Category Archives: parkrun

parkrun at home: Longrun Meadow

The time had come for something both familiar and a little bit new – running at my home parkrun of Longrun Meadow. I’d last run there on Christmas Eve, splashing in every puddle on the course before starting my running maternity leave. As it happens, that was the last day that the old anti-clockwise course was used. Hence the new-to-me part.

Longrun Meadow parkrun is based in Taunton, in a green area that you may be able to guess the name of. Taunton has excellent travel links and so the parkrun is easy to get to. For us, the journey is typically a mile’s walk along the river. Today we were running a little late though (shocking how that happens with 2 small children!) and drove over. There’s parking available by Castle School, and quite a few people also park at Tesco. It’s also an easy cycle and doable walk from either the train station or the middle of town.

Once you enter the meadow from either Castle School direction or French Weir park it’s pretty obvious where you’re heading, due to the very visible Oak Barn. Those requiring pre-run facilities should head to the COACH building in French Weir park. Hoodies and water bottles are typically left on the various tables and benches in the barn.

The barn really is easy to spot!

I’ll be honest, I didn’t hear much of the run briefing today. There’s no megaphone and so you have to make sure to stand very close in to the barn to hear. A combination of handing over children to Ben, and chatting to club friend Eliza, meant that I was too far back. Still, it was pretty obvious when we needed to make our way to the start line. Something that I have only seen at Longrun Meadow, which may throw regular tourists a little, is that the first timers’ briefing is held AFTER the main briefing, once returning runners have been sent to the start.

There are two routes to the cycle path start – one follows the path and one cuts across the grass. If you’re at the faster end, cut across the grass otherwise you’ll get stuck too far back. I obviously opted for following the path. As with most path starts, those towards the back are a little distance from the start line, but as long as you’re in roughly the right place it’s fine. I was very pleased to hear the air horn that marked the start (so many starts can’t be heard at the back) and we were quickly off.

Other than the disorientation of going the ‘wrong’ way, the first thing I noticed was that I’d started my watch as a normal run, rather than the 3 min run/1 min walk workout I was supposed to select. My immediate thought was that this was a sign I should run the whole thing. Very quickly followed by remembering I am trying to re-build my body, not nuke it. So manual intervals it would have to be.

Starting out with friends

After the short section on tarmac (during which I waved to Ben and the children), the surface changes to the gravel path surface that makes up most of the course. We slowed dramatically to go over a narrow bridge (which is currently missing a fence on one side and so I’m guessing this was slower than normal). Soon after, there’s a quick dodge left and then right through some big gates. These are open first lap to avoid another bottleneck point.

The path then opens up a bit for a nice straight section, at the end of which you turn left and the surface changes to bark. Congestion struck again here as the usable space was only about 2 people wide, and a few times I found myself behind a pair running together. The annoying thing with run/walking is that you can sometimes struggle to overtake the same people on multiple occasions. The surface changes back to the gravel path but the width stays pretty similar for the other 2.5 sides of the square that take you almost back to the end of the straight bit.

A left turn takes you onto the beginning of a more twisty-turny section, and my favourite bit of the course. This is the bit most prone to puddles! There were a few good ones today, but sadly I was wearing my road shoes (the rest of the course was in good condition) and so didn’t splash. The path opens back up a little and then, after a bridge by a hedge, you suddenly find yourself back near the barn.

Excited that I hadn’t been lapped, I made my way through the best supported section (as basically everyone that isn’t a marshal is hanging round the barn area). A very small up takes you back onto the tarmac cycle path to start lap 2. Which is much the same as lap 1, but less congested and finishes earlier.

I was unsure how I’d find the 3/1 run/walk, but it went pretty well. I was careful not to push too hard and so managed to keep enough in the tank for a faster finish, which is a very satisfying way to end a parkrun.

Strong enough to finish on one leg

After getting my finishing token I was at the back of a big queue, as the funnel continues for most of the way to the barcode scanners. I opted to duck out of this to get water, although one well-meaning volunteer did tell me I should stay in order (which, if you haven’t got your finish token yet, you really must). After rehydrating and chatting to a few people, Lani helped me get scanned and then insisted we head off to the swings (apparently she’d been asking for quite some time…).

The adjacent French Weir park has great playparks for children big and small, and we also paid a visit to The Weir cafe in COACH for some much-needed refreshment.

This has been the weirdest parkrun post for me to write, as it’s completely different talking about an event I’ve run 45 times and attended many more. For example, I know that some Run Directors aren’t hampered by the lack of megaphone. I know that I preferred the course the old way round, but I also know that the congestion used to be horrendous. When you visit different parkruns you get a snapshot of how they are on that day for your pace. Over time you inevitably start comparing your home event to the best bits of all the others you’ve visited.

But I’m lucky that my home event has an interesting enough course, and a dedicated core team that really believe in it. I’m also lucky to live in the heart of a region with truly beautiful and varied events to visit. The question is, where to next?

