Nine is a magic number! East Park parkrun encompassing all the parkrun magic in one perfect park

Digested read:

parkrun tourism took me to Wolverhampton and East Park parkrun.  Bagsied my final compass point and got to run round their lovely park three times in order to do so.  It has a bandstand!  Job done.

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Undigested read:

First off, see what I did there with the title ….  ‘encompassing’ because it’s the last compass point I needed to get my Running Challenges virtual badge in order to join the compass club and get a little green icon to go on my running profile that no-one else will ever see!  Genius.  Look, well worth touristing for:

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Finally, it’s been a project.  There aren’t all that many compass point named parkruns, and those that are may lose their names in the great renaming of parkruns tide that is passing through parkrun, so the acquisition of the badge might yet be temporary.  Even so, I love the Running Challenges, as it helps choose which parkruns to visit, and because of it I’ve rocked up at far distant (to me from Sheffield) parkruns across the country that I might otherwise never have had cause to visit.  Had I not done so, my parkrun life would have been the poorer for such omissions.

Getting to compass point parkruns has been a bit of a challenge (well, clue is in the name Running Challenges perhaps) but despite that, it turns out that this has been a great more achievable than blooming parkrun bingo.  Honestly I’m on 241 runs and counting for that one, which is Stopwatch Bingo – all you need to do is ‘simply’ Collect all the seconds from 00 to 59 in your finishing times, I’ve been trying to get my last outstanding number – 20 for almost a year I think.  I am becoming embittered in between episodes of zen like calm where I try to pretend to myself I don’t really care, and it will happen when I least expect it. Which is NOT TRUE as it feels as if it will never, ever happen to me.  I should be so lucky eh…  Oh you shouldn’t have got  me started on topic, it doesn’t bring out the best in me.

Back to cheerier news, and happier thoughts, like my experience at East Park parkrun today.  Which was lovely.  Also, it calms me to acknowledge that really, achieving membership of  the compass club is by contrast to the pathetic and fickle idiosyncrasies element of chance which haunts and hinders acquisition of the stopwatch bingo badge, a mere formality.  The Compass Point badge requires attendance at just four parkruns, albeit ones scattered across the known parkrun universe.

I’d already done Southwark parkrun, Northallerton parkrun and Beverley Westwood parkrun, so just the Easterlies that had evaded me until today…  All had been great in their own ways, with both Southward and Northallerton involving props and fancy dress, and Beverley Westwood having the most fun mud course and cows.  What would East Park parkrun bring I wondered.  Up until recently – nine weeks ago to be precise, the nearest Easts were miles away, basically down on the East coast and not realistically doable in a day.  I was really pleased when East Park parkrun came on board, much more achievable as a tourist travelling from Sheffield.  I’ve been wanting to go for a while, but until today, it just never quite fell in to place. However, best things as they say, are worth waiting for, and so today was at last, the day.

Ironically, to get my East, travelling from Sheffield, I headed South West.  Didn’t mind, whatever it takes to get that elusive compass badge eh?  East Park parkrun here I come!  I was joining them for their ninth event. By the way, did you know nine is a magic number of cosmic wonder?  For example:

When you multiply nine by any number and add up the digits of the answer, you get 9.
Examples:
2 × 9 = 18  (1 + 8 = 9)
3 × 9 = 27  (2 + 7 = 9)
9 × 9 = 81  (8 + 1 = 9)
234 × 9 = 2106 (2 + 1 + 0 + 6 = 9)

See, most educational, and fun, there’s other stuff too, but you’ll have to read up about that for yourself as I want to get to the topic in hand, which is my adventures in East Park, not to be confused with South Park, which would have been truly surreal as a parkrun venue I’m guessing, not sure how much running goes on there.  The characters aren’t really built for it are they, I’m not sure their limbs have actual joints, mind you, I’d probably fit in just fine, I’d totally go there if it was an option to do so.

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The event takes place at East Park, Hickman Avenue, Wolverhampton ,WV1 2BS. See Course page for more details.  Oh all right then.  So the course, well, according to the official East Park parkrun website blah de blah it is described as:

Three laps around the perimeter of the park, starting near the Sutherland Road entry to the park near the bandstand and football pitch, and finishing by the bandstand at the centre of the park … Toilets available in the same building as the on-site cafe, free to use, and a children’s play area is close to the finish.t

Not overly complicated, and I like the idea of a bandstand too, that will be nice, not done a parkrun with a bandstand in ages.  Not over keen on three laps bit, but then again, more opportunity to wave at marshals on the way round I suppose.

And it looks like this:

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So it was, I was woken up at stupid o’clock by my alarm, blinking into the darkness.  What was I thinking?  Oh yes, parkrun day.  Up and off.  It was dark, and blustery but compared to wind speeds causing cancellation chaos elsewhere it was relatively benign.  It is a looooooooooong way to Wolverhampton though. Did you know Wolverhampton is a City by the way? I did, but it seems it’s news to some if the launch of the Town of the year’ competition in Wolverhampton is anything to go by… Technically, apparently Wolverhampton is eligible for towns funding if you want to be pedantic about the story, but even so…

Anyway, the cheapskate in me avoided toll roads going – not a bad move as the roads were clear, but it’s a convoluted drive, and I went wrong a couple of times along the way so was glad I’d allowed extra time.  At one point, the road I was planning on taking (A5) I think, was inexplicably closed, completely, with no indication why or any diversion signs.  Oh crappity crap crap.  I noticed the car ahead of me brake and hesitate on seeing this too, before moving on confidently.  I made a split second decision to follow them as they seemed to have a plan.  It turned out to be a good call, i have no idea where I went, and my satnav was furious with me in a passive aggressive way constantly telling me to u-turn when possible, but I ended up seeing signs to Wolverhampton and my Sat Nav came round to thinking East Park was in fact navigable from where we’d ended up.  It was nerve wracking though.  I don’t have a smart phone, so it wouldn’t have been easy to come up with a back-up plan. I was mightily relieved not to be in a hurry.  I did have a moment of insight though that such tourism trips are a kind of madness, it is too far to travel in a morning ‘just’ for a parkrun really.  … Except then afterwards, I feel that was totally worth it, and tortuous drives and early morning starts are long forgotten.  It is the parkrun tourist way!

It also looked like it would be a bit of a nightmare congestion wise on the return journey… As is often the case, just as I was losing confidence that I was in the right place, the satnav took me to the perimeter of East Park.  There were exceedingly magnificent gates which are the access point.  This is one impressive Victorian park, the gates were just the start.  Sorry the photos are all dark again, it was quite a dark morning to be fair, but also, my camera can’t seem to cope with those lighting conditions, nor indeed high vis or if it’s too sunny, so a bit rubbish really, but you’ll get the general idea, and maybe that will tempt you to go and find out for yourself.

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There was indeed loads of parking, including within the park, which is what I opted for after talking to a friendly marshal.  The only issue in parking inside, is that the park gates are locked for the duration of parkrun, i.e. until the tail walker has come through, for the safety of participants.  So you won’t make a quick getaway if you are a speedy runner.  However, that’s never an issue for me as the post parkrun faffery is part of the whole parkrun package as far as I’m concerned.

Parked up, I went for an explore.  I can report dear reader they have a community cafe building complete with lavatories and it’s open before parkrun.  Also, that parkrunner tourist in pink, she’s a hero.  Just saying.  The photo may be blurred, but her ethical code is crystal sharp.   Thank you for saving my parkrun day 🙂

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I availed myself of the facilities, but it nearly ended badly.  The person coming into the cubicle after me called out because I’d dropped my barcode wristband!  Oh the horror, I have spares, but even so, that could have gone horribly wrong, especially as it was apparently balanced precariously near the rim of the loo.  How she would have handled the situation if it had toppled in I’m not so sure, nor am I completely confident of what I would have done had the situation been reversed, you like to think you’ll do the right thing, but we mustn’t judge, if we haven’t experienced the full horror of that scenario for ourselves how can we ever really know?  If you’d seen a fellow parkrunners barcode wristband within, would you have plunged your arm in in a selfless retrieval manoeuvre, or turn a blind eye, do your ‘necessaries’ and flush, hoping desperately if wouldn’t be a floater (and for the record I think it probably would be) and so you’d be passing the problem down the line for the next cubicle user, who might think said wristband was yours!  Oh the horror!  Is it possible I over think things I wonder, I’m genuinely traumatised at the very thought…

Still, I was very relieved to be reunited with it.  Mysteriously though, I also lost a glove.  Only a cheap one with holes in the fingertips from where I’ve worn them gardening, but a blow all the same.  I have a horrible feeling I dropped it at same time as my wristband barcode as that must have come off when I took my gloves off.  I can’t help wondering if that did make its way down the toilet cistern and is even now the tipping point in creating a hooking up point for a fatberg to gestate in the sewers beneath Wolverhampton.  I really hope not, that would be a terrible legacy.  I shudder at the very thought…  Not felt similar levels of guilt since i lost a helium balloon on a milestone run.  Littering the countryside still.  I do litter pick, but I’ll never take a balloon outside again, the damage they do

Phew, have wristband barcode, will be parkrunning.  I saw little figures in hi-vis darting around the park with signs and cones and other parkrun paraphernalia, setting out the course, possibly via a quick go on the swings in the playground.

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It’s never a given whether you can find the start at a new parkrun destination, but here the bandstand provides an obvious focal point for gathering, and gather parkrunners a-plenty did.  176 to be precise, though it felt like more with lots of volunteers and supporters too.  It’s a newish parkrun obviously, but it all went extremely smoothly, and it seemed friendly, though a lot of people I spoke to were newbies too, either to East Park or to parkrun altogether – the latter of which is always really exciting I think!  Oh the joys that will now open up ahead of them, their Saturdays will never be the same again.

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There’s not an official bag drop, well there never is to be fair, but it seemed accepted practise to leave things alongside the bandstand area, but you could leave them near the finish funnel I suppose, or do as I saw others doing, and lob your worldly goods and successive outer layers of clothing at one of the marshals as you run by.  You get three goes at throwing things at any given marshal point, so that’s up to three extra layers you could potential rid yourself off on the way round.  I can’t promise they’ll all welcome it, or indeed that any of them necessarily have a good catch, but I noticed a couple of clothes horse marshals who seemed to have acquire whole jumble sale tables worth of stock by the end of the parkrun!  Probably more polite to avail yourself of this informal service if you are a known regular.

I don’t think there was a separate first timer’s briefing, if there was I missed it, but the Run Briefing was fairly thorough, and pleasingly easy to hear as it was delivered from on high.  It’s a brilliant venue for a parkrun, and definitely a boon for briefings to have that view from on high.  I must be getting old, well I am, but one manifestation of this is I’m getting so worn out by people who insist on talking or even shouting through run briefings I just don’t get it.  All attentive here though,  so that was good.  I was inspired to take a selfie, which I don’t normally, because they are so soul destroying when you see them later, but this one came out ok!

Usual thanks and shout outs during the briefing.  There was though a potentially awkward silence in response to the call out for ‘any milestoners here today?’  Fortunately, the silence was filled by a parkrunner who actually did her 50th last week, but forgot, so she got a massive cheer for being at her 51st.  I liked that, it was fun!a

After the briefing, there is a group migration to the start.  The start sign was definitely in motion, I’ve always had a sneaky suspicion that some parkruns are in the habit of shifting the end points of their parkrun (taking it further away just as it comes into view if you don’t keep an eye on things) but was surprised to see how brazen they were at the start here!  I quite like group walks to starts, it’s somehow companionable.  And it’s fun seeing everyone in all their colourful tops streaming out ahead.

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It really wasn’t very far, and we were soon all lined up next to the start banner, I noticed that they seem to be using the volunteer app at this parkrun, as the timers had their mobile phones all primed and ready to go.  I tried to get a photo of the start, but it was rubbish, so I’ve stolen one from their facebook page which reflects the set up way better, look:

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Here are mine by way of comparison, pitiful I know.

I rest my case.

I slotted in somewhere towards the back.  The paths are wide, and although it’s a three lapper, it didn’t feel crowded, and as long as you basically kept leftish there was plenty of room for faster runners to overtake.   It’s all tarmac paths, and pretty much flat I’d say, well certainly by Sheffield standards, a few bumps maybe.   A good cross section of runners, but a fair few who I think were new to running or first timers, so it felt like an inclusive event.  A scattering of tourists identifiable by the cow cowls, and local running clubs and national informal groups like Run Mummy Run.  Lots of parkrun apricot and milestone tees too, so plenty of people who’ve been running elsewhere before East Park parkrun came into being.

I liked the route.  There’s lots to look at. This is a mature and well managed space.  Some of the trees are huge and must be pretty old.  The gateway I’ve already mentioned, but there are other features too like exercise equipment, and different views of the bandstand.  It’s not dull at all.  Best of all, there are fab marshals to cheer you round.  I try not to have favourites obviously, but I have a soft spot for the two next to the zebra crossing at the gates.  The gates were safely locked now, no escaping from this route.  I like to think they don’t unlock them until they know every finish token has been accounted for at the conclusion of the run.  These marshals were pleasingly interactive, and seemingly having a good time too.  Also, I just love the idea of runners responsibly running over the zebra crossing, no jaywalking here.  Although I was slightly disappointed not to be able to capture a foursome doing a better recreation of the iconic Beatles Abbey Road crossing.  This is the best I could do.  Remember dear reader, sometimes it’s the thought that counts.

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Because you go round in a complete circle, you get to see how the light changes everything in the park.  There were some lovely moments, when I turned a corner and suddenly from being all overcast and gloomy, the sun was pouring through a gap in the trees and it looked genuinely gorgeous, and felt quite erm, countrysidey even, which is weird as it is most definitely within a very urban setting, surrounded by roads and adjacent to an industrial park.

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See, lovely!

And I liked it when you head up the mini hill and into the trees – taking up the high five option if you wish on the way through.  Personally, I never pass up the opportunity for such a power boost, always appreciated, thank you marshal!

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At the end of the first circuit, you go past a guard of honour, as the RD and his entourage, who would be moving up to the finish funnel area in due course, are cheering runners round. This was excellent.  I do like a squad of cheerleaders en route. Just a bit of what I hope will be recognised as constructive feedback, they maybe could have done with a couple of those enormous pom poms to shake at us, and possibly co-ordinated leotards and legwarmers might be an idea further down the line.  Basically the workshop dance outfits worn by the original cast of the FAME TV series would be about right in my opinion, but on the whole, great effort!  Seriously, loved that, it gave a welcoming and enthusiastic vibe, and I got a sense of a team that worked together well and was sharing the parkrun love.  Thank you team!

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before you know it, you are romping round the back of the bandstand again.  And past where it all began and there is a handy ‘caution runners’ side, to alert other park users to the shenanigans unfolding in the vicinity, not because runners are especially dangerous or unpredictable as far as I’m aware.

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Round again, this time noting the formidable looking exercise equipment at intervals if you fancied doing some cross training at any point.  Maybe at the end of the run rather than in the middle of it, but your call, as long as you make the tail walkers aware I suppose – high fives still available for lap two…

and then I took what I think was among my favourite shots of the day:

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I think because that’s very much how the park was.  Good tarmac path, lots of parkrunners doing what parkrunners do and flanked by amazing tall trees in a green oasis amidst houses and industry.  A proper parkrun.

As a more, erm, sedate runner, I got to pass the finish area again when it was very much in full working order.  It was fun watching the speedier finishers being cheered on through, and I was impressed at the patient queueing and good order in evidence in the finish funnel.  No funnel ducking here!

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Ding ding, round three.  It had thinned out by now, just me and a few others romping round, that meant we got the undivided attention of marshals as we passed them. It’s great for your self esteem to be cheered as you go about your parkrunning business.  Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we whooped and cheered each other in all contexts, just for being there and giving it a go?  Such a shame that to routinely big up your colleagues with enthusiastic shout outs every time they contributed to a planning meeting say, would have you sidelined and marked down as eccentric at the very least.  Unsolicited praise and celebration of just being part of something should be welcome anywhere.  Maybe this feelgood influence gave me the confidence to take a mid-run selfie.  Not something I generally do, but it came out ok, I’d even go so far as to say I’m quite pleased with it!  No wonder I look so surprised…

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This was a noticeably supportive parkrun I’d say.  I don’t know if that’s because its new and enthusiastic, or a reflection on the ethos they’ve set or just that as a smallish parkrun they know one another but I got lots of support.  Departing runners who’d finished clapped others still on their way round, overtaking runners called out supportive comments, and it’s the only parkrun I’ve been too in a very, very long time, where I could actually hear the whoops of encouragement being generated in the finish funnel area from the other side of the park!  No really, I’m not even exaggerating for comedic effect!  Very impressive, and from my perspective at least, very much appreciated too.  Thank you lovely marshals all.  Here are some, being lovely.

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Eventually, following the noise of wildly cheering parkrun supporters I was in sight of the finish funnel, and off I went.  Is that a familiar face I see alongside?  Still can’t stop now

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Except I can, because I’ve now started stopping to capture a shot of finish funnels just before I go through. Don’t worry, I wouldn’t put the brakes on if I was in front of other parkrunners, I do check first.  However,  it’s quite fun getting that picture and then sprinting on through.  I mean look how encouraging they all are:

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and through I went.  The only problem was, that my stop before the funnel did create some confusion as I then went through ‘oh are you actually running then?’ queried the timer, it’s doesn’t reflect well on my levels of running effort that this wasn’t immediately evident, but no worries, timer was clicked and situation quickly rectified.  Time to snap the volunteers as I passed through though:

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I got confused (doesn’t take much) about where the scanners were, because I was looking for people with lanyards and the (now) old fashioned scanners, but it’s all mobile phones here, and the Run Director was multi-tasking as a scanner, so he did the honours.

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and then that was that.  All over,  lovely!

There were still parkrunners coming through so I lingered and loitered a while soaking up the scene, it’s a very picturesque parkrun, love the trees that frame shots and the bandstand.  You can see them sorting and counting the finish tokens back in as well.  Team work again, loving the team work.

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And whilst loitering, good news, here was indeed a familiar face!  My new best friend from Delamere parkrun on New Year’s Day. She’d been wearing a sash to mark running her 50th parkrun, and now here she was, sporting the actual milestone tee!  How fabulous is that, and what were the chances.  Her regular parkrun is Isabel Trail parkrun, which has been cancelled for flooding for what seems like weeks now. I was quite lucky I chose to run it when I did.  I was really impressed how quickly she got her t-shirt.  Result, and worthy of a photograph methinks, you can compare and contrast.  She’s the one in the red milestone 50 tee, in case you are suffering from any confusion.  Well done – grand to cross parkrun tourism paths once again!

and that was that.  Nothing left but the post event clean up.

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I investigated the cafe for post run options.  I bought a coffee to take away, which was only a pound, and to which they added milk to my exact requirements from a rather elegant metal milk jug.  However, there was nothing vegetarian so I didn’t stay.  Quite a few did though, and it looked good value if somewhat restricted, think generous sausage and egg sandwiches on sliced bread and instant coffee.  Friendly though, and seemed cosy.  I noticed signs to other cafes on the adjacent industrial estate too, so I think there are lots of choices.

Then time to go home.  Always sad to say goodbye.  It’s too far for me to realistically come back up, but it is one that I’d happily return to.  This parkrun definitely scores above average points for its welcoming vibes and vocal en route support.  Honestly, I’ve never experienced such sustained cheering at a finish, I think they made every participant feel like a champion!  Quite right too on one level, all parkrunners are awesome, but even so, a brilliant experience. Thank you 🙂 .  From a tourist perspective it is also particularly brilliant that it has pre parkrun car parking and peeing equally well catered for.  Phew.  Oh the relief, in every sense.

Home, and I didn’t fancy battling the route I came so opted for the M6 toll route, fondly imagining it would be £1 or so.  In fact it was £4.20!  Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat!  However, it was fun as a new experience for me, empty well maintained roads with no litter, and when you go through the toll booth thingy, you get to feel like you are in the starting blocks for whacky races, so I enjoyed the novelty of that. That’s a lot though, way more than I expected.  I’d rather have spent the money supporting the cafe in East Park, but then again I couldn’t so I only spent what would otherwise have gone on breakfast I suppose…

Verdict then?

