Category Archives: parkrun

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?

parkrun tourism: Exeter Riverside

We’ve visited several parkruns since Kingsway, but somehow have yet to write about any of them.  So I’m making a start on the backlog with one of our more recent trips.

For quite some time, Exeter Riverside parkrun has been the closest event to us that we hadn’t visited – with only Burnham and Highbridge, Yeovil Montacute and Killerton being closer (other than Longrun Meadow, of course!).  We kept being put off by the boring sounding course – out and back along the river path.  But a desire to meet up with friends in the area meant we finally took the plunge.

Step 1:  Locate a car park.  Pretty easy actually, as there are several in the area and it’s early enough that there are plenty of spaces.
Step 2:  Locate toilets.  After completing the intermediate step of flagging down a hi-viz, these were easily located at the climbing centre.
Step 3:  Locate the start.  This was accomplished through the traditional method of following people in running kit.

Everything located, the new runners’ briefing got underway – late.  A delay in accessing the store cupboard that morning had put everything behind, and the run itself was being delayed by 10 minutes to allow a runner-turned-volunteer to get back from setting up flags.  The megaphone wasn’t working, and so the briefing at the start was repeated several times.  I thought this was very considerate, as the number of parkruns that don’t have a megaphone is a frustration.

The start of the route heads out along the river path.  This was a bit of a nostalgia trip for me, as I have fond memories of the few riverside walks I took whilst at university in Exeter.  I’d been expecting to pretty much stay on that path for the duration, but we took a turn and crossed over the river.  The paths changed to tree surroundings, with a more off-road feel.

We then entered the university playing fields.  I spotted Ben across the other side and exchanged a wave, before starting the trek around the edge of the field (marked out by aforementioned flags).  It was windy and bumpy, but pretty nice to be able to see runners at different stages.  Exiting the field I couldn’t quite see where to go, and had to ask the marshal.  Turns out there was an arrow hidden out of sight.  Marshals – check your arrows can be seen!

160820 Exeter Riverside (Small)

Not sure who looks least interested

The route re-joined the main path just in time to cross back over the same bridge.  Despite everyone describing it as out-and-back, it was more like a lollipop.  Towards the end of the river path I was joined by Ben and Lani for the final stretch, before putting in just enough effort to not be overtaken on the line.

As Ben headed out for some extra miles, I faced the task of locating the barcode scanners.  The instructions at the briefing had been to “follow the other runners”, which is probably easier if you finish faster and haven’t spent time playing on stompy bridges with a toddler.

We headed in the direction of the climbing centre, and sure enough once inside I found a sign saying scanning was upstairs.  So it’s worth noting that while the course is (off-road) buggy friendly, you will have to abandon said buggy to scan in at the end.  Or access toilets.  Personally I found it a bit strange having the barcode scanning so far from the finish (they must lose a lot of tokens), but with the cafe and other facilities in the centre I can see why it’s done that way.

Overall, we all very much enjoyed our Exeter Riverside parkrun experience.  The course was much more interesting than expected, and it was a nice bonus to do some tourism closer to home.

Running on empty

Picture the scene.  After a week of feeling tired and generally not 100%, it’s finally Friday evening.  A text arrives checking if you’ll be at parkrun the next morning, and you send an affirmative reply (it’s pretty much the only running you do lately).  You then get very little sleep and are woken up by your sleep-deprived toddler at 5:45.  Your husband has been feeling ill in the night, so you’re on your own.

Do you:
a) hide under a blanket and concede to watching Peppa Pig all morning
b) get dressed and head out for a buggy parkrun

I’ve been trying to work out why it is that I chose option b.  Possibly because I’d told my friend I’d be there.  Possibly because parkrun has genuinely been my only exercise lately.  Probably because small children are much easier to look after in big outdoor spaces.

Longrun Meadow is one of the few parkruns we’ve been to that don’t tell buggies to start at the back, but we do anyway.  There’s a narrow bridge right near the start which is a big enough crush at the best of times.  So there’s lots of overtaking to be done.

