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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Kesgrave parkrun: the one in the heatwave

Only a few weekends after running at Boston on a weekend away to celebrate a friend’s birthday, I found myself on another weekend away celebrating another friend’s birthday –  this time in Suffolk. Now despite living in East London so not a million miles away, I’ve never actually run a parkrun in the East of England region.  So I was keen to see if I could fit in a bit of parkrun tourism into the weekend and get my first parkrun in the region. A quick look at the map made me more excited as I realised that this might be a chance to nab an elusive ‘I’ in my parkrun alphabet challenge by running Ipswich. I’ve not checked fully but I think the only other parkrun beginning with I in the UK is Inverness which is quite a long way from East London, and Inch in Ireland is even further.

So I packed my running kit and mentioned to the friends I was staying with that I would be disappearing before they were out of bed on the Saturday morning to go and run parkrun. Whilst most of them thought I was mad, one friend (who I have previously dragged to Seaton parkrun whilst we were away to do her first parkrun) said that she would bring her kit too. The night before we looked up Ipswich parkrun to find out what time we would have to leave, and found that it would take about 50 minutes to get there from where we were staying, whereas there was another option which was only 40 minutes away – Kesgrave. I’d never heard of Kesgrave before, but realised it afforded me the opportunity to get a ‘K’ in my alphabet challenge with an extra 10 minutes in bed! Looking at the two courses clinched it; Ispwich was very wiggly-piggly whereas Kesgrave appeared to be an almost straight line according to the website. My friend worries about getting lost on the course (I know, I know, I’ve told her about the brilliant parkrun marshals) and the simpler route of Kesgrave appealed to her, so the decision was made.

The morning came and we set off for Kesgrave in the car, arriving pretty early to find that there was plenty of parking. The parkrun takes place on the Millennium Jubilee Field in front of the Millennium Jubilee Hall which was resplendent with bunting. It got another tick in the box for me as there was a toilet – just the one but one is better than none! We’ve been having crazily hot weather across the UK over the summer and the grass on the Millennium Field looked scorched – almost like sand on a beach. I had had a really bad running experience a couple of weeks before when I became really dehydrated, so I started to worry about the lack of shade and getting dehydrated again, but before I could worry too much the new runners and tourists were gathered together for the New Runners’ briefing which was carried out by the enthusiastic and exuberant Tim. Then after the RD’s briefing held in front of the hall, and we lined up at the start ready for the off.

The route is very straightforward, starting with two laps of the Millennium Field, then off down a long path to a turnaround point, then back down the long path before the final 1k which loops around in the wood next to the field. I was pleased to find a little  shade in a hedge that runs the length of the long path, but you only get it on the way back, and so I was grateful to reach the shade of the woods at the last 1k which was very welcome. I use the word “straightforward” to describe the course over the ‘B’ word (boring!) as another blogger described my home parkrun as ‘boring’ which has caused such a furore and has got many people hot under the collar if not apoplectic with rage! Kesgrave is not blessed with a lot of interesting features that some other parkruns have, like lakes or sculptures. But it is flat as a pancake (hurrah – I hate hills!) so I’m sure is fast if you are a fast runner (I’m not!) and what it lacks in features, it makes up for with fantastic marshals and volunteers, like the wonderful young lady handing out high-fives at the “high-five corner” of the field. In fact, this young lady was highlighted for some well-deserved kudos by Nicola Forwood on the pilot episode of the With Me Now parkrun podcast, so having listened to it I looked up the results and found that we were at Kesgrave in the same week. With Me Now is the new podcast by Danny Norman and Nicola Forwood who used to produce the parkrun show podcast three and a bit years ago, and is well worth a listen whether you’re a parkrun geek or just an occasional parkrunner. Weirdly I had met Danny at Boston three weeks before I ran at Kesgrave the same week as Nicola – I’m not secretly stalking you, Danny and Nicola, I promise!