Photo credits to Kevin Dunn, via Facebook.

parkrun tourism: Mile End

A child-free trip to London for the athletics seemed like an ideal opportunity for our next round of parkrun tourism, after a visit to Moors Valley a couple of weeks ago. For us Somerset folk, it is always a surprise to find public transport that is frequent, easy to use and even relatively punctual!

London parkrun tourists – you don’t know how lucky you are!

Of course, that public transport provides its own problems – from our hotel in Tower Hill, there were A LOT of parkruns within easy range. The parkrun tourist tool revealed that there were 32 parkruns within 10 miles, and all the top 50 were within 13.4 miles. To put that into some perspective, our second closest from Taunton is 15 miles away…

There were some tempting options: Bushy, obviously, but that was the 49th closest, and looked like a bit of a pain to get to by public transport from where we were. Valentines, a chance to get the letter ‘V’ if we were considering some alphabet tourism, but that’s not our focus right now. Ally Pally, one we’d heard positive things about. But ultimately, the decision came down to two things: (1) how easily we could get there (and back to Paddington after) using the underground, and (2) the availability of lockers and showers. That more or less left us with Mile End or Burgess, and ultimately, the course looked a bit nicer and Mile End.

All of this meant that at half past 7 on Saturday morning, rather than having a nice lie-in after a pretty late night cheering Mo, we were on our way back to Aldgate station. A short hop around to Liverpool Street, then a slightly (but not much) longer trip on the Central line to Mile End station, where we were surprised by a shout of “Cow cowls! We’re off to Wanstead.” It was the mother of the cow cowl herself, Kathy. Unfortunately, we were denied the chance at any conversation due to our opposite trajectories! From the station, we were practically there, with just a short walk through the park required to reach the start.

A pretty little park.

At first glance, the course didn’t look too inspiring – two laps, each an out-and-back with a little loop at the end. But after reading a couple of blogs, it sounded an attractive prospect, a pretty park with some… undulations. The advertised lockers were in the leisure centre right by the start, and after getting some change from the coffee guy, we stowed our bags, and were ready to go. Well, once I’d done my warm-up, anyway.

Unsurprisingly, given the World Championships, there were A LOT of tourists. In fact, 123 of the 317 runners were first-timers. There were also 27 ‘unknowns’, so almost half of the runners that scanned in were there for the first time! Despite that, 317 runners isn’t a huge increase for Mile End; they regularly get over 200, and have had over 300 runners a few times already this year. The two briefings, (new runners and pre-run) were both delivered a little quietly – a loudspeaker should be on the Christmas list here, I think!

With little fanfare, just a 3-2-1, we were on our way. And boy, was it a fast start! In what turned out to be a pretty fast field, I got lulled into haring off far too quickly, especially given that the first undulation appears pretty soon into the course. Half a kilometre in, the course rises again, more significantly, over Green Bridge. This was added into the park in 1999 to link the north and south sections that were split by the A11 – but rather than just add a footbridge to connect the two, they built a wide bridge that maintains the grass and foliage of the park. All of which meant that as far as I was concerned, going along at somewhere around my 5k PB pace, I was just going up a hill in a park.

A lollipop – with a slightly odd stick!

Shortly after the bridge, the course curves around to the right, to begin a loop which took the route alongside the Regent’s Canal for a short spell. As we headed back to rejoin the simple out-and-back, I was initially a bit confused by seeing other runners, as I’d forgotten about the loop, had been expecting a specific turnaround point, and assumed they were all ahead of me!

The first mile finished just before we crossed back over Green Bridge towards the southern end of the park again, and we continued through the trees on the gently curving path to the leisure centre. A single blue cone was positioned for us all to turnaround at this end, and head back out for another lap. Lolly and I had joked about who would get back first – me having finished, or her having completed her first lap, and as I ran the second circuit, this served as one of a few diversions from the struggle to maintain my pace. I was hoping for a sub-20 minute time, although a race on Wednesday, a general lack of sleep, and almost 30,000 steps the day before weren’t in my favour…

As it was, the undulating course suited me, and although Lolly just about managed to beat me (alright, by a fair bit, actually), I finished well under 20 minutes to record my second-fastest parkrun time ever. This probably isn’t a traditional PB course, but I tend to run well on courses with some undulation – my quickest overall time is at Shrewsbury, another one with some bumps.

After a sip of water, I jogged back out for a bit of a cool down, and to find Lolly. This also allowed me to enjoy the park a little bit more for its beauty, rather than just its firm paths! Jogging along gently, I was able to notice the fountain, and appreciate the trees, shrubs and general greenery. Lolly is still adopting a 2:1 run/walk strategy as she returns to running post-pregnancy, and amazingly, her time at Mile End was exactly the same as that a few weeks earlier at Moors Valley. I’ve told her that I’ll be very disappointed if she doesn’t exactly equal it next time out too!