It started pretty badly as I struggled to get past a few of the groups near the back, meaning my speed fluctuated greatly.  Efficient buggy-running is all about momentum, as the hardest thing is getting any kind of speed up.  When you’re overtired it’s even more important.

buggy parkrun (2)

At least after all that effort someone took our picture! (Credit: Graham Foster)

By the end of the first lap I’d overtaken quite a few people, but was also really starting to struggle.  Running with a buggy requires running fitness, strength and energy.  I had approximately zero of those.  And shortly after the 2 mile beep I did something I don’t ever remember doing at Longrun before.  I slowed to a walk.

Of course, this then made things harder when I started running again, as it took more effort to get speed up.  By the time I got round to the formerly-muddy bit I’d conceded that I would need to walk the entire bark section, saving what little energy I had for the better path that lay ahead.

As we left the muddy bit, I told my daughter that I was sorry for walking so much, and that I’d get her back as fast as I could.  This little voice replied “Doesn’t matter”.

Better ground and friendly faces got me round to the end.  Glances at my watch as I’d been going along had prepared me for what I’d see just after the finish.  I had completely smashed my worst Longrun Meadow time.

At the time of writing this, I don’t know my official time (my barcode didn’t scan correctly so I’m waiting to be added to the results), but I think it will be merely seconds quicker than my slowest ever parkrun (which was my first post-natal 5k).  So just a course PW then.

But you know what, it doesn’t matter.

parkrun tourism: Kingsway

A whole 3 weeks after our last parkrun tourism, we were on the road again – this time heading up to Kingsway in Gloucestershire.  This was a pretty logical choice for our next trip – just off the M5 and (from reports we’d received) buggy friendly.

The first thing we noticed was that the course information page for Kingsway was really helpful.  Plenty of information on parking and the facilities available.  We also copied down the directions – just as well as the sat nav tried to send us to a different part of the postcode.

Kingsway parkrun is based in a park right next to a sports pavilion.  When we arrived it was raining, but happily everyone congregated inside the pavilion so we were relatively warm and dry.  It did, however, mean relatively noisy conditions for the new runners/tourists briefing.  But the key information was confirmed: 3 laps, starting on the path near the pavilion, about half the course on grass or trail path.  Erm, what?  When I agreed to buggy run this one I’d been told it was mostly path.  In fairness, Ben did give me the option of swapping, but it seemed silly to do so at such late notice.

After a late decision on outfit choice (hoodie and short-sleeve t-shirt) I headed out to join everyone else.  With the number of people already lined up, I had to take quite a wide route on the grass to get to the back of the pack.  My buggy running confidence isn’t that great, and there was no space on the path further forward, so I was kind of glad to have to start at the back.

Kingsway1

With a rare spot of non-buggy tourism, Ben decides to attempt a sprint start

Of course, once we started I was a little less happy to be at the back.  The path wasn’t all that wide, and so there weren’t many early opportunities to overtake.  We’ll blame the path, not my lack of experience.  We quickly moved onto tarmac cycle path and I managed to get into a bit of a rhythm.  Then a couple of turns later I could hear a marshal saying “Watch out for the step”.

Great.  A step.  Actually, it wasn’t too bad.  It was just the move from the path onto the trail section, and by taking the corner a lot wider than everyone else the step could be easily avoided.  The ground was bumpy but pretty solid.  At around this point there were a couple of dogs jumping at each other, and so while trying to keep the buggy on course I was also trying to avoid a dog that kept jumping in front of us.

We soon got a view of some of the faster runners, giving me my first chance to wave at Ben.  The course turned onto a cycle path section, although I opted for the grass in places to overtake people. After another turn we moved onto a field, which was much smoother than the trail section and so a little easier technically, just tiring.

After some more cycle path we reached a similar gravel surface to the start.  This section would have been easier if I hadn’t been trying to take my hoodie off without stopping.  At Longrun Meadow, when you go past the finish there are swarms of people ready to take excess clothing from you.  Here I had to keep an eye out for an appropriate location, which turned out to be a bench.  Right in front of a photographer.

