I was hoping for more in the way of green tights to be honest. That, and also a decent scattering of runners wearing green pointy hats with feathers in them, and yes, to be honest, a few people running with quivers of arrows at the ready. Or, if not actually running with them, then maybe lying in wait in the tree tops perhaps, to take out any rogue runners in breach of the parkrun code with a well-aimed arrow? As it happens, it seems my hopeful expectations that Sherwood Pines parkrun would deliver a Robin Hood themed event turned out to be maybe a tad unrealistic, but nevertheless I can report that this parkrun did not disappoint. Au contraire dear reader, it was delightful, thank you for asking.
So, on this the occasion of my one hundredth parkrun I fancied doing something a bit different. My breakfast club running mates seemed to have scattered to the four winds of late. Some people just don’t seem able to prioritize or manage their time. For example, Cheetah buddy selfishly didn’t give a moment’s consideration to the future implications of the date of her wedding. Can you believe that she and her spouse apparently didn’t anticipate that 23 years later their wedding anniversary would clash with my one hundredth parkrun, so they’d be off enjoying a romantic European weekend break instead of pounding round a parkrun in the UK this Saturday morning? I know, selfish doesn’t begin to describe it! (No, it really doesn’t, I do get that). Mind you, I wasn’t their only forward planning lapse, can you believe that they failed to pack Yorkshire Tea to take with them. I know! City break ruined. Shame. One way and another though, the usual suspects in terms of running buddies, seemed to melt into thin air like those proverbial spirits. Milestone days, like ‘significant’ birthdays are troublesome in a way. On the one hand, you don’t really want them to go completely unremarked, but on the other, the agony of drawing attention to them in advance and risking either the mortification of such an occassion being entirely forgotten anyway, or even worse, the prospect of people feeling obligated to mark the day in forced cheeriness was too depressing. I decided instead that I’d just indulge in a bit of decadent, self-gratifying parkrun tourism. I’ve had my eye on Sherwood Pines since doing the Endurer Dash there earlier in the year. It appeals because it’s a lovely location, a one lap course and something a bit different – woodland trails. My running has got really stale of late (partly due to my lard arse tendencies since doing the Sheffield half) and I thought it would be good to ring the changes.
I flirted with the Sherwood Pines parkrun Facebook page – I posted a question about parking. I’d read somewhere that if you display your barcode on your windscreen you only have to pay a £1 to park, but I didn’t want to get caught out so was checking. Well, it is always a good sign when you get a speedy and enthusiastic response from a super organised and proactive parkrun team. What’s more, a message popped up from another running buddy who was up for paying a visit too. Things were looking up. I find it very easy to wallow around in the depths of despair, but really, this has been a good week. There was that guy who survived death after escaping from being trapped by cheese in a factory by staying put in his forklift truck, surely a feel good story if ever there was one. Then, although it is strictly true that the new polar exploration vessel isn’t to be called Boaty McBoatface after all, (they have gone for RRS Sir David Attenborough), pleasingly, this name will go to a submarine remotely operated explorer unit that launches from said ship instead, and anyway, there is a petition started to get Sir David Attenborough to change his name to Boaty McBoatface as well, so all is not lost. Add in the election of Sadiq Kahn as London mayor, and it’s been a bit of a good news week all round, room for some fleeting optimism methinks, even if that is just another misguided outing for the impulse to believe in hope over experience…
So, I decided, Sherwood Pines it would be. The only real downside being that it is a lot further from Sheffield than I originally realised. It took a good hour to get there, and I used the postcode for Go Ape Nottingham for the satnav to take me there. Which worked well, though was a bit of a magical mystery tour as I got quite disoriented en route.
This morning dawned chilly, misty even, but threatening sunny gloriousness imminently. I headed off feeling quite optimistic. There was no traffic to speak of, and I went through unfamiliar countryside to get to the forest which was fun. The forest itself is teasingly signposted from a variety of roads and routes, but when you turn in to the actual venue it is really spectacular, those trees are absolutely huge.
