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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