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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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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