Morning has broken, and another gorgeous sunrise. Really quite a nip in the air though, anyone would think it was winter! No bonus points on offer though as it did warm up in time for parkrun (for new readers, Smiley Paces club members are undertaking a series of running challenges throughout January to March, extra points are gained from sub-zero temperatures, and also unique timed runs, it’s too complicated to explain all over again just go with it, or if you really care, check it out at Smiletastic Challenge information page on our website – all you really need to know, is if it stayed sub-zero out on the run a bonus point might be grabbable).
Today parkrun tourism had Smiley Paces going places once again. In part we’ve been meaning to get around the other Sheffield runs a bit more this year anyway, but the specific reason for going today (ironically forgoing cake for a 50th milestone celebration at Hallam) was the quest for Smiletastic bonus points. We didn’t know about the cake offer at the time we were co-ordinating who went where otherwise we may not have martyred ourselves in quite this way. Even so, we were heading off to a castle, yay, what’s not to like. Sheffield Castle parkrun to be precise.
I scooped up two Smiley Paces team mates on the way, and we had a sort of collective navigation thing going to get to Manor Fields. The first weird thing about getting though, is that where you pull in to park is sort of hidden by an optical illusion,you needed to hold your nerve to turn in when coming from our way anyway. It was like the Harry Potter pushing your trolley through the wall thing to get to platform 9 3/4 or whatever it was you needed to be on to get the Hogwart Express – though don’t try that literally, the first turning is a phoney one, then you see the entrance a bit further on that you expect to get in to the car park. And there is parking, not masses, but more than enough for the bijou turnout, so that was good.
The next weird thing, no castle. Not that I could see anyway. I really, really wanted there to be a castle. The absence of one is a shame, but the venue has other delights, so don’t rule it out. Those other delights include extraordinarily welcoming marshals, and a whole pack of them! Almost as many volunteers as parkrunners which makes a change. It is a small parkrun compared to others, I think there were 35 of us out today, but the consequence is it all feels quite intimate and bespoke even. Those of you who are worried about my need for a precautionary pee can be put at ease, there is a loo at the start! Phew, also, a handy wheelie bin in which you can dump your stuff whilst you run. We sort of hovered about (not hoovered in fact, even though I almost always use those words interchangeably with unfortunate but amusing results). I made a half-hearted attempt to bag some atmospheric shots but with mixed success.
Manor Fields themselves were quite unexpectedly lovely, my photos are basically shite, sorry about that. There was a playground area, and loads of sort of ‘public art’ I suppose you’d call it. Most of it you see whilst running round, but I didn’t actually stop to take photos en route so you’ll either have to take my word for it or go and see for yourself, you can sort of see one of them in the background of the shot of my two Smiley compatriots. There was a lovely pond with masses of bulrushes which are one of my favourite plants (I nearly said favourite aquatic plants, but then I thought I cant really name that many aquatic ones, so I thought it might be damning with faint praise!). The resident marshals made us welcome, it was all quite relaxed and low key. There was a friendly and brief welcome, basically, you run round a clearly marked route, all on tarmac, then you do it again, and then you do it again. No barcode, don’t go through the funnel – because we all know by now don’t we, No Barcode, No Time, No Exceptions #DFYB.
For those of you who like it spelt out, the Official course description for Sheffield Castle parkrun blah de blah is as follows if you really care about such details:
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.
Complete three laps of the course for the 5km of the Sheffield Castle parkrun.
This description makes it sound as if the course is ludicrously complicated to navigate. Trust me, it isn’t. You just follow the person in front, or if you are in front (and well done you for being so) follow the yellow brick road of pointing clapping marshals and don’t barge through the carefully positioned plastic cones that have been lovingly put in situ by early rising volunteers in advance to indicate the ‘no through roads’ when running round. The hardest thing is having to count to three, so you do enough laps. It felt like a lot more than three times round to me to be honest, and I was gutted on completing the second loop that the marshals didn’t mistake me for a fast finisher and helpfully pointed me back round to run it all over again whilst waving through the front runners who had comprehensively lapped me. You start and finish in the same place, the finishers go to the left of the tape – I don’t know if you can quite make it out in the photo, but there is a dear little arrow pointing you the correct way by the sign – and the ‘still going rounders’ continue on to the right. It’s very obvious when you get there, no orienteering skills needed.