Two sweaty runners – we were so glad for the showers!

Refreshed after the showers, we headed back across London just in time to catch the 11:35 out of Paddington back to Somerset – by which time we were well ready for our breakfast!!

So, what to say about the parkrun in general? The volunteers were all cheerful and helpful, as usual. The course was far nicer than the rather bland course description would suggest – the canal section breaks it up nicely, and the winding path and hills prevent it from being too monotonous. It’s an absolute doddle to get to using the tube, and is within Zones 1-2, which keep it cheap too. There is a coffee van at the course, and there looked to be a couple of cafes nearby too, though we didn’t sample either. The lockers and showers were vital to us, and the leisure centre staff didn’t seem at all bothered by the number of people using them (which isn’t always the case!)

Would I go back again? Well, no – but only because if I’m in London again, there are so, so, so many parkruns that I haven’t done there yet.

parkrun tourism: Moors Valley

When my parents asked if we wanted to join them on their New Forest holiday, the first thing we did was to research the area. By which I mean look at parkrun options in the area. Their chosen location was only 5 miles from Brockenhurst parkrun, but somewhere else caught my eye. In our quest to (slowly) conquer the South West, there are a few events left that would take us over 2 hours to get to from home. Even though we were staying in the South East, one of those far-flung events was a mere 15 miles away.

And so it was that after our first night of holiday we found ourselves heading back into the South West to Moors Valley Country Park. Slightly out of the habit of parkrun tourism, the journey mostly consisted of panicking about whether we’d got everything, whether we’d be on time, and whether we’d find the start easily. And for me there was also the tiny detail of not having run 5k since Christmas Eve.

Moors Valley parkrun is set in a country park jointly run by the local council and the Forestry Commission. There is ample car parking (apparently most of the visitors aren’t there before 9) and if you leave before 10.30 then it only costs £1. As ever, we immediately saw plenty of running kit and soon located some hi-viz and the start. After a quick detour to the Visitor Centre for toilets, Ben headed off on his warm up.

The new runners’ briefing was possibly the best I’ve been to yet. A big map of the course was held up so that descriptions about pinch points and possible hazards actually had context. There was enough time to grab a drink and tell spectating family where the finish was before the run briefing. Milestone and birthday celebration hats were lent out, which I always think is a nice touch.

Despite the briefing being right near the start, there was enough room to re-arrange into the right order. Or at least there was for me, but then I was heading towards the back. I selected a run/walk workout on my Garmin ready for the start and tried not to get far too excited that I was actually lining up ready for a parkrun.

Despite being surrounded, the Gruffalo’s Child was still not scared.

The route starts by going past the Gruffalo sculptures, which is always a good start to any activity, before turning to head down the main path. A decent width, solid (but not tarmac) path with trees on either side is a major component in my ideal parkrun. Needless to say I enjoyed this part, even with the slight gradual climb. The nice thing with not going for a time was that I was able to take a look around and enjoy the scenery.

After half a mile on that path, we turned left for more of the same. We passed what looked like some amazing play structures, and I thought we should head back that way after the run. As we made our way round, the picturesque paths continued. My only issue was that I managed to land weirdly on a loose stone and slightly turned my ankle, but thankfully it was just uncomfortable.

Shortly before the 2 mile mark was the landmark I’d been waiting for – the start of the out-and-back section. In a race, out-and-back just to make up the distance is quite annoying. In a parkrun I don’t mind it so much as long as it’s a sensible length (this one was). The higher percentage of friendly runners makes seeing people going the other way a positive experience. Still, I was glad to reach the end of it and know that I was getting somewhere.

The terrain changes slightly at this point, as narrower paths wind through trees and the surface changes to tarmac. There started to be more visible signs that we were working our way round and then across the golf course. Just as I was starting to doubt myself on how things were going, I saw on the path something that I think every parkrun should have – a 4k marker.

Shortly after, Ben appeared from further ahead on the course (having finished, located a drink, had a rest, and started his cool down) to join me for the end. The final section of the course winds around the lake (which Ben could see before I could, due to my travel-size nature). It really opens up, and you can see the finish and the paths leading to it. As Ben peeled off to avoid going near the funnel, I happily discovered that my run/walk strategy had left me with just enough to speed up for the finish.

Plenty of space to rest

The finish area is by a big open grass area (popular later in the day for picnics and barbecues) and also by one of the stations for the miniature railway. Barcode scanners were slightly further along the path, but very visible. I also liked the fact that there were pots for tokens by the side of the path as you left that area. Anything that reduces the chance of accidental souvenirs!

We headed round to the cafe, where our supporters were sheltering (I seem to have neglected to mention there was drizzle for most of the run). It was really nice to see so many parkrun people staying around afterwards – and with the selection of food available it’s easy to see why.