I did enjoy the woods section of the course the most, not just for the interest but also for the shade since it was such a hot day, although I imagine it could get muddy in the winter. After the run there was tea and coffee and a great selection of cakes and biscuits, so no need to retire to a nearby café. And the friendly barcode scanners had their own gazebo – how luxurious! One of the things I love about touristing is seeing all the innovations and nice little touches that other parkruns come up with, and then shamelessly nabbing the idea and introducing them at my home parkrun! At Kesgrave I particularly liked the welcome board, and the bucket on the chair for people who were in too much of a hurry to get their tokens scanned – who are these people, by the way? Half the fun of parkrun is to hang around afterwards chatting to other parkrunners!

So all in all I would heartedly recommend Kesgrave, and I was very glad to get my ‘K’ and my first East of England parkrun under my belt. It’s a nice, friendly parkrun – nothing flashy, no complicated route, just a straightforward, well-run 5k with cheery and welcoming volunteers. And I’ll just have to return to Suffolk on another weekend to bag my ‘I’ at Ipswich!

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Boston parkrun: the one with the podcasters and uber-tourists

When I was invited to spend a weekend in Lincolnshire at the rather splendid Skendleby Hall to celebrate a friend’s birthday, my first thought was “how lovely” and to check that I was free and able to go. But my second thought was “I wonder if there’s a parkrun near there?” A quick check on the tourist tool website and I found out that Boston parkrun was about 40 minutes away by car. I knew very little about Boston, Lincolnshire, other than that the other Boston – the one in the US – was named by a group of Puritans who left Boston, Linconlnshire, for America in the 1630s and founded a settlement in Massachusetts which they then named after their home town. Driving through Boston the connection between the two Bostons is highlighted with road names like the John Adams Way, Pilgrim Road and the hospital being called the Pilgrim Hospital.

Boston would be my 15th different parkrun, and my first beginning with “B” for my alphabet challenge! I’ve also recently discovered the parkrun “Running Challenges” on Google Chrome, which adds different badges to your parkrun profile and sets out a number of quirky challenges. One of these is the “Stayin’ Alive” challenge, for which you have to run at three parkruns beginning with “B” and three beginning with “G” to get the badge – for the BeeGees, geddit?! As I hadn’t run a single parkrun beginning with either B or G before, it gave me another reason to attend!

Before packing to go away for the weekend, I posted a question on a parkrun group on facebook, about whether to pack trail or road shoes, which was answered by the helpful Kerry McCrainor and also by Steve Langford who was doing the first timers’ briefing – thank you both. (The answer was that although it is on a mix of tarmac and trail paths that I guess could get very muddy in winter, it had been so dry over the previous weeks that road shoes were fine.)

The day came and I turned up at the Witham Way Country park ready to run my first Boston parkrun. I was one of 13 first timers there and found myself amongst other tourists from Wimbledon, Bushey, Sheffield, Leeds and Wormwood as well as the locals with a respectable field of 152 runners.  Also present on the same day were some parkrun legends, one of these being uber tourist Louise Ayling who jointly presents the parkrun podcast Free Weekly Timed and who was running her 351st parkrun. Also at Boston on Saturday was another uber tourist, Danny Norman, who, incredibly, was running his 250th different parkrun at Boston, out of a whopping total of 594 parkruns, making my 15 different events seem like very small fry indeed. Danny is also a parkrun podcaster; having previously presented the parkrun show podcast, Danny has now launched another parkrun podcast called With Me Now.  He also  proved to have superb selfie-taking skills with his long arms being a bonus!

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But there were also some superb home-grown milestones to celebrate, with Neil Goodwin and Susan Seal both running their 50th, and the amazing Andy Bailey swapping his Run Director’s jacket for a specially adapted hi-viz jacket as he was running his 250th parkrun. Parkrun is so close to Andy’s heart that he even has a parkrun tattoo – I’m pretty sure he never forgets his barcode! #DFYB  Afterwards I worked out that Louise, Danny, Neil, Susan and Andy together have run an incredible 1,295 parkruns or a total of 6,475 km – which is further than the distance between Boston in Lincolnshire and Boston in the USA, a mere 5,223 km!