Kingsway2

Don’t even know where to start with this one…

And so lap 2 commenced.  With the field having thinned out a little, the going was a little easier.  That is, until the faster runners started coming through.  Being lapped was inevitable, but I was very conscious of not wanting to get in the way.  In a few places I deliberately slowed down to let runners pass me in a wider spot – and then regretted losing momentum when trying to speed back up.

Kingsway3

Navigating the turns and wishing I’d done more upper-body work

As I reached the path after the field, runners were lapping me thick and fast.  Including Ben.  This gave me the small relief that once I got back to the start I could drop off the buggy.  Also a relief for our daughter, who hadn’t enjoyed my awful steering on the bumpy ground.

So I started my third and final lap feeling strangely light, and trying to remember how to use my arms.  It was like running a completely different route.  The (many) turns were wider, the ground was firmer, and overtaking was a breeze.  Strava tells me the third lap was 2 minutes faster than the second.

I’d made a conscious decision before the run not to push myself too hard, so I had a little left in the tank at the end.  Which I obviously wasn’t going to use to finish hard.  Until there were a couple of people right in front of me.

Kingsway4

I honestly don’t heel-strike…

After the run there were drinks and cake available for purchase in the pavilion, and quite a few people stayed around.  We stopped to chat for a bit, and made use of the changing facilities before we headed home.

Kingsway parkrun was a more interesting course than I’d expected, with the many twists and turns giving it more character than 3 laps might suggest.  There were quite a lot of marshals on course, including a fair few juniors, and all of them were amazing in the support they offered.  The only question now is where to try next…

parkrun tourism: Mount Edgcumbe

It seems that parkrun is about the only running I do at the moment – damn knee!

A few months ago, we noted with some interest that a new parkrun was starting in Cornwall. We initially planned to head down for the inaugural, but things didn’t work out (and besides, inaugural tourism is a bit frowned upon by some!) As inevitably happens, weekends were filled with other things, but we eventually opted to simply book a hotel and that would be that.

We started following the event on Twitter and Facebook, and got a bit worried when, a week before our visit, this happened:

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“Regrettably we have had to take the decision to cancel today’s event. The course is blocked by a fallen tree.” Posted by Mount Edgcumbe parkrun on 5 March 2016 at 07:20.

Cue some panicking, and deliberation on alternatives – Lanhydrock or Plym Valley? The latter seemed more logical, but actually, from the hotel we were staying at, right next to Mount Edgcumbe Country Park, both were similar distances.

In the end, all the worry was for nothing. The weather eased off towards the end of the week, and on Friday evening, the event Facebook feed confirmed that the morning’s run was on!

On Saturday morning we woke up to glorious weather. We woke up earlier than we would have liked – but that’s what happens when you stay in a hotel with a toddler. Or indeed, stay anywhere with a toddler. All the stormy weather from earlier in the week had disappeared, and instead it was a beautiful, warm sunny morning with barely a breath of wind.

After a small breakfast in the hotel (mostly for the benefit of aforementioned toddler) we drove down to the recommended car park and tried to work out where we were meant to go. There was a small cluster of people on the path near the entrance to the park, but nowhere near as many as we would have expected to see at ten to nine! It turned out that most people met up by the house, where the run finished, and then walked down. It was something of a Flash parkrun (see abradypus’ parkrun jargon buster), and I’d be lying if I said that we weren’t a little worried.

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Start in the trees, and finish at the house. Uphill course, but not too bad. Oh, and you go via the top of the hill too…

We assumed that we would have missed the briefing, but no, that took place at the start line, so all was good! Without too much ceremony or fanfare, the briefing finished with an immediate “3-2-1-Go!”

If Carlsberg made parkrun starts…

Running with the buggy I often get frustrated at having to start at the back of the field, and then spend the rest of the race weaving through runners, and this is typically worst at the start, for obvious reasons. But at Mount Edgcumbe, the combination of a small field and a wide path meant that I had done all my major overtaking in the first 200 metres, and thereafter I could just run at my own pace. Well, walk and run.

