, yet had no idea it was there or how nice it was, as it’s hidden behind a high wall and I had no reason to go there before now. That’s another thing that I love about parkrun; it introduces me to new places and hidden corners of London and the rest of the country that I had no idea even existed.

Both Rosliston and Portobello are hard to beat as parkruns; lovely, scenic routes full of lots of interesting features, friendly volunteers, nice café for post-parkrun coffee… But having now run Gunnersbury I think it might just have pipped both of these as it really does have everything you would want in a parkrun. So the Carlsberg epithet has to be re-awarded to Gunnersbury! Having bagged my “G” and my first BeeGee, I don’t have any reason to go back, but I’m sure I will as it was just so nice. It would be interesting to run it in different weather and see if I can get a PB. And as an Arsenal fan, any parkrun with the word “Gunners” in its name has got to be a good thing in my book!

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