As I said to some of the core team afterwards, I would love for that to be my home parkrun. The balance of the course is one that I would happily repeat. Looking at their Facebook page, I did notice that Moors Valley often have to appeal for volunteers, so if you live in the area then please consider helping them out.

In terms of a parkrun to visit while on holiday, this couldn’t have been better. After food we headed out for a walk and found that the play structures were as good as they’d looked (there’s a whole Play Trail). There was also the tree top trail, miniature railway and brilliant playgrounds. We ended up staying for much longer than anticipated, and actually went back later in the holiday. Which is surely proof that a bit of parkrun tourism is good for you.

parkrun tourism: Bath Skyline

A week before, Salisbury had been our 24th different parkrun, and my 99th parkrun overall. Despite some wobbles, we’d stayed on track for my 25th (aka quarter-Cowell) and 100th to coincide. We’d journeyed to SeatonFalkirkPooleParke and Salisbury on successive weekends. The only remaining question was where to go for the 100th.

In the end, it wasn’t much of a decision: Lolly’s parents were down again, staying near Bristol for a family Christmas get-together, and so we enlisted them for some baby-sitting while we did the nearby Bath Skyline parkrun. Having steps, we knew that it was one we couldn’t do with the buggy, which was probably the only reason we hadn’t done it before.

Lolly had a great top made for the occasion.

Toilets before could have been a bit of a problem – a 90 minute drive with a toddler can often finish with a rush to the toilet, but thankfully the lovely homeless Little Stoke tourists ahead of us in the queue let us skip straight through! The parkrun community really is great.

The run starts a little distance from the car park, but after a short walk down, we had two tasks: new runner briefing and placing the cakes. Duh – 100th run, quarter-Cowell, parkrun. Three good reasons for cake right there. (Right, I should probably explain this ‘quarter-Cowell’ thing. Basically, Chris and Linda Cowell were the first man and woman to run 100 different events. So doing 100 different runs is termed the “Cowell Club”. 50 runs is a half-Cowell, and 25 a quarter-Cowell. The parkrun tourist jargon buster has this to say: “Quarter Cowell – your 25th different parkrun (cake!)” Sorted.

So, the course. Muddy? – Yes, particularly through the fields late on: definitely a trail shoe route; I mean, look at my back in the picture above. Hilly? – Well, actually, not that much. Other than the steps, most of the course is pretty flat. Pretty? – Very, although the stunning views of Bath’s skyline (it’s all in the name…) were obscured by the fog. As was mostly everything actually.

Pretty. Pretty foggy!

The course follows a distorted figure of eight, taking in one small loop of just over a mile, and another much longer loop of around two miles. The first loop drops gently down to the base of the 30 steps, which then bring you back up to about the same level as the start. I was caught a little out of position at the beginning, so spent much of this section passing people, and slipping on the leaves on the edge of the path! The route then turns back along a long straight to the start/finish, more or less level and on good solid footing. A left turn past the cheering spectators loops you into the trees once more. Again, most of the route through here was on good terrain, but there were a couple of pretty muddy field crossings, though nothing too troubling. The signage and marshals were excellent throughout, and soon we were back on the long straight to the finish. This time it really felt like a bit of a slog as we kicked on towards the end!

I enjoyed the course, though as ever with a trail route, I would have liked it to be a bit more technical, a bit more challenging. But that isn’t really that accessible for a parkrun, and there are plenty of races that give me that. It really is a good parkrun route. My time made it my third-quickest location, after Longrun Meadow and Shrewsbury, but that’s more to do with the fact that I didn’t have the buggy, and am running well right now, than anything else.

As well as my 100th run, it was also one of the Little Stoke tourists’ 100th, so there were double helpings of cake! This compensated a little for the lack of cafe (boo!) after. The out of the way nature of this parkrun, particularly with the start being a short distance from the car park, and just a track with no amenities at all (a trellis table was the height of civilisation), could have really hindered this run, but for whatever reason they don’t seem to. Everyone was just as friendly, organised and willing to hang around and chat as anywhere else. All in all, it was a wonderful place to do my 100th run!

Being a parkrun tourist

In some ways it’s really easy to define parkrun tourism – running a parkrun other than your home event.  In some ways it’s a bit more complicated, and (sadly) divisive, than that.

There are several types of tourism:

  1. While on holiday, looking up and attending a nearby event.
  2. Attending a neighbouring event because they’re doing something special or your home one is cancelled.
  3. Travelling further for no other reason than to attend a different event.
  4. Planning an entire trip away to attend a different event.

It’s pretty safe to call ourselves tourists – completing 25 different events when you live in the heart of the South West region and have a toddler is not something that happens by accident.  With a short-term goal for the year of making the Most Events table (20 events) and a long-term goal of becoming South West regionnaires (completing the whole region), 2016 saw us shift up a gear in our tourism efforts.