I’d done a bit of research on the course. A tiny bit. I knew that:

  1. The course involved a hill.
  2. The course was off-road.

That was it. I didn’t know how much of a hill, nor how off-road the course was. Had I done, I might well have refused to run it with the buggy. After an initial run along the coast which was relatively flat, (far hillier that our entire home parkrun), the course turned inland and uphill. The subsequent mile was in fact, with brief two interludes, all uphill. Now, I don’t mind hills, and compared to the average runner, I probably actually quite enjoy them. But that isn’t necessarily the case when I’m pushing a buggy, and the terrain gets pretty rugged.

I dropped to a walk quite a few times, and I have to admit that it probably took away from the stunning surrounds. The entire of Mount Edgcumbe Country Park is absolutely beautiful, and I can tell you without reservation that the best way to enjoy it is not pushing a buggy up the damned hill as fast as you can manage. Even in my exhaustion (I kid you not, it’s only a parkrun, but that was among the hardest effort I’ve exerted on any run) I was able to take in a fair bit as we navigated up a series of switchbacks to reach the summit. Once at the top of the hill, I had to pause to take a couple of photos, it would have been criminal not to. Oh, and the accompanying rest was pretty handy too.

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The climb was definitely worth it for the views. Probably better in the other direction, but my photos that way are embarrassingly out of focus…

The course took a long loop around a field on top of the hill, giving you a good chance to look in each direction, before it dropped back down the hill, going back down the same paths we’d just climbed up. While the climb up the hill had been a tough calf workout, the descent was all about the triceps as I tried to make sure that buggy, toddler and runner all went in the same direction as the path. My daughter didn’t really enjoy this bit; the rough terrain at speed just resulted in a very bumpy ride, and I don’t blame her for moaning a couple of times here that she wanted to get out and walk.

With about half a kilometre to go, the route splits from the ascent to make its way to the finish by the house, but there is one last hill to climb first. Again, I have to admit that I dropped to a walk, but I managed to push myself back to a run for the final 50 metres to the finish line. My time was awful, but this isn’t a course where you can pay much attention to your time, and to be honest, it isn’t one where you should care much. The park is too beautiful.

On finishing, I found out that I was first buggy, ever, and the run director asked me how I’d found it. In summary: very difficult. I run with a buggy fairly often, and at a number of different parkruns, and this was by far the hardest place I’ve run with it. I would only really recommend it for people experienced at running with a buggy. Apart from anything else, if you chose this as the first place to run with a buggy, I don’t think you’d ever try it again!

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Annoyingly, she’s never willing to get out and push me during the run.

This was one of the two most scenic parkruns that I’ve done, (I’m not sure anything will compare with the ‘Wow’ of emerging onto the coastal path during Penrose parkrun), and almost certainly the most difficult. I’d recommend this event to everyone, and I’d love to try the course again without the buggy at some point just to see how I could do, but who knows; with so many parkruns still unvisited…

The small field (just 49 runners) and single lap course did make it a slightly lonely run, but as always, the marshals were all outstanding, and the atmosphere in the café afterwards (10% off with presentation of your barcode) was as jovial as you’d expect. All in all, a great event in a wonderful location.

parkrun tourism: Chipping Sodbury

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Note pyjamas under coat, and no socks or shoes!

On Saturday, we were off on our travels again to visit another parkrun in the south west. With Longrun Meadow, and a fair few of the other local runs, being off-limits to buggies at the moment due to the severe mud and puddles, we had a look for a more… benign course. Chipping Sodbury seemed to fit the bill perfectly: three laps of playing fields, all on solid paths. It did sound a little boring though!

parkrun tourism almost always means an early start, unless we’re staying away, and this was no different. A 6:45 alarm is slightly earlier than we have during the week, and it would have been earlier but for the fact that we’d got most of our stuff ready the night before! Unfortunately, one thing that we couldn’t sort out the night before was our lovely daughter…

Still, we set off around 7:40, which left us plenty of time for the trip up the M5 and a little way along the M4. Some research had indicated that there was plenty of parking, and that proved to be the case. There were also toilets at the car park, which is always appreciated after a drive! After a short new runners briefing, followed by the general pre-run briefing, we had a short debate about how many layers to wear. Lolly opted to shed her hoodie before we started, but I kept mine on, for the first lap at least.