Totally worth it.  What do you mean what about the stupidly long drive and getting up in the middle of the night?  The event delivered in it’s own right, and getting East was but the icing on the cake!

So yes, it’s shallow, but now my badges look like this.  Check out that Compass Point top middle(ish).  Totally yay!

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So thank you East Park parkrun for your warm and vocal welcome, your excellent nomenclature which lured me over to you in the first place, and to everyone who was there today contributing to making the parkrun magic happen.  You are all superstars.

🙂

You can read all my parkrun related posts here.  Or not.  It’s up to you.  You’ll need to scroll down for older entries though.  Your choice.

#loveparkrun

 

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Nailing Northwich parkrun, double done! parkrun yay!

Digested read:  Did New Year’s Day Double today, staring at Delamere parkrun and then topping it off here at Northwich parkrun.  Very welcoming gathering, thanks for having me.  The End.

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Undigested read:

If you want to linger, I can oblige.  Hereafter follows the unexpurgated version of my Northwich parkrun immersive experience.  Enjoy or not as you wish, but remember if you choose to read on, you do so at your own risk, and so are guilty at the very least of contributory negligence if you reach the end and regret the minutes of your life you can never now recover.  Harsh, but true.

Right then, as long as we are clear, I’ll press on.

New Year’s Day Double for parkrun.  Are you with me so far?  This is the special parkrun dispensation which means for one day only, you can run not one, but TWO parkruns on the same day, and have them recorded.  Subject to logistics and parkruns available in your area. I know, fabulous!  Great start to the decade.  Or not, depending on whether or not you think the decade ended at midnight on 31  Dec 2019 or will end on 31 Dec 2020.  I opt for the former, though concede the logic of the later if you are interested at all.

So, I’d already spent a morning at Delamere parkrun before heading over to Northwich.  You can read my account of Delamere parkrun on New Year’s Day too here if you like.  Doing a parkrun double has become something of a tradition for me. This is the fourth year I’ve done it, though I did miss a year when working overseas – never been more homesick.  However, it was a first for me to go quite so far afield from my home base of Sheffield.  Apologies, but I’d never even really heard of Northwich parkrun before, it just popped up as an option when I was perusing New Year’s Day doable Double challenges based on my speed, and preference for off road and one lap courses.  Delamere parkrun seemed a great option, and they seemed to have teamed up with Northwich so rude not to combine the two really.

I did do a bit of research in advance, not over much, just enough to satisfy myself that there would be a reasonable amount of parking as I expected to be one of the later arrivals there.  Also I did have a quick gander at the official parkrun website where I discovered the blah de blah on the Northwich parkrun describes the course thus:

Course Description
The course explores the hidden Northwich Woodland whilst following the River Weaver. There is a mixture of both path and trail ground consisting of a small loop and a larger loop with views of Neumanns Flashes. The course ends near Old Marbury Road giving a short warm down walk back to the car park.

Fair does.  Didn’t altogether enlighten me, but as long as it isn’t 5 laps of a cross country field it’ll be grand.

Facilities
There are no toilets on the course, however the nearest toilets are located at Asda Barons Quay approximately 200 metres away.

Whoa, hang on, what horror is this?  Fortunately, forewarned is forearmed, I can attend to that prior to arrival.  Hopefully.

And it looks like this:

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which is basically very confusing.  Still, no worries, I’ll just do what I always do and follow everyone else.  And yes, that probably does mean I’d follow a gang of parkrunners pretty much anywhere, including over the edge of a cliff, because I am trusting of other parkrunners.  Also, to be fair, I’m quite slow, so even if such a strategy was ill-advised, trundling along at the back I’d land softly on the pile of previously landed strewn parkrunners, so it’d be fine.  It usually is all alright in the end in my experience, particularly if you take the view that if it isn’t fine, then it can’t be the end.  I find this logic helpful!  You can adopt it too if you like.  You’re welcome. 🙂

So I completed my parkrun at the delectable Delamere, and joined the convoy of cars making their way over to Northwich.  Ira can report that along the way, I spotted little hardy gaggles of parkrunners sprinting between the two venues.  Impressive, and no, they weren’t in need of a lift, they were doing it for fun and deliberately.  Hard though it may be to comprehend, I remind myself that I found the whole concept of parkrun mysterious and incomprehensible before I became a participant, and now I understand the intoxicating buzz of  parkrun day and the importance of respecting everyone’s right to participate in their own way.  Also, if I had the speed I can see the appeal of doing longer distances, it’s just not really a viable option for me, unless I ran between two different parkruns on two consecutive weeks perhaps – which might actually be a great way to do a UK run trip now I come to think of it.  One day maybe, one day.

Passing previously referenced parkrunners gave me confidence that I should be in time for the start of Northwich parkrun. I had told myself that in the worst case scenario I’d do a freedom run if I couldn’t catch up with the tail walker, and that would be ‘fine’, but in my heart of hearts I know if I hadn’t been able to finish and get a time I’d have inwardly sobbed buckets and outwardly adopted a pained expression of matyrdom whilst fighting back hot bitter tears railing at the awfulness of my plight.  Hoping now this wouldn’t be necessary, I followed the post code given on their info page – CW9 5LQ which was to take me to the Cumberland car park adjacent to the parkrun venue which is Carey Park.

Can’t lie, the approach to Northwich parkrun does suffer a bit by direct comparison to Delamere parkrun.  You are no longer amidst misty forest scapes, but in an urban sprawl, picking your way through a labyrinth of concrete superstores and rather more mini roundabouts than you might think strictly necessary.  However, on the plus side, lots of car parks.  Lots of spaces.  I was delighted when I spotted a queue of parkrunners waiting to get the car parking tickets and just pulled up and parked immediately alongside them.  I set about silently congratulating myself for my extraordinary deductive skills that would have pleased Jessica Fletcher and Miss Marple alike – did you know Jessica Fletcher is a parkrun tourist by the way?  She has a cow cowl, plus she’s jogging in the opening sequence, in fact she’s often out jogging, quite a committed runner I’d say…  Not sure which parkruns these pictures are at, but they could be American ones.

Unfortunately, my marvelling at my own genius and self congratulatory mood was short lived, as the awful consequences of the queue became apparent.  Now, car parking here was cheap – only a £1 for a whole day, that’s good. There was ample parking too.  Also good.  Not good, only one of four ticket machines was working, and they were the most ridiculously officious, complicated, non-intuitive machines to operate.  Every single parkrunner had to learn how to use it.  You had to put in your registration number, which not everyone knew off hand, so that was quite stressful, and if you were paying by card, you also had to input a pin number for that, and it too ages and ages.  Probably a minute for each person in the queue, and although I’d arrived at 10.15 for a 10.30 start, and you could almost see the start from where we were, it wasn’t looking good.  It was also the most depressingly fly-tipped and littered car park I’d ever seen*.  Not the best first impression.  I’d rather have paid double or even triple the amount, and them use the money to maintain the place. It was really sad…

*update*  I’ve been advised this was not typical, but an informal camp of some sort popped up in the car park over new year, so don’t be deterred dear reader, it may well be pristine when you appear!

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On the plus side, this is England and we do love a queue.  Also, parkrunners are very good at staying in order in queues on account of all the practise we have staying in order in the finish funnel. What’s more, it was long enough to make new friends and consider strategies.  Some bailed entirely, going with the ‘surely no-one will ticket us on New Year’s Day’ philosophy.  Bold I feel.  Speaking as someone who has been ticketed at a parkrun despite having a valid ticket because it wasn’t clearly enough displayed I presume no leniency or leeway with car park attendants.  Someone else who’d been stung with a £100 or possibly 100 euro fine in I think Denmark, for not knowing how to set his parking meter correctly during a 7 minute supermarket stop was like me more cautious.  His track record was pretty poor – he’d apparently also been stung for buying a ticket from a machine which issued a ticket which actually said ‘this ticket machine is out of order’ and so was fined despite not realising that’s what it said.  He’s not like Dracula, he can’t absorb the language of a new country by drinking the blood of its population even if that was either the parkrun way or a socially acceptable thing to do.  Don’t you think the new BBC Dracula adaptation is super scary by the way?  Can’t wait for the next episode, though I will be sure to have a couple of cushions handy to hide behind on stand by…  Funny and appropriately camp too, love it!

dracula

Spare non-driving parkrunners were despatched to check other ticket machines really weren’t working.  They weren’t, but at least sending them off and waiting for them to come and report back broke the tedium by providing some enrichment for us queuers.  Some of the faster parkrunners sent slower one’s off ahead on the basis they’d be more likely to catch up the tail if required.  I started off relaxed about the whole thing, but weirdly got increasingly stressed the closer I got to the front of the queue.  I was also near paralysed by performance anxiety when it came to operating the ticket machine.  Oh the pressure to get it right speedily first time!  It was worse than having someone watch me parallel park!  Fortunately dear reader, my fellow parkrunners were a compassionate and supportive lot, talking me through it and reassuring me it would all be fine.

I got my ticket, and it was on the dashboard at 10.29.  Phew.  I sprinted across to the start, through the distinctive iron gates with the torn apart ladybird, over the bridge with the strange industrial pipework and joined the back of the parkrun crowd wondering vaguely if that person hanging around might be… no, probably not.

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I was still wearing my fleece.  I contemplated leaving it in the car, but then someone said that there was a trolley at the start where you could dump stuff, and it got wheeled to the finish which was some distance away.  It was heaving with people, I couldn’t find any trolley.  I’d missed the first timers’ briefing, but not the main one.  Phew.  I felt very lucky to have made it by the skin of my teeth.  You know what, also, I didn’t need a precautionary pee. Whether this was because I’d already sweated out excess fluid at Delamere, or because I was running late it just hadn’t occurred to me I don’t know.  Either way, I was just relieved not to need relieving.  Phew.  I think a lot of it is psychological for me…  Sorry, you probably didn’t need to know that.  Some of you will be interested though, for women of a certain age it’s an exceedingly common topic of parkrun conversation and a top priority in planning tourism!  For future reference though, with that many shops around, as long as you were in time I’m sure you’d find a pee point somewhere.

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It had a very friendly feel.  There were lots of familiar faces from Delamere just less than an hour before.  I asked a marshal about the trolley, and she confirmed it was around somewhere, but she couldn’t leave her spot as she was designated dog poo monitor, and was standing guard over a very impressive mound of faecal matter.  Apparently, they normally have bags for this purpose, but she couldn’t find them, so she’d taken on the role with good grace.  That dear reader is above and beyond, and should surely merit it’s very own running challenges virtual badge were it not for the fact that such an emblem might be seen as in poor taste.   Maybe it falls within the category of ‘other’ but that hardly seems adequate recognition.  Hi vis hero, I thank you!

Not since Frickley Country parkrun have I been at a parkrun with so much dog poo around the start area.  It seems a risk for parkruns that are near the entrance points for parks and near to car parking spaces.  My new year’s resolution to be non-judgemental and just delightful to everyone was already creaking under the pressure to offer good will to people who fly tip and people who let their dogs crap everywhere.  Fortunately, the prospect of a parkrun always raises the spirits.  Just mind where you put your feet if you are going.

The Run Director gave an enthusiastic briefing.  Asking for a cheer from those who’d already run a parkrun today, and another from those who’d run between the two!  There was a surprisingly loud cheer from the latter group, you’d have thought they’d have been all out of spare breath for cheering with after all that running around.

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I found out later that the gold baton was passed on at this parkrun too.  Strictly speaking the Leeds Building Society Golden Baton Relay has finished, but it’s fun it is carrying on unofficially I think. It had come all the way from Denmark apparently.   It’s the Big Community Relay thingamajig.  I’ve also seen one when I was at Cusworth Hall parkrun, I wonder how long they’ll carry on travelling for.  There were a few…

baton passing

Because I’d only just made it in time, and I couldn’t find the trolley, the call for off went up as I was still in my fleece.  I suppose I could have taken it off and tied it round my waist, but you know what, I was a bit chilled what with having worked up a sweat during round one at Delamere, so decided to run in it. This would never have been permitted at my home run, as I have parkrunning ‘friends’ who are dedicated to ensuring I remove excess clothing prior to a run.  However, they’ll never find out I reasoned, so off I trotted.

I say ‘off I trotted’ but the start was very congested.  I put myself right at the back, and it was a big turn out.  The path has fencing or hedging on either side, and although it’s not exactly narrow, it isn’t really ideal for almost 500 parkrunners heading off at the same time.  Again, you couldn’t overtake, and just had to go with the flow, which pleases me.  It was nice to watch the colourful thread of runners ahead, like bunting, following the curve of the fence line and heading on up a little hill.  I hadn’t really got my head around the route at all, so it was all going to be a surprise.  Good oh.

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As before, I settled into a bit of a stop start pace, running for a bit, stopping to take some pictures and then running off again, and it became clear there were some others at a similar pace, some of whom I’d already met.  It turned out to be quite an unexpectedly social morning. The marshals were, naturally, all excellent, and many were in the company of a canine assistant or more probably superviser.

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Scenery and terrain wise, this parkrun was maybe a bit more coy in revealing its treasures than its near neighbour of Delamore.  Obviously at this time of year the vegetation has died right back, and it was a gloomy day.  However, a lot of love has gone into creating this space.  There are waterways, and hedgerows, and sheep grazing.  Rushes and grassland providing lots of habitat for invertebrates, and industrial features like iron bridges providing an added dimension of interest. It’s probably more obviously picturesque in spring, but lots to enjoy today, even a grey day.  I really liked the details of ironwork on bridges, depicting birds and insects.  You also get quite a mix of terrain, some undulations, some mud – always a hit – and lots to look at.  Not least other parkrunners.  There is also a more industrial backdrop, with factories and the shopping mall surrounding the green oasis of the park.  It gives the place a very distinct character I think, and is a space to be treasured.

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The marshals all seemed in good spirits, and were appropriately encouraging.  Turns out some of these marshals were voice activated too, just like the ones at Delamer, they livened up noticeably when spoken to.  I murmured to one something about it being an ‘unexpectedly lovely venue’ and then wondered if that sounded a bit rude.  Oh well, I can apologise later.  They were all also exceptionally photogenic, I think it’s because they radiate parkrun positivity, always a good look to be rocking!  There was also a very nice robin, but I don’t know if it is always at the same spot.  Might be though, they are very territorial after all…

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Check out the bridges though.  Lots, each unique in its own way.

You could say the same of the marshals, though I didn’t specifically ask them about their iron workings, nice hats though:

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There was one slightly unexpected road bit, it’s very short, but you go out and then turn around a cone – they have blue cones here, not seen them before – and come straight back.  Pleasingly, this meant you get to pass other parkrunners, so that’s quite social.  Also, and I apologise, because I know you shouldn’t really have favourites, if you have your wits about you, you’ll espy the best marshal hat of the morning.  I doubt the other marshals will begrudge this, though there were other worthy contenders in evidence, I think this one wins by a whisker because it is so context appropriate, and more practical than an actual plastic cone on the head, don’t you agree?  All headgear sported though was very much appreciated by me at least, I do like a good hat.

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As is my way, I had absolutely no idea where I was until I spotted a familiar marshal coming round again and deduced I was homeward bound.  I also spotted a fellow tourist, who I recognised from some vague parkrun somewhere else who was running counter to the rest of us doing a warm down I think.  Hoped so, wouldn’t have wanted to be told I’d been running the wrong way for the whole previous 4.9k or whatever!

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The end again appears suddenly, round a corner.  I was amongst the last home, but can report it was a cheery and enthusiastic welcome from accomplished marshals keeping order at the end.  Fine hats here too. In fact, I’m sure I’ve seen that orange and white stripy bobble hat* somewhere before…  loving the jester one as well.

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I thanked the timers and said how much I’d enjoyed the run, because I had and she said ‘what really?’  I said.  ‘Yes’. And she said ‘because someone else just said they had, and when I said really?  They said ‘no’.’ I said ‘well, how very rude!’ because it is.  Though it might be they were referring to the act of running after a night before rather than the parkrun venue I suppose.  I know though I feel quite defensive of my own home parkrun, I recognise it has its foibles and its failings, but its still my home run and where it (for me at least) all began.  Anyway, this was a fine parkrun.  It was super friendly and enthusiastic, well organised and coped with extraordinary numbers.  In fact, this was a record breaking parkrun I gather.

It’s becoming  a bit of a habit for me of late to collect record breaking runs, I was at Bushy parkrun for their record Christmas Day attendance of 2545.  That was pretty cool, hobnobbing with parkrun royalty.  Paul and JOanne were lucky to hang out with me as I’m daughter of Elisabeth of Elisabeth’s corner fame, just so you know…

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then this second record breaking performance was 474 runners, smashing their previous record attendance by four!  Wow, that’s basically the beatles, or ABBA, or maybe even Little Mix, though to be fair the only celebrity I spotted today was Imran Ali (it’s a Parkrun Discussion Facebook Group thing, I’m not a member, bit toxic for me at times, but I am a hypocrite stalker of it, so not gonna lie, know who he is).  For those not in the know, I’d say basically parkrun Selfie King.  Fact.  Undisputed.

Mind you, all parkrunners are winners, so place was heaving with excellence to be fair.  Northwich even beat Delamere parkrun’s attendance (on the day) for the first time ever, but it would be rude and churlish to draw attention to that now wouldn’t it?

Np panorama shot

Where was I?  I got distracted, just as I was getting to the finish.  So I’m at the finish, and I got to linger and chat to my newly acquired parkrun friends from the morning.  One of ‘With me now‘  world tourist fame, so that’s good, and a fine selfie gift too, of which I am a beneficiary here:

Liz world tourist and me

but posed with other friends too for good measure – and did the obligatory selfie frame thing with some directorial input this time and hence more success than earlier!  Look carefully, and you will see jester hatted man in the back of the frame.  I choose to believe he is doing a classy bit of photo bombing there, and not just frantically waving at a friend. Loving your work!

The tailwalker came in, here demonstrating the newly requisitioned emergency barcodes issued too.  Like I said, a record breaking run!

Northwich tailwalker

And then that was that, time to go home.  It was a fair old walk back to the carpark, not miles and miles by any means, but far enough I was exceedingly glad of my fleece.  This is another parkrun that has attention to detail, and they’d put some arrow signs in to direct you back to the carpark and town centre.

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Bye bye for now Northwich parkrun, it’s been grand, thanks for a fabulous finish to a double dose of parkrun fun.  You were awesome.  Most hospitable, I’m so happy I chose you!

I’m also rather hoping given my effusive comments, you won’t mind that I’ve lifted some of your fine photos from your Facebook page?  Thanks in anticipation, you parkrun folks are the best EVER!

NP pic

So there we go.  Sadly, the best things come to an end.  On the plus side, not many sleeps til it’s parkrun day all over again, so mustn’t grumble eh?  parkrunday, that day formerly known as Saturday, sigh.  And if you really can’t be without parkrun til then, you can always top up with some parkrun related podcasts.  I’ve only recently discovered these, have you?

Check out: independent parkrun-based podcast “With Me Now” with parkrun Veterans and uber-tourists Danny Norman and Nicola Forwood, or there is always the official parkrun podcast “Free Weekly Timed“, with Vassos Alexander and Helen Williams.  Both are a great way to keep up to date with what is going on in the wider parkrun world, and extend the parkrun joy beyond a Saturday morning.  Or, if you are in reflective mood, you could peruse Paul’s review of the 2019 parkrun year.  Why not.

Before I go though, can I just finish with some pleasing parkrun UK stats trawling which inform us that:

📣 COMPLETELY USELESS RANDOM STAT KLAXON 🚨

Around the world, 101 parkrunners completed a parkrun on New Year’s Day in a time of 20:20 ⏱️

This pleases me.  Well done all.  If one of those runners had been me, not only would I have entered a parallel universe where I could run sub 21 let alone sub 35, I’d also have secured my last remaining parkrun Bingo number.  I’ve been after it for nearly a year now, possibly longer.  I have learned I do not possess a zen like countenance.  Then again, you should be careful what you wish for, once I do finally get it, it will probably feel something of an anti-climax.  Such is often the way…

By the way,  you can read all my parkrun related posts here.  Or not.  It’s up to you.  You’ll need to scroll down for older entries though, and you might be needing to get on with washing your hair or laying out your parkrun kit for Saturday or whatever, your time, your priorities.