There is cross planting with other species too, and loads of flags lined the road to the car park, which was similarly massive. No worries about finding a place to park here. I sellotaped a spare barcode to my dashboard and displayed a £1 parking ticket and hoped for the best. As usual I was early, so plenty of time to check out the facilities, which are excellent. Even though it was just 8.30 in the morning, the place was getting busy. Cyclists hauling mountain bikes off roof racks; Go Ape staff checking the rigging of their rope walk ways; pilgrims in purple gazing at the parking ticket machines debating what to pay from Notts Women Runners who were massing at the start for some sort of benign take over. I went for a trundle to get my bearings. Cafe (tick); loos (tick). Obviously, I took the opportunity for a precautionary pee. Now, I do like to share practical details with my reader, at least one of whom I know also takes particular interest in the toilet facilities at new venues (hello Monday Mobster), so I will be shameless in sharing the following. The toilet facilities here are unsurpassed. Toilet paper, hot running water, clean, well-lit – not even a queue. However, they do have the most comical thing I have EVER seen in a ladies loo (well, that might not be strictly true to be fair, but some confidences are not to be broken). There is a one-way traffic system in place. Quite stern signs emphatically direct you to exit in a particular direction, and others sternly deter you from mistakenly using the entrance door to escape. I found this hilarious, even though I was on my own, and felt compelled to photograph it. I’m sorry if that makes me odd, but really, it is of significant historical and cultural interest to future generations I say, so why not? I did have to wait ’til everyone else had gone though, which might have made me seem a bit weird on reflection, lingering over my hand washing longer than was strictly necessary by way of excuse… But look – you’ve got to agree the pictorial evidence I was able to gather was worth it. Get me and my private investigator risk taking credentials. Today I hacked Sherwood Pines ladies loos, tomorrow, well, who knows…
I felt quite excited doing my exploring. This is a really brilliant venue. There are loads of little ecosystems of curiosity. Within a few hundred yards of the cafe and visitors’ centre was a Gruffalo orienteering course, a woodland shelter building area, picnic site, cycle hire, blah de blah. All very impressive. You have to like a venue with both Gruffalo and Totem face to welcome you surely? There are so many delights just ahead that you want to rush to explore, and all in this magical forest setting, it was like wandering around in a fairy tale (apart from the minor detail of being made to run for 5k which does spoil it rather to be honest).
So, I got my bearings, and wandered down to the start where the volunteers (hooray for them) were congregating, along with a few early arrivals at the parkrun ball. I’d left most of my stuff in my car due to rising paranoia due to the number of signs warning of THIEVES operating in the car park. Indeed absolutely everywhere! I don’t know if the notice below was supposed to represent some sort of ‘Wanted Poster’ E-fit, but if so, it was a bit vague on detail. In any event, I saw no-one answering that description, with or without a lime green halo/spotlight effect encircling them. Still, you should keep your eyes peeled all the same…
In fact, the start and finish for the parkrun are in the same place, a little distance from the car park and cafe areas, and blessed with a veritable plague of parkrun watchers, runners and volunteers, I’d happily have left my little backpack there another time. A rather sweet finish funnel was already set out, and I noticed some cyclists having a cheeky sprint through it, and why not, it looked fun.
So, basically, people started to gather. Quite a diverse group here to be honest, a large number of canicross runners were present, and various running clubs, some tourists, some first timers. For those of you who like to know the Sherwood Pines parkrun course blah de blah it is as follows:
The parkrun course at Sherwood Pines Forest Park is 5k long and is made up of one anti-clockwise lap.
The route is primarily completed on the ‘Green’ Family Cycle Route and is a combination of trail and compacted stone paths and park roads.
Please be aware that cyclists may be using designated cycle routes which cross the parkrun route at a number of points, and whilst marshals will monitor the crossing points, runners don’t have automatic right of way and should be vigilant.
The run starts a short way past the Visitor Centre and the Go Ape Tree Top Adventure Course. After a short straight of approximately 150m turn right along the forest road. After a further 300m the course joins the ‘Green’ Family Cycle Route at signpost 3. Follow the ‘Green’ route signposts for approximately 4k. At signpost 18 depart the ‘Green’ route by turning left on to the forest road. Follow this for around 700m before finally turning right onto the same initial straight you ran along at the start. Follow this for around 150m to the finish.
Inevitably, the description makes it sound more complicated than it really is. Honestly, unless you are planning on leading the pack with a PB, I’d just advocate following the people ahead, you won’t go too far wrong. I wore sort of intermediate shoes, more grip than my road shoes, but not as much as my fell ones, they were fine. I think you could do it in road shoes, as long as you aren’t spooked by lose grit. It’s not a technically difficult route and just undulating, no real hills, well, not by Sheffield standards anyway!
Oh, and yes, I know the lacing is odd, but it’s to accommodate my bunion (joys of being over fifty) plus, my shoe laces are really short which is also very annoying. I prefer not to dwell on the voices in the head which still echo round uninvited. It is the words of the person who pointed out that it isn’t that the laces are especially short, it is that my feet are especially fat, ‘normal people’ wouldn’t have to to have the laces reaching to and fro across the foot to such an extent apparently. Great, another personal physical failing that I need to take on board. Thanks for that unsolicited observation anonymous friend!