It was very hot on the day that I attended, and there were lots of little flying bugs around but I had got there early so had some time to spend spraying insect repellent and applying sun cream which I was very glad I had brought. As I did so, I noticed a group of people gathering around a woman who was holding a large board. I went over to investigate, and found that it was a board with the future volunteer roster on it, with spaces for people to sign up to the volunteer role of their choice for the next three weeks. The woman holding it explained that they often had a problem getting volunteers to sign up and found that by the Thursday or Friday before parkrunday they often had no volunteers before they introduced the board, but now they’ve found that people are happy to sign up. This is one of the things I love about touristing; you can see innovations that other parkruns have come up with and take them back to your home parkrun. I guess if you’re a regular parkrunner and you see that there are no volunteers for the next few weeks it gives you a very visible reminder of the need for volunteers, as well as ‘pester-power’ working to full effect!  

Onto the first-timers’ briefing given by Steve Langford, followed by the main briefing given by Run Director Bob Bailey, and then we were off. The route runs along the towpath of the River Witham, and in the distance at one point you can see the top of the “Boston Stump” – the 272 feet tower of St Botolph’s Church in the centre of Boston.  At places the route was very narrow and quite congested. I didn’t mind that, as it gave me a break – I’m slow and at the back anyway – but I guess if you are a gazelle and chasing fast times it might be annoying. There were also quite a lot of overgrown nettles and brambles along the route making me regret my choice of shorts over longer leggings that would have afforded me some protection against getting scratched or stung. It’s as flat as a pancake though which was a bonus in my book (I hate hills!). There are also times on the route where you can see people ahead of you and behind you as the route loops around, which is another feature I like, especially if you know other people who are running as you can look out for them and give them a wave at the passing places. 

At the finish line I noticed there were quite a few kids helping out – always good to see children getting involved and volunteering. And then there was a table laden with goodies to celebrate the milestones and people standing around chatting, with a good atmosphere. All the volunteers were super-friendly and encouraging as well, although I’m not sure how I ended up agreeing to write the run report! 

One downside to the event is that they don’t have any toilets in the park, which is a bit of a problem if, like me, you’d had to drive for 40 minutes before getting to the park, before running for another 40 minutes, as well as hanging around time. The website says that there are limited toilets available at Boston Town FC only after the run, but when I asked for direction to these I was told that they didn’t like the parkrunners using them. I was directed instead to a nearby supermarket, which was only about 5 minutes away by car so I guess if you were in the know you could go there beforehand. They also don’t have a café in the park, so the post-parkrun coffee and social takes place a short drive away in the Burton House Brewers Fayre where I guess there are toilets!  I’m not sure how easy the event would be to get to by public transport – the website says that there are no buses that serve the Country Park and the centre of Boston, where there is a train station, is just over a mile away. For those attending by car though, there is plenty of parking.

But these small niggles aside, Boston was a nice parkrun to do; a flat, pleasant scenic route, and lovely volunteers. And it’ll give you one of your BeeGees – altogether now: “Ha..ha..ha..ha..stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive”! #loveparkrun 

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50 parkruns

This morning I ran my 50th parkrun, joining the parkrun 50 club which entitles you to a free red 50 t-shirt and a red t-shirt badge on the results page. It’s taken me nearly 4 years to reach this milestone; little did I realise when I ran my first parkrun at Walthamstow on 9th August 2014 that I was embarking on a journey that would change my life – for the better.

I wrote about my introduction to parkrun in this blog post in 2016: #loveparkrun When I first found out about parkrun I was in the Wadi Rum in Jordan (you’ll have to read the post to find out more!), I was overweight, with high blood-pressure and on the pre-diabetic scale. I had back pain, most probably exacerbated by the extra weight I was carrying, and I couldn’t run for a bus let alone run 5k. I was ashamed at how unfit I was, fed up with my lack of fitness hindering the activities I wanted to do – like going trekking – and yet found it all too easy to come up with excuses as to why I wasn’t fit. And yet Martin in that one moment in Jordan gave me a glimpse of what might be possible – if he in his late 70s could be so fit, why couldn’t I?