That’s all folks.

I wish you happy parkrunning and other adventures in 2020.  Be kind to yourself.

🙂

Oh, and at risk of repeating myself to my regular reader, but not wanting my one off visitor to miss out, I learn from the most amazing creation and stats cruncher that I was one of 203 who made that particular double. Check it out for yourself on this fab stats New Year’s Day Double tracker.  Go on, treat yourself, have a browse.   Bit of a time vampire, but soooooooooooooo worth it!

google doubles

I don’t know too much about where this originated from but found this credit:

A map showing the parkrun ‘doubles’ that people managed on New Year’s Day 2020. The map is based on parkrun results, so may include errors where e.g. names have been manually entered. Unticking the Events layer makes the doubles more easy to see. Huge thanks to Ian Rutson for providing the base data. Please share freely!

And ‘with me now‘ say ‘Thanks to Charlie Pearce for creating the visualisation and Ian Rutson for supplying the data’ which is good enough for me!

– whatever wizardry created it though, respect!  There’s even an international one from Australia to Canada!  Hope some carbon offsetting went on…

Here’s to parkrunning adventures anew for 2020!

*EXCITING UPDATE REGARDING CONE HATS

They are a thing apparently a recent Northwich parkrun Facebook post states that:

We have received many comments on our “cone hats” and many of you may be wondering what it’s all about 🤷🏼‍♀️

One of our Run Directors, John, came up with the fantastic idea to raise funds for the North West Air Ambulance Charity following the support they provided when we sadly said goodbye to Terry out on our course last year.

To date, by either producing or providing kits to make the hats, John and the Northwich parkrun volunteers have managed to donate £232.50!

A fantastic idea in Terry’s memory!

So now we know.  Nice hats, nice gesture.

northwich cone hats

 

 

Categories: 5km, parkrun, running | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Delightful Dalliances at Delamere parkrun. Kicking of the NYDD parkrun challenge for 2020

Digested read: Early start and off to Delamere parkrun for my first of two parkruns for New Year’s Day.  It was very nice thank you for asking, and a most excellent way to start a new decade.

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Undigested read:

You want more?  Or maybe you just don’t want to face all those labours you’d been putting off doing until after the festive season had concluded, satisfactorily or otherwise.  Well, if you want quantity rather than quality, to assist you in your procrastination feel free to settle down with a hot beverage of your choosing and relive the parkrun adventures offered up by Delamere parkrun, kicking off 2020 in style.

You probably already know all about the parkrun New Year’s Day Double offerings.  In case inexplicably you do not, perhaps because very excitingly you are new to parkrun and have all those parkrunning related adventures still to unfold before you like a great red carpet of joy if you just choose to step on it, let me enlighten you.  Basically, parkrun 5k takes place on a Saturday.  However, each country that hosts parkrun is allowed one ‘special’ extra day – in the UK it’s Christmas Day, when they can put on an extra run because it’s a fabulously fun thing to do.  Better still, on New Year’s Day only, parkruns can not only put on an extra run, but it is the one day in the whole year when parkrunners can – if they wish and local logistics allow – take part in two parkruns and have them both recorded. This creates the dizzying possibility of parkrunners galavanting around en masse in local parkrun migrations.  I’ve done it a few times now, and it’s really good fun.  Stay local and you’ll meet all your local parkrun buddies, go further afield and you get a snapshot of other parkrun communities.

To aid and abet in the planning for New Year’s Day are various fabulous gizmos.  On a purely practical level, there is the official parkrun Christmas Compendium, listing all declared extra parkrun events with their timings, complete with explanatory text as follows:

This page shows events who have declared that they’re staging an extra event on Christmas Day and/or New Year’s Day. Please see the event’s own news page for more details. Note that some events choose to operate New Year events at a different times from usual. A red cross means that the team has declared that an event will not take place. A blank box means that the team has not yet decided whether an event will take place.  On Christmas Day you can register one result. On New Year’s Day we allow the option to register up to two results.

And that’s great, as a starting point.  However, the game changing gizmo I planned my 2020 exploits with is one which uses some technological wizardry to help you work out what’s possible for you, based on your estimated running time and location of origin on the morning. Check it out here – it even covers other parkrun countries.  It’s a fun adventure, whether you do one or two, nice way to start off 2020.  Initially, my plan was to stay local, and then it dawned on me that if I was game for an early start, there was nothing really stopping me from venturing further afield.  Roads would be clear, and I am a nobby no-mates who wasn’t planning on seeing in the new year anyway.  I pored over this tool for ages and ages.  Far longer than anyone other than a fellow parkrunner would deem reasonable.  I am a slow parkrunner so needed generous timings, and also parkrun number two needed to have good parking options in order that I avoided pre-parkrun panic.  One lappers and scenic locations preferred.  Not grass please, and not too much tarmac.  And as I’d be setting off too early to see any ‘on the day’ notifications, parkruns that wouldn’t be too susceptible to last minute cancellations.   I know, demanding aren’t I.  Amazingly, I managed to whittle down options to Delectable Delamere parkrun, followed by Notable Northwich parkrun.  They both looked lovely, and what’s more, were working together to facilitate doing both.  Yep, also Delamere is in a wooded area, and that sounds lovely.

For those of you who like to know this sort of thing, according to the official Delamere parkrun website, the course is described thus:

Course Description
The course starts from just past Old Pale car park, which is on the left a hundred yards past Linmere Visitor Centre. Coming out of the car park and turning left you will see the parkrun start just before a path branches off to the right. Heading down this path you will then turn right up a short hill at marker post 65. Crossing the train line and bearing left you will then turn right at marker post 66. At marker point 62 you will go straight ahead and then, upon reaching marker post 61, you will turn left onto the lakeside path. Keeping Blakemere on your right-hand side you will be treated to stunning views of the lake as you complete one full lap before re-tracing your steps back to the start.

Oh.  Not really any the wiser.  No worries, never stopped me from taking part in a parkrun before.  There’ll be friendly marshals, there’ll be other people who have thought to do parkrun to start the year too.  I can follow them. It’ll be fine, what’s the worst?

The worst that can happen apart from forgetting your barcode, is finding the toilets shut. Oh hang on, they will be according to the Delamere parkrun facebook page.  All very informative and welcoming and encouraging of double doers, but nope, no loos.  Hopefully there will be at least one tree in case of emergencies.  Oops.  Al fresco it may have to be…  Or is it al dente?  I get them confused.  Anyway, the course looks like this:

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Ok, just basically, try not to fall in the lake I’m guessing.  Yep, it’ll be grand.

So, I set my alarm for stupid o’clock, and lo, it rang out, and despite having felt like I’d passed another night awake throughout with insomnia, it seems I was jolted awake  as it from the slumber of the dead wondering where I was and what was going on!  No matter, it was extra parkrun TWICE day, so I soon recovered.  Coffee, dressed, and out the door, in darkness.  The streets were pretty deserted, just a few party-goers heading home, from Sheffield to Cheshire involves going over the Snake Pass.  I was a bit of a scaredy cat about this, as you get crazy drivers there and blind bits where you feel like you are going over the edge of the world up top.  Fortunately, it was an incident free drive, and by the time I started seeing signs to Delamere Forest I was feeling VERY excited by the scenery.  It had a tolkienesque feel to it, mysterious, misty woods, with early morning light creating shadows, and a strange expanse of other – worldly lake.  I could feel my inner smugness quotient rising pleasingly.  I had chosen well.

I headed for the postcode for the Old Pale Car Park – which is just past the Linmere Visitor Centre and used the postcode CW8 2JD on sat nav to get there.  Which worked.  Hurrah.  Yes I did have to stop twice on the way for precautionary pee purposes.  Once in a 24 hour garage, and once in a layby.  Don’t judge.  

The car park was due to be open at 8.00 a.m. but when I arrived a bit after that, alarmingly it was very much shut.  The only reassurance was that there were already a couple of cars hovering around, each containing within one or more parkrun tourists looking similarly angsty.  We emerged from our respective vehicles wondering what to do, and feeling thwarted, also unsure, because everything had looked so very shut the whole way in, and there didn’t look to be much in the way of other options anywhere near – plus where was the core team?  Yep, we were early, but often event teams are earlier still, had we got it wrong somehow?  One had come straight from a night shift and planned to go on to Crewe afterwards, we’d all come in search of a parkrun double. Good news was that we bonded over our shared uncertainty, and gleaned reassurance from each other, we were in the right place, and the Facebook page had declared the car parks would be open, so we just had to keep the faith.  This we did, and were rewarded by the giddy sight of a ranger bearing keys.  Not all heroes wear capes.  Dear reader, we were IN!

The next challenge, was working out the most efficient way to park in a space with no marked parking bays.  None of us were local, and none of us quite sure how to position ourselves.  It’s hard being a parkrun tourist.  I can’t help thinking that they’d fit quite a few more cars in if they had marked bays, it was all a bit random.  Oh well.  I got a spot near to the exit ready for a speedy (ahem) get away.  I knew you had to pay for parking and it was listed as £2 but that’s just for an hour, if you are an early bird arrival and like me a slower participant, be prepared to pay £4 for 3 hours.  I don’t begrudge it actually, fair enough if you are using the facilities, but good to know in advance.  My new parkrun best friend, the one with whom I shared angst both over whether the car park would be open and then how to park in it once it was – then spoke for majority of us by saying out loud what many would be thinking ‘and now for the other great per-parkrun challenge – toilets.’  Yep, they were shut.  However, whilst I’m not advocating wild peeing per se, lets just say there were a lot of trees in darkness, with soft forgiving pine needles deep littered around them.  I think some may have chosen to avail themselves of such forest attributes.  Top tip though, leave a biodegradable breadcrumb trail behind you if you are planning on going too deep within, pretty impenetrable in places that forest.

The parkrun start is literally, just by the carpark.  Volunteers started parking up past the ‘no entry’ signs, and have little volunteer passes to put on their cars to allow them to do so.  The pop up sign, duly popped up, and there were some lovely little local touches like.  Ikea bags (other large reuseable bags from other stores are probably available, but the IKEA ones are fairly ubiquitous); a little sign for the first timers briefing, a sign for different finish times to assemble, and a ‘dog start’ sign too.  Bit of feedback, there should maybe have been a ‘dog tired’ one too, but not visible on this occasion.  My favourite thing though – which is a tough call to be fair – was the lovingly hung up selfie frame, with its own hook from which it could be carefully hung.  No being flung carelessly in the mud for this reinforced frame.

Of course I took advantage of the selfie frame!  Rude not too, when they’d gone to all that trouble.  Shame my head obscures the name of the parkrun, but on the plus side, I’ll be able to reuse the snap when I go to other parkruns and don’t avail myself of the selfie frame ops.  Every cloud eh, every cloud.

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Despite the early start, and long drive I was really excited to be at Delamere.  It had a really friendly feel.  It was extremely well organised, and despite the huge turn out (though nothing like as huge as their Christmas Day field of 720) it felt relaxed, so whatever frantic paddling was going on was beneath the surface.  The location is spectacular, and the attention to detail impressive.  On a ‘normal’ parkrun day, there’d be good facilities too, with a whole visitors centre with I imagine toilets with actual toilet paper and a cafe too – I think it did open around 10 to be fair, but I wasn’t planning on lingering today at least.

I joined the milling and chilling, and oh look, someone in a 50 sash.  What’s more this was my parkrun buddy from the carpark.  Hurrah, what a great way to do your milestone run, even if you were wishing you’d got more than one safety pin to keep your sash in situ.

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A colourful gathering congregated and grew…

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In a bit, a megaphone gave a call out for first timers.  I’ll be honest, I don’t think every single first timer present bothered attending, but a few of us did.  It was a friendly and swift briefing for tourists.  Basically, the route was described with the summary advice of ‘keep the water to your right, if it’s not on your right, you have a problem’.  Fair does.  Then, the solitary identified first time everer, was given a one to one on how it all worked.  They had a route map to show people too. I’ve seen these at a few parkruns now, I think they are helpful.  My takeaways from the briefing were follow everyone else, there are no marshals on the 3k (approx) loop round the lake so keep an eye out for each other, defibrillator is in the visitors centre  and try not to fall in.   I think that covers it.  Oh, and the paths are pretty wide, so as long as you are realistic about how you place yourself in the starting line up, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about overtaking.  It’s effectively a one-lap course.  My favourite!

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Dogs started assembling at the Dog Start, which was fun, not all did, so I’m not sure how much this is enforced, but basically dogs start at the back here.  A few looked to have canicross type gear, and they seemed a well behaved lot, keeping their companion humans on appropriately lengthed leashes.

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I love the colours as people assemble.  The high-vis team formed a sort of guard of honour at the front. The Run Briefing covered the usual milestones, thanks to volunteers, and then we sort of walked forward a bit to get to the starting line.

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Incidentally, did you know that some other parkruns have formed their own New Year’s Day traditions?  Nope, me neither.  Well, case in point, Colwick parkrun, which is a most excellent parkrun to visit by the way, not least because they always wear Hawaiian shirtsstart their New Year’s Day Run with a parkrun communal handshake.  How brilliant is that?  Rhetorical question, very brilliant indeed!  Click on the link above for a video clip of the whole parkrun field shaking hands with one another.   Aw, would melt the hardest of hearts I’m sure…

Colwick handshake

Anyway, back to Delamere parkrun.  The start here was a bit peculiar, or at least to me unfamiliar, we all started trundling forward, and then I heard a vague ‘go’ but nothing really happened, we just continued our onward shuffle.  I don’t mind about times at all, that’s not what parkrun is about for me, and when I’m touristing I like to jump to one side and take pictures along the way, but I think if you were a speedy runner you’d do well to position yourself further forward, or even as an average runner, pay attention to where you are in the start funnel or you could be a bit boxed in. Those of us who were boxed in though, got to make new friends with others along the way, which is much more fun than sprinting off in glorious isolation in my parkrun world at least!  Plus I got to find out which of the runners at my sort of speed were also hoping for a double.  That was reassuring. I was determined not to take stupid risks getting to parkrun two, but wasn’t wholly convinced it would be doable at my speed, given the distance between the two, but others in the know seemed confident all would be well.  Again hurrah!

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Nice though isn’t it?  The paths are good, despite the forest location.  A bit muddy in places and I suppose it would class as off road, but a good firm surface and there were buggy runners taking park.  In fact, as we headed off, to our side, I saw some canine assisted runners, and an intrepid off-road buggy pusher fair sprinting on an alternative track, overtaking most parkrunners with ease.  Impressive.  I’m not sure if that was an official dog and buggy route, or just an unofficial overtaking lane for those in the know.   Good work though people.  Almost too fast to be captured on camera!  They almost look like they are absconding from the law here, maybe they were?  Where better to hide than in the plain sight of a mass parkrun start, and then use the confusion of the off to disappear over the horizon and into the cover of the woods.  Makes perfect sense when you come to think about it.

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Those of us not absconding from the law, continued along the paths, it’s not a completely flat course, but the inclines were fairly forgiving.  Cheery marshals pointed the way.  And my, how photogenic and enthusiastic they all were.  Voice activated too, if you greeted them with a ‘happy new year’ or whatever, they’d become extra animated.  I’ve noticed that many marshals seem to have this interactive feature, and it’s great fun.  They respond to positive stimuli like ‘thank you marshal’ or being offered chocolate, mince pies or a high five.  It was nice to see them all thriving in their natural habitat here at Delamere, glossy coated, lively and smiling.

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On we went, over a bridge with I think a 28 ton limit, which seems huge for a forest path – maybe it’s so logging vehicles can get through.  It was a fairly steady pace at the back, and nice for me not to be running out of sight of everyone else for a change.  Prior to my recent re-education, I’d go so far as to say that often it’s just me and the tumbleweed plodding round at the back – meaning to reference a place deserted, like in westerns.  I think of it as the filmic shorthand for silence or stillness, e.g. as the hero rides into an apparently deserted frontier town.  However, I learn from The Guardian that actually, tumbleweed can be almost smothering by way of company, not indicative of glorious isolation at all.  Check out these truckers overwhelmed by tumbleweed in Washington State.  I know, who knew?  Not me, until now.  This is a catastrophe, I’ll either have to speed up so I can parkrun as part of the pack, find parkruns with a bigger field so there are more at my pace or, worst of all, come up with another analogy.  Oh the pressure!

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My regular reader will know I can’t talk and run, so I don’t really like officially running with others as it’s too stressful, but I like the companionable element of running in the company of kindly disposed and friendly others, albeit we lope alongside one another in silence.  Delamere parkrun delivered in bucket loads, it was a companionable and friendly yomping ground indeed.  Thank you fellow parkrunners all.

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Along the way there were a couple of other forest users, who were seemingly enjoying the spectacle of lots of runners.  One quipped at me that he had assumed I’d be wanting to take his photo when I whipped out my camera to get a shot of a hidden gruffalo  – presumably also on a parkrun tour from Sherwood Pines – so I took that as an invitation to do so.  Hello cheery fellow forest goers.  They were doing a walk in reverse, and pleasingly, I saw them again on the way back.  It’s good when there are positive interactions with non parkrunners at a venue, it feels more of a sustainable community event that way. The gruffalo picture didn’t come out very well unfortunately, but maybe it just didn’t want to be photographed today.

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Onwards we went, more marshals.  A lot of marshals here had a companion canine.  This is Lola, she’s not very old and she was absolutely desperate to join the parkrunners, and completely bemused as to what she and her companion human were doing standing still.  She was very sweet though, as was the marshal too of course, but only Lola gave an affection lick to my hand and a look of longing to join me as I departed onwards…

After running through the woods, you eventually find yourself peeling off to run round the lake, or more accurately ‘mere’ I suppose, though I’m not entirely sure what the difference is.  Hang on, let me google that for you.  Ok so according to bald hiker:

Technically a mere is a lake that is really shallow in relation to its size (breadth). … The word mere comes from Old English ‘mere‘ which meant lake or ‘sea’ in Old Saxon, a broad term for a body of water. Time and many many generations and language differences can make it all more confusing

Ok, that’ll do.   Anyway, soon found myself jogging alongside the lake.  The early morning sunshine was hitting the water and it looked really spectacular.  Sometimes sun broke through and hitting the bracken under the trees turned it almost copper in colour.  Simply stunning.  The mere has really unusual ecology.  By which I mean I hadn’t seen anything like it before. It has a strange mystical look, all moss and submerged trees, you can imagine elves and goblins and trolls and shrek and hobbits and allsorts going about their business here.  It is like a setting for a film, and a very special place indeed.  My internet research subsequently tells me that Cheshire Wildlife Trust are working at conserving the area and protecting its fragile and very specialised ecology.  Good for them.

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It was a real privilege to be in the space and yet another example of how parkrun tourism gets you to see areas of the country you might not otherwise think to visit.  My photos won’t do it justice, but you may be sufficiently frustrated by how rubbish they are that you are spurned to go and visit for yourself.  Don’t worry, the loos will more than likely be open when you go and the location just as lovely.  Taking part in a parkrun as part of your visit is not even mandatory, although it is of course highly recommended.

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Somewhere along this section I made a new parkrun friend, just as we were going under the Go Ape rope works, which are alarmingly high up.  She was explaining about the origins of the flooded forests, which made a bit more sense of the mysterious habitat.  Always good to have a well informed local parkrunner on hand to give you the local low down.  Thank you new best friend parkrunner!  Hope you like the photo!  Looking fabulous.

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There were one or two spent runners limping homewards in the opposite direction.  Not sure if they’d fallen, or just thought the better or running. I  did ask if they needed help, but they were walking wounded, calling it a day.  That’s got to have been disappointing.  Still, there is always another parkrun but a few sleeps away, not worth getting injured for.