Making a day of it

So what does being a parkun tourist mean for us?

Early starts
We’re fortunate that during the week our alarm is set for 6:45.  We’ve (just) managed to make it to our home parkrun getting up at 8:25.  For some of our tourism trips the alarm has been set for 6:00, and even then it’s been a push to get out the house on time to allow for toilet stops en-route (because, toddler and pregnant woman).

Barcode paranoia
The golden rule of parkrun: don’t forget your barcode.  And if you’ve travelled specifically to tick off another event it would kind of suck to not get a result.  We have the plastic barcode tags, and keep one stored in as many running kit pockets as we can (they go through the wash, it’s brilliant).  Even still, we check that we’ve got them approximately every 5 minutes while getting ready to leave.  And for trips away barcodes are second on our packing list (a friendly local might print a barcode for us at a push, they can’t print a toddler’s much-loved toy).

Variety
Choosing different events to attend means getting to experience a variety of courses.  While I enjoy Longrun Meadow (particularly with puddles), it’s sometimes nice to run a fast tarmac course, or completely off-road.  To see countryside or the sea.  Or even get some hills in.  Every event is different.

Getting to know the locals

Spending more time together
Saturday mornings at the end of a long week can be wash-out zones, and it’s easy to spend the time relaxing separately.  Travelling for parkrun changes that.  For starters, there’s the entire journey there and back where there’s nothing to do but (gasp) talk to each other and compare thoughts on radio features.  But, strangely, with parkrun then taking up most of the morning we’re also more likely to visit a playpark or head to a cafe together as well.

A massive community
A common accusation pointed at parkrun tourists is that we have missed one of the main points of parkrun: community-building.  For me it couldn’t be further from the truth.  Yes, I have gained a lot from my home parkrun’s community and really appreciate seeing familiar faces any time I’m there.  But travelling around makes you realise quite how big the parkrun community is, and you get to meet new people to share your mutual love of parkrun with.  Whether it’s talking to volunteers, meeting up with fellow tourists, or just chatting to the person you happen to run next to, it really doesn’t matter which parkrun you’re at.

As for those types of tourism I mentioned, perhaps unsurprisingly we’ve done all 4.  We haven’t gone to the extreme of flying somewhere just to visit a different event.  Yet.  There’s still time.

parkrun tourism: Salisbury

In our rough ‘plan’ of serial tourism, event 24 was pencilled in as Southwick Country Park.  We’ve been to the area before and so are happy with the terrain for a week we need buggy tourism.  It’s a reasonable distance away though, and the day before the intended trip we were feeling plain tired.  Tourism seemed so unappealling.  So we did the natural thing and opted to go for a parkrun even further from home.

Salisbury parkrun was chosen not for its hour and a half drive but for its social potential.  We’d seen on Facebook that someone would be joining the Cowell Club (100 different events) there that weekend.  Driving 10 minutes further each way to chat to some fellow tourists seemed well worth it.

On arrival at Churchill Gardens, which has its own car park, the venue failed its first test.  Due to some vandalism the toilets were disgusting.  However, that’s not something that will be the case every week, and there are alternative toilets in the retail park down the road.  We made our way towards the start area (aka followed everyone else) and spotted various bits of path that were clearly part of the course.

The winter course at Salisbury is 4 laps entirely on tarmac paths.  This didn’t seem particularly enticing, but then we’d been pleasantly surprised the last time we’d done a 4 lap course (Skipton).  The new runners’ briefing confirmed that the most difficult part would be, in fact, keeping count of laps.

No wonder I get dodgy ankles

The route starts on a nice straight section, and then essentially follows the path around the edge of the park.  With a multi-lap course the role of marshals is even more important – if one is grumpy then the impact is multiplied.  Happily the marshals at Salisbury were cheery, and most of them were equipped with plastic hand clappers to help save their actual hands.

Laps 2 to 4 take a slightly different (read longer) route near the start, taking in more of the park’s interior.  That and, you know, making up the distance.  The park itself was nice enough to look at, with just about enough features to keep track of where you were in the lap.

Being lapped was inevitable.  In fact, the first few finishers lapped me twice.  It was pretty chaotic at times with so many people on different laps, and also demoralising each time a pacer lapped past.  On a practical level, two 25 minute pacers running side-by-side also created an extra bit of congestion.

One of them noticed the camera near the end…

This was quite a sociable run for me.  I spent part of the first lap talking to a lovely lady running with her twins in a buggy.  Then for the latter half of the final lap I chatted to the 40 minute pacer – a lovely guy who it turns out is a fellow tourist.

Near the end of lap 4 the course peels off to finish inside the loop.  Support at the finish line was pretty good.  Salisbury pride themselves on being an inclusive parkrun – they have quite a few walkers and have also had a run/walk pacer.  This means that slower runners feel less like the course is being taken down behind them.