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Finished! (Credit: Mel Warren)

The start line was a short walk from the car park, and even shorter for those of us forced to start at the back with buggies or dogs. That far back, I couldn’t hear when we started (invest in a klaxon for starting your parkruns, event directors!) but soon enough, we started plodding forwards. Despite being told that buggies had to start at the back, there were only two of us there, and at least four buggies taking part, but nevermind!

As usual, the start was pretty congested, and it wasn’t really until about three-quarters of the way through the first lap that I started making decent progress through the field and found some gaps to run in. The course, which is actually just short of three full laps, starts at the bottom of a shallow ascent of about 60 feet over a third of a mile. I didn’t really feel the climb on the first two laps, but certainly did on the third! It then winds its way through a little grove of trees, before coming back down on the other side of the playing fields from the start. A short sharp descent drops the runners down into a small car park by the scout hut, which also had a little speed bump buggy jump on it. It then turned through a little decorative seating area, turned a sharp bend and went through a staggered gate, across the car park, through another staggered gate, and back to the start. Technically, the end of the lap was by far the most challenging in the buggy, with a series of tight turns, especially the gates!

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Putting the “park” in parkrun.

The support was pretty good, mainly around the finish funnel by the car park, but also on the “down” section of the course, on the other side of the cricket club by the car park. One thing that I was very impressed by was a plastic sheet, which was used to put any outer layers that runners had stripped off onto. This was a great solution, as all too often, I’ve thrown my hoodie off, only to find it wet and muddy on the grass later.

I suggested in the first paragraph that the course looked a bit boring, and that is certainly what I’d been expecting. However, it surprised me a lot: although it was essentially a “road”-style course, rather than trail, it was varied and really enjoyable. As with all parkruns, the support around the course from the marshals was great, and everyone was friendly. We didn’t stop for a drink after, but we did sample the play park before a trip to Sweatshop to get Lolly (and me, sneakily) some new shoes.

parkrun tourism: Little Stoke

Over the Christmas period, Lolly was browsing around the internet, and was looking at some parkrun lingo. Some of it was pretty well-known, obvious stuff: DFYB = Don’t Forget Your Barcode, AOWALC = All One Word All Lower Case and similar. Among these we came across “Regionnaire”, which neither of us had come across before. Apparently, and reasonably logically, it involves running every parkrun in one region.

It didn’t take long before this became a new challenge, and we started asking ourselves a string of questions: How many parkruns are there in the South West? Which is the furthest away? How many can we do from home with a long drive in the morning, and how many would we have to stay away the night before? How many new events will have started by the time we get around all the current ones?

Us being us, it wasn’t long before a detailed spreadsheet with post codes, mileages and travel times was created. (We’re sad maths graduates.)

Little Stoke

It’s all about us runners who go round and round and round.

Around the same time, we were seeing the worrying posts about the future of Little Stoke parkrun, and the problems they were having with their local parish council. For those that don’t know about this, the information, and a link to a petition to support the parkrun, is HERE. To summarise, Stoke Gifford Parish Council want to charge parkrun, suggesting a fee of £1 per runner. As this goes against the “no barriers to running” policy of parkrun, such a fee would essentially drive Little Stoke parkrun out of the park.

We realised that we needed to prioritise visiting Little Stoke, just in case. So, last weekend, our alarm was set even earlier than on a weekday, and after much faffing about, we headed up. We’d seen that one of the concerns raised by the parish council was parking, so we’d been planning to park in the nearby Baptist Church and walk over, but we ended up getting there so early that there were loads of spaces at the park itself, and given we had a buggy with us, we decided just to park there.