‘Suddenly’ I was back round to Lola.  Completed disorientated.  I have learned I have a terrible sense of direction.  I had no idea we’d finished the circuit.

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Around this point though, I started to notice a mysterious phenomenon at work.  parkrunners coming in the opposite direction.  What strange sorcery was this?  I was pretty confident I was going the right way.  Then it dawned on me, these were parkrunners already finished, who were now embarking on running to their second parkrun. Respect.  They were going at a fair old lick, and probably needed to, it was a fair distance to Northwich and I think Crewe was the other possible, though I have no idea where that was in relation to where we were.  My bad.

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You retrace the path you headed out on, though it looks completely different coming back the other way for some reason.  The finish seemed to come ‘suddenly’ I think it might be because it’s ever so slightly further up the track than the start and also you go over a little hump in the path just before it so you there is an optical illusion whereby the lovely finish funnel team materialise as if by magic.  Aren’t they lovely!

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Through the funnel, quick glance behind to see who’s there:

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Not bad eh?

I was a bit distracted by the view, and almost forgot to pick up a token!  Can you imagine.  The horror.  I shudder at the very thought.  Fortunately, the event team have apparently run a parkrun before, so I was issued with my finish token, and went on down the funnel to the security gang of four who were ready to corral wannabee funnel duckers and scan you on exit.  There would be no messing with this lot, and they were super friendly too, just calm authority oozing outward so you know what you are dealing with. This seems fair!

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And that was that.  Just the little matter of thanking the RD and the marshals, and then onward bound for event number two.

By the way, Delamere parkrun produced their own run report for the day if you like to triangulate your parkrun info by checking more than one data source.  You can access it here Delamere parkrun #342, Jan 1st 2020

It was hard to tear myself away in some ways.  This was honestly one of my favourite parkruns to date.  And no, I don’t feel too disloyal saying that, as all parkruns are practically perfect in their own way, and although some do spark particular affection, it doesn’t mean I love any of the others any the less, it’s just your capacity for parkrun love keeps on growing.  The more you discover the greater it is.  It would be fab if it was your local, very nice indeed…  Then again, even though the cafe at the visitors’ centre was now open I think – or near as dammit – the lure of another parkrun was stronger.  I was soon on my way.  Carefully.  Max speed of 15 mph in the park, and there were plenty of people around, you don’t want to end a lovely parkrun morning by squishing anyone.  No need.  I could see others trekking to retrieve their cars and was wondering who I might meet at venue two.

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So where next?  Oh yes, I remember, Northwich.  Bring. It. On!  There was even a handy route planner provided on their Facebook page to facilitate movement.  In fact, although I did use satnav, pretty much the entire parkrun population seemed to be travelling in convoy between the events, so I knew I was in good company.  Hurrah!

New Years Dble route finder

And, for your information, some people actually ran between the two.  No really, I passed them en route and nearly stopped to offer a lift before I realised by their cheery wave to the car in front that they were doing this evidently on purpose!  Blimey.  Respect.  Even if there is a bit of a short cut, and you are faster through the first parkrun than me, that’s still quite a lot of running to kick off the year.  Well done super parkrunners.  Awesome.  I would say inspirational, but I’m not sure that’s quite true, not planning on emulating that for next year, though seriously impressed.

So that was 50% of my parkrun adventures concluded.  Exciting eh?

Thank you lovely parkrunners of Delamere for the warm welcome and fine facilitation at your spectacular venue.  Special thanks to the volunteers who made it so.  It seemed to run like clockwork from my point of view, and super friendly.  I really hope to make it back some day.  Til then, happy parkrunning adventures for 2020 and beyond!

#loveparkrun

Oh, and if you want to know how I got on at Northwich parkrun, you can read all about it here.

I was one of 203 who made that particular double, according to this fab stats New Year’s Day Double tracker.  Go on, treat yourself, have a browse.

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I don’t know too much about where this originated from but found this credit:

A map showing the parkrun ‘doubles’ that people managed on New Year’s Day 2020. The map is based on parkrun results, so may include errors where e.g. names have been manually entered. Unticking the Events layer makes the doubles more easy to see. Huge thanks to Ian Rutson for providing the base data. Please share freely!

And ‘with me now‘ say ‘Thanks to Charlie Pearce for creating the visualisation and Ian Rutson for supplying the data’ which is good enough for me!

– whatever wizardry created it though, respect!  There’s even an international one from Australia to Canada!  Hope some carbon offsetting went on…

By the way,  you can read all my parkrun related posts here.  Or not.  It’s up to you.  You’ll need to scroll down for older entries though, and you might be needing to get on with the next decade of your life now, it’s amazing how quickly time flies, it’ll be another decade done in the blinking of an eye!

Categories: 5km, parkrun, running | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Bringing the Highland Fling to Frosty Tring, parkrun tourism on St Andrew’s Day. Parkfun at Tring Kilted parkrun

Digested read: it was St Andrew’s Day, and it was parkrun day, the Venn diagram intersection therefore took me to Tring parkrun where they were having a themed, ‘bring a giraffe to parkrun day’.  It was very nice indeed, thank you for asking. Frosty terrain but warm welcome.  Also tea-cakes.

Undigested read:

It’s a long one, brace yourself…

Well, that was splendid.  It’s the simplicity of parkrun which is particularly awesome.  You get to rock up at the most spectacular of locations and be part of pop-up random wonderfulness in an infinite variety of manifestations. But today it was all about a kilted flashmob taking over the winter wonderland of Tring Park all in the name of St Andrew.  Dear reader, I give you Tring parkrun.  Epic.

Granted, I had a bit of insider info that gave me the nod that this was happening, but honestly, if you didn’t make it this year, then next year it could be you – there’s always room for a few more.  Go awn, you know you want to!

Yes please to this:

Tring Kilted parkrun.  Yes it is a thing.  Has been for half a decade now, my, you are late to the party.  You’ll be telling me you don’t know about Dulwich parkrun’s special day either at this rate!*  The exact origins are somewhat mysterious to me, but essentially one of the Run Directors at Tring is Scottish, so when St Andrew’s Day came around (not sure if that was with or without an apostrophe at the time) he suggested a kilted parkrun was the appropriate response.  Of course it was.  So the good parkrunning people of Tring took this directive to their hearts and thus the tradition of Tring Kilted parkrun began.  It is a fine thing, pretty much on a par with Burns night or Hogmanay in Scotland I understand – really and truly though, you have to go and find out for yourself.   This is what philosophers mean when they say travel broadens the mind.  Do your own primary research dear reader, don’t take my word for it.  Apart from anything else, it might well be a lot quicker for you to wait a while and head off to the next available Tring kilted parkrun than to spend the next few weeks and months wading through this blog post.  Each to their own though, and you have been warned.  It’s now contributory negligence on your part if you choose to read on and succumb to the time vampire that is a parkrun themed blog post.  All parkrunners have been there, photo albums are even worse.  Hours and hours dissecting every shot, blurred or otherwise, to relive parkrun adventures after the event.  Sigh, parkrun, the event that just keeps on giving eh…

Now, the pedants amongst you might be fretting at the missing apostrophe, is it St Andrews Day really or should it not be St Andrew’s Day?  Well, the thing is dear reader, this has become a moot point, as the Apostrophe Protection Society is no more.  This is obviously sad, and yet pleasingly, the person who I think practically single handedly fought the good fight, John Richards, resigned from his self-appointed post at the age of 96.  Here he is.  Looking at a very large apostrophe on his computer screen, in case you are the sort of philistine who isn’t even sure what an apostrophe looks like.  Might be your last chance to see one …

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Whilst I have no intention of still working, or indeed even being alive at 96, if I was founder of an apostrophe preservation society then I can think no better high on which to leave than when the numerals for your age look like back to back apostrophes!  Anyway, sad as this is, it does mean you can add or ignore apostrophes with gay abandon.  That battle has been lost.  On balance, I think it pains me, or as I shall be compelled to write in future ‘pain’s me’.  Oh the horror.

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However you choose to express it, the wrong way or indeed what I like to think of as the right way, Saint Andrew’s Day is the feast day of Saint Andrew. It is celebrated on 30 November according to not only Tring parkrun but also wikipedia, so at least we have consensus there. Saint Andrew’s Day is Scotland’s official national day. Did you know it is also a national holiday in Romania?  No, me neither.  Just think, that means if they had parkrun in Romania, then they could potentially have an extra parkrun today – oh only it’s Saturday anyway this year, so maybe that would be a bit of a waste.  I’m sure they have other celebratory days available to choose from if needs must.

Anyway, point is, I have contacts, I have insider info, I have an invite, I shall be there.  parkrun tourism is calling me….  Been wanting to go to Tring for ages, I mean the name is splendid for a start, and I hear they have a better class of parkrunners there.  Nice parkland location too, Tring it on!

It’s easy to over complicate things when choosing a parkrun destination.  Many of us started out innocently enough, venturing away from our home runs only when cancellations forced us to forage for parkrun opportunities elsewhere.  Next came the realisation that e.g. for me, within Sheffield, there were a fair few in reach, and it would be cool to do them all.  Has to be acknowledged though, that the gateway drug to more strategic travel for many of us is the running challenges chrome extension.  Suddenly the opportunity to get virtual badges that only you can see drives a compulsion to seek out parkruns to complete the alphabet (only you can’t because there isn’t an X and you have to go overseas for a Z and also loads of parkruns are going to be changing their names soon anyway…. oops.)  Not gonna lie, that was enough motivation for me to seek to complete, amongst others,  both my pirates and Stayin’ Alive challenges.  Yes, shallow, I know.  But look how fab they are, most decorative – and a correctly placed apostrophe, what’s not to like?

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Even so, the compulsion to complete challenges can become mildly toxic so it was good this weekend to take things back to basics.  The decision to go to Tring parkrun was simplicity distilled to its most basic form.  All I did was start a running blog about 5 years ago and include a post about my experiences of running the Sheffield Half Marathon (my first one) laying it as bait for a Tring parkrunner to stumble across when preparing to run it for myself.  Then there was just the little matter of securing a ballot place for the London marathon, but having to defer for a year, so that the year I did do it, was the same year as same Tring parkrunner also got lucky with the London Marathon ballot.  Unbeknownst to me, said Tring parkrunner would continue to read my blog because we were both training for our first marathon, and it was London.  She’s actually a reet good runner, whereas I’m, erm, what’s the word?  Oh yes, ‘not’.  Then the weather had to make it the hottest ever London Marathon, so that the night before facing London I was having a complete meltdown in my hotel room and did a looooooooooooooooong moany blog post about my angstiness.  The husband of said marathon runner would read my blog post, and then comment on it to share with me that his lovely wife – Tring runner previously referred to – was similarly stressed by unanticipated heat wave following months of training in ice and snow.  From that heartfelt message we bonded for all eternity, and it was basically from thereon in a foregone conclusion I’d be at Tring parkrun one day.  We both did London, we met up at some Sheffield parkruns, as you do, and then one auspicious day, I got the kilted parkrun nod.  The info this was happening, the offer of accomodation, and even assistance in scottish tartan beret making.  It was meant to be.  Like I said, parkrun tourism is just so simple when you strip it back to basics.  From the moment I hit ‘publish’ on my blog post button about the Sheffield Half marathon in 2016, fate directed my path so it would culminate in being part of Tring kilted parkrun on 30 November 2019.  Dear reader, this is how fate works.  You can’t fight it, you have to surrender to it sometimes, and embrace the adventures that henceforth unfold… submit to the inevitable and sometimes your life is the richer for it.

So that’s the backstory, in summary, three years blogging, a couple of Sheffield half marathons and two different parkrunners getting lucky with the ballot for the London Marathon leading to  mutual internet stalkery and becoming new best friends.  Simples.  What could possibly go wrong?  Of course, you could skip some of those stages and just rock up at a new parkrun of your choice anytime, but where’s the fun in that?  And there might not be kilts.  I rest my case.

Now what of the actual run?

Well, according to the Tring parkrun website blah de blah:

Course Description
The winter course is an out and back route on grass and dirt trails. Runners are asked to run on the left. Starting in the valley on the north side of the park next to the A41, the course heads into the NE corner of the grassy part of the park. Passing through a marshalled gate, shortly after turn right and climb a steep leafy path to the obelisk. Turn left here and carry on up to the Summer House where the path loops 180 degrees right to the top of the ridge. Follow this path south-west for 1.5 kilometres until the turnaround point just before Hastoe Lane and then returning along the same route. The finish is 200m beyond the start point. Trail shoes are recommended in winter.

and it looks like this:

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Yeah, whatever, sure it’ll be lovely, now on to think about fancy dress?  Kilted parkrun.  I take it that just means broad Scottish theme – or does it?  I wonder, does that mean deferential and respectful embracing of Scottish culture, or does it mean carb loading with a deep fried mars bar (ingredients mars bar, batter, hot spitting fat) the night before and putting irn bru in your water bottle?

Full woad as in Braveheart perhaps…  the woad would be easy enough

then again, getting the full flame effect as a backdrop would be a nightmare for the RD doing on the day risk assessments, need to think again…

Oh I don’t know, maybe better to go down the Nessie fancy dress option?

It helps that fortuitously in between me excitedly accepting the invite to go and the date dawning, we all became better informed about the Loch Ness monster FACT which is good to know.  They are  Monster eels apparently.  Clearly a conspiracy to keep people away.  Though to be fair, I’d be happy to see a ginormous eel or indeed a swimming elephant whilst visiting Loch Ness, or even Tring – is there a Loch in Tring?  Didn’t spot one on the course map…. mind you, I really like the thought of elephants in captivity, particularly not in circuses, so it would have to be a wild one to be acceptable as a nessie sighting, and I’m dubious there are indigenous elephants in Scotland – or indeed Tring.  They would trample and scare away the native haggis, and as haggis exist, the elephants can’t.  Fact.  I’m not happy about the midges though.  Lawks a lordy, Scottish midges,  now they are monstrous.  Back to eels, conger eels are potentially absolutely huge though seeing conga eels would be even more fun.  Makes you wonder…

Still, given how contentious it is with Nessie and all, perhaps I should stick with the tartan theme, which is towards the lower end of causing offence with casual racial stereotyping and/or cultural appropriation.  Hoping so.  Will be interesting to see if any other eeks nessie substitutes are present – or even a rubber chicken, that would be cool, that reminds me, I really must add Wyndham Vale parkrun to my to do list.  It’s in Australia, might take me a while to get there, even if I set off now…  Though I’ve already got a ‘W’ from Wakefield Thornes parkrun, that was a fun one – but lacking in rubber chickens now I come to think of it, though excellent on space ships.  What you lost on the fowl front you gained on the force front.  You had to be there really, no you did.  Trust me.

Incidentally, another monster at Loch Ness is this 80 mile ultra marathon, bet that’s amazing, but then it would have to be to brave the midges, they are the real monster resident in Scotland!  Looks blooming gorgeous though… seriously tempted. Don’t worry, you don’t have to do the full 80 – awesome as that would be, you can just do a few marathons instead if you prefer.  Go awn, go awn go awn….

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Anyway, you keep distracting me, we are heading to Tring not Loch Ness, and I’m going with the tartan.  I had a chat with Geronimo – oh, did I not mention she’d be coming too?  Well, we did London together, and so she’s part of our Tring twinning enterprise, it was only right and proper she comes along for the ride.  Also, I understand from my Tring contacts that exotic African creatures have historically had a home at Tring park.  I put her through the washing machine especially, she has never arrived at a parkrun more fragrant or more aptly attired…

geronimo

We talked about improvising with green tights to create a nessie creature, but it was a non- starter.  Geronimo felt that would cramp her running style, and she didn’t want to look stupid in the way that the wearing of green tights can so often result in.  It’s a look not everyone can carry off to be fair.  Upshot was that I came to think the tartan is a simpler and safer bet.  Granted, some may see our wearing of the tartan as lazy and casual racial stereotyping, but I see desperate times calling for desperate measures.  If Brexit happens I’ll be wanting to demonstrate my Scottish credentials as best I can, however tenuously, and surely a robust celebration of St Andrew’s Day will smooth the passage towards gaining Scottish citizenship further down the line.  Sporting some tartan along with happy smiles is sure to swing it should the need arise.  Decisions made.  Hurrah!  It’s all going to be just grand.  A wee adventure for the both of us!

Oh you want to know more about the exotic animals at Tring.  Fair does.  I was keen to find out more too.  Basically, my Tring parkrun contacts informed me that Zebras are ten a penny at Tring.  I can now confirm from personal experience that the parkrun route is carriage friendly, it even has a carriage turning circle at the top of the ridgeway which is most certainly a boon for anyone planning on taking their own zebra carriage for a spin along the paths there.   Look, spoiler alert, this was taken mid parkrun, but it I can’t keep it from you anymore, so exciting to be able to share:

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OK, I will concede it isn’t perhaps immediately obvious this is a turning circle for a zebra carriage, but surely you can see it now you are in the know?

I don’t honestly know if there are specific rules in the parkrun code regarding the inclusion of exotic animals at parkrun events, but for the record, Geronimo was made welcome, as a giraffe respected in her own right.  This was especially pleasing, as I do worry that once she’s spotted in a forthcoming feature film next year people might treat her differently.  Her meteoric rise to inevitable stardom is a foregone conclusion, hence it’s all the more important to treasure these personal memories before she becomes famous and potentially relationships shift.  Here it felt the welcome was authentic and genuine, and equally offered to all incoming parkrun tourists and regulars alike.  You are curious about her stardom?  Well, I can’t say too much about that just yet – confidentiality clauses and all that –  but I will say she could be upstaging big names on a big screen near you come summer 2020, no-one parties like Geronimo under a storm of confetti at a street party in Sheffield.  I’ll say no more…  I think we just all need to apply a bit of common sense, but those confidentiality clauses are a bind.

Clue though:

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Nope, that’s it, nothing more, my lips are sealed…

So back to kilted parkrun day.  As has already been established, Geronimo likes to party, so she came sporting a kilt, and that made her a shoo-in for a VIP welcome.  I daresay other African mammals would also make the cut, but contact the core team via the facebook page in advance if in doubt. This is the usual turn out convention with zebras at Tring – looks like the ‘one dog per runner’ rule is upped to four zebras per participant max here…

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I’m not sure of the ethics of riding an endangered giant tortoise round the route, although the photos would suggest it’s been done before.  Presumably this would have to be recorded as an ‘assisted run’ and only one barcode allowed.  Actually, that’s not true, I am pretty sure of the ethics around this.  It’s a terrible idea, let the poor animals be.

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Depressingly, most of Rothschild’s eclectic menagerie collection ended up being stuffed and displayed.  That makes me sad.  Then again, some of his impulses were around conservation, and much of his collection ended up in museums contributing to research.  It’s complicated.  You can read more about him and his life – including how he got given a museum for a 21st birthday present one year, as can happen apparently… here.  It does however explain the sign about wallabies roaming in Tring, I know wallabies aren’t from Africa, it’s the ‘exotic’ species link I’m making here.

and probably also explains why no-one really batted an eye about a giraffe rocking up at Tring parkrun, though they did like her fine tartan beret, as indeed they should.  It was a gift from the good Tring parkrunners who hosted me too.  Their hospitality was beyond compare…

Speaking of which.  This visitation was not so much ‘parkrun tourism’ as parkrun mini-break.  I set off from Sheffield on Friday afternoon, and arrived at my guests abode late afternoon, in daylight and in time for pre-parkrun faffery.  parkrun is even more fun if you prolong the experience with pre and post parkrun related activities.  In this case, we had to check out the various fancy dress options, experiment with tartan ribbons, and especially pleasingly for me, be the recipient of a fine parkrun tartan beret.  I had been alerted to this development in advance, and it was tailor made using a panda as a model.

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They aren’t from Africa too, and this particular panda isn’t really into parkrun, but was happy to contribute to the success of the occasion by offering up a head to aid beret construction.  That’s one of the many things I love about parkrun, there is scope for everyone to be part of it, even if they aren’t running or even rocking up on the day.  It’s a community bigger even than the impressive Saturday morning attendance stats suggest.  Hang on, I’ll check it out – right, these are the summary stats as of today, 4 December 2019 (yes, that’s after the date of this blog post I know, so shoot me, time travel is possible in the land of blogs, you just post for whatever date, past or future – you don’t seriously think I’d have written all this on Kilted parkrun afternoon, as well as having post-parkrun eggy bread and going through all the photos?  Quite.)