I actually ran with people!

After a celebratory glass of bubbly (for Ben, not me) with the other tourists, we headed over to the nearby Starbucks.  We were happy to discover that they offer a discount for parkrunners, and also that the social atmosphere continued post-run.  I’m pretty sure it’s the longest we’ve ever stayed behind talking to people after a parkrun.  And the second longest that we’ve spent driving back home…

parkrun tourism: Parke

Ever since we realised that if we kept touring each week, we could make my 100th parkrun coincide with our 25th different event, we’ve been clocking up the miles. Seaton’s inaugural, Falkirk (for a wedding), Poole.

The following weekend, Lolly’s parents were staying with us, so we took the opportunity to run a course that I hadn’t wanted to do with the buggy: Parke. For a long time, it had been our NENYD (nearest event not yet done), but we just hadn’t had the chance to do it.

So what did we know about it beforehand?

  • It was a trail course.
  • It had some hills.
  • It was reckoned to be one of the toughest parkruns in the country.

Ideal for my 5-month pregnant wife, obviously.

Anyway, after what seemed like a lovely lie-in, we made our way down. There is ample parking, as Parke is one of the National Trust locations. For whatever reason, the car park machines were covered over, so the parking seemed to be free too. As always with a pregnant wife, a trip to the toilets was necessary before the run, which were conveniently located on site.

The run started, and I was immediately struck by the relatively leisurely start. Typically, I hare off, accidentally dragged along by the quick runners at the front. Here, I was still amongst the top ten runners, but was actually slower than my 10k pace. Gosh – was the first hill that bad that people were conserving energy for it?!

Well, sod that. I sped up.

Half a kilometre later, we hit the first hill. Oh boy. Pretty much two thirds of the 80 metres of elevation are compressed into the first kilometre. Things slowed down. I slowed down. I let people head past me – I don’t really bother racing up hills, particularly early on. It just kills your legs for the rest of the run*.

Eventually, the hill levelled off, and then started to descend again. Underfoot the conditions weren’t too bad – it was a bit slippy in places, but mostly firm. The course is essentially two different loops, meeting at a river. So all that climbing we’d done was reversed before the end of the first loop as we gently dropped back, before a sharp descent at the end, down to the river crossing to head out on the second, smaller loop.

This section of the course started along a pretty good track, but then turned right for another climb. This was one of those that looked far worse than it was – I’d been worried I’d have to drop to a walk, but as it turned out, it was pretty short and sharp, and I was able to power myself up it, aware of a runner not too far behind me.

We were going to go back and take a photo of the hill. But… it was a long way from the car park.

After some twists, turns and undulations, the route then dropped back down pretty sharply to the river, and from here it was just a relatively short run back up to the finish. I’d shaken off the runner behind me, and entertained brief hopes that I’d catch the chap in front of me, but it was to no avail. Still, I was surprised and chuffed to discover that I’d finished 5th, my highest parkrun position.

With my run** finished, I decided to head back onto the course to run Lolly in. After a bit of quick maths in which I compared my finishing time with her recent pace, and the state of the course left me none the wiser as to where on the course she would be. I reached the marshal at the crossover point, and asked if he’d seen a pregnant woman with a ’50’ top and a cow cowl, but he just looked at me blankly. I decided to head back down the first loop, and was immediately rewarded by spotting her!

During my repeat of the second loop with Lolly, I had somewhat more time to take in what gorgeous surroundings the run was in. Most of the run is in woodland alongside the River Bovey, and along with Penrose and Mount Edgcumbe, it has to rate as one of the prettiest we’ve done. As to how tough the course is? I find it hard to judge. I’d say that Mount Edgcumbe is a tougher course, because the climb goes on and on and on, over pretty rough terrain. On the other hand, I did that one with a buggy, so it’s always going to feel harder. I also ran this just a week after Brent Knoll, which even on a dry year was tougher. But then, it’s meant to be. So, yes, it’s a pretty tough parkrun course, but don’t let that put you off; it’s a cracker of an event!

* Race.
** Race.

parkrun tourism: Poole

Following back-to-back tourist weeks in Seaton and Falkirk, we took the sensible decision to get up really early and head to Poole.  That’s right, the place that’s an hour and a half away from Taunton.

Things we knew before our visit:  It’s a 2 lap course plus a little bit.  They have high attendance.  Loads of tourists have been there.  It’s known as a PB course.

So, actually, quite a bit compared to how ignorant I often am!

We arrived at Poole Park in good time, and easily found our way to the cricket pavilion (with, you know, toilets).  I was impressed to see a lamination station inside, so that people could get their printed barcodes laminated on the day.  Shouts soon went up for the new runners’ briefing, so we followed the signs (!) and headed over.