While we were getting ready, we noticed a video camera there, which we later discovered was an ITV camera, for a short piece that they did on it for their local news. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, we didn’t get on TV! We were very surprised at how early the run briefing took place, and I have to admit that, for the first time as a tourist,
I missed pretty much the whole thing. I imagine it went something along the lines of “it’s a run not a race, one child on a short lead per adult, and keep dogs under 11 close”, or something like that.

It soon became apparent as to why the briefing had taken place so early – the start line was at the opposite end of the park, which was the best part of half a mile away. We ambled around, in no rush – particularly as I would be starting at the back with the buggy. I understand the rationale behind this, but I’ll be honest, I think it’s much more dangerous for me to spend most of the run weaving past slower runners with a buggy, than just to start a little bit further forwards.

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Little Stoke park. (Credit: Mike Faherty)

So, with Lolly further up the field, and me surrounded by runners with dogs by the back, we started. The course takes in three and a half loops of Little Stoke park, staying on a tarmac path throughout. About a third of the lap, from the start line, is nice and wide, which did help with overtaking a little bit, although not really in the mad crush at the beginning. The route is pretty flat, although there’s a couple of noticeable short shallow climbs. Being on tarmac was a treat for me with the buggy, particularly in comparison to Longrun Meadow, which has such deep puddles at the moment that it is pretty much a no-go for the buggy right now. As at all parkruns, the marshalls were great, particularly the chap who was on the corner by the start line, who was full of encouragement.

In all honesty, it is a bit of a dull course. Three (and a bit) laps of a field, when compared to the stunning coastal scenery of Penrose, or the combatitive terrain of Killerton, fell a little short. That said, if you were after a winter PB, it would be a good course to try – the finish funnel itself it is on the grass, but other than that, it is pretty flat, solid terrain that will provide good times all year around. Lolly tells me that they run a slightly different finish in the summer, coming back across the grass, rather than continuing around the path.

I guess now, the question is, where next? There’s still Exeter Riverside, which is pretty close by and yet to be experienced. But personally, I’m more tempted by this Cornish newcomer

Doing the parkrun double on New Year’s Day

There are only two non-Saturdays each year in which parkrun can be held: Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. As an added bonus, you are allowed to count two runs on New Year’s Day: if you can find two close enough to do with a big enough gap. Unsurprisingly, some pairs of parkruns arrange between them to stagger their start times to make this a bit easier. Last year, Little Stoke and Pomphrey Hill, both in Bristol, had done this, and Lolly and I were hoping that they would repeat it. However, rather than Little Stoke, it was Ashton Court which paired up with Pomphrey Hill this year. We hadn’t done Ashton Court before, so this wasn’t a problem at all!

7:30 – Leave home.

8:30 – Arrive at Ashton Court, and look around for other runners, in the hope that they can show us where to go.

8:40 – Give up on waiting and head in the direction we think must be right.

8:45 – Find start/finish area, ask for directions to toilets for last minute relief.

8:55 – Short warm-up and new runners briefing “Go up the hill until you get to that lodge. Then keep going up over the horizon. Turn left. Keep going up. Turn around at the end, and come back the way you came.” Spot Sam White from Longrun Meadow parkrun.

8:58 – Put hoodie, water, car key and asthma inhaler by tree. It seemed to be the bag drop area.

8:59 – Enter crowd of runners at the start, spot Al and Ben from Longrun, who I often run with. Remember I’m meant to be taking it easy because of my quads.

9:00 – GO! Ashton Court parkrun begins.

9:04 – Blimey, they weren’t kidding about the ups! Since when has Bristol even had a mountain?! Pace has dropped to slower than 10 minute miles, but that’s fine, I’m supposed to be taking it easy.

9:08 – Okay, seriously, is this still the first mile? *looks left* And how much longer does this hill go on for??

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A whole load of up!

9:14 – Turnaround point, finally. 13:53, which isn’t great, but firstly, I’m meant to be taking it easy, and secondly, the way back is downhill. I smile briefly at the photographer’s sign “See you at Pomphrey”

9:20 – Running downhill is FUN. Wheeeee!

9:23 – Okay, I didn’t notice that we’d gone downhill for a little bit at the start. That means an uphill finish, bugger. Oooo, lots of people to overtake. I’m sure my quads/knee won’t mind a little sprint finish. Overtaking people is even more fun than downhills!

9:25 – Regretting that sprint finish slightly now that I remember I’ve got another parkrun to go in just over an hour.

9:45 – After Lolly finishes, and another relief break, we’re back in the car to head across town. Now, let’s just not get lost – my navigation skills around Bristol are not great.

10:10 – Wow, we’re there, and actually in the right place, because it appears EVERYONE else is there too! After waiting in the queue for a while, we give up and find a space in the small housing estate opposite.

10:40 – After a bit of standing around, and a slight delay, during which two runners who had decided to run the 8 miles between Ashton Court and Pomphrey Hill arrived (nutters!), we were off again, to start our second parkrun of the day.

 

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Snaking our way long to start Pomphrey Hill parkrun.

10:41 – Hold on, I recognise that camera lens! Unexpectedly, father-in-law has come up with our toddler, arriving just in time for the start. (Had we read our text messages, this would NOT have been unexpected.)

10:42 – Far prefer this flat/downhill start to the course, as compared to the huge hill at Ashton Court. Probably running too fast, but it feels okay. And more fun. Unlike at Ashton Court, where me and Al had a gentler run, while Al’s son Ben ran off ahead of us, this time I headed off ahead on my own.

10:45 – Up Pomphrey! They weren’t lying about it being muddy. Better to go straight up the middle through the boggiest bit though, it provides more grip than the grass around it. Whoops! The chap next to me takes a bit of a fall, but he’s probably okay.

10:48 – What goes up, has to come dooooooooown! A bit too steep to be fun, really, but beggars can’t be choosers.

10:53 – Up Pomphrey again. Stupid shoe lace comes undone, which I then tread into the mud. A slight pause at the top to do it back up, and cake my hands in mud, and then I’m off again. Must run faster to catch back up to those around me. No, must remember I’m injured/coming back from injury/taking it easy. Meh, run fast it is.

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Repeat three times, and short sprint to finish.

10:58 – Glance at my watch, pace is sub-7; perhaps I’m getting a little bit carried away now really? But it’s the last lap, and I’m feeling good.

11:00 – One final time up Pomphrey, and this is more of a struggle. We’re lapping lots of runners, and a combination of that and the better part of two parkrun’s fatigue means that my pace really drops on the climb.

11:04 – Finished! Managed to more or less sustain my pace from the downhill through the final straight, though I opted out of a sprint finish; for once it just didn’t seem worth it. Quicker than Ashton Court, which is a nice boost.

11:16 – Once Lolly has finished, there’s time for a cup of tea, a bacon butty, and a few chocolates from one of the tins provided. Presumably one (or two) parkrunners wanted to remove temptation!

Although I’d been looking forward to the prospect of two parkruns in a day, and indeed had missed the first run of 2016 Somerset Series (the Chard Flyer) to travel up and do them, I had been a bit worried about whether it would be worth the early start and all the travelling. But it definitely was. Pomphrey Hill is a really good course, and while I was less impressed with the Ashton Court route, it certainly provided something different! The atmosphere was brilliant at both, even by parkrun’s high standards. In all, 171 registered parkrunners completed both events, and Pomphrey Hill’s attendance of 365 was a new record.

While my injury had prevented me from doing too much else around Christmas, Lolly made it 4 runs and 1 volunteering stint at 4 different parkruns in 9 days; she ran at Longrun Meadow on Christmas Day, marshalled at Longrun Meadow on Boxing Day, ran Ashton Court and Pomphrey Hill on New Year’s Day, and then ran Killerton on 2 January. Not bad – it’s just a shame that there is only one parkrun next week!