Number of events: 156,628

Number of runners: 2,240,488

Number of runs: 32,284,453

Number of locations: 684

Number of clubs: 6,667

Number of PBs: 5,540,683

Average runs per event: 206.1

Average number of runs per runner: 14.4

Average run time: 00:28:46

Total hours run: 1,767 Years 233 Days 16 Hrs 33 Min 28 Secs

Total distance run: 161,422,265km

Wowsers!

No wonder it’s changed so many lives.  Hurrah that Mr P S-H, got awarded the he RSA Albert Medal this year, it’s given annually for innovation in the fields of creativity, commerce and social improvement.  You can watch the full presentation and his speech here:

but come back and do that later or you’ll never even get to the start line of Tring parkrun, and never find out if it was a Braveheart-esque line up on a big long start line like William Wallace and the massed Scottish armies, or a more sedate trot out as if on a carriage ride pulled by zebras.  However, you can snigger at the childish observation of Danny Norman of With Me Now who boasted that he got to touch Paul S-H’s Prince Albert.  (Chortle).

Hang on, there’s an official press release thingy parkrun Founder wins prestigious award  with a more formal portrait.  And the medal is so very fine, it even comes in it’s own box I see!  Now that’s class!

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Lots  of teeth in the pictures, most impressive.  I admire teeth, and intend to hang on to mine for as long as possible.  Not in a creepy way, if I do lose them I won’t be threading them on to a necklace, but you are unlikely to meet anyone as obsessive about brushing their teeth regularly as I am…  Anyway, stop distracting me with teeth talk, even though it is true that the best Batman and Robin episode ever was the one where Robin had to save himself from falling to his death by hanging on to a rope with his teeth because his hands were tied behind his back, and Batman said in the closing moments ‘and remember Robin, you owe your life to dental hygiene‘  He was so wise…  And ahead of his time too, oral hygiene prevents heart attacks too dear reader.  Actually, this isn’t a complete digression as Batman and Robin were both present at Tring parkrun too – how else do you explain the cape?

Can’t wait for the next With Me Now podcast, it’s going to be epic, even if it might be light on tooth care. Then again they all are, the podcasts, with or without oral hygiene segments, frankly, I could stay in the house til spring now, just listening to the WMN back catalogue and venturing out only to attend actual parkruns in between listening to, and poring over accounts of ones that have already passed…  I have to catch up on Free, Weekly Timed too, being a late adopter there.  In fact, that’s my Christmas Day indulgence sorted.  parkrun podcasts and a sofa post Christmas Day parkrun, and I shall be living in an earthly paradise indeed. Ho ho ho.  That’s lifted my Christmas spirit, can’t wait now.  Not many more sleeps to go…

Anyway, back to arriving at my hosts.  Fancy dress sorted, parkrun tales shared, just the little matter of carbing up nicely the night before.  We had vegetarian haggis with neaps and tatties which was excellent.  And then we had Scottish cranachan recipe courtesy of Mary Berry  fortunately, my host used the pictorial directions in the recipe dividing up the pudding into three portions… it was only the next day she noticed that the quantities were intended to serve 8.  Still, parkrunners like a challenge, we managed to polish of the lot, and very nice it was too!  Delicious in fact.  Great way to set ourselves up for the Scottish delights that would unfold before us on the morrow…

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and so the morrow came, which is actually today – if you believe the post date for this blog, or a few days ago if you are pedantic and want to know in real time what the timelines are.

Bracing.  That was the word.  A deep, picturesque frost – in fact, loads of parkruns in Sheffield and elsewhere were cancelled due to ice, so I got lucky in having already made it safely south.  Hot coffee was quaffed, and last minute parkrun faffing commenced.  My hosts with the most drove me through pretty villages – used as a backdrop for many a midsomer murder episode apparently, and towards Tring.  Now dear reader, Tring parkrun has many excellent attributes, but it is not blessed with conveniently located loos.  My regular reader knows I cannot countenance undertaking a parkrun without a precautionary pee, fortunately my hosts catered for all needs, so it was that we did a Tesco detour en route.  There are loos in the public car park apparently, but the Tesco ones are nicer, and have a handy tampon/ condom machine too.

Precautionary pees completed, off to the parkrun venue.  Apparently there are a couple of different car parks, but I didn’t pay too much attention to this, as I was chauffeur driven.  We arrived nice and early, passing the not at all conspicuously attired parkrun carpark marshal(s) already mustering and in situ extra early to keep parkrunners safe and on track.

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It was cold though, not gonna lie, was glad I’d not gone for the bare-legged kilted option, though kudos to my travelling companions who did.  Brrrrr.  Next challenge, fancy dress sorting.  This is what goes on behind the scenes quite probably at a parkrun near you.  I think the degree of self-sacrifice (baring legs in the cold) and creativity that goes into making the parkrun fancy dress transformations  happen adds to the parkrun magic, but look away now if you don’t want to see the smoke and mirrors lifted…

I think she was helping to put the kilt on… not sure.  You know what, the parkrun code requests that we all respect everyone else’s right to participate in their own way, so let’s do that, and not worry about the particular dressing/undressing car park shenanigans shall we, each to their own.

And that was it. OHMYGAWDTHISISSOEXCITING!  Kilts on? Check.  Barcodes present and correct?  Check.  Laden with shortbread tins of tunnocks teacakes?  Check  Ready for action dear reader,  Bring.  It.  On.

Last minute check round for anything left behind.  What’s that – a pair of gloves, bound to belong to a fellow parkrunner, my contribution was to scoop these up and take them along too.  Truthfully, I wasn’t much practical assistance to the Tring parkrun experience, unless you count enthusiastic and appreciative participant, which I do.  My hosts were doing a great job with their jenga balancing skills being tested by a quantity of tins and flasks of hot coffee, would have undermined their confidence if I’d thought to offer to help… probably.  Almost certainly, that’s why I didn’t risk it.  Anyway, I was too distracted by the stunning location and sights and sounds of the venue to focus on being useful.  And we’d not even left the car park for goodness sake!

In fact, the set up team, who’d been out even earlier, took some amazing photos of the frost-scaped early morning.  Reet nice out as we say up north!

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You leave the car park through a pretty gate, and turn right following the sign to Tring park (a clue for the observant amongst you) and head along the path towards a spectacular curly bridge.  Not hard, and the chances are there’ll be other parkrunners to follow.

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Don’t forget to admire the wildlife murals, they are to an impressive standard.  There was even artwork on the curly bridge, but I didn’t take a photo as I was clinging to the handrail to avoid skidding on the icy steps at the time.  If you are braver, or there is less ice, you could look for longer.

It’s super exciting when you get to the curly bridge, because it’s quite an architectural feature in its own right, but it also opens up the most fantastic views across Tring park and you get the fun spectacle of watching from above as ant sized parkrunners start to congregate.  They weren’t actually ant-sized FYI – well not unless there are some exceptionally large mutant ants in these parts, they just looked tiny because they were far away.  I’ve been through this before.  These are small, these are far away a la Father Ted,  Yes, she is carrying a bottle of irn-bru.  The coffee in flasks story was just a cover…

Rather epic isn’t it.  And VERY EXCITING!

So we trit trotted over the curly bridge, you can tell you are in the right place because of a strategically placed ‘caution runner’ signs.  Always a relief and frisson of excitement as a parkrun tourist when you espy one of those.  We tagged along with the gathering throngs.  It was not only beautiful and atmospheric, but also a lot of fun, as we started to espy other kilted parkrunners striding towards the gathering point.  My pictures make it look a bit bleak, but honestly it wasn’t, it was just lovely, and perfect… if a tad bracing for my liking – and I still had my fleece most definitely on at this juncture.  Pity those sporting naked legs.  I mean, kudos for honouring the kilted spirit but brrrrr.

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There is a pleasing mini optical illusion as you approach the clan gathering point.  You think it’s flat, but actually, the path – which is basically cross country rather than a formal walkway as such – ‘suddenly’ goes down into a dip.  These means even though you feel like you are basically walking on the flat, you unexpectedly (to me, you’ll know so I suppose I’ve potentially ruined the surprise for you now, oops) find yourself at what is the brow of little hill, and unfolding before you in a big reveal was the encampment!   So exciting.

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It’s hard to describe the scene, but I won’t let that stop me, why let a picture be a thousand words when you can type considerably more than that and gift your reader confusion wonderment?

It was like espying an arctic research station, or a first human settlement on some remote planet, or possibly even a festival tent, the first marker of a party tent for those that come.  It was epic!  Look at the early picture of it put up in the dawn light.  I say put up in the dawn light, but it looked quite complicated, they had probably been working on erecting this for many weeks, I doubt the cows hanging around were all that much practical assistance to be fair.  Good job.  This photo is amazing, it captures the Brigadoon like way that Tring parkrun sort of materialises out of the mist.  They do have regular results listed on their official parkrun page though, so I’m pretty sure it appears more often than one day every hundred years (imagine how annoying that would be, particularly if the one day that Tring appeared it was neither a Saturday nor bonus parkrun day. Oh, the horror!).  Still, wouldn’t hurt to check their Tring parkrun Facebook page in advance if you are making a special trip, just to be on the safe side.

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In fact, this domed cathedral was the VIP tent.  It covered a table groaning under the weight of Scottish consumables, and was adorned with flags as well as being awash with good will.  In fact, as you will appreciate, all parkrunners are equally important, so everyone could access all areas, and very nice it was too.  My hosts added to the weighty load of the table, whilst I helpfully lurked and took photos, and wondered at what point I’d have to take off my fleece.  More dedicated sports people warmed up for parkrun with traditional sword dances, as you do.  Impressive.

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People continued to arrive, all smiles and kilts.  Happy parkrunners a-gathering on an auspicious and frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! Cèilidh!  I do like it when people make an effort, and I also like it when there are photos to document such dedication that can be endlessly looked at later.  It extends the timeline of joy that parkrun offers up, beyond the Friday night anticipation, the Saturday morning big event into potentially many months of memories and reflection and sometimes laugh ’til you think your knickers will never dry shared recollections.  I wonder why tena haven’t been approached as parkrun sponsors?  Other incontinence product manufacturers are available.  Only a matter of time surely.  I mean, they may not be so necessary if you are wearing a kilt and adhering to tradition in terms of what lies beneath, but pads could be a boon at non-kilted parkruns, particularly for those who lack strength with their pelvic floors.

There may have been a certain amount of posing, and those swords were most certainly a boon for creative play.  Every parkrun should have photo props methinks.  Game changer!

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I say I took photos, and indeed I did, but I also foraged for some subsequently, and so many of the better shots are not attributable to me, but to the Tring parkrun official photographers, for which many thanks.   They were fab.  All high vis heroes are.  Obvs.

Where was I? Oh yes, mingling at the start.  Another innovation at Tring, is that they lay out a huge blue tarpaulin on which you can leave all your stuff.  I feel they missed a bit of an opportunity to transform it into the Scottish flag the St Andrew’s Cross through the simple effort of tippexing a white saltire onto it, but maybe they didn’t have enough time after spending ages putting up the VIP tent.  The idea is that this keeps your stuff together and dry.  Hang on, I’ll find a pic:

Hurrah!  It’s the usual ‘leave at your own risk’ system, but you’d have to be a bold thief to take on the collective might of the ferocious-looking battle-ready broadsword- brandishing core team left behind at the pod to keep order whilst parkrunners did their thing.  Well, they were gathered around the finish funnel area nearby in their high-vis vests, which amounts to the same thing.

I still had the pair of gloves I’d picked up from the car park so tossed them in the middle of the tarpaulin where hopefully their rightful owners would discover them.  I mean surely only parkrunners would be roving round the carpark at this ungodly hour, carelessly dropping their gloves for others to find.  I did ask half heartedly around for glove droppers, and tried to discreetly look for gloveless hands turning blue with cold amongst those gathering in the hope of using my Miss Marple skills to find the person who had suffered this loss, but my efforts came to nothing.  …  Oops, hope there isn’t some poor random dog walker even now checking round their car puzzling about where on earth else they could have dropped their favourite woollen gloves on their sojourn to Tring park…  Oh the angst.  You have no idea!  At least the gloves were getting their own micro adventure I suppose, but at what cost.

What next?  First timers’ briefing I think.   There was a fair few of us from near and far.  Some who like me, had been wooed over by the prospect of kilts as well as the intrinsic glory of Tring.  Wave to the Poolsbrook traveller, who I didn’t meet on the day but found out we were fellow travellers from the north after the event.  Hello, next time maybe?

There were even a few first time everers!  What a one to choose for your debut.  I like to think they will have gone away believing kilts to be not just de rigueur at Tring, but actually compulsory at parkruns everywhere.  People came from near and far, with and without kiltery, which just goes to show, if you build it they will come!

The briefing was welcoming and succinct, something about a hill, and the route was described, and the ridgeway, and things to look out for.  Hills don’t particularly phase me, not because I’m fast, but quite the opposite, I’m really slow, and hills legitimise me walking, so all good.

Then there was a little bit of anticipatory waiting.

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At some point I availed myself of the thistle on the cheek temporary tattooing service, so that was good …  Actually, can we just pause for a moment to appreciate the magnitude of that particular offering.  Someone had the initiative, foresight and creativity to bring along with them a thistle stencil and a sponge preloaded with face paint or indelible ink, I forget which – purely for the purposes of helping fellow parkruns really rock the Scottish themes.  That’s awesome.  For this great public service fellow parkrunner – and your most excellent plumed hat, I thank you.  He got about 40+ marked up pre-parkrun I understand, and you can see his handiwork captured in some of the photos.  Grand is it not?  You might have to squint a bit to see them, but trust me, there are there, twice in one case, check it out!

He probably would have got more, but his efforts were interrupted as we were corralled for the mass walk to the start, which was just a little way on, up a slope.  The walk was lovely.  It was fun as a collective activity, and also fun because there were coos along the way.  Coo marshals shooed them to one side.

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The cows were calm, photogenic and placid. Unlike Sheffield cows which may be photogenic but need to be given a very wide berth.  Not phased by the parkrunners at all, which was a relief.  I also took a mandatory selfie.  Has to be done.  And I had by this point removed my fleece.  Kill me now.  It was very cold indeed.  I thought my nipples would freeze and fall off, they didn’t on this occasion, but it was touch and go I don’t mind telling you.

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Then we were gathered at the start, where by complete coincidence there was fiddler and an accordian player on hand to provide musical accompaniment to the run.  I mean, honestly, what were the chances of that, and how very fine!

It was apparently the Run Director’s event debut, you couldn’t tell, it all seemed very slick to me, clearly a well oiled team runs this show, or well lubricated by early morning seasonally appropriate Scotch Whisky on this particular occasion at any rate…

We were gathered in a semi-circle for the briefing, cheers for milestones, cheers for volunteers.  To mark the occasion, there was also the official kilt wearing shot, and the kilt lifting one too.  Has to be done.

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and then suddenly, there was the countdown and we were off!

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Up a hill, to the accompaniment of this: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=419351318973065

As usual, I just slotted myself in at the back.  I like to pootle these days, partly dodgy back, partly being unfit anyway but a great deal of liking to take my own time and take in the view.  The view from the back can be glorious, it is often the fun factory of a parkrun, and what’s more, on this particular route, being out and back, you get to see everyone at some point anyway.  Hurrah.

You head off up a fairly gentle incline, and then along a flat bit known locally as cowpat ally.  It was so cold, the ground was pretty much frozen, so no mud bath or slurry pit sliding required today.

Rather you could skip through, and cheerily greet the marshals on the gate in situ to see you safely through into the wood and the first of the proper uphill up to the ridgeway.

Well dear reader, I can report that it is indeed a hill.  Quite  a long one.  It’s picturesque (my signature word of the day forTring parkrun it seems) in the wood, and sheltered too, but it is also quite a long heave ho up the woodland track to the obelisk.  A full kilometer I think, but I didn’t check.  I did have a vague moment of clarity when I recalled my host telling me that when she was trying to get her husband into parkrun she deliberately didn’t take him along to Tring for his first one for fear of putting him off forever.  Hmmm.   Possibly a point.  I paced myself by walking.  Works for me.  As others peeled off ahead, you could see them through the trees.   There was also a lurking photographer at a corner spot, to capture the action.  All details attended to at this parkrun.

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It’s quite hard taking photos in the wood.  The trees are magnificent and tall, and bright sunshine above tried to break through their canopy.  You are heading towards the obelisk.  I do like a landmark on a parkrun, and this one was particularly fine.  It was so high the top was way up in the winter sunshine, so with the dark at the base it took on a near mystical quality.  This spot has its own regular marshal to keep you in order.  He offered smiles and words of encouragement on both the out and back.  Sometimes there is even music from speakers here apparently, though not today.  There is a story about that I gather, but I didn’t get to hear what it was.

From here, you do a zig towards the summer house, and then a zag back upwards to the ridgeway.

Lots of friendly marshals along the way.  Well, maybe not lots, but certainly sufficient, and they all had interactive settings so you could engage with them en route.  You could even pose for photographs with them, or get them to take photos of you and your new best friend you’ve just made at parkrun.  Inexplicably, some parkrunners just sprint round the whole course without stopping to pose for pictures, but perhaps they haven’t yet realised this is a viable option.  Maybe one not absolutely compatible with getting a pb, but then again, I pbed automatically on this route because it was my first time, just putting it out there as a thought.

Once you are on the ridgeway, breaks in the tree line now and again give amazing views, which once again are alas, hard to photograph, but you might get a broad gist from these two – it’s the same site, but with different emphasis on foreground in one and view in the other.  I tried dear reader, I tried:

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As I was having a leisurely event, I paused to try and photograph some runners at the carriage turning spot.  There being a distinct lack of zebra drawn carriages along the way today, there was plenty of room for runners in both directions.

Onwards, and a bit further up was another view point, and the uncontested winner for top trumps cameras in situ too.   Size might not be everything, but sometimes you have to acknowledge it can impress, as with the obelisk, so too with this lens thingamajig.  And you have to concede it is quite something to be able to draw attention away from the eye-catching redhead in full pelt as well as full tartan sprinting by in the foreground.

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Oh look more runners coming by – including mein hosts!  Hurrah!

Though if they are coming back the other way, maybe time to get a wiggle on myself.   It’s reasonably flat and sure footed along the ridgeway, and after a bit, you reach a turn around point, where you are invited to run round, if not the actual marshal, then the cone at this point.  It doesn’t specify how many times you should run round the cone, as many as you like, I was running a bit late, so just did the one, but others may have done more.  One enthusiast apparently overshot the point entirely, and had to be wrestled back by the marshal and spun round to head back to the finish funnel.  They are alert and primed for action at a moment’s notice these marshals.  Quality effort.

Coming back along the ridgeway, you see the views again, better actually, as the light was less whiting out and more illuminating.  Oh look, tailwalkers.  Always a welcome sight, and companionably putting the world to rights as they went along by the look of things.

I noticed more details on the way back.  There are little footpath signs and a Walter’s Wander walk of sorts.  I tried to get a parkrunner bordered by the cut out sigh, but never a parkrunner en route when you need one, maybe you can photoshop yourself in some time later.

And then check out this view – you can even see the finish area and the Rothschild stately home too, if you aren’t so worried about the prospects of getting premature wrinkles you can have a good squint.

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And friendly marshals again.  Still friendly and supportive second time round.  Marshalling in the cold of a crisp winter morning, and greeting all parkrunners with equal enthusiasm takes tenacity, stamina and grace, all were in evidence today, for which I thank them all.

And check out the summer house, spectacularly lit by the sun.  Great place to sit and watch the parkrun whizz by methinks.

and from the summer house, you can see the obelisk ahead, homeward bound now, and some proper downhill coming too, the yin to the yan of the up.

