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.
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.
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!