One week on from some parkrun tourism at Weymouth, I found myself away for a consecutive weekend break at the opposite end of the UK – in fact, in a different country altogether. I had been invited to help celebrate a friend’s 50th birthday, that friend having moved from London to Edinburgh six months previously.
I had tried to run a Scottish parkrun on a previous visit to Edinburgh last year but got caught out by the time difference; I hadn’t realised that Scottish parkruns start at 9.30am not 9.00am, and the half-hour’s difference meant that I didn’t really have enough time to complete the run before catching my train back to London. So I was keen to see if I could complete what I set out to do a year previously and run a Scottish parkrun.
There were some obstacles to achieving this aim though. Firstly, I was flying to Edinburgh so would have to rely on public transport to get to the chosen parkrun and back to my B&B. Then I would need to find space in my small cabin bag for running kit in addition to party outfits and other clothes needed for the weekend, and packing light has never been my forte. Finally, in order to accommodate people travelling up to Scotland after work on the Friday evening, the weekend’s festivities started fairly late with a meal in a restaurant booked for 9.30pm suggesting that I wouldn’t get away until after midnight, and a late, boozy Friday night is never that conducive to getting up early for parkrun on the Saturday morning. Did I really want to put in all this effort to go and run 5k with a hangover, or could I give myself a weekend off? At least the extra half hour in bed for the Scottish version of parkrun would be welcome, and led me to muse that perhaps the half-hour later start time was, in fact, due to the Scottish love of whisky rather than anything to do with the light as I had been led to believe!
To overcome the first hurdle I asked the advice of local parkrunners on the facebook parkrun discussion group page, and soon discovered that my B&B, chosen because it was near my friends’ flat, was actually quite a long way from either of the two parkruns in Edinburgh – Cramond and Portobello. But the website of both parkruns also signposted me to the excellent Lothian Buses website, from which I could see that there was a number 5 bus that went from about 10 minutes walk from my B&B and that took me to a few minutes walk from the start of Portobello parkrun, which was set in a park called “Figgate Park”. To overcome the second hurdle, I added a hold bag to my ticket, justifying the extra cost on the grounds that I could now take up the bottle of local damson gin that I had bought as a housewarming gift but was too big for hand/cabin luggage. And I gave myself a talking to in order to overcome the final hurdle, whilst also giving myself permission to miss parkrun if the night out ended up becoming too boozy and too late!
However, it was actually another hurdle that almost made me miss parkrun. Having enjoyed a lovely evening out on the Friday night, I returned to my B&B at about 12:30am and went to set my phone’s alarm for 7.30am but my phone completely froze and I spent the next 15 minutes trying to switch it off/on and trying to remove the battery. I gave up eventually and decided to just go to sleep and leave it to fate as to whether I woke up in time or not. And 5 minutes after settling down to sleep the phone came to life again, so I was able to set the alarm.
Saturday morning came, and I set off to find the number 5 bus stop – however when I turned up at the area where I believed the bus went from there were a number of bus stops but none for the number 5, and no-one that I asked seemed to know where the number 5 bus went from. However, a café owner mentioned there was a bus that went from around the corner, which did indeed turn out to be the number 5 bus stop. 10 minutes stressful wait went by during which I almost resigned myself to missing the run as I didn’t think I would get there in time, and then the bus appeared. I asked the driver if he could let me know the nearest stop to Figgate Park, but he replied “Never heard of it!” Still not deterred, I got on the bus and followed the route on google maps (where would we be without smart phones?) and then was relieved when we went through the city centre to see a woman get on the bus wearing an Edinburgh frontrunners top and running leggings/shoes. She confirmed that she was going to parkrun, but was also a first timer and so had no idea where to get off the bus either. Fortunately, some other regular Portobello parkrunners got on the bus and they not only knew where to get off the bus but also kindly allowed me to tag along with them to show me the start.
After all the stress of getting there, and worrying that I would miss the start, I actually found myself there about 20 minutes early, and so I asked if there were any loos that I could use before the run. Apparently there aren’t any loos in the park, and this had been quite a contentious issue in the past and the one thing that goes against Portobello parkrun. But apart from that, I have to say that Portobello parkrun is perhaps the nicest parkrun that I have ever done. If Carlsberg did parkruns they would all be like Portobello (but with the addition of a nearby loo!).
Why so nice? Well, firstly the location is perfect – set in a beautiful park that seems to be a bit of a well-guarded secret as not only had the bus driver not heard of it, but neither had any of my local friends including one who had grown up in Edinburgh about 15 minutes’ drive away! The park is gorgeous, with a burn running through it that leads to a lake (called Figgate Pond) with a boardwalk and lots of wildlife including a heron that is often present, although sadly absent on my visit. The course is three laps of the park and is only slightly undulating. I particularly liked the fact that the path running down away from the lake is very close to the path running back up towards the start on the other side of the burn, so that as the runners spread out you can see the runners on the other side of the lap.
Secondly, the volunteers were lovely. The guy who gave the first timers’ briefing did it in an interactive way – getting us to walk through the funnel and showing where the barcode scanners stood etc. All the marshals on the route were encouraging, as well as those at the end on finish tokens/barcode scanning duty.
But what I particularly liked about Portobello is that the finish line is after a short straight section after the route peels off for the laps, and close to the start and where everyone left their things. So this meant that there were lots of people hanging around and cheering everyone in as they came up that final straight. I am very often one of the last runners to finish, and I am used to many runners having left and gone home by the time I finish, and yet here it seemed that lots of people stayed behind to encourage the slower runners.
And then there was a lovely café nearby for the traditional post-parkrun coffee, and to which a number of volunteers repaired to sort tokens, process the results etc. And the café had a loo which made up for the lack of loos in the park! Whilst in the café I got chatting to some of the other parkrunners and then we helped out the lovely Ella and her father to sort the 300 or so finish tokens.
It’s a close call as to whether I prefer Rosliston or Portobello as to my favourite tourist parkrun course; both are excellent. But both are pretty near as perfect as a parkrun could be, hence the “if Carlsberg did parkruns” title! And although I didn’t get an all-time parkrun PB which I put down to too many glasses of wine the night before, I am extremely glad that I made the effort to get up and out and to have completed my first Scottish parkrun. Thank you Portobello!