One of the advantages of doing three loops, is that you do get to appreciate the surroundings. I thought that it would be grim running round and round in circles, but fair play to the place, you get some great views going around. The downside of this is that the reason you get great views is because you are on hills. Lots of them. They just kept on coming. I was talking about Sheffield hills with someone the other day, they maintained that what goes up, must come down, i.e. don’t worry too much about running up a hill as ‘sure as eggs is eggs’, you will get to run down it again later. I say crap to that. These hills only seemed to go up, if there was a little undulation downwards now and again it was but to toy with you, tease your frantic mind into thinking there was to be some temporary respite, before throwing up another EVEN BIGGER hill in front. For them as enjoy hills, and find hill training useful, which I suppose it is (hypothetically for other people) then this is a great course. Personally, I found it hard. It doesn’t help that each time you tackle a hill on the way round, you continue in the knowledge that it remains unfinished business, you will have to do it all over again, twice.
The hills of death had a Escher like quality, upwards and upwards only, and it didn’t help that for a lot of the course you are in sight of the (admittedly picturesque) cemetery, which inevitably encourages you to contemplate your own mortality as you pound around wondering if it is your legs or lungs which will give up first. To be fair, looking at the picture it looks like you could go continuously downhill as well if you chose. Maybe they should try running the route in reverse? In any event, great choice of place to train for the Sheffield Half which is basically up hill all the way going out and down hill all the way coming back. Sounds dire, what were we thinking when we accidentally entered? Presumably we a) weren’t thinking at all and b) it was far enough away that training seemed hypothetically possible. Time will tell…
I did puff a bit, I felt determined to keep going, I was wearing my Smiley vest for goodness sake, the honour of the club was at stake! My calves were hurting today for some reason. Maybe the cold, maybe because I never do any stretching before hand if I’m honest. Maybe I can get away with it at Hallam which is basically flat – bit of a gradient, but not really a proper hill as such, much more prolonged up hill here.
As we went round the sun came out, and the light looked lovely. I don’t think I’ll ever really be sold on multiple lap courses, but if I had to do one, this is a good one. Maybe if it was your regular run it would become quite therapeutic, getting in a rhythm and loping round. Because attendance is small, there is nothing to stop you running as fast as you like (I was going to say ‘as fast as you can’ but that’s not true, for me, my head prevents that every single time I venture out). You can’t really get boxed in, and if you slow, it will be your own doing not outside influence. There didn’t seem to be all that many other park users around, a few people with dogs watching from the sidelines were friendly enough and I wondered if they might have a parkrun connection too to be honest. One quirk I noticed going round was periodically there were some weird shapes in the tarmac, sort of circular squiggles, like an attempt had been made at three dimensional graffiti perhaps, etching into the path, but then removed by someone else, shoots of green had sprung up in some of the gaps leaving a sort of impressionistic artistic shadow in their wake. They weren’t all that distinct, but enough to leave an impression of swirls and shapes. Manor Fields answer to the Nazca lines of Peru perhaps? Also any excuse for Paddington. (Note to self, must ask the others if they noticed them too…)
I was relieved to finish, and finally get to veer to the left and pass the timer. Friendly congratulations and instantaneous scanning of my barcode. This didn’t go entirely according to plan as I initially proffered my tomtom as that is also on my wrist (I’ve got a parkrun wristband – they are brilliant), sorted eventually though, once I’d re-engaged my brain and brandished my wrist band instead. I’ve fallen out with my tomtom today, as for some reason it recorded my run, but failed to upload it. Catastrophe, I am gutted! It had better redeem itself at Longshaw 10k Tomorrow! On a cheerier note, retrieving my bag from the wheelie bin baggage drop receptacle, I noticed there are even glasses and a jug of water at the finish, that is so brilliant! Good job Castle.
It was companionable at the end. We retrieved our things, met some new people – a couple of nice women were potential Smiley recruits, always a bonus. We managed to get one of them to take our photo as is traditional for a parkrun tourism foray. Well I say traditional, it’s the first time we’ve done it actually, but I think we should from now on! Look at us, aren’t we lovely, Smiley Paces going places, looking like the holy trinity here!