Pavilion

The briefing started with an overview of the course so that us tourist types could be dismissed.  This worked really well for us, and I suspect the smaller group size was also appreciated by the first timers.  In similarly organised fashion, the main briefing was given via microphone and loud speaker.  Looking around I started to get a feel for how many people were there.

We headed to the start, which was on a nice wide closed road within the park.  The course winds its way around the large boating lake on a combination of closed roads and paths.  The wide start area meant that the runners spread out reasonably quickly, restricting congestion issues to those times when you’re trying to overtake two people running together.

To my surprise I actually was overtaking a few people.  However, as expected, when we were in the small section outside the park I started to be lapped.  Not wanting to run crazily close to the lake (balance issues) there was a little bit of space next to me, and so I had the joy of being lapped on both sides at the same time which was a little intimidating.

Heading back into the park the slow and fast runners peeled off in different directions, as we started our second lap.  After narrowly missing a (non-parkrun) roaming dog, I looked up and across the lake.  The mass of runners spaced right around the edge of the lake made for quite an impressive sight.

Boating lake

At the end of the second lap the course turns to take a lap round the cricket pitch.  After a cheer from my personal fan club I felt pretty strong finishing, something which hadn’t happened for a while.  The finish funnel was very efficient, and then we were directed round the back of the pavilion to reach the scanners – not a big deal in my finish position but in the main pack it must make quite a difference.

It turned out attendance was slightly lower than normal that week at just over 580 runners.  Unsurprisingly this gave me my biggest ever finish position number at 534.  The course did live up to its speedy reputation though – it was my fastest time for 10 weeks and Ben managed a buggy PB.

parkrun tourism: Falkirk

“What’s the furthest you’ve ever travelled for a parkun?”  A reasonably common question asked of parkrun tourists.  For us the answer is probably Mount Edgcumbe, given we went away for the weekend specifically for parkrun.  The answer is not Falkirk, because we were in town for a wedding and so only actually went 10 minutes down the road.

The first thing you notice when doing your first Scottish parkrun is the start time, as they start at 9:30.  Extra sleeping time for some, but in our case extra time to kill in the hotel.  We stretched things out long enough that we arrived at Callendar Park just before 9, and so took a slow amble towards the start.  The next thing that we noticed was that it was very, very cold.  There was even a van out gritting the paths.  Good thing we’d joined the Most Events table the week before and so been able to purchase our Cow Cowls.

Hanging around near the start, one of the volunteers started chatting to us about the course.  Really handily he ran there with a buggy, and so was able to give Ben some useful information.  The main gist was that the course goes steadily up, then steadily down, then steeply up, then steadily down.

After a visit to the in-park toilets (yay) we started to de-layer, trying to work out what level of clothing would be appropriate.  The de-layering was accompanied by adding additional layers to our long-suffering daughter, who wouldn’t exactly be warming up on the way round.

On a cold and frosty morning

The run briefing included an interactive shout-out for the golden “No barcode, no time” rule.  There was last-minute further de-layering, and then we all walked over to the start.  From my now-customary position at the back of the field I had plenty of time to take in the surroundings.

The run starts on solid gravel path, heading past a lake that was covered in mist.  It then curves round onto more of a trail surface – still solid though – as the uphill climb starts.  The climb that goes on forever.  Or, you know, a mile.  Which is basically the same thing.  Still, the surroundings were beautiful, with trees and at least one small stream on the way up.

At around the mile mark the course splits into a loop, as the course is a weirdly shaped lollipop.  Having taken the chance to enjoy the scenery, the first runner started heading back just before I got to the split.  Not an unusual phenomenon these days!

For me, the next short section was the most enjoyable, as the path mostly flattened out but the woodland surroundings continued.  I briefly fell into pace with another runner, giving the opportunity for a quick chat.  And then the downhill started.

I learned something important in Falkirk:  running downhill when pregnant puts pressure in all sorts of weird places.  It was pretty uncomfortable, so I took it fairly easy.  Things got worse as the terrain changed back to tarmac as the paths were icy.  Downhill + icy path + distorted centre of gravity = extreme caution.

She was a bit cold…

Still, the downhill ended and the grit started, and there was a brief respite from obstacles.  It was also a section of path that we’d walked on earlier on our way from the car park, so it was familiar.  And I also knew what was next.

Heartbreak Hill is a defining feature of Falkirk parkrun, and was pretty much the only thing I’d heard about beforehand.  Being of the speedy frame of mind I took the mature decision to not even attempt running, and just power-walk up the whole thing.  Definitely the right choice.  The hill eased off just before the marshal at the top, which was the perfect opportunity to start running again.

And so began the long downhill back to the start.  The discomfort of heading downhill meant I had almost as much time to enjoy the scenery as I’d had on the way up.  I couldn’t believe that no one had mentioned how nice the surroundings were.  The trail path ended and it was back to the gravel to run alongside the no-longer-misty lake to the finish.

