Since the start of my parkrun journey, Wanstead Flats has been my NENYD (Nearest Event Not Yet Done). It’s almost exactly the same distance from my house to Wanstead Flats parkrun as it is to my home run of Walthamstow parkrun. But when I first heard about parkrun I googled “parkrun” + “Walthamstow” and of course Walthamstow parkrun came up so I made it my home run when I registered with parkrun, and went to Walthamstow for my first ever parkrun – to volunteer at first. And Walthamstow parkrun welcomed me into the parkrun family and encouraged me to start running, and through it I have made good friends. Walthamstow will always be the place I come “home” to after touristing at other parkruns which up until now I’ve only done when I’ve been away for the weekend and when I’m too far away from my home parkrun.
When I first discovered parkrun I mentioned it to people at work and discovered my then boss regularly attended Wanstead Flats parkrun, and he encouraged me to give it a go. Yet I never did. And even though I would sometimes run on Wanstead Flats during the week, when it came to Saturdays if I was at home I wanted to go to Walthamstow, to catch up with all my lovely friends in the parkrun family and to try for a PB. On Christmas Day this year Wanstead Flats was one of a few parkruns that held an event and a number of friends from my parkrun family and from my running club all went there and posted photos on Facebook and shared horror stories of the mud at WF. Ah yes, the mud. Every time a friend ran at Wanstead they commented on the mud. So in my head I stored away that it was muddy and thought that one day I would try it out, but in the summer when the weather was better and the mud trails had dried out.
However, last year I joined a running club, Eton Manor AC. From time to time the club organises a “flash mob” at a local parkrun, and Saturday 20 January was designated to be a flash mob run at Wanstead Flats. Wary of slipping on the mud and injuring myself as a friend had done at Christmas, I decided to see what the weather was like and vowed that if it rained in the days prior to the run I would wimp out and not do it. And on the days prior to the run it did indeed rain – almost every day. On the morning itself it was grey and drizzly and I almost wimped out, but then suddenly my dad’s words came to mind. If we were out walking when we were kids and it started to rain he would counteract all complaints with “you’re not made of sugar”, and so I decided to go.
On arrival it seemed to tick all the boxes for a good parkrun. There was adequate parking, although the car park resembled a swimming pool in places with huge potholes filled with water – and a club house with loos; a pre-requisite in my books! Meeting up with the other Eton Manor runners we all exclaimed “whose crazy idea was this” as the weather was horrible, and the tower blocks near the start looked ominously on. Cold, miserable and grumbling we listened to the briefing and then made our way to the start, and then we were off.
The first part of the course is across playing fields which were waterlogged; I amused myself by watching how when the person in front of me stepped on the grass it set up a little spray of water from their shoe! Then the course moved into the woods, and that’s when the trail became really muddy. Sticky, claggy mud that bogged you down and made it really hard-going underfoot. I started off trying to pick my way through the mud by stepping on the side of the trail, wary of slipping and falling over. One guy trying to run past me did just that, ending up sitting in a mud pool. But then after a while I decided to give up trying to avoid the mud, and to give in to it and run right through the middle. And as the course progressed I found I was actually enjoying it. Because the trail was so muddy and sticky, it meant that I had to walk bits of it, and so I gave up all thoughts of getting a good time and just enjoyed being in the moment, running when I could and relaxed. It’s a two-lap course, so as it looped round there were places where you could see the faster runners ahead of you coming back, and also the slower runners, and so it became quite sociable, looking out for other Eton Manor runners and shouting the club cry of “Up the Manor” when I saw the tell-tale blue and white EM vests.
Before I knew it I was approaching the finish and the very organised barcode scanning station. Reaching for my parkrun wristband, I found that somehow it wasn’t on my wrist – I’ve no idea how it fell off as it’s quite tight. But no problem – at seeing my dismay one of the scanners asked my name, and then gave me my wristband which someone had found at the start and handed in!
After the run there was tea, coffee and biscuits for a small donation – bonus! It was too cold to hang around for too long afterwards, but I can see that in the summer on a lovely day it would be great to socialise afterwards over a well-deserved cup of tea. Wanstead Flats – I will be back. But on a nicer day!