I won’t repeat the story behind the lead-up to my first parkrun, but what I didn’t explain in that first parkrun post was that after running that first time in 2014 I went home and went to bed, exhausted. When I got up a couple of hours later I had a nagging pain in the heel of my foot which got worse and worse until it was agony and I was limping around, not able to put any weight on my foot. I realised that I had run my first run before I was ready, in unsuitable shoes for the terrain, and having only got up to week 6 of the NHS couch-to-5k programme I was following. I had also never run outside, as I had been training on a treadmill in the gym, and I soon discovered that running outside on grass and with a hill that had to be traversed 3 times was a very different kettle of fish! Carried away by everyone racing off at the start I tried to keep up and went way too fast for my first run, and then paid the price as I developed plantar fasciitis. It was 11 months before I was able to complete my second parkrun, this time with proper running shoes and having completed the couch-to-5k programme running outside.

Since then I haven’t looked back, and very quickly developed a parkrun habit, also introducing parkrun to a number of friends who have developed their own parkrun habit. No longer are Saturday mornings for lounging around in bed, or watching Saturday Kitchen on the TV, and after discovering parkrun tourism I even find that I can keep up the habit when I’m away.  Previously if I was away on holiday it would be a holiday from fitness as well, as being away from my gym and not knowing the area or where to run provided yet another excuse. Now if I’m going away I look up where the nearest parkrun is, and know that I can get a 5k run in without having to work out routes. I have run at 15 different parkruns across the UK, from Exeter to Edinburgh, and although I have yet to run an event outside the UK I’m sure it won’t be too long before I rectify this! I’ve run wearing scary spider’s web make-up for Halloween, wearing a Santa hat at Christmas or in fancy dress like last week when I wore a doctor’s outfit for parkrun’s celebration of 70 years of the NHS. I’ve embraced the alphabet challenge, and the time bingo challenge although I have quite some way to go before I’ve completed both of these challenges. I have yet to run the extra Christmas Day run that some parkruns manage to put on, or done the “double” by running two parkruns on New Year’s Day, but again I hope to manage to do these in the next year or so. I’ve lost two stone in weight, and got my high blood pressure under control. Yes, I’m still very slow but working on it! And away from the parkrun course, I’ve volunteered with my Walthamstow parkrun friends for the last two years at the London Marathon, as we have undertaken to manage one of the baggage trucks at the start, alongside other London parkruns. (Volunteering at the London Marathon)

Another way in which parkrun has changed my life is socially. My “parkrun family” are the – hopefully – lifelong friends I have made at Walthamstow parkrun who I look forward to seeing when I turn up at parkrun, who provide support and encouragement through strava and other social media, and with whom I can socialise with away from the course. But also without parkrun I would never have had the courage to join a running club, thinking that they were more for hares than tortoises like me. But after a couple of years of running at parkrun I joined Eton Manor AC which has opened up a whole new avenue of both running and social opportunities. I joined, and completed, their 5-10k training programme, called Still Love 2 Run, and since then I have taken part in a number of races with them. I’m still getting used to people shouting “Up The Manor” at me as I run in the blue and white club colours, and coming to terms with a new vocabulary – including the common noun “Manorites”! From time to time my running worlds collide when the club holds a “parkrun flashmob” where we all attend a local parkrun, or go to an Eton Manor Ladies’ Breakfast parkrun, which does what it says on the tin – the ladies of the club attend a local parkrun and then go for breakfast together afterwards providing another lovely social occasion. The evening before my 50th parkrun the club held its annual “Pubs On The Run” evening – a run to 5 different pubs with a drink consumed at each one, and allegedly chips also consumed between pubs! Unfortunately I couldn’t make the evening this year but was amazed to see a number of Manorites who did attend and yet still managed to make it out of the door nursing their hangovers to come and support me for my 50th run, three of them getting PBs too!

And so to this morning, where I was touched by the warmth of the support from not only the Eton Manor crew but also by the Core Team at Walthamstow parkrun, and all the regular runners. I had brought along a fantastic cake that was made by the sister of one of my colleagues which was complete with a little mini-me figure made of icing, but the core team had brought drinks, baked another cake, brought amazing cup cakes with a picture of me in icing on the top, and had party poppers for when I crossed the finish line. Regular Walthamstow runners Steve and Louise ran alongside me and encouraged me all the way round, and then Gerry, the event director, presented me with a certificate with a photo of me running at parkrun in the past. It was just a shame that Sharron who founded Walthamstow parkrun and who encouraged me to start running, couldn’t be there this morning, but she was very much missed, and it was lovely to have so many friends there cheering me on and joining the celebration.