It was quiet by now, and I was nearly caught by surprise by a stealth photographer still en route, but he caught me and Geronimo in full flight.  For the dubious amongst you, and I think there may be a few, surely this shot is absolute proof that running with a Giraffe is not as much of a help on a run as you might think.  The psychological and emotional support of having a companion animal along with me cannot be overstated, but in terms of six legs better than two, maybe not quite so much of an asset as you might imagine!

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Actually, it might be time for some gratuitous parkrunning action shots, courtesy of the official photographers, a little interlude, before we come to the climactic finish.  Running with a buggy must have been tough.

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So after smiling and waving at the photographer en route, you charge on down the hill, depending on your courage and your faith in your trail shoes, and back out of the wood and into cowpat alley once again.  As I passed through, a runner who’d already finished was coming back the other way, holding refreshments I presume for the marshal(s), who must have been getting cold by now.

The light was beautiful, and the scenery lovely, and my erm, let’s go with ‘sedate’ pace meant I had it pretty much to myself too.

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The pictures don’t really do it justice I’m afraid, but think of them as but a spoiler, something to whet your appetite so you make the effort to go and see for yourself.

After a little while, again the finish funnel comes into view just as you are coming over the brow of the hill.  There is the usual glorious sight of welcoming volunteers, a well staffed finish funnel and a few parkrunners who had stayed behind to cheer the final few through.

What was less usual, but exceedingly glorious, was to be serenaded by the duo who were there from start to finish.  It was a.maz.ing!  Only problem is, I want live music at all my parkrun finishes now.  And not just live, but bespoke, so themed to each and every occasion.  Is that really so very much to hope for?

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Also, and this is a bit weird, it was like entering a different world on the return leg.  Sunshine had melted the frost and the grass was green and the shadows just as atmospheric but the scenery quite transformed somehow.  I had my barcode wristband thingy scanned in record time.  I treated myself to one of the anniversary wristbands, but it’s not had a great success rate scanning, two out of five occasions used it didn’t record for some reason.  No worries today, see, everything about this parkrun was practically perfect in every way!

So that was my parkrun ended, but it wasn’t the end of the fun.  So much still to do.  Specifically, to play with the swords, too good an opportunity to miss, particularly when you’ve come dressed for it especially.  You know, I think that’s one of the most brilliant things about parkrun, yes, yes, we all know it’s good to exercise and be part of a community blah de blah, and I am 100% behind those aspects too, however, maybe for me the bottom line is something about it creating a space where we have permission to play.   Being able to participate in parkrun in your own way includes joyful scampering about.  Where else would it be completely acceptable to mess about with swords in some country park somewhere and be confident that parkrun friends would join in and someone would have the wit to photograph the occasion for posterity – even direct the participants to ensure they captured the perfect shot!  I can’t quite decide which is the perfect one though, so you’ll have to look at the slide show for a whole load of them, and other posing too.  It’ll be fun, it was for us, you can have fun by association, or simply think yourself accursed you were not here, though it was St Andrew’s Day remember, and not St Crispin’s.

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No animals or parkrunners were injured or distressed in the posing for these photos.

Still time to linger, avail ourselves of refreshments, enjoy the view and welcome back the volunteers and tail walkers.

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However, all good things must come to an end.  Eventually everyone was accounted for, as the last of the marshals came in en masse

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Then there was just the little matter of taking down the VIP zone.  That was quite technical, and involved a great many people helping, and me circling around unhelpfully whilst I fretted about the gloves.  Remember them?  Well, they were still on the tarpaulin so not reunited with their rightful owner then.  Oh lawks a lordy, someone, somewhere has probably lost multiple digits from their hands because of me ‘helpfully’ removing them.  Just as I was falling into near despair at this thought, I vocalised my dilemma, only for someone to pipe up ‘oh, they are mine!  It’s OK, I had a spare pair!‘  Phew, it ended happily dear reader.

So too with the tent deconstruction, with some expert supervision, it was dismantled with exemplary teamwork.

I commented to anyone in earshot that this was the sort of high performance practical problem solving that would make me confident that Tring parkrunners are also able to fold up their collapsable start sign and even parkrun flag.  Awkward.  Apparently not.  One amongst our company disclosed they actually have the Tring parkrun start sign very much open on their kitchen floor, steadfastly refusing to be packed away despite having watched youtube tutorials on the theme.  It may even have been the cause of a blip in usual domestic harmony.  Oops.  Assume nothing dear reader, learn from me.  Mind you, those bannery things, they are tough!  Here’s Great Notley parkrun, grappling with the pop up so we don’t have to:

and that was that, everybody started to disperse, and where once there were runners, now there was nothing but footprints and the echo of laughter.  We took away photos and memories.  Some departing were noticeably more laden than others!  Bravo volunteer heroes, above and beyond on so many levels.  Your labours were very much appreciated.  Best kilted parkrun ever!

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Yes, I did notice it looks a little bit like they might be trying to dispose of a body, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.  Even if they are, I’m sure they will have had their reasons.  Talking through the run briefing does really need to be stamped out, I didn’t notice any of that at Tring, and perhaps this is why…

Oh, an in case you are regretting having missed it, you can relive the glory of the run through this actual footage of the kilted parkrun, or possibly the kilted coaches, but it looks broadly similar, so you’ll get the idea.  That’s a fancy dress haggis chasing them down at Tring by the way.  They aren’t real, that would be silly.  Real haggises (haggae?) are much, much smaller, but equally ferocious, and don’t wear fake tartan hat/hair combos, obvs.

kilted coaches haggis

You’re welcome.

Back to the carpark – remembering to check out the lovely wildlife pics again:

Time for a quick pose by the gate – one for the family album surely, or at very least their fridge…

and alas, that was that.  Just the mud on the shoes remaining to prove we’d been there.  I’m not one to bear a grudge, but couldn’t help noticing my toesies were a lot muddier than Geronimo’s.  Still, we’d both had a fab morning out so no cause for complaint.

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So basically, this was indeed the best parkrun ever… until the next one.  That’s the funny thing, it was completely brilliant, but I never fear anticlimax at my next parkrun, because all parkruns are uniquely wonderful. Just as the capacity to love is infinite, so too is the capacity of parkrun to engage and enthrall… worst case scenario is type two fun – only fun retrospectively, but that’s still fun is it not, and parkrun is always parkfun, or your money back!

Also, for me, the awesomeness wasn’t even quite over yet, as it was back to mein hosts for post parkrun eggy bread – which I’ve not had in years and years, and steaming hot coffee, and a de-brief about all the fun we’d had and a sharing of some of the photos too.  Perfect end to a perfect parkrun.  Post parkrun brunches consolidate parkrun fun and parkrun memories.  It was just brilliant.  I felt like I’d been not so much on a mini break, but on an actual holiday, maybe in part because I had.  This might be the way forward for parkrun tourism, groom befriend people over the internet for a period of a few years and then turn up at their houses wanting to stay the night so you can run at their parkrun the next day.  Only moving house will prevent this occurrence from happening again.  Actually, now I come to think of it, there was some mention of a potential move further down the line… no surely not, had to be bluffing, and anyway, just a coincidental mention.

So sadly, the time came where I had to leave.   My hosts cheerily waved me off cheerfully.

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Possibly a little too cheerfully at seeing me go now I come to think of it, but then again they had to crack on with the rest of their busy day.  You can see they are just itching to get on with their spontaneous outburst of Scottish Country dancing, and that shortbread wouldn’t be eating itself now, plus there was scotch to be drunk also.  I think they keep the Drambuie back for bathing in.  It lightens the legs.  No rest for the wicked as the saying goes…  Just another typical parkrun morning, paying homage to their wannabe Scottish heritage.  Honestly, when they aren’t indulging in Scottish themed consumables, they are running up tartan accessories and working on their highland flings.  I know, I’ve been there.  …

celebrating guests departure

So thank you lovely Tring parkrunners all, but especially thank you to my virtual and now actual parkrunning Tring friends, we have officially bonded now, we have shared a kilted parkrun together, this can never be undone, not that we’d want to, because it was brilliant.  Exceeded expectations even, which is saying a great deal as I’ve been excited about it for ages and ages!  🙂

Incidentally, if you would like to triangulate my account of this Tring parkrun with another, then dip into the very fine debut run report for event #276 Highland (Fl)Tring!!!! which you can access here.  Recommended.  Full exposure of Tring parkrun.  There are also a gazillion photos (yes, I think it is an actual number) with albums aplenty included kilted parkrun album part one, Lucy’s perspective (yes, that’s me!)  and the final collection – like I said, really a lot of photos, but you can never have too much of a good parkrun thing.  FACT.  Also, what’s new year for if not for reminiscing about the high points of last one, all those pics could come in handy.

Same time next year anyone?  Or just get in the habit of wearing a kilt anyway, they are surprisingly warm to run in apparently, and handy if you need an al fresco precautionary pee I understand.

So keep on having parkrun fun y’all, here’s to new parkrunning adventures for all of us, wherever they may lead us.

By the way,  you can read all my parkrun related posts here.  Or not.  It’s up to you.  You’ll need to scroll down for older entries though, and you might be needing to get on with your life again now.  You are needed in it.

*Oh you want to know about Dulwich parkrun. Well, turns out it may be Dul by name but it is far from Dul by nature (see what I did there, gawd I’m hilarious sometimes, great punning action).  They only do a Eurovision Song contest themed parkrun every year.  That’s my 16 May 2020 parkrun destination sorted – hopefully it won’t be negatively impacted by Brexit.  Do love a parkrun that sets its own traditions. Colwick parkrun has its Hawaiian shirts, Tring parkrun its kilted run and Dulwich parkrun the full European spectrum.  Choose your parkruns wiseley dear reader, and your grand tour will be most enlightening, educational and – best of all – entertaining.  Start making your bespoke bunting now…

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Having a relay good time at Cusworth Hall parkrun.

Digested read:  parkrun tourism took me to Cusworth Hall parkrun this Saturday.  It was relay nice!

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Undigested read:

Cusworth Hall parkrun is a relatively new addition to the parkrun family.  It takes place at Cusworth Hall Museum & Park, Doncaster.  Were it not for this parkrun, I would never even have heard of Cusworth Hall, let alone taken the trouble to go and visit it, and my life would have been the poorer for it.  Turns out, it’s a gem of a location, less than an hour from Sheffield, and I can only assume it has its own glorious microclimate, because on a day when zillions and squillions* of parkruns were cancelled due to forecast high winds, storms, and apocalyptic rain, and others because of the rugby (no really – some people have trouble prioritising) yet Cusworth Hall parkrun was going ahead and the venue was bathed in autumn sunshine.  A little oasis of sun, sanctuary and calm.  A.Maz.Ing.  I like to think the volunteers put this on especially – they were very welcoming, it seemed nothing was too much trouble.  I’m pretty confident therefore that they guarantee similarly glorious weather every time or your money back.  This is a pleasing reversal on my most common local parkrun weather experiences, which involve me peering out of the window on a Sunday morning in Sheffield pre Graves junior parkrun, establishing it’s lovely out – if necessary through a process of triangulation which involves sticking my arm out of an attic window … and then traveling to Graves park having crawled along in the car behind a snow plough (should have guessed that might have been an early warning sign), only to find stepping out of the car on arrival I can’t even see my hand in front of my face because of, if not total white out, then hail coming down on the earth like a vengeful deity hurling down shards of broken glass.  Don’t get me wrong, it can add a certain frisson to the parkrun occasion to be conducting it in extreme weather, but Cusworth Hall it seems has a microclimate which is altogether more welcoming and benign.  Reet nice out in fact. Go find out for yourself.  If you go next week, Mr parkrun himself is going to be there, so it won’t only be glorious weather, but the parkrun route will be paved with gold.  I don’t know if volunteers have to go out with little brushes and paint gold leaf everywhere, or if just Mr S-H stepping on the ground gilds the paths around him by magic. Like King Midas, but only his feet on the ground.  Even if it doesn’t work like that, there are plenty of golden leaves adorning the paths right now, so the effect is broadly the same.   Here, by way of illustration, is a parkrun he visited earlier.  I think this one is possibly in Narnia, and it was a trial run, but worth keeping an eye on the exit route at the back of your wardrobe over the next few weeks, as I imagine it will be going live soon.

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Mind you, there was gold at Cusworth Hall parkrun this week too, but only as a taster.  I’m getting ahead of myself though, let’s start at the very beginning instead, it’s a very good place to start.  Apparently.

Oh, by the way, there was an event photographer at Cusworth Hall parkrun this week, and he shared some pretty fab pics, which I’m going to use freely in this post.  Well, they are fab, would be a shame not to.  I did take some pictures of my own, but they suffer by comparison, let alone juxtaposition!  I acknowledge my own pictures may add, erm, character perhaps, and sometimes comedic value, but not necessarily fine focus.  Each snap a memory nevertheless.  Well, I like to think so, and they do say it’s the thought that counts, albeit mostly when the result is pretty horrible.  Even so, not gonna lie, it’s brilliant to have some proper shots to immortalise the day, so thanks to Chris Cull for the photos, which you, dear reader, can browse at will here.

Right, so pre-visit prep.  My touristing options are getting more limited now winter is drawing in. However, Cusworth Hall is less than an hour from Sheffield, so why not?  I checked the official Cusworth Hall parkrun website blah de blah in advance, and established that you head for postcode DN5 7TU but as you get close please ensure you follow the signs to the car park and do not park in the village. Alarmingly, they add, please note that the postcode does not work with all Sat-Nav devices.  Uh oh!  Since I have acquired a sat nav, I have lost the ability to operate a map, or paper based aids.  Oh well, nothing ventured.  They say toilets are available (yay) and parking too, free until 10.30 but you need to display a spare barcode.  No problemo, my car is littered with spare barcodes, admittedly in various states of sodden decay, but one at least must be laminated and recogniseable.   This is testament to the potential benefits of otherwise potentially paralysing and pointless parkrun paranoia re #dfyb (don’t forget your barcode), parking sorted!  I knew my precautionary angstiness might one day pay off!

Next pre parkrun research is to check out the course.  The course description reads thus:

Course Description
The course starts and finishes on the driveway in front of Cusworth Hall. It is a slightly extended out and back route which explores the undulating terrain of Cusworth Hall Park. Following level paths in front of the hall and around the car park, the course drops down to the lakes at the southern end of the park. After running around the lakes the course zig-zags uphill across the main lawn before heading towards the finish.

Nope, that makes no sense at all.  Fortunately, they provide a picture, which looks like this:

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It may be that this graphic was designed as a visual aid to illustrate the concept of ‘none the wiser’ to a class of students learning English as a Foreign Language.  It’s hard to think why else the team came up with quite this route.  I meant to ask them on arrival, but then I forgot.  I was too distracted by golden baton fondling.  It could be entirely intentional, and perhaps a mathematician is available to confirm that this is in fact the most efficient way to fit a 5k route into what is a fairly bijou space.  Or, it might be that the night before they had to formalise their route, somebody spilt cooked spaghetti over the map and this is what they ended up with.  Obviously, no-one is ever going to admit to such a catastrophe, nor if it was the other option which occured to me.  That is, a small child scribbled a doodle over the originally intended out and back route with an indelible pen, and so they were stuck with it in perpetuity.  It’s up to you to to choose which version of events to believe.  Whatever happy accident brought this about, I can report that the journey is indeed way more important than the destination, and it worked just fine, but lord help anyone heading out intending to do a freedom run on this route when it’s unmarked and they don’t have a small army of cheery marshals alongside pointing the way!  I’m sure you’d have a lovely run, and a splendid micro-adventure, but I seriously doubt you’d be able to replicate the route unassisted.  And up until now I just thought it was those doing the Bob Graham round that needed navigator guides throughout…  Oh well, maybe some people just like a challenge.

So, the morning dawned, and off I went.  The roads were clear, and the sky disarmingly clear too.  I passed some party goers from last night, walking home through the morning gloom in fancy dress from the night before. Well, I presume it was fancy dress, I don’t see that many hawaiian grass skirts and lime green shell jump suits sported in these parts generally speaking, but each to their own I suppose.  The drive was easy peasy, and in fact it was way under an hour, so I was ridiculously early.  For parkrun tourists out there who want to know about accomodation options, I passed Halstead cat hotel very near to my destination, which might be handy if you are a touristing feline.  I know of a rabbit that is a regular at Bushy parkrun, Peellie –  but I’m not aware of any cats as such.  Perhaps it’s a bit chicken and egg, why would they tourist if there are no suitable facilities to meet their needs.  Good to know Cusworth Hall parkrun is ahead of them.  I don’t think the rabbit always arrives dressed as a pumpkin by the way, I think it was because it was seasonally appropriate what with halloween last week and everything.

So I arrived, following the brown museum signs to the car-park as directed.  On arrival, there was a big sign saying you couldn’t pay for parking at the moment because someone had stolen the ticket machine… for the third time!  That’s mean, they ask you make a donation instead in the museum. I  decided to interpret this as basically an instruction to have post parkrun sustenance in their cafe.  Veggie brunch, totally vindicated result!

There were signs for the loo, and signs for the cafe, all basic needs accounted for.  The venue was unexpectedly stunning.  Lots of mature trees, ample parking – so ample I had to drive round the car park twice to decide on the perfect parking spot.  It was just a short walk to the front of the hall – to the start area, but as I followed the path round I was distracted by the wide vista with mist rising from a lake below the hall.  It really is very nice indeed.  The back of the hall looks like this (photo stolen from facebook somewhere, but captures it really well, thank you Facebook photo sharer 🙂 ).  Yes, those are busy bee marshals setting up the course in the morning sunshine too.  Not bad for the back porch is it?  My exposed backside is nothing like as photogenic, and, for the record, has fewer people dancing attendance on it as well.

DM hall

The only unsettling image on my way to the gathering area, was seeing some caged trees.  It just makes you wonder what it is these trees might do if free to roam.  Are we talking triffids, or Birnam Wood, or the Whomping Willow a la Hogwarts and Harry Potter.  All are terrifying in their own way.   They didn’t look like triffids, but then they’ve probably evolved since the original documentary in the 1980s, like antibiotic resistant bacteria, they could have been reincarnated in near unrecognisable forms.  I mean, what better cover could there be than to look perfectly innocuous?  Quite!  Must be dangerous then.  Then again, the volunteer team will surely have done a pre-course safety inspection, and I guess if they’ve herded this dangerous, wayward wood altogether like this, maybe their potential for violence had now been neutralised. 

Mind you, You’d have thought they might have put a marshal there just to be on the safe side.  Oh my gawd!  What if they had, and that marshal was no more!  Gulp.  I crept on by.  There were other scary things in the woodland area too, but I didn’t see those until later…

After the caged trees, I glimpsed my first sight of the marshals, going about their important business of setting up the parkrun.  Turns out, this was only their fifth event.  This was handy for me, as I ‘need’ a 5 for my Wilson index, not badly or keenly enough to actively seek one out, but it was pleasing to acquire one by chance.  I generally love the Running Challenges, but the Wilson one seems to require a bit too much planning and or serendipity to be worth actively investing in.  Oh, you don’t know what it is?  Hang on:

Wilson Index: The maximum contiguous series of parkrun event numbers you have attended (at any event), starting at 1. To start off your streak, this requires that you have run at an inaugural event (controversial!), and then to increase the value to 2 you need to run at event #2 somewhere (not necessarily the same event as you ran at the inaugural event). They do not have to be in order, so you can go back and fill in numbers later.

See?  Doable if you are in at the beginning of a local parkrun, but as most of us – barring the original 13 parkrun pioneers were late to the party, a bit out of reach for the many.  Kudos to those who can be bothered to play with their excel spreadsheets creatively enough to keep that number rising.  Anyway, where was I?  Can’t concentrate properly until I’ve had my precautionary pee, now, let me see, loos were promised… and delivered!  Great facilities, open, lit and with toilet paper as well as washing facilities. Hurrah.  I could breathe easy now.

Then, next stop, spy on the hi-vis heroes.  Here they are, volunteers in action.  Getting ready for the parkrun party in the morning sun.  Team work.  Excellent.