So I mingled slightly self-consciously. I wondered where my Smiley fell-flying buddy had got to. Honestly, you should see her running down a rock face, never mind ‘brain off, brakes off‘ she’s like mercury meets mountain sprite, rolling down the mountains with ever increasing velocity and an other-worldly look in her eye, she can eat several fell runs for breakfast. Anyway, it was good to soak up the mood. There were canine/ people reunions; cautious first timers arriving and checking out the protocols. Then a circle formed for the first timers’ briefing. A thorough talk at this event, assisted by the use of visual aids (an actual finish token and printed barcode were proffered by way of illustration). There seemed to be a lot of first timers. I gather this is a relatively new event in the grand scheme of things – number 28, and clearly word is getting out as to its many and varied charms!
After a bit, the ‘official’ run director’s briefing commenced. Bravo for today’s Run Director as apparently it was her first time. Her main concern was that she’d do a slapstick comedy fall off the step-ladder that was provided for her to stand on to aid voice projection. So (spoiler alert) I can report that she did not fall off, and to all outward appearances carried out her designated duties with considerable aplomb. I was a bit confused when a certain ‘Lucy’ was singled out for congratulation and applause on her milestone run, but it wasn’t for me it was for a junior namesake who was looking delighted but a bit self-conscious at having her Tenth run so remarked upon.
This briefing was microphone assisted, and apart from having a siren effect that was maybe more used than was strictly necessary, it was very good for audibility. I like hearing different briefings at different events. There is always something a bit different to note. Here two things stuck out. One was that they had a physical roster with them for future weeks so people could sign up to volunteer there and then for subsequent events. I think that’s a great idea. At my local it’s all done via email, and even though they are always short of volunteers, I’ve nevertheless more than once found my emails offering to volunteer were not replied to, or were rejected as they had enough marshals already. I do get that this is because I have a tendency to volunteer a bit ‘last minute’ and it’s maybe that I’m offering a day before a local race when many are tapering, so often on those Saturdays they may indeed have enough people, but it is discouraging and I do find that a bit of a mixed message to be honest. I wonder if a physical sign up sheet waved around at parkrun now and again might work better in terms of bringing new volunteers on board, and getting you (i.e me) to plan ahead a bit more. Plus, they made a bit of a thing of it to be encouraging ‘you won’t be made to be Run Director the first time…‘ Now I’ve got my 100th I do want to make more of an effort to volunteer now and again, and I want it to be somewhere I feel useful. The other innovation, was shifting the focus from adults who are usually the focus of instructions aimed at demanding they ‘keep your child within arm’s reach‘ onto the juniors. ‘Make sure your responsible adult keeps up with you‘. Not only was this humourous, I thought it was a nice child-centric way of approaching it. Some of the accompanying adults looked less enthused and impressed at this innovation. You can’t really blame them – have you seen how fast (and how erratically) some of those juniors can shift? Not the sort of running speed pressure I’d want to be subjected to I grant you. There was also extra applause for Sherwood Pines Forestry for being supportive of the event. In the wake of events at Little Stoke I think we are all a bit more appreciative of hosts that seem genuinely welcoming of the parkrun community.
So, then just as I thought fell-flying Smiley wasn’t going to make it, she and her Established Squeeze appeared as if by magic out of the mist, all smiles and waves. Strictly speaking this photo below was taken afterwards, but this is my blog post so I can do what I like by way of artistic licence. Who will know anyway? Only someone with the nigh on supernatural insight of Sherlock Holmes or Jessica Fletcher would spot that everyone else in the photo is apparently walking away back to the car park or cafe, and deduce that this must be indicative of this being the termination point rather than starting point for the event. My secret is safe. Incidentally, a couple of years ago I was in the waiting room at the Hallamshire Hospital prior to a mammogram (now that’s an experience and another story) when the receptionist called out for a ‘Jessica Fletcher’ and no-one else in the waiting room seemed to notice or react. Do you think they were just pretending, or am I really the only one with a secret ‘Murder She Wrote’ habit on a rainy day? I wonder how much it affects her day-to-day life, I’m guessing being called Harry Potter might be more problematic.