So joining the parkrun 50 club has given me so much more than just a free t-shirt. It’s given me a new lease of life, a new social circle, new opportunities and in fact, a whole new lifestyle.  So thank you, parkrun, and especially to Walthamstow parkrun – my parkrun family. Maybe I’ll make it to 100 parkruns in less than 4 years! #loveparkrun 

 

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Running on Lundy Island

Lundy. For many people the word is merely one in a list of places mentioned in the shipping forecast, perhaps in drowsiness as they drift off to sleep with Radio 4 on in the background. But for some, myself included, Lundy is a place to go for holidays; a haven of peace and tranquillity, wildlife, daytime walks followed by socialising, food and drink in the Marisco Tavern, the only pub on the island. Having first visited only 5 years ago, I fell in love with the island on my first visit and have returned many times since and it holds a very special place in my heart. Back in January 2016 I wrote about a peculiar pastime that takes place on the island: Lundy Letterboxing

Although I have returned to the island on many occasions, I have never run on the island, or indeed even thought of running on the island until recently. When I took up running as a hobby it was very reluctantly, and I thought of it as a boring necessity to get fit and try to put a halt to my expanding waistline. I certainly wouldn’t have dreamed of going for a run on holiday – I was on holiday to relax and have fun, not put myself through the hell of going for a run! Although my attitude to running has changed over the last few years, and now I – dare I say it – do find myself actually enjoying running and miss it when I don’t manage to get out for a run, it is still not something I would readily consider doing on holiday.

I was aware, however, that other people did not have this attitude and did run on the island. Having visited for New Year a few times, I was aware of one fellow visitor who would change into running gear almost as soon as he stepped out of the helicopter that provides the winter service to the island, and go off for a run. In conversation with him later in the pub he said that it has become a bit of a tradition with him; he runs from the village up to the North Light, then back down to the jetty before returning to the village. He records his time in a log-book for runners that lives in the Tavern, and tries to beat the times of other people who record their runs in this book.

So when I visited this New Year, I was intrigued to hear from the Assistant Warden, Sian Scott, that on Sunday 8th July the island is going to be the venue for the inaugural “Lundy Race”, a 14-mile(ish) trail race that loops around the entire island. I was slightly amazed that you could devise a 14 mile run on an island that is only 3 miles long and just over half a mile wide, but looking at the proposed route I could see the distance was gained by the route looping around and using the coastal trails on the west and east sides of the island. This sounded like a fantastic opportunity to combine my new-found hobby of running with my favourite island, so on my return to the mainland I immediately looked up the race to see if I could enter. I had never run further than 10k, so I realised it would be a challenge, but I thought if I trained for it I might be able to achieve it. The race is run by a trail running company called Puretrail UK, and I could see that they had chartered the island supply boat, the MS Oldenburg, to take race participants to the island and back. The Oldenburg usually only travels to the island on 3 days a week (4 in summer months) and not on Sundays, so this special crossing on a Sunday is especially for the runners participating in the race. However, in January it was already fully sold-out, and the website stated that the only way to participate was to go on one of the scheduled crossings and stay on the island in one of the 23 self-catering properties. But on checking this, all 23 properties were booked, so the only possible option if I was to compete in this race would be to go on the scheduled sailing on the Saturday and camp until the next scheduled sailing back on Tuesday. Weighing it up, I thought that it would be a hard enough challenge as it was to run the race, but not having a nice comfy bed to collapse into that night made it seem too much of a challenge for me so I decided to give it a miss this year.