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I was early, and a bit awkward.  I never know whether to offer to help when you early as a tourist, people who don’t know what they are doing can get in the way. Then again, I didn’t want to be unfriendly, and I did want to take some pictures and not in too stalkery a way. So I went and said hello, and asked if I could take photos, and that was OK apparently so then I tried to take some only it’s harder than you might think, especially as the sun was bleaching out loads of shots.  It’s so hard being me and self-conscious, honestly you have no idea.  Here’s one attempt at photographing Cusworth Hall – which dates from 1740 I believe, although the parkrun flag is a later addition improvement.

After I’d busied myself with taking rubbish photos, other parkrunners began to arrive.  There wasn’t a huge crowd. Whether that was because of Rugby, forecast inclement weather, new kid on the block or the catchment area of the parkrun I don’t know, but people were slow to surface. Still, it’s quality not quantity, and there were some quality arrivals.  Not least, some brandishing a golden baton, part of the Big Golden Baton relay extravaganza, which probably is ultimately pointless, but it’s also fun, so why not.  These fine folk had collected the baton at Wythenshawe parkrun, and excitingly, were passing it on to some fine folk from Millhouses parkrun. That’s extra exciting as it’s one of my nearest, and another brand new and shiny parkrun which so far has only had its test run and its inaugural, where I joined them a couple of weeks back.  It’s therefore especially pleasing that it’s already networking more widely in the parkrun family, and that by happy coincidence I got to share the moment too.  Yay.

The arrival of the Leeds Building Society golden baton generated the kind of excitement that only a golden cylinder can bestow on an event.  You probably had to be there to fully appreciate it.  Obviously, everybody present had to be photographed either appreciating the baton; comedically fondling or flourishing the baton; in close proximity to the baton; doing a staged hand over of the baton; reverentially holding the baton or otherwise interacting with it.  These things take time.  There were surprisingly few quips along the lines of ‘is that a golden baton in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me’ but some things are best left unsaid, and anyway, people were thinking it loudly enough that the sound of the phrase echoed round the courtyard as only infantile quips can.  parkrunners were exceedingly pleased to be bestowed with the honour of having the golden baton in their grasp.  There was some debate about whether or not it is constantly tracking its whereabouts like surveillance equipment, and nobody really new.  This is how surveillance societies come about.  We don’t ask the right questions and anyway are too distracted by the shiney new baubles that come our way to really notice that we should.

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Some people were more intuitively gifted with the re-enactment relay shots than others.  Check out this sequence.

Respect.

The posing for photos necessitated a certain amount of garment removal for best display of running related tees and parkrun clothing.  Any unwatched running jacket was scooped up by an enterprising junior sweeper and offered up to his dad.  I think this may be an innovative fund-raising initiative on the part of the parkrun.  Some very nice running jackets were collected and I’d certainly have put in a bid for more than one of them if eagle eyed original owners hadn’t been so quick off the mark in retrieving them.  Good work though, he’ll go far, missed nothing!

I was a bit confused as to who would actually run with the baton, or indeed if anyone would.  It wasn’t that user friendly to hold, being of wide girth.  Fret not dear reader, all will be revealed.  First though, I had to check out the tail walker.  Excellent.  I desperately want a tail like this for our junior parkrun.  One day perhaps, one day.  Well, assuming we aren’t allowed an actual dinosaur, which would be my preference, but I recognise might be incompatible with the animals kept at Graves park.  With the possible exception of the highland coos, I think a T-rex would make short work of the other residents.

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The team were still busy with set up, meanwhile I was busy finding the tourist dog with the softest silkiest ears.  Which I did:

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Busy as they were, the volunteer team were easily seduced into posing for a team shot with baton and sign.  I tried to get them to jump in the air, which they did, but my camera failed to capture the moment. Again.  Oh well, thought that counts remember dear reader, tis the thought that counts.

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and then suddenly, it was all action stations. First timers’ briefing.  Lots of first timers, it being a newish run.

and then there was the official run briefing.  Including a mini ceremony with the baton being transferred, and documented for posterity by many a mobile phone and camera shutter. 

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And there was a special round of applause for the tail walker who was having a birthday I think, and someone else who was either having a 250th birthday or running a milestone today.  I forget which.  And volunteers were thanked, and the announcement made about PSH coming to Cusworth next week.  He’ll have missed clutching the golden baton, but I think he’ll have a nice time anyway.

And then we all mustered on the tarmac path, facing towards the arch in the start area.  It was all good natured, maybe a little crowded, but it didn’t take too much exertion on the common sense front to get into a reasonable spot depending on estimated time.  I tucked in at the back.  And then a count down and off!  The official photographer took some ace shots of everyone storming down towards him.  He is not only brave, and a good photographer, but has a telephoto lens to keep him at a safe distance when taking such action shots.

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so the 140+ runners stampeded towards him, and then veered to the side at the end.  Some runners (see if you can guess which) spotted him en route, but others were focused on their run.  It may be a run not a race, but that doesn’t mean speedy runners can’t give it their all.

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Oh, and check out the fun factory bringing up the rear.  A quartet of talented tailwalkers, keeping us parkrunners safe and on track.

CC fun factory at the back

Clearly I could do a sub 17 minute parkrun if I a) had the prerequisite physiology, and b) did the necessary training, but added impeding factors today were that I’ve still got a dodgy back and also that I needed to stop and take photos en route.  Pleasingly, a couple of kindred spirits appeared to be doing likewise, documenting their runs.  As long as I stayed out of the way and ahead of the tailwalker I am fine with my approach which charitably might be referred to as jeffing, but more accurately is linked to poor stamina and a propensity to be distracted by photo ops at any and every given moment.  So, for your information and merriment, please find below my photos from start to corner one.  I don’t think there is any risk of confusion with the ‘proper’ photos.

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So after you turn away from the arch you do a little zig zag, and end up running alongside the car park.  That was a tad odd, to be fair, but I like that you could see faster runners coming back in the other direction on the opposite side of the car park.  Don’t worry, faster runners also get to see slower runners coming in the opposite direction too, it’s quite fair, but they haven’t necessarily got the time to turn their heads to enjoy the view, let alone take a load of pictures.   Fortunately, other parkrunners were on hand to perform this service.

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One of the (many) things I really liked about the course, is that the twisty turny route meant there were lots of opportunities to see other runners of different speeds running around in the general vicinity. It made it companionable, without the stress of being lapped.  It isn’t really a multi-lapped course as such, you do run twice round the little lake, but that’s sufficiently far on round the course that speedy runners were long gone by the time I set foot on it.  The course does however require super versatile marshals, who were not only fabulously helpful and particularly photogenic to a tabard, but also had the ability to teleport.  You’d see them at the start, and then they’d pop up somewhere on the course as well, and then magically reappear at the finish.  It was quite remarkable, I don’t think they were clones, though what with the caged trees maybe there are powerful magical forces at work that keep this parkrun show on the road.   There is a lot of creative cone placement too.  It’s needed, fine as the route is, I think it’s fair to observe it isn’t especially erm, let’s go with ‘intuitive’.

 So you cross the end of the car park, and up the other way, round a muddy field.  I always wear my trusty inov-8 parkclaw to new events, and I was glad of them. They are good for a mix of tarmac and grass.  Don’t be scared non-grass lovers though, the field bit wasn’t too horrific, it had trees and things and so did not induce flashbacks to the trauma of cross country or school sports days or anything like that.  It was brief, and jolly, and there was the joy of watching other runners, and supportive marshals.  One latecomer and child was sprinting to catch up with the tail by the time I got back to the corner of the field.  All good.

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So back, past the car park again, and this time you run round the back of the house, through some railings and past the amazing rear view of the stately home.  You can see the view of the lake and Doncaster vista beyond – I’d love to go inside the house and see the view from the upstairs windows there one day.  Not mid-parkrun though, that would be a bit much of a diversion even for me.  I did stop to take some pictures though, obvs.

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The photographer had either teleported or being transported by golf buggy, pack horse or his own two feet to a new position.  I think he may possibly have taken photos before as they were jolly good, and he is clearly used to both this venue and photographing runners as there were some brilliant pics. He even got not one but TWO photos of me multi-tasking by apparently running AND smiling AND waving AND having flying feet all at the same time, without even using photoshop.  I was impressed.  In other news, he also answers the question about what happened to the baton during the run.  Dear reader, people ran with it, and later on, different people person and/or persons unknown have it with them, so either it was freely surrendered and passed on in good-humoured parkrun tradition, or there was an almighty scrap and the winner took all.   All there to be pored over though.  Exciting isn’t it?  Check out the barkrunners too.  Having a grand day out indeed.  Oh, and the leggings.  This was a very good parkrun for colourful leggings, personally I’ve only ever had black, and as they are basically indestructible, and can accommodate a changing body shape due to the genius that is stretchy lycra, I’ve had my current leggings for almost a decade I think.  If they do ever give up the ghost, maybe I’ll go wild and go technicolour.  It’s tempting.

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Also, the RD had relocated and was looking exceptionally busy and important.  There’s something about the intoxicating combination of a unique high vis AND a clip board that bestows great power on the person in possession of the same.  With great power comes great responsibility.  He wore it lightly though.  Good job!

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So through more railings, and then you get a joyful downhill scamper.  It was a tad slippery and a bit of a test of nerves, but fun.  You go down through a nicely planted erm, shrubbery I think, and down towards the lake.  The field had spread out by now, so you also get to have a little companionable chit chat with other runners of your pace at this point, should you wish to do so.

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Marshals are on hand to shoo you round the right way, and round the lake you go.  At the far end is another marshal with a lap 1/lap 2 sign so you know you get to see him again later on.

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Come to think of it, there were faster runners coming through at this point, because I saw some of them sprint up the hill, along a woodland trail and back towards the house, as I turned to go around the lake.

and then from the other side of the lake, you can see the faster runners streaming along against the backdrop of the sunlit house.  In the foreground swans a-swimming, it was pretty god-darned photogenic I don’t mind telling you.

Looking straight ahead wasn’t too bad either.  There is a lot of mature planting in the grounds, and some amazing specimen trees pop up next to the bulrushes and little ornamental bridges or gulls overhead.  This is a fabulous venue, not only for a parkrun, but as a public space to get out into and enjoy.  I’d definitely come back some time and check out the museum as well.  Summer though, when being parkrun fresh doesn’t lead to damp shivering, misery and feeling like death in the chill of winter.  There were some muddy bits though, but that’s good isn’t it, it’s not a proper run if you return with clean trainers.

Another marshal, ready to turn you round, so you don’t end up inadvertently heading off to infinity and beyond, which would be awkward – not to say expensive if they had got their parking ticket machine back in operation by then.

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Round, by a wall, through more trees, back to some marshals you’ve been before.  A test, before you can continue – have you seen me before?  If yes go right, if no go left.  Not sure how that would work for those with Prosopagnosia (face blindness), just have to hope they can recognise bridges and vegetation instead.  This looked like a fun marshal spot, as you had a specific thing to do and also were in shouting distance of another marshal, so they could be a high performing double act, keeping order, and having a laff. Both are very important functions indeed.  I think the one enhances the other, if my experience at junior parkrun is anything to go by.  Then round back to the stopping you from running to infinity marshal, past 50% of the tail walkers and past the wall again.  It was a very nice wall…

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and then ‘suddenly’ you are back on the homeward straight, through the gap in the railings, with the house to your right and the lake to your left, and up to lap 1/lap 2 marshal, only this time you get to run up the hill.  Yay!

then there was an unexpected (for me) bit.  You cut across the grass in front of the hall, to a gesticulating marshal enticing you her way.  There is a lot of going back from whence you came, although pleasingly you don’t have to do so on an identical path.  I’m sure this was the fourth time that morning I’d met this marshal en route if you count the pre run photos too, which obviously I do.  Very versatile as well as photogenic marshals at this parkrun.  It is the Cusworth Hall parkrun way!

I got confused again though.  Granted it doesn’t take much. It’s just that my internal homing device meant I fully expected to be directed round to the finish by skirting round the side of the house from here, but it was not to be.  You head out again, and do a little corner of the field and back alongside the car park again. Praise be to the marshals for keeping us on track, I was completely clueless, even following the parkrunner just ahead I wasn’t overly confident of the path to take!

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Got there in the end though.

Oh hang on, what is this unexpected additional scary thing lurking in the woods?

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BOO!

Don’t worry dear reader, I sped past without incident.  I can’t say whether others were so lucky.  I mean, parkruns count runners back in with finish tokens it’s true, but they don’t generally speaking count us out… no cause for concern, just saying for future reference.

And then, before I knew it, it was past the archway, and homeward bound, you get to sprint down a very slight but significant incline towards the house, so you feel like you suddenly get a second wind which is quite satisfying.  A posse of hi-vis heros are on hand to cheer you in.  As is the parkrun way.

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Genius as my photos undoubtedly are not, fortuitously we have the yan to my yin, by way of the official finish shots.  Things to look out for here – apart from the obvious boon of runners being in focus – include the ownership of the baton and the gritting of teeth as parkrunners endure their sprint finishes.  Did you know swearing can improve your workout apparently.  I don’t think any parkrunner would utter an expletive, but their suppression of the impulse to do so might account for bleeding eyes and throbbing neck veins as they finish.  Also, check out the particularly adoring look of the barkrunner with his responsible adult running companion.  Awwww. 🙂

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I also think the official pics capture the inclusive nature of parkrun.  It accommodates both very tall people and very not tall people.  Although I am wondering if I maybe need to catch up on Father Ted to be really confident I’m reading the situation correctly.  That small or far away challenge has never been all that obvious to me to be honest.  Awesome buggy.  That’s got to be the way to travel round parkrun – maybe that was the transportation of choice for the photographer now I come to think of it. There’d be room for all the photography gear to hang off it too.  Very practical.

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So I came storming (ish) through the finish, and a very alert junior marshal was on it to make sure no finish token passed him and his tin. Quite right too, it’s important to set clear boundaries from the start!

All done.  I lingered a little while longer to await the tail, and try and nail an atmospheric finish shot.

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And that was that.  Cusworth Hall parkrun done and dusted.  Just a question of adjourning to the cafe.  The cafe, was extremely well stocked with generously portioned cakes and scones. The savoury options, especially if vegetarian seemed to be more limited, but to be fair I didn’t have my glasses on so had to fathom options based on limited information.  I had a vegetarian ‘sausage’ in a bap.  It was alright, quite nice even though more of a vegetable and cheese option than anything sausage like. Coffee, sorry to say  – particularly as the setting was glorious and cake and scone options magnificent – was poor.  One of those push a different button for a latte/ cappuccino whatever and it was tasteless and a textureless, no depth to the foam. I really don’t know why they don’t have a ‘proper’ coffee machine, it was a mismatch of expectations.  The eating area was nice though. Big wooden tables, and the whole place was rammed with parkrunners – always a boon.  Friendly service too.  So a good option, but if you are a coffee snob, brace yourself for disappointment.

I chatted a bit to other parkrunners.  We had the ‘most unexpected parkrun’ conversation.  I no longer ask people what their favourite parkrun is.  The question is meaningless as each parkrun is unique and it’s like asking someone to pick their favourite child perhaps?  Most unexpected seems fair, and turns up some interesting stories.  The story from this parkrun was a recommendation for Catterick parkrun, the parkrunner in question had been when a multitude of gurkhas were running it, it sounded amazing. So many elite runners, but also the atmosphere of support and music was extraordinary.  That’s been added to my ever lengthening to do list for sure!  They aren’t there every week, but with reasonable frequency.  You don’t get to go over the jumps though, so do try to contain yourself if you do go.

catterik parkrun

But this was Cusworth Hall parkrun, so I should conclude by saying it was a relay nice one.  No, relay it was, definitely one of my favourites so far – even though we’ve already established I haven’t really got one because each parkrun is unique.  This parkrun though was friendly, good facilities, lovely venue and full of interest.  Also not too far from Sheffield so I’d definitely come back and do it again sometime.  Thank you lovely parkrun makers all, and special thanks to the Cusworth Hall parkrun team for the warm welcome and fab event. It was a memorable day indeed.  Especially thank you for sorting the weather.  It was fabulous right up until the moment I got back in my car to drive home.  Perfection!

Happy days.

Oh, and if you want to read the Cusworth Hall parkrun event report for today, event #5, and I think you should, it’s here, with lots of pictures and some explanation about the baton relay thing too.  Hurrah!

Incidentally, it occurs to me I’ve not done a stats link in a while, and I love Elliott Line’s analysis week in week out. So, as a special treat dear reader, check out this link for a snapshot of the parkrun attendance and milestone stats for week of 2/3 November 2019.  Honestly, even if spreadsheets and stats aren’t your natural habitat, if you are into your parkrunning you may find this link awakens your inner parkstats geek.  You’re welcome. 🙂

By the way, you can waste further hours of your life by reading all my parkrun related posts here.  Or not.  It’s up to you.  You’ll need to scroll down for older entries though.  Your choice as well, reading is not compulsory, no sarcy #tldr comments please, it’s unkind and unnecessary I’m not trying to make you read anything, just scroll on by.

Happy running in general and parkrunning in particular ’til next time, wherever your feet may take you.  And remember, we live in the age of parkrun, however bad the world seems at time, we got lucky with that!  Yay, go us!

#loveparkrun

*well, maybe not ‘zillions and squillions’ as such, not least because I don’t know if they are actual real numbers, but a great many

 

Categories: 5km, parkrun, running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Taking the plunge on parkrainday aquaplaning the undulations at Sheffield Castle parkrun

Digested read:  went back to Sheffield Castle parkrun today, it rained.  It’s been a while.

Undigested read:

I wasn’t going to do a blog post today, as it’s sort of my home patch and I’ve done a post about Sheffield Castle parkrun before, loved it then, two years ago – they had tadpoles* for goodness sake – what’s not to like?  But then this is such a fabulous parkrun and so under-recognised in my view, I changed my mind.  Putting up a post, even if no-one ever reads it, is my way of sort of writing a thank you letter to the individual and collective awesomeness that is the Sheffield Castle parkrun team.  They are dedicated, welcoming and cheerful, and I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to come back for another visit.  It’s a great run, and hardly ever cancels.  Once because of black ice, and once because of another event in the park, which isn’t bad going for a parkrun which started way back in August 2013.  Today was their 318th run.  And the ratio of volunteers to runners is impressive, how they pull it off week in week out is a minor miracle.  It would take more than apocalyptic flooding for them to pull the plug on their run.  Though to be fair, the irony is if that flooding did make them pull a plug, then the water would all drain away and everyone could run without getting their feet wet, so they wouldn’t need to pull the plug after all.  I know, the contradictory logic messes with your head!  Still, point is, lovely parkrun, why not celebrate it in a post.   Thank you lovely Sheffield Castle parkrun people, your parkrun is epic, as indeed are you!

Also, on the subject of plug holes, check this one out at Ladybower, not a magic portal to a parallel universe unfortunately, but pretty impressive all the same, although not a good idea to dive into it I’d venture.  It would have taken something on this scale to dry out the roads of Sheffield this weekend though.

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So there has been was a lot of rain.  No really a lot.  They say every cloud has a silver lining, and that is true, but they also hold an enormous amount of rain, and a great many large clouds have been jettisoning biblical quantities of rain for what seems like forever.   This plays havoc with my parkrun plans!  What to do?  I was thinking earlier in the week of venturing away from Sheffield before winter properly sets in.  However, parkrunning tourism isn’t that appealing when it might involve aquaplaning down motorways in early morning darkness through zero disability torrential rain.  I’m a bit of chicken driving, unlike rats, surprisingly.  No really.  Look, it was on the BBC website so it must be true check this out:   Rats taught to drive tiny cars to reduce stress levels.  I mean, they’d probably be less stressed if not in a lab in the first place, but even so.  Amazing.  Counterintuitive, as I find driving incredibly stressful, but then again, I’m not a rat, and maybe the roads are better in Canada?