I wasn’t exactly warm either

We chatted with a few of the volunteers and then headed back to the car to drive to the nearby Orchard Hotel for a well-earned post-parkrun breakfast.

A surprisingly beautiful parkrun in a lovely park, with a friendly welcome.  Can’t really ask for much more than that!

parkrun tourism: Seaton

We’ve done a fair bit of parkrun tourism this year and, as our tourism page is starting to show, have been a little neglectful when it comes to writing them up.  So I’m turning over a new leaf and writing about Seaton parkrun within a few hours of its first event.

Inaugural parkrun tourism is a bit of a controversial topic, as in places like London it can completely overwhelm a new event.  This is only the second time we’ve attended a first event (the other being Burnham and Highbridge), and in both cases it’s just happened to be a weekend that worked out well.  Having said that, even with all the inaugural tourists today there were 188 finishers, so definitely a different scale to London!

Seaton parkrun is a two lap out-and-back course along the promenade.  I realise that makes it sound boring, but stick with me!  Having parked up in our ‘usual’ Seaton car park, we walked down to the prom and I was relieved to see toilets by the start/finish area.  When you’re nearly halfway through pregnancy these things are crucial.

While we waited for the start, Ben had a trial of taking the buggy on the pebble beach, and determined it just wouldn’t work.  One of the Event Directors spoke to us and confirmed our suspicions – that the course page shouldn’t have said buggies are welcome.  She was very lovely about it, and Ben worked out a way to complete the course without having to take the buggy on the beach.

We crowded round for the run briefing, which I thought was very well done to balance the needs of both tourists and local first timers.  I particularly liked that we were told to keep people around us quiet, as chatting during briefings gets annoying.  Having bunched up into the crowd, we then had to fight our way to the back for the start.  Ben because he had a buggy and me because… I wanted to give the others a chance?

As invariably happens starting at the back, I didn’t notice the start, so started my watch a little late.  But we were off.  First up is a short trip to the end of the prom, filled with shouts of “Keep left!” as runners started heading back the other way.  The cones to turn around were nicely spaced, so that the turn wasn’t too sharp and it also naturally separated the two directions of runners.

Next task: run to the other end of the prom.  The path is tarmac all the way, making it really easy to run on.  Unsurprisingly, quite a way before I reached the other end there were runners heading back, but the path was wide enough (for the majority that were considerate) and it added to the atmosphere.  Before long we’d reached the end of the prom path… only that’s not where the course turns round.

The final bit of the out-and-back is, in fact, on the pebble beach.  Perfect time to take a little walk break.  Although, even walking was hard work.  Ben later confirmed that he had left the buggy with the last marshal on the path, taking the pebble section unaccompanied.  Still, after the pebbles I felt a spring in my step returning to tarmac, and had no problem returning to a run (at my typical speedy pace).

The promenade path at Seaton is on the beach side of the sea wall.  While on the way out we’d been running next to the wall, on the way back we were running next to a drop, beyond which was pebble beach and then glorious wavy sea.  Faster runners started to overtake, and we were encouraged to keep as close to the left of the path as possible, which was a little tricky given the drop and my misplaced centre of gravity.

The backdrop

The backdrop

Going past the split for the finish, there was the nice feeling of (mostly) just having to do the same again… and knowing that no one else would lap me.  As I trundled along to the first end I suddenly looked up at the beautiful cliffs, and realised quite how beautiful a location I was running in.  I then encountered an incredibly rare hiccup in a well organised event, in that runners who had already finished were stood across the course.  Sadly this is a common sight for slower parkrunners.

My trip back down the prom was spent admiring the views, thanking marshals, appreciating cheers from faster runners, and listening to the gushing waves.  Gosh I was glad those toilets had been there.  After successfully navigating the pebbles a second time, it was onto the home stretch to head back.  I was joined for a short while by a very happy 3 year old, who I had to hand back to Ben before taking the split to the finish.  Which is on the beach.

It didn’t seem right to walk so close to the end, so instead I just considerably slowed down.  Then I heard people coming up behind me, and much as I take parkrun at my own pace I still hate being beaten to the line.  So the last few metres may have been taken a little harder than planned.  Ben’s tactic for this section had been to leave the buggy at the start of the beach, and then walk to the end with our long-suffering daughter.

Say "parkrun tourism"

Say “parkrun tourism”

Finish tokens and barcode scanning went very smoothly, and we had the chance to thank some more of the volunteers before heading to the nearby Pebbles cafe for post-run tea and milkshake.

The event was incredibly well organised, better than a fair few longer-running events we’ve been too.  The atmosphere was brilliant.  Every single marshal was smiling, clapping and cheering (sadly that’s not always the case).  The runners were also great at cheering each other on – Ben in particular found he got a lot of encouragement (for being the nutter with the buggy).

So this brand new parkrun is very definitely on our recommend list, as long as you don’t run with either a dog or a buggy.  Now, where to next?