One of the great joys of it being such a small field, is that you find yourself whizzing up the finishing places to an extraordinary degree. (I know, it’s a run not a race, but it’s fun to unexpectedly excel!). I ended up in an uncharacteristic 24th Place and gained what was for me an unprecedented 93 points! Normally I barely get a solitary point, and finish in the high hundreds in terms of finish position. At Bushy Parkrun I’ve made it as high/low as finish position 1023 on one occasion to tell the truth, so you can see the novelty value in making double figures in the line up. Yay!
It’s also worth doing Castle just to get that warm glow of boosting your points score from single figures (in my case, sad but true), to almost maximum available. The only time I’ve bettered this was when I’ve volunteered on the first day of the new year for my home parkrun. 100 points, straight off, found myself at the top of the points leader board (jointly admittedly) for the first and only time. I could have had singular lead position if I’d only thought to volunteer as tail marker too, hilarious. Another Top Tip for the more competitively minded amongst you out there…
I snapped away a few not very good photos, so I’ll add a little smorgasbord below in case of interest to give a bit more of a feel for this lovely venue. Granted, it is in the middle of pretty urban surrounds, and it’s small, but beautifully formed. A little oasis in a perhaps an initially less than promising location. It might not be able to compete with the likes of Bushy parkrun but it can hold its own in its own way in its own terms. Give it a go, I would go back certainly.
There was the option for tea at the venue in the adjacent community building. People were really welcoming, but we’d had another idea. So we waved and shouted our thanks – and sincere it was too, its a really, really nice and friendly parkrun, and heaved our weary carcasses back in the car to head off to Kelham Island. I know, madness really, totally out of our way, and not en route to anywhere, but once we got there, I could see it was well worth the effort. We were headed to The Depot Bakery, which was just stunningly good!
Granted, when we first headed off, to an apparently increasingly derelict industrial area of the city, I did feel like I was being abducted. Even when we got there, you have to duck into what looks at first like a dead end backstreet – though personally I do like the old red-brick industrial architecture. However, once we got in, oh my god, I’ve never seen such an amazing array of bread and cakes. Though you have to question the wisdom of the artistry in question for at least one of their offerings… is it just me that can’t get out of their head what it instantly reminds me of. I wont spell it out.
There was some slight disappointment that they weren’t doing the weekday menu so still no scrambled eggs on toast with mushrooms on offer. However, I went for a mushroom and spinach rarebit which was fantastic. Really quality cup of coffee with the squirly pattern on top and everything. Cheetah buddy had a goats cheese, courgette and pepper focaccia toasted, and we halved each with each other. I was genuinely impressed. It was on the expensive side for a breakfast, but I loved the ambiance of utilitarian surroundings, friendly service, spacious, and details like they had an see-through urn of chilled water that you could help yourself too, and it had sliced cucumber in it. How upmarket is that. Ten out of Ten, I vote for doing Hillsborough parkrun next weekend just so we can go back to The Depot again afterwards with a bit more of a geographical justification for doing so in terms of proximity to parkrun venue. It was empty when we first arrived by the way, but filled up by the time we left. The food was much nicer than it looked, these photos have stripped it of all panache and presentation, oh well.
So there you go, another parkrun tourism outing in the bag, and a really successful one, Sheffield Castle parkrun even provided sunshine! Also, because it’s such a small field, and the team seem incredibly well organised, we had our results ping through on a text before we’d had a chance to order brunch. That’s service indeed.
So thank you Smiley companions, thank you Sheffield Castle parkrun team and thank you Depot Bakery too. A good mornings work!
So final task on returning home was to upload the run on Strava. Disaster, an error message, no run. Fortunately Cheetah Smiley sent me a copy of her run so I could use that for Smiletastic purposes – the distance, route and elevation are all the same, and pace isn’t relevant for this challenge. Unfortunately-ish, there is no way I can alter her time, so it looks like I was turbo charged (by my standards) all the way round. Isn’t that splendid. I will enjoy the moment whilst it lasts, and hope I never have to prove it was me what ran it… Don’t understand the graph though, I’d swear those hills were steeper, elevation total was 243 according to summary stats too, so the numbers make no sense. I don’t care, we all did it, that’s what counts!
In summary, don’t expect to see a Castle, but do expect to experience a warm welcome. Enjoy.