In March, on the spur of the moment, I booked a short stay on the island for some much needed rest and relaxation. As I was training for the London 10 Miles race taking place in May and was trying to increase the length of my runs, I was conscious that it would not be a good idea to have a 6-day break from my training schedule, and so I packed my running kit and decided to try to go for a couple of runs on Lundy. After recovering from a fairly awful crossing on the MS Oldenburg, as soon as I had booked into my property (The Old School) I changed into my kit and set off for a run. I had planned to just run up the path that runs along the centre of the island which I had remembered from previous visits as being flat and fairly featureless – I call it the A1! I pretty soon discovered that it is NOT flat; not at all! And I also discovered that running on Lundy is a lot harder than I had envisaged. For a start, it’s made of granite. I hadn’t realise what a difference this makes to the effort required for running; the ground is very hard underfoot and there are also lots of small, hard, loose stones that make trip hazards and certainly not the springy surface I am used to running on. Also the island has pretty extreme weather; often there is a ‘hoolie’ blowing that makes it difficult to stand up, let alone run, and when I was running although it wasn’t hoolie weather, it was certainly hard going running against the wind. There had also been some heavy rainfall in the days prior to my visit, and so the ground was also a quagmire in places and I found myself walking quite a bit and trying to avoid the huge muddy puddles. Finally, there was another hazard that I don’t often encounter when running in East London – wildlife like the wonderful Lundy ponies blocking my way, and then Soay sheep and feral goats that roam the island!

I just stuck to the A1 for my run which was challenging enough for me – I would certainly worry that if I was to run on the Eastern or Western slopes that I would trip and fall. I can’t envisage how they are going to cope with 250 runners on these precipitous tracks, and hope that no damage is caused either to the trails or to runners.

In the end, I only made it out for one run during my stay in March. And during that run I summarised 7 things I had discovered about running on Lundy:

1. It’s bloody hard
2. It’s NOT flat at all – even the places I thought were flat
3. It’s granite so extremely hard underfoot and with loose pebbles and lots of rock trip hazards
4. It’s also extremely muddy with squelching mud slowing progress
5. Wildlife blocks your way – feral goats, ponies, soay sheep etc.
6. Running on top of the island is difficult when it’s windy (always)
7. It’s bloody hard!

I hope the inaugural Lundy Race is a great success, and wish all the runners the best of luck, particularly to the runners I know who are taking part: Sian, Rachel, Alice and Bex. And you never know, perhaps if it’s run again another year, I may challenge myself to take part if I find out about it in time before it’s all sold out!

http://www.puretrail.uk/lundy/

Lundy Island

 

 

Posted in Landmark Trust, Lundy, Running, Travel, Uncategorized, Wildlife | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Volunteering at the London Marathon

For many years I have watched the London Marathon on the television, marvelling at the images of seemingly ordinary people doing an extraordinary thing: running 26.2 miles and often raising incredible sums of money for charity. For a few years I worked as a charity events organiser, and in this role I had to organise post-marathon hospitality for those running to raise funds for the charity. Every year I would momentarily feel inspired and wonder if I could ever run a marathon, but the moment soon passed!

But in the last few years I have started running myself, starting with parkrun and then more recently through a running club, and so I have joined a community of runners many of whom are often training for or taking part in marathons in the UK and abroad. In the run up to this year’s London Marathon I found myself tracking friends who were taking part in marathons in Brighton, Manchester and Paris on the respective marathon’s app, and eagerly following their progress from the comfort of my sofa.

This year the London Marathon became even more special to me because as well as knowing a number of people who were running it I had a very small part to play behind the scenes in the organisation of the event. Along with a number of other volunteers from my local parkrun, Walthamstow, I helped out at the start of the marathon, with the large baggage trucks that transport the runners’ bags from the start to the end of the race.

Having volunteered some months ago, I began to question the wisdom of this decision when I discovered we were leaving the Walthamstow parkrun site at the unearthly time of 6am. But once on the bus with all the other volunteers, the mood was infectious with everyone in good spirits and excited to be taking part. On the bus we were given our instruction booklets, security passes and VLM2018 branded jackets, and we headed for the start at Blackheath, arriving long before any runners got there. There we were given a briefing, along with volunteers from other London parkruns. The guy giving the briefing mentioned that whenever runners talk about the London marathon, they often comment on how brilliantly run the baggage operation is – no pressure then!