Fab ratmobile though…  I wonder if this was inspired by the bat or popemobile, or vice versa. So hard to establish what is cause and what is effect sometimes, or indeed correlation.  We live in a world of mystery and wonder.  On the subject of bats (yes we were, albeit tenuously) did you see this?  Sweetest thing ever.   Bumblebee bat apparently.

bumblebee bat avant gardens

Stop distracting me by asking about the bat, I’ll never get to tell you all about the Castle of parkrun adventure at this rate what with all these pesky interruptions!

The other complication, was the amount of cancellations popping up.  Wouldn’t want to risk life, limb and worst of all sense of humour bypass, from turning up somewhere only to find it cancelled at the last minute.  I’m desperate to get my running challenges gold running obsessive badge this year by completing 50 parkruns within one calendar year. I know it’s basically a virtual sticker chart for grown ups and inherently pointless, but I don’t care.  I seek it out.  This compulsion hurts no-one.  Sigh, it would be awesome on my profile…  Blooming love the Running Challenges Chrome Extension.

runner-obsessive-gold

I’ve actually not missed a parkrun this year, but at three of them I didn’t get to run.  Two of them I ended up watching with my mum including supporting her getting her Spirit of parkrun award which was amazing by the way (parkrun royalty, had to be done, and well worth it), and one I turned up at only to find it had been cancelled at the last minute due to high winds, which I completely support – difficult decision for RDs and all that – but it meant it was too late to go anywhere else.  Can’t afford for that to happen again this year.  I’ve just one parkrun in hand, perilously close… in my reach, but not in my reach, like blooming parkrun bingo.  The idea for Stopwatch Bingo , is that you collect all the seconds from 00 to 59 in your finishing times.  I’m on my 227th run, and yet STILL the 20 second time eludes me.  So near and yet so far.  Aaaargh.  Would today be the day I scooped it.  Spoiler alert, nope, it wouldn’t.  But I did a whole lot worse than that, though you’ll have to read on to find out why.  Blooming hate the Running Challenges Chrome Extension.  Pointless stress-inducing obsessive-behaviour-cultivating oojamaflip.   As if life isn’t fraught enough!

Where was I?  Oh yes, in Sheffield, watching the parkrun cancellations tally be revised ever upwards on the parkrun cancellations page.

parkrun cancellations

Bit of a theme emerging eh?  It’s worth looking at this page from time to time, some parkruns are quite creative with their cancellation reasons.  My favourite was one stating the parkrun had actual polar bears on their course, such were the arctic conditions, which I daresay they did, though I can’t remember which one it was now… oh hang on, I can check.  Give me a minute…  it was Bradford parkrun!  I mentioned it in an earlier blog post.  I’m almost disappointed they didn’t cancel today, because they have a gift for communicating their cancellation reasons.  They’d have been building an ark or something.  Wish we’d thought to do that in Sheffield too to be fair.  And, of course I wouldn’t really wish a parkrun cancellation on anyone.  The horror of turning up and finding only tumbleweed or a solitary sodden marshal detailed with breaking the bad news to you.  Too cruel anywhere, as has been said before…

Best stay local.  I was thinking Millhouses parkrun, to continue to support it, what with it being both local and new having only had its inaugural last Saturday.  Then that became definite, because I was going to stand in and be tailwalker for someone else (complicated story), and then there was a suggestion it might be cancelled, due to stretches being not so much puddled as underwater and then it was cancelled.  Oh dear.  Now where?  And then there was a chance Sheffield Hallam parkrun might be cancelled too, on account of the fact it basically being a pond.  I didn’t want to leave it too late to decide where to go if I was going to need to drive.  I wasn’t 100% about whether Graves parkrun would go ahead (also good choice for halloween theme of course) it usually does.  Then as I was browsing through various Sheffield parkrun Facebook pages there was a little comment on one of the posts for Sheffield Castle parkrun Facebook page, just saying almost coyly – ‘yes, we’ll be there in the morning‘ with some fine running emojis.

we ll be there

It was meant to be dear reader, it was meant to be.  I’m in!  Sheffield Castle parkrun has slipped off my radar lately, mainly because it involves driving without the incentive of Highland coos at the end of it, but it’s a great reliable parkrun, so why not.  Make a change.  It’ll be fun, it’ll be fine.

In the morning there was some conferring and some last minute call outs and checks.  Smilie Selfie Queen was going for Castle, Sheffield Hallam reported flooding but would try to go ahead -though not confirming til 8.30.  It’s astonishing those that did as well as those that didn’t.  Penistone parkrun cancelled the night before on account of a bog:

Sheffield Hallam parkrun went ahead, too good an opportunity for triathlon training to pass up.  Plus, must have been hilarious to be fair.  Not to mention a triumph of hope over experience, as one parkrunner at least clung to a King Canute like belief he could turn back the tide.  You have to admire this kind of tenacity, not to mention my boundless appreciation for any parkrunner who seemingly never travels without a yard broom in case of just such a parkrun eventuality.  Yes, that is on the actual course by the way, and what’s more, a bit you get to run/ splash/ swim through four times.  The joy!

Sheffield Castle parkrun facebook page hadn’t got a more recent update, but that’s OK, I’d go there.  Point of information if you don’t know this particular parkrun, it’s a really cool parkrun (get me and my trendy yoof speak**), small (by Sheffield standards) and ‘proper’ community one.  It’s held in Manor Fields Park, which to be honest, when I first moved to Sheffield about ten years ago had a reputation for being something of a dump.  Dog shit and fly tipping, a sad and derelict site.  In recent years, it has been utterly transformed with wildflower planting, sculptures and – best of all – it’s very own parkrun!

Sheffield Castle parkrun is small but perfectly formed, so we can forgive it for being devoid of an actual castle.  The committed team of volunteers who run it are locals invested in the area rather than necessarily runners as such. This gives the run a uniquely friendly, welcoming and community vibe.  It also has a sort of informality to it, which to the uninitiated may seem disconcerting. For example, if you look at the volunteering rota as a way to check its on as tourists often do (blank rota usually means no run) you’ll just see a void, stretching into eternity, it only gets populated immediately after the run when they are events processing for the days parkrun.  In fact, they don’t really bother with it in advance, they have a dedicated team, who presumably rock up each week and sort it out on the day I think.  It works anyway, but is unnerving if you are traveling any great distance I imagine!  Concord parkrun similarly don’t really bother with their volunteer roster in advance either.  Nerves of steel to travel a long way to go there too, but each Christmas day they deliver parkrun magic, no excel spreadsheet required!

castle vol rota

The website also doesn’t list any facilities, but dear reader, on arrival you will find there is a loo, and a little warm room to wait at the start and ‘free’ (for an optional donation) tea and coffee in the community room at the end. Some limited free parking, but it’s on a tram route so accessible by public transport anyway.  if you are driving, I went with the postcode for the premier store next door at 525 City Road with a postcode of S2 1GF, and that worked fine, but be warned, it isn’t a premier store anymore, it’s called something else, so you could miss the turning on arriva.  However, the postcode will get you there – make sure you don’t use the store carpark, turn into the Manor Fields Park area instead.

Right, whilst I’m doing the routine stuff, I might as well tell you about the course, don’t think I did last time, honestly can’t remember. Anyway, the Sheffield Castle parkrun course blah de blah on the official parkrun website describes it thus:

Course Description
The course consists of three laps of Manor Fields park in an anti-clockwise direction.
The Start/finish line is situated at the entrance to the park from the car park adjacent to York House, City Road.
From the start head east following the tarmac path which descends gently and then takes a more north easterly direction. Take a right fork climbing gently on a curved path towards the Queen Mary Road entrance to the park keeping the houses to your right.
Adjacent to the Queen Mary Road park entrance take a left turn following the tarmac path north east towards the children’s playground.
Immediately prior to the playground, at the cross roads, turn left and take the gentle descent north westerly. Continue along the tarmac path following it north keeping rocks to your right and over the discreet, level bridge.
Take the next available right and continue along the tarmac path in a generally northerly direction as it ascends ever more steeply towards the Raynald Road exit from the park.
Follow the tarmac path left and north west as it descends steeply towards the Manor Park Crescent park entrance keeping within the park boundaries following the path as it bends left passed the entrance heading south in a steady climb.
Stick to the main tarmac path as it bends south westerly and commences its steady climb past the cemetery entrance on the right back to the start/finish line.

Which makes it sound reaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaally complicated.  It’s not, you can either just follow the person in front, or just be guided by the strategically positioned cones and smiley marshals.  You won’t be lost.  You do need to be able to count to three though, or you might over or under shoot your parkrun experience.  It has happened.  I was definitely at a parkrun where a first timer did an extra lap once, but then again, I like to think how chuffed he would have been on completing his ‘difficult second parkrun’ where he must have got a stupendous personal best!  Not sure if that would be absolute consolation though.

The course looks like this:

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What they don’t tell you with quite sufficient emphasis in my opinion, is that it’s Sheffield Flat.  i.e. undulating, i.e. some really quite big hills, two in fact, each of which you do three times.  The views are fab though, and what goes up must come down, so you do get to whizz down them again, which is always a boon.

Anyway, that’s the background info.  My day involved waking up early and thinking it was the middle of the night it was so pitch dark outside.  It wasn’t.  It sounded like torrential rain was beating down on my attic window, shudder.  It was.  This was definitely going to be a wet one. What’s more, at the minute my back is stuffed, so I’m just walking.  In a way, this was something of a relief as it legitimised me wearing waterproofs and even a scarf and woolly hat, but I am getting so sick of not being able to run or do anything very much.  It’s soooooooooooooooo frustrating just pootling round, I wonder if I’ll ever get back to running again, however ineffectually.  Mind you, pootling might be the better option to running to the point of collapse.  Super speedy runners are impressive, but sometimes I worry they don’t have as much fun as the walkers.  Here’s one trying to emulate Mr Kipchoge’s marathon pace for just a kilometer.

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It didn’t end well.  Worth a gander though, and if it’s still raining and you now know what happened in the Rugby***, what else are you going to do today?

Sometimes slow and steady will get you there more reliably.  Hare and tortoise anyone?  For longer distance challenges, pause for a moment to celebrate this woman.  Maggie Guterl.

Maggie Gurtel winner ultra

Oh yes she did!!! Maggie Guterl just won Big’s Backyard Ultra. She ran 250 miles straight and was on her feet for 60 hours!! She is the last WOMAN standing and the first woman to win this race. History is made and barriers have been smashed.

Both ends of the distance are impressive.  Beyond impressive, but I’m thinking for me the goldilocks zone is somewhere between a flat out 1 miler and 250 miles straight (averaging 4.1 miles an hour – about my parkrun speed today, so I’m on target 😉 ) that is, a nice 5k parkrun distance.  I’ll try that, but note the achievements of others in terms of acknowledging what is possible.  Maybe not for each one of us, but within the potential of humankind at least.

So up and out and off to Sheffield Castle parkrun.  My satnav obviously felt my life needed an element of surprise and enrichment, and not only took me the most roundabout route imaginable, I’m pretty sure I went via Aberystwyth, or possibly Cape Pembroke Lighthouse parkrun, but also had a 3 second delay as the signal dropped in and out, so I kept misunderstanding or missing altogether directional instructions.  Probably those things are related, but I choose to believe my satnav is sentient and mischievious, trick or treating me in keeping with the season.

It was pyjama parkrun day, so in theory you could run with your duvet, which would have been fab, but susceptible to extreme waterlogging, so that didn’t happen. Oh well.

I still arrived really early, and was seriously impressed to see a cheery finish funnel already up.  Welcoming lights gleamed out from the community building, this run was happening!

I love the sculptures in this park too, they truly are spectacular.  It’s a while since I’ve been, and I went for a quick wander a  gander.  I  think it was winter when I was here last, so I didn’t fully appreciate the amazing wetland bit with huge bulrushes and boardwalks as well as ducks, and I do love a duck as my regular reader will know.  There was also a great playground, and even though it’s basically winter now, still lots of flowers around.  It’s an amazing place.  It has taken real imagination, passion and dedication to transform this site, it’s astonishing.  It’s not promising when you approach, and then you find the oasis of green space for wildlife and people alike.

I also spotted another slow and steady potential parkrun participant.  This is the parkrun pact, thou shalt not finish last, there shalt be a tailwalker, and possibly even a mollusc, to reassure you there is a chance you’ll get to storm ahead of some living creature at least!

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And, for the first time, I spotted this fabulous revelation.   Finally, a pb parkrun, even if three laps!  I know, I know, the jokes been made before, but with an open goal like this one what are you supposed to do?  It might be raining, but this is doable, very doable indeed!

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It was definitely still raining, really rather a lot.  So I used the facilities for my precautionary pee.  Top tip, the light switch is inside and low down, you will be plunged into darkness if you shut the door first without locating it.  Just passing on the info for a friend, obvs.  Next door there is a store room, where the innovative Sheffield Castle parkrun team have completely solved the impossible challenge of working out how to pack away the start/finish banner.  Just leave it popped up the whole time!  Genius.  No more ritual humiliation trying to contort the parkrun pop-up banner cat back in the proverbial bag! Talented team here at Manor Fields Park like I said.

I went to join the little huddle in the brightly lit community room.  I didn’t take a picture as it didn’t seem appropriate.  But volunteers were assembling and hot steaming cups of tea and coffee were available as hi-vis was donned.  A few tourists appeared, I like to think it was quality if not quantity.  Some from Nottingham, braving it in shorts – skin is waterproof being their mantra.  I know they are right, but even so, brave and bold parkrunners there.  Properly hardcore.  There was a Rother Valley ‘local’, who like me had decided venturing too far for tourism with so many cancellations potentially pending was not the best move, so keeping it relatively local and visiting a too long neglected parkrun friend.  There were also some refugees from Millhouses parkrun as well as some who were clearly regulars.  A friendly and even optimistic vibe.  Call that rain?  Hardly drizzling!

This parkrun prides itself on starting bang on 9.00 (my watch today said I started my run at 9.01, which is pretty darned close).  So about 15 minutes before the run director braved the rain to put out the final course touches pre run briefings.  Seeing the activity, parkrunners began to emerge from their cars like crabs from under rocks.  It’s always amazing how from nothing a parkrun appears just at the last minute.

The unique selling point of this parkrun is that the volunteers are all spectacularly photogenic, and also have the most extensive collection of golfing umbrellas ever held aloft at a parkrun.  FACT****.  I had no idea golf was so big up at the Manor.  Assume nothing dear reader, rather expect and embrace the unexpected.  I don’t know (or care) enough about golf to make any golf-related small talk, but if it’s your thing I daresay you could give it a whirl.

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Whilst chatting with volunteers I also learned more about Manor Fields.  For example, it was among the first in the UK to adopt

an exemplar SuDS system reproducing natural wetland features to assist with drainage solutions designed to cope with major wet weather incidents.

That means, all the run off from the surrounding houses collects in Manor Fields, and so creates that amazing wetland habitat.   I also learned that the work that has gone into creating wildlife habitat has started to pay off.  I’m not a twitcher as such, so might be getting this wrong, but various endangered species have somewhat surprisingly found a safe haven here, including I think the grasshopper warbler.   According the the RSPB website:

The high, insect-like reeling song of the grasshopper warbler is the best clue to its presence. Even when you hear one it can be difficult to locate it due to the ventriloquial effect of its singing. If seen on migration it moves like a little mouse, creeping through the foliage. Dramatic population declines have made this a Red List species.

Who knew a bird could be a ventriloquist!  Every day’s a learning day!

grasshopper-warbler_adult_1200x675

So that was great, but we were here to parkrun, and so volunteers headed off to the far corners of the fields, and parkrunners materialised in time for briefings.

Smiley Selfie Queen and her making-an-effort comrade were just in time arrivals, but appropriately attired.  Good work my running friends, good work.  Also, handily posing in the doorway of the community room, so you get a little hint of how welcoming and roasty toasty it was in there, pre or post run.

CS made an effort

There was a little comradely huddle of first timers:

the atmosphere built, the crowds assembled:

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and then the RD was astride his podium.  I like to think this was put in place especially for this purpose, but reluctantly concede it is part of the kit for an outdoor gym type initiative:

The brief was pretty focused and brief, with a pleasingly attentive but small cluster of a select 56 runners.  A late arrival didn’t mean there wasn’t time for a bit of parkrun posing.  Shame not to.  After all, if you can’t flash your boo at the parkrun nearest to halloween, when can you?  There were some fine skeleton earrings donned by a participant today, but you might need to be rather eagle eyed to spot them.  … Anyway, ages since I’ve been at such an intimate parkrun gathering.

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quick shuffle round to get in position

and then – a la junior parkrun – there was a collective countdown from ten, nine, eight… to go!  This was great, as it meant I had an accurate start time, creating the giddy possibility I might be able to help along acquisition of my last outstanding parkrun bingo number.  Ye gods, if only!

Awf we went.  Two tail walkers at the back, I wanted to keep just ahead of them.  Despite appreciating the social aspect of parkrun, I can’t bear running with other people, I just find it really stressful.  There was a jeffing run/walker with the tails, so I sort of did impromptu jeffing to keep just away from them, but interspersed with pauses for photo ops.  One thing about being really slow at the moment, is I can appreciate routes more and stop to take pictures on the way round.  Might as well quite frankly.  I think I overheard the tailwalkers say to one another ‘oh no, only runners today!’ which made me feel better in the event I was last one in.  They were looking forward to a walk and talk perhaps.  They were lovely anyway, I warned them I might have to walk a lot because of my back and they just said ‘no problem, that’s what we’re here for’ and more than saying it, clearly meant it.  I could feel the wave of relief wash over me.   The inclement weather did seem to mean only the more hardcore runners had turned out, numbers were definitely down – well, that and the Rugby apparently – so fewer slow and steady participants than usual perhaps.

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It’s a three lapper, and I normally don’t like them, but honestly, there’s so much of interest to look at going round this course is isn’t boring at all.  You can see the other runners in the distance, you can admire the views across Sheffield or the cemetery, you can admire the autumn leaves on the trees or the weird and wondrous sculptures, AND, as if that wasn’t bounty enough, you can interact with the cheery marshals on the way round.  No chance of getting bored here! 

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You start off down hill, but pretty soon have to go up, but it’s fun, no really it is, like a DIY roller coaster.  And it looked spectacular.  Those golfing umbrellas are great for creating a cheery and colourful vibe too!

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Check out the wildflowers too.  Reet nice oot!  Reet nice marshals too, which was fortuitous as you pass them at least three times, more if you are wandering around pre and post parkrun.  Here is one, strategically places at the bottom of heartbreak hill.

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What’s that you say?  Why heartbreak hill?  Erm. Tell you what, come find out for yourself, put on a spurt as you go past the entrance to the conveniently placed cemetery and you might be able to make an educated guess.  Alternatively, if like me you are walking at parkrun on the day, you can pause to admire the bog plants thriving at the wayside, look in admiration at the community orchard, planted so people can help themselves to the fruitful bounty (brilliant idea, don’t know if that’s a thing elsewhere too) and watch in wonder as front runners – admittedly somewhat sodden, come steaming by!

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Walking at parkrun is fine by the way, parkrun are rather proud of their walkers as it shows it is creating opportunities to be active for people who might not otherwise be so.  There is even a Walking at parkrun Facebook group.  Good to know.

You have a tantalising glimpse of the finish funnel, with a concentration of high-vis heroes all tooled up and ready to go, and then round you go for lap two.  Or lap three, if you are faster than me, and have just lapped me.

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Ding ding, round two.  Looking lovely curving round the uphill ahead.

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I love that you can see the houses, it really highlights how the park is city based resource.  There weren’t all that many other users out and about today, a couple of dog walkers.  And one guy with a huge umbrella in one hand and an enormous bap in the other, chomping away.  I’m not going to line, I did have a moment of thinking his approach to a walk in the park looked like it was potentially a bit more fun than mine – but then again, he didn’t have the camaraderie of an entire parkrun community alongside him.  Though he did have breakfast…  tough call.  Still, no breakfast is better than a post parkrun breakfast.  FACT!*****

As I went round again, I espied a different style umbrella, this one with unicorns.  Not real unicorns, just a pattern of them.  Not sure if this was here as an emergency resource, much like one of the volunteers was despatched to their spot clutc