Tag Archives: parkrun tourism

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!

parkrun tourism: Skipton

A few weeks ago… *ahem*

Okay, okay, we’ve got a bit behind, and it was a whole month ago!

Even managing a cheery wave! (credit: Graeme Easton)

Even managing a cheery wave! (credit: Graeme Easton)

A month ago, Lolly and I visited Skipton parkrun while we were on holiday in the Yorkshire Dales. We’d gone with Lolly’s parents to celebrate their anniversary, and when they were asking where we’d like to go, our only suggestion was that it should be somewhere near a parkrun. (Not that we’re obsessed or anything… much!) Once the location had been settled, we started to do a bit more research on the run; finding out where it was, and how the course was. One fact jumped out at us. Four laps. Neither of us much fancied the idea of four laps, and further investigation revealed that each of the laps involved a hill, and an out-and-back section. To be honest, the course sounded less and less appealing the more we read! But, all that said, we weren’t going to miss it just because of a few quibbles!

One benefit of visiting the course with family was that we could leave Leila with one of her grandparents, allowing both of us to run buggy-free – a bit of a rarity! After a slightly lengthy pre-run chat, in which the winners of the annual points competitions were announced, (it was their second anniversary run), we lined up and counted down for the start. I was immediately somewhat concerned about the fact that rather than lining up according to pace, as we do at Longrun Meadow, the start line was in fact full of children. Frankly, it was a mess. I appreciate that parkrun is a run not a race, but having lots of children starting in front of quick adults is a recipe for knees into children’s heads, and children under adult’s feet.

Not so cheery looking! (credit: Graeme Easton)

Not so cheery looking! (credit: Graeme Easton)

Thankfully, I managed to clear most of these children without any serious problems along the first straight, though Lolly continued to navigate them as we turned up a hill along a relatively narrow, slippery path into a wooded section of the course. It was while we were heading along this section that I noticed kilometre markers spray painted onto the floor. The first marker we passed was the 4k, then 3, then 2, and eventually we passed the 1k marker which was actually relevant on the first lap! By this stage, the course had wound its way up through the trees and turned back down a hill to the out-and-back section. After navigating this, we then headed along the straight for the second lap.

Being on holiday, and not knowing the course that well, I wasn’t pushing over hard, and settled in with another runner who seemed to be doing the right sort of pace. By the time we reached the out-and-back section for the second lap, we started lapping people, and from that stage on we were constantly passing other runners. This was part of the concern that I’d had about a four lap course, but actually it was really nice to constantly be around other runners. Being a “quicker” parkrunner, it can actually get a little lonely at times, but on a course like this that wasn’t an issue. Maybe if I was pushing for a PB, it could get annoying having to weave around people, but as a relaxed holiday parkrun I actually found it very enjoyable.

Coupled with that, the shorter laps helped to break up the run. (Weirdly, I can happily go and run 10 miles along a boring loop around town, but a 5k benefits from being broken up.) It certainly helped with pacing, though Lolly opted for the contra-strategy of pushing extremely hard on her third lap to prevent me from lapping her as I came around to complete my fourth!!

Cake!!

Cake!! (credit: Graeme Easton)

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I’d finished in 14th in a time of 20:56. While a fair way from being a PB, on a course that involved hill repeats, I was more than happy to come in sub-21. After eating the obligatory parkrun birthday cake, we cheered Lolly in to the finish, in 27:07, much quicker than she’d been expecting, and then ambled back through Skipton to enjoy the rest of our holiday! We did initially have concerns that the course might have been short, given that both of our Garmins had measured about 3 miles. However, on reflection, the tree cover, and the sharp corners, particularly the 180 degree turn on the out-and-back are not at all Garmin-friendly. Given how easily the course could be lengthened along that out-and-back stretch, we marked it down as a surprisingly good run for both of us!

Despite our preconceptions, we both really enjoyed the course, and would definitely run it again if we were back in the area – and being such a nice area, that’s certainly on the cards – though we might have to take a buggy around next time…

parkrun tourism: Penrose

For a while I’d been reading rumours about a parkrun starting up near where my parent live in Cornwall. The nearest parkrun for a long time was Lanhydrock, and that was realistically too far, at just over an hour’s drive. So I was overjoyed when I was pottering about online and came across a reference to Penrose parkrun: within hours I’d arranged a trip down to visit my family! (I do love them really…)

As seems to be a trend in my reports, my preparation was not ideal. It was my birthday on Thursday, so we had massive takeaway pizza, and red wine. On Friday, at my parents, I had two takeaway meals from the Chinese, and a huge slice of triple-layer chocolate birthday cake, and red wine. On Saturday morning, the last thing my body was up for was running.

The views were stunning (credit: Graham Horn)

The views were stunning (credit: Graham Horn)

Penrose is a lovely area between Helston and Porthleven on the south coast of Cornwall. People might suggest I’m biased, coming from there, but it is actually a fact that nowhere else in the world is as nice. Seriously, ask those people on QI or something! The Penrose estate is managed by the National Trust, and is mostly woodland around a lake, Loe Pool, and along the coast. So it isn’t really a surprise that the scenery on this run was pretty stunning. Even being familiar with the area, my breath was somewhat taken away when we turned the corner to run on the clifftop above the sea for a short stretch. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Although the course info advised parking in a big car park at the bottom of Helston and running a couple of kilometres to the start, we opted to take the other option, and squeeze our car into the much smaller car park only a few hundred metres from the start. I do feel sorry for any holiday makers who had decided to pop out for an early morning walk and found the car park overflowing, but never mind! Next time, now that I know where everything is and what’s going on, we’ll probably run there, but I preferred being nice and close first time around.

The start was reasonably well organised, the estates old stables provided the meeting point, and after a typically friendly welcome and briefing, we were shepherded to the start line, and after a 3-2-1-GO, we were off!

Knowing that there were a few hills, and that my body probably wasn’t in peak condition, I had decided to take it easy for the first mile, and then see what I had. Or, as actually happened, sprint off like a gazelle, and hope that the cheetah tired before I did. Yeah – my pacing is AWFUL. If you ever want to run consistent splits, and you’re near me… just do whatever I’m not!! The first mile ran mostly alongside Loe Pool, but in all honesty, I don’t recall seeing the lake much. It might well have been visible and pretty, but I was mostly watching the feet of the two runners just ahead of me, and not really concentrating on the gorgeous scenery I was raving about earlier. At least, not until I rounded that corner and joined the south west coast path.

Spectating cows! (credit: Penrose parkrun)

Spectating cows! (credit: Penrose parkrun)

The views around Mount’s Bay were simply stunning. Unfortunately, while parkrun is a run, not a race, I wasn’t about to hang around lollygagging. After a reasonable stretch running along the coast above Porthleven Sands, we turned away from the sea, and up hill. This is more or less where my lack of preparation kicked in – the climb isn’t that severe, about 150 ft, but in trying to stay with the people around me, I pretty much destroyed my legs, so when the course flattened off at the top, I had nothing left for the final three-quarters of a mile. This second half of the course is predominantly on smaller tracks around fields, and the footing is a little bit trickier than the paths at the start, but still nothing too serious. A final dash around a field of spectating cows led to the finish line.

For a relatively new parkrun, it was very well organised, particularly given the distance between the start and finish lines. There was even one of the core team offering to laminate barcodes for the runners to make it easier on the scanners – if that isn’t service, I don’t know what is! All in all, a brilliant parkrun, and I would highly recommend it to anyone in west Cornwall on a Saturday.

parkrun tourism: Burnham and Highbridge

Just over 6 months after our visit to Pomphrey Hill we hit the road again, this time to try something new. Brand new. Our first spot of inaugural parkrun tourism, and a mere 15 miles away from our home event.

Burnham and Highbridge parkrun is, as the name suggests, in Burnham-on-Sea & Highbridge. It was pretty straight forward to locate, albeit having the use of a satnav, and there is a free car park right near the start/finish. As this was the first event we had no idea how many people to expect, but the car park filled up nicely, and we even found a few more friends from ‘home’.

the route

The water did look blue, promise!

After speeches from various officials, and the standard pre-race briefings, the group of runners all set off, seeming very chirpy for a Saturday morning.  The course starts in a park (how novel!), winding its way round a lake and other pretty scenery.  And a playpark, which is useful to note for future reference.  The route then heads out onto the river path (more running near water) – which eventually becomes the esplanade (yet more running near water).

Partway along the walkway, lovely marshals directed us round a building and back the way we came.  The turnaround point is at roughly the 2 mile mark, and so on return the course leaves the river path a little earlier to cut back into the park.  The finish sneaks up on you somewhat, due to its position near a corner, but I was lucky enough to have friends warning me of this. (Ben: This was me and Iain, screaming madly “the finish is just around the corner, you can sprint from here!”)  And a Garmin beeping for 3 miles always helps as well.

Untitled by Mark Benton, on Flickr

Credit: Mark Benton

We’d been a little nervous beforehand about the out-and-back nature of the course, but I found it worked really well.  Being near the middle of the pack I had the benefit of seeing runners going the opposite way both out and back, and it really added to the community feel of the event.  Turning around a building also helped to ease the jerking feeling of doubling back.  Another factor with the paths used is that the surface is excellent quality throughout.  Not one to try if you love fields and tracks, but definitely one to chase PBs on.

It’s definitely a parkrun we’d like to head back to, and its proximity means it stands a good chance.  There were 144 finishers on Saturday, and while we were by no means the only visitors the results show 58 people completed their first ever parkrun.  And given their location I imagine that summer tourism will see many paying them a visit.

parkrun tourism: Pomphrey Hill

This post originally appeared on Ben’s old blog, Running From the Physio.

At the weekend, my wife and I headed off again to try out another parkrun. This time, a Christmas party in Bristol with my wife’s family was the excuse. There are four parkruns in and around Bristol: Ashton Court, Little Stoke, Pomphrey Hill and Chipping Sodbury. There is also one in Bath. As we were staying in Keynsham the two most logical options were Pomphrey Hill and Bath, and despite the worrying aspect of the name, we went for Pomphrey Hill.

As luck(?) would have it, Ira Rainey (one of them there Twitter folk: @IraRainey) was run director for the day, so I had a ready source of information for the event, and it would be a good excuse to meet him face to face. (In a public environment, in case he turned out to be a mad axe-murderer.) He proved to both supply good information, recommending trail shoes rather than road shoes, and not be a mad axe-murderer (at least, not on a Saturday morning…)

A cold and frosty morning for a run. (Credit: Ira Rainey)

I wasn’t too keen on the idea of three laps, but on the other hand, I’d raced in the Street 5k series early in the week, and that consisted of five laps, so three didn’t seem quite so bad. The run briefing was fun and interactive, and definitely one that other parkruns could learn from. For example, asking if any runners have hit an “anniversary run” helps to avoid cliquishness that might otherwise set in. With all that done, we were asked to step back behind the line, which ruined my cunning plan to shave half a second off my finishing time!

Pomphrey Hill is quite a small parkrun, typically attracting less than 100 runners: with this in mind, and a look at previous results, I knew that I should be running in and around the top 10, an unusually lofty position, and one that normally means I’ve set off far too fast!

So, the course:
In many ways, of the local parkruns I’ve done in the past couple of months, this one was most similar to our own at Longrun Meadow. It was run entirely on paths around a playing field, though they varied between light gravel, tarmac and bark. The major difference was the hill. Longrun Meadow is pretty pancake like. Pomphrey Hill, as the name might suggest, is not. The cry of “Up Pomphrey!” during the run briefing gave me the idea that this possibly was not “just” a hill. Actually, as Ira pointed out at the end, it’s only actually just under 40 ft of climb. However, the steepness, combined with the fact that this was the spongy bark-covered part of the course made it more sapping than perhaps it should have been. Of course, what goes up must come down, and in its own way, the descent was as difficult as the ascent: the frosty morning meant that despite the salt that had been put down, footing was a little hairy on the tarmac path back down the hill.

The great advantage of multiple laps is the obvious fact that after the first time around, you know what’s coming and can adjust your pace in anticipation: be that slowing for a hill, or accelerating because there isn’t far left. The disadvantage is that when you have just got to the top of a hill, you are aware that you still have to run up it another twice!! Still, on balance I think I actually quite enjoyed the shorter laps, as it helped me to maintain a more consistent pace than I typically manage at Longrun Meadow.

Back to my run:
I spent much of the race in tenth place, and pushed up to eighth on the climb Up Pomphrey on the final lap. Despite actually being slower up and down the hill on my third lap, I held on to eighth place, and even put in a trademark sprint finish to cement it. Once I’d finished I looped back on the course a little bit to cheer on my wife, who was coming around to start her final lap, and had a chat to a couple of the other runners. Unsurprisingly for a parkrun, particularly a small one, everyone was very friendly and chatty: it’s great to be part of such a nice community, even when miles from home!

Final analysis: I finished in 21:05, my second fastest parkrun anywhere, which was something of a surprise given how much harder the course felt (and the fact that my watch said 21:22, but no more about that!) My wife completed her first parkrun since July, since when she has been beset with chest problems. All in all, a good fun morning, and a course we both want to go back to.

parkrun tourism: Yeovil Montacute

This post originally appeared on Ben’s old blog, Running From the Physio.

A couple of weeks ago, I headed out for a little more parkrun tourism. It came hot on the heels of a visit to Killerton, and was the last week in a five-week absence from my home parkrun (rest, illness, Killerton, rest, Yeovil). I was quite tempted to just head to my home run after so long away, but this bit of tourism had been planned for a while, so I stuck with the plan.

Location:
This is technically the next closest parkrun to me after Longrun Meadow, although the differing quality of the roads means that it takes more or less the same time to do the 22 mile drive to Yeovil Montacute as it does to drive 28 miles to Killerton. Like Killerton, the Yeovil Montacute run is located in the grounds of a National Trust property. Unlike Killerton, the route goes right past the house, with the east façade (pictured) providing a gorgeous backdrop to the run. Admittedly, despite the size and glamour of the building, my attention was elsewhere while running!

The stunning Montacute House (credit: Mike SearleCC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Terrain:

Again, this varied completely from either of Longrun Meadow or Killerton. The route was entirely run on grass, and undulated throughout. The course was reasonably dry when I ran it, but I suspect that some of the ditches that I dropped down into would get quite tasty in the winter months. In fact, the ditch jumps, which Sarah (@mia79gbr) raved about so much in her blog post back in April, were the main reason I wanted to do this course so much. What I did forget reading in her post was that there was a “massive hill in the last kilometre”. This did catch me a little by surprise. It shouldn’t have done, but it did. Underfoot, the course is most similar to a cross-country course: my trail shoes performed admirably, but a set of XC spikes would probably be the most effective. Once it gets a bit wetter, this isn’t a course I’d recommend attempting in normal road shoes, I suspect you’d slip all over the place!
Course:
The route takes in one “little lap” and one “big lap”. At the end of the first lap, the little one, you are running directly towards the house, the finish and all the cheering supporters. This provides a similar boost to the traditional lap set-up at Longrun Meadow, although I didn’t see a similar boost in pace! The big lap then completes an entire circuit of the grounds.
Summarising, I really enjoyed the run. I ran a slower time than I’ve achieved at either Killerton or Longrun, although my pacing was pretty awful, so that will have played a part. It is less well-attended than either of those as well, which did make the latter part of the race a little uncompetitive: it was pretty clear that I would finish 17th, no higher and no lower, for the last mile of the run. That said, as with every parkrun I’ve attended, the support was great from all the volunteers and spectators, and I would love to go back when it’s a little bit wetter! Additionally, I’m really glad to have three such completely different courses as my three nearest parkrun events.

parkrun tourism: Killerton

This post originally appeared on Ben’s old blog, Running From the Physio.

Firstly, a question: as a brand name, “parkrun” isn’t capitalised. Grammatically this is clearly incorrect, it is a proper noun, and therefore should take a capital letter. However, as a corporate styling, it doesn’t. I can cope with that. But, but… what about when it starts the sentence, then what am I meant to do?! Anyway, never mind, I went with the corporate styling, even though it offends my eyes.

Last weekend, I decided to cheat on Longrun Meadow parkrun, and pop down the road to my next closest. This isn’t the first dalliance, but previously it has only been on a weekend when I was out of Taunton anyway, and everyone knows the postcode rule, right? But this time was different, I was still at home, I could have easily walked down the river for my usual Saturday morning routine, but I wanted something new, different, exciting! I wanted… Killerton parkrun.

Actually, there’s a bit more to the story than that: Killerton were short of volunteers early in the week, and my wife currently isn’t running, so given that we’d wanted to try the course out for a while, it seemed an ideal opportunity: she signed up to barcode scan, and I went along to run. Killerton was very, very different to Longrun Meadow, and rather than write a normal “race report” style post, I’d like to compare and contrast:

Willow Cathedral in Longrun Meadow
(credit: shuunyanetCC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Location:

Killerton House (credit: Roger Cornfoot)

This is the first, and most striking difference. Longrun Meadow is part of Taunton’s flood defences, and consists of paths around flood pools. A number of projects have resulted in the Oak Barn and the Willow Cathedral (pictured), but it is still essentially a flood plain! In contrast, Killerton parkrun takes place in the grounds of a National Trust property, and weaves its way through woodland down onto pasture land at the end. Not that I was doing a great deal of sightseeing during the run! Being a National Trust site did help us navigate to the run, as there were useful brown signs directing us from the motorway, although my car’s sat-nav still got some use! The other obvious difference in locations was in their distance from me: Longrun Meadow is a slow twenty minute walk along the river from home. Killerton was a forty minute drive. I know which I’d generally prefer on a Saturday morning, although, with a young daughter, I’m up early enough either way!

Terrain:
As a flood plain, Longrun Meadow is almost entirely flat, and predominantly on lightly-gravelled paths. There might be some sort of technical name for the type of path, but I’m not really a path expert, so if there is, I don’t know it. A short section is tarmacked cycle path, while another, dubbed “the muddy bit” is grass in the summer, and a mud-bath in the winter. Killerton on the other hand is an undulating course, though one that drops about 125 feet from start to finish, taking in fields, woodland paths and farm-tracks. The footing is uneven in places, uneven in others, and particularly hazardous with the current generous layers of autumn leaves. Thankfully, some of the gates are left open and guarded by marshals to prevent hazardous prancing over cattle-grids or vaulting over fences. (Though I hear one such manoeuvre might have been involved when the course record was set!)

Course:
Apart from the terrain, the most obvious difference between the runs is perhaps that Longrun Meadow parkrun is run over two laps, while Killerton takes in just one: and in fact as the start and finish are a few hundred metres apart, it could be argued it isn’t even a lap! I’ve always favoured “one lap” events, citing the fact that multiple laps of the same course would be boring, and having to go around everything again would be mentally tougher. To an extent, I stand by that, but on the other hand, taking in two laps of Longrun Meadow means that we run past the finish line, where most of the volunteers, and any supporting family members are, halfway around. Whether you’re struggling or not, this gives a nice little boost in the middle of the run. Not just a mental boost either: the speed increase in the graph below is replicated in almost every run I do at Longrun Meadow, and it’s completely unintentional.

Not sure your cheering and clapping helps? My pace graph says it does!

At Killerton however, only the marshals provided support around the course, and while that support was welcome and well-received, it can’t quite compare!

Volunteers and runners:
What wasn’t different? The cheery, friendly nature of every parkrunner and volunteer. Despite being short earlier in the week, I think Killerton ended up slightly over-subscribed with volunteers as people sacrificed a run to help out. I got chatting before the race to a chap who was down visiting family, running his 49th parkrun, but his first at Killerton. We compared notes on our “home” parkruns and moaned about the hill we had to climb to the start. During the run, I did have a small problem with an unaccompanied junior runner, but these things happen, and credit to the Killerton core team, after I mentioned it, they posted a notice about junior runners on their Facebook page later that day. I hung around at the finish line, cheering runners home after I’d finished, and as always it was great to see the smiles as people pushed for the final sprint.

So the conclusion? Different, different, but same! This week, I’ve got to work on Saturday, but next week I’m cheating on Longrun Meadow again, and am heading out to Yeovil Montacute. I’m sorry Longrun Meadow, but I’ve had a taste of something different, and now I’m hooked!

Have you cheated on your “home” parkrun?
 
What differences and similarities did you find?
 
Do you want to run more different parkruns, or do you prefer to run the same one?