We then headed for our respective baggage trucks. Walthamstow parkrun volunteers had been allocated the “Championship” baggage truck in the Blue start area – the championship runners are the very fast club runners, just one step behind the elite runners. The Championship runners had their own penned off area of the start area, which was eerily deserted as we were there so early. But it gave us time to have a very welcome cup of tea/coffee and get our bearings.

Just behind our truck was a warm up area used by some of the elite runners, including the Weirwolf himself, David Weir, so we spent some time watching them warm up. The day was extremely hot and sunny, even so early, and as the runners start to arrive in the area many of them tried to sit in the shade of the changing tents. We took up our positions, with 6 of us harnessed to the inside of the truck and the rest of us behind a crash barrier ready to take bags. Many of the Championship runners didn’t want to put their bags on the truck until the last minute, so for quite a long while we had nothing to do except dance to the music being played on the loud speakers, including doing all the actions to Y-M-C-A! Eventually the first runner handed in his bag, Bridget taking his bag and the rest of us cheering! A slow steady trickle of runners handing in their bags soon turned into a manic stampede as the start time grew near and for a good 15 minutes it was frantic and really hard work to try to get everyone’s bag on the truck in time. We had been instructed to ask the runners to tie the drawstrings of their bags so that nothing fell out, but this task seemed to be remarkably challenging to many of the runners! But soon all the bags were on the truck, and the area was back to being deserted with just a few stragglers queuing for the loos. As we were about to finish, a runner came up and asked where she should go. She pointed out her celebrity wristband and wondered if there was a separate area she needed to go to. I had no idea who she was, but discovered later she was Rochelle Humes, the singer from The Saturdays!

Having taken all the bags, and seen all the runners out of the area, our job was done and we were released and able to go and cheer the runners through the start line. It was an amazing atmosphere, with everyone really excited and anxious to get going. Because of the heat the organisers had suggested that people didn’t wear heavy fancy dress costumes, so there were fewer rhinos, giant cakes, and other assorted costumes than in previous years, although we did see a running dinosaur and a bottle of beer. I was amazed at how I was able to spot friends from my running club and from parkrun amongst the thousands of runners queuing for the start, which happened in waves. Cheering them on with cowbells, rattles and whistles we made quite a noise but it seemed to be appreciated by the runners!

A group of us went to a spot on the route where we could cheer our friends and family members who were running. I was glad I was able to get there just in time to see a friend who lives in Cornwall run past – I shouted his name – Paul – and he ran back to give me a hug. He later said that it gave him a real boost to see a friendly face at that point. There was a fantastic atmosphere, and the crowds were three or four people deep all along the crash barriers protecting the route. It was incredibly hot though, and we did see a number of people receiving help and suffering from heat exhaustion, and I later found out that it was at this spot that the Masterchef contestant Matt Campbell collapsed and later died. And so a week later I took part in the #finishformatt initiative and ran 3.7 miles and donated to the Brathay Trust in memory of Matt.

I then went to the finish where I was able to meet up with Paul who despite having been tripped up by another runner by the Cutty Sark, resulting in a huge graze to his hip and grazed knees and hands, had finished in an amazing 3:06:29 – and he managed to get from our cheering point at 22 miles to the finish faster than I managed it on the tube! I was amused to see a pub on Whitehall had put an inflatable finish arch around the entrance to the pub, but the thousands of people milling around the area needed no encouragement as it was so hot the pubs were doing a roaring trade.

I finished the day by going to meet up with friends from my running club in a pub back in East London – and was amazed to find three runners who had run the marathon already in the pub and looking far fresher than I did despite their having run for over 26 miles!

It was such an emotional and amazing day, and many of my parkrun and running club friends were talking about entering the ballot for a place for next year’s marathon. Carried away with the atmosphere and emotion of the day, I started to wonder whether I could do it. Could I? Despite one friend asserting that “everyone has at least one marathon in them”, I think I need to get a few half-marathons under my belt before I even start to think about running a full marathon. But maybe one day…? But I’ll definitely be back helping with the bags again next year if I’m free and get the chance. It was such a brilliant day, and definitely showed London off to its best – no wonder the event has a hashtag that sums it up: #SpiritofLondon.

 

Posted in Events, parkrun, Running, Uncategorized, Walthamstow | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment