Some people plan their parkrun tourism weeks or even months in advance. Some just wake up and decide where to go. The latter isn’t really practical for us, with our location and family, and even on the rare occasions we do plan it often needs to change. This weekend was looking particularly unpromising, with yellow warnings for rain and wind across Somerset, and not much better forecast in the helpful parts of Devon. Early Friday evening, the most likely option was me heading to a local repeat. Then we saw on Facebook that Danny from the With Me Now podcast was going to Gloucester City, and it seemed as good a reason as any to actually go somewhere.
Gloucester City parkrun, unsurprisingly located in the middle of Gloucester, is one of those events that really should have been higher on our target list. At only 1 hour 20 minutes away (in winter – it’s all M5 so summer would be awful) and buggy-friendly it hit the necessary ticks. And away from Somerset’s rain warning as well (we’ll ignore the ice warning for Gloucestershire). That just left the simple task of leaving the house by 7:15.
At 6:45 it looked like we weren’t going to go, as having actually persuaded ourselves to get out of bed, our daughter decided to stand her ground and refuse to go. With top-class negotiating skills, we got last-minute agreement to go. Speed prepping of people and stuff got us on the road by 7:25. Listening to the Moana and Frozen soundtracks on the way was a pretty small price to pay!
A combination of an accurate postcode and decent directions on the course page meant we had a pretty straight forward time finding where we were going. The parking is at Go Outdoors, opposite the park, and very sensibly there’s a sign to show which bit of the car park to use for parkrun. After layering up the kids (it was approximately 2 degrees) and getting the buggies set up, we crossed the road and headed into the park.
Gloucester City parkrun is fairly typical of most park parkruns, in that it’s a few laps around the edge, with bits added to make the distance right. The start was pretty close to where we’d entered the park, but the meeting point was at the bandstand. Or, you know, the usual theory of ‘head for the mass of hi-viz’. I was grateful to learn from one of the volunteers that there were toilets in the middle of the park (not the best but I’ve seen far worse). The timing meant that, for possibly the first time ever, I missed the first timers’ briefing but Ben was actually there. Miracles do happen.
The main run briefing was done from the bandstand. With a microphone so big tick there for actually being able to hear it. All the basics covered, everyone started heading to the start. But first, the big decision of starting layers. Last minute I opted for no hoodie but added sleeves. Definitely the right decision, even if it didn’t feel it on the walk over. At the start we counted 5 buggies (including our 2), which is pretty impressive given there were 89 runners.
And so finally, on paragraph 7, we were off. Ben got ahead of me almost instantly, as always, but with the early congestion the gap didn’t get too big. That and I was feeling pretty good and so made a decent start. The short lap at the start involved cutting a corner at one end of the park, following round the edge, and then cutting across the middle of the park to re-join the opposite edge. This is where I get confused describing courses, as the ‘lap’ back to the start was further along the path, but the point we re-joined was pretty much the lap point for all future reference. And now you’re confused too, I do realise.
By the end of the small lap, everyone had started to spread out a little, which could only be a good thing with my rusty steering skills. I was also starting to realise that what felt like pretty good pace was, in fact, pretty good pace. Back by the start I checked my watch and found I was on for a 30 minute parkrun. With a buggy. For the main 3 laps we followed the path all the way around the edge, instead of cutting the corner, and I found myself behind a couple of runners who were clearly aiming for 30 minutes themselves. Unfortunately I got a bit too close and they kindly let me through.
Where the short lap had split off, we carried on round the edge of the park, and the path got slightly wider, with a different surface. There were two slightly hairy moments when I dodged a recovering runner (who I think had just got back up from falling over) and then a dog walker, but thankfully I didn’t hit anyone or take any detours. The next challenge was a right-angled turn, naturally just as the first runners lapped me. Having somehow not wiped anyone out, I followed the path round, up a bump, and back into the main bit of park to start all over again.
Lap 2 was much the same, but I started to fall back a little from the 30 minute runners (as they were named in my head). There was also more being lapped (but amazingly still no knocking people over), and a fair amount of trying to explain to my daughter that I couldn’t really hear the questions she was asking.
My first thought at the start of lap 3 was how few runners had lapped me. The factors at play here were clearly a) me running fractionally faster, b) the smaller field size, and c) the out-and-back section to the finish at the end of the third lap. I was blissfully unaware of c, until my daughter asked if a runner she could see was doing the bit at the end. Which he was. In fairness, I was struggling at this stage. The pace on my watch was making it pretty clear that I could technically still get sub-30 if I pushed, but I knew that it just wasn’t going to happen.
On finishing the lap, the final stretch takes a path that goes right across the middle of the park, and then takes a sharp turn back along another path to the finish. That turn is on a marked grass section, but I clearly looked like crap and so the marshals took advantage of the quiet paths and let me stick to the tarmac, turning just after the usual point. Mad desperation to at least do as well as I could kicked in, and I somehow managed to speed up before the line.
My time was 30:20, and I’m insanely proud of that. It’s my buggy PB by over a minute, with a substantially bigger child than before. And to have actually been in with a shot at going sub-30 with the buggy is way beyond anything I thought I would achieve this year. Particularly in windy conditions, which made it much harder work.
Multi-lap park courses get bad-mouthed a lot, but I absolutely loved this one. The atmosphere was fantastic, with cheery supportive marshals all over the place, and a real community feel. After scanning in, we didn’t hang around at the park for too long as it started to rain. Instead we headed back to the car to put the buggies away, and then walked over to the GL1 leisure centre cafe.
It’s been far too long since we chatted with a core team in the cafe after a parkrun, and it was a great bunch of people to talk to. With topics including new years day doubles, barcode scanning, and how Bushy manage with so many people, it was great to just sit and chat. And, in Ben’s case, get asked to write the run report. As we were finally instructed to leave by our long-suffering daughter, we did take the opportunity to ask Danny for a selfie. I’m slightly jealous at how easily he got all 5 of us in the frame, given I struggle to fit 4 in.
Gloucester City parkrun turned out to be exactly what my week needed. Sure, it helped that I exceeded all my expectations in terms of pace. But the main things I’ll remember are the clever route, the absolutely fantastic volunteers, and the community feeling. And possibly the freezing cold wind…