Anyway, quick acknowledgements, and we joined the mass making its way to the starting line. I don’t know if there was a count down as such, if there was I didn’t hear it. What I did notice was a sudden audio onslaught of bell ringing and everyone picked up speed and we were off! It was quite a speedy start, though I was caught unawares and not really quite in position. It’s nice and wide though, so you shoot off, and after a brief sprint to the first corner, it’s a right angle right turn and you are into the woods. The tracks were all really solid, a bit of loose grit on occasion, but nothing to worry about. The main thing hampering progress was my tendency to want to gaze about and take in the surrounding beauty. The trees are lovely, and as the mist was burned off and cleared the sun came through casting a gorgeous light. You can espy other users of the forest enjoying secret glades, or scrambling over logs. There were also teasing views of little wooden constructs all over the place. Was it a pirate ship? Some sort of castle settlement? Loads of places you’d want to go back to explore.
I don’t know what attendance is usually like, but today turnout was 207, of whom about 27 were registered as Notts Women Runners and 12 were doing their first ever parkrun (little do they know what they have started) and an astonishing 63 first timers (including me) at this event (but I didn’t check my counting so don’t quote me). I ended up in a bit of a clump of runners who were sticking together, which I did try to break away from but with little success. It was good for eavesdropping purposes though. Topics included breathing; whether or not to take on a future 10k; difficulty of getting sponsorship if you are always running anyway; snot (eject or not to eject); bra fitting and chaffing. All familiar ground.
There were some ‘serious’ canicross runners here. By which I mean not just parkrunners with dogs, but parkrunners with dogs with ‘proper’ kit. Canicross harnesses and even appropriately logoed sports wear. At one point I did think a dog was implementing a sit down protest, as for no apparent reason he just plonked himself down in a large muddy puddle en route. Later on this dog’s runner and I were briefly alongside one another. She remarked on my top (Smiley Paces, always a talking point, and worth it, despite the pressure to look cheery at all times that it puts on the wearer); and I queried the sit down protest I’d witness earlier on. I ran on corrected. This was not at all an act of dissent or independence, rather the execution of a command. It was a hot day, and the dog was at risk of over-heating, puddle dunking (that’s not the official terminology by the way) cools the canine down. Genius. Nice dog too, and nice top.
So, I can report, it is a lovely route. I think definitely a new favourite. The course is really pretty, and I imagine once you know it, it could be speedy as it’s pretty flat. Undulates a bit, but no real horrors. The only real hazard was at one point a couple of off-road cyclists on mountain bikes came speeding through, veering through the runners like they were taking on a slalom. They were competent riders, but it was definitely un-nerving. There weren’t that many marshals on the way round, but there were some pretty clear signs along the lines of ‘this is point 17 turn left at point 18’, anyway, navigation at parkrun is never an issue for me as I just follow people ahead.
Once the final stretch was in sight, you could see where you’d have to do a sharp right back up to the start and the final 150 metres through the avenue of spectacular pines to finish. Ahead I could see fell-flyer and her Established Squeeze calling me home, and so put on a final sprint finish which took even me by surprise, as I was able to catch up and overtake a runner who was ‘miles’ ahead. I don’t know whether I should be proud of this or not. On the one hand I was quite chuffed to find I do have a turn of speed now and again, on the other it does rather suggest I’m not trying hard enough the rest of the time if I have so much left in the tank at the end. Oh well, I don’t really care. I do know I felt pretty light-headed going through the funnel and reaching out for my finish token. Quickly joined the queue for scanning, and then cheered a few of the final finishers home.
We lingered for a bit, and then, seduced by the prospect of post-run breakfast, headed off to the cafe. Although, obviously, plenty of other runners had had the same idea, the cafe coped really well with the numbers, the queue moved quickly. Also, you get a discount if you show your barcode AND they willingly provided large paper cups of tap water on request. I decided to celebrate my one hundredth parkrun with a proper cooked vegetarian breakfast. Established Squeeze went for a Ranger’s Breakfast (you didn’t have to prove you were a ranger to qualify thankfully) and Fell-flyer went for tomatoes on toast and cast-offs from ES (who doesn’t like eggs). Honestly, the breakfast was a bit more quantity than quality. Not the most appetising with white sliced bread and carbohydrate over-load, it felt a bit of an endurance test and I did fear for my arteries. The idea of it was rather more appealing than the reality, but I was glad I’d tried it. It was good value and OK, next time I’d probably go for something different, but sometimes you have to live a bit dangerously just so you can make informed choices in the future. I fessed up to it being my centenarian choice. Here it is, draw your own conclusions. You have to love the cup though don’t you? Should have kept it really.
There was an outside seating area at the cafe which gave an elevated view of Sherwood Pines forest life as we ate. We lingered for ages. It was great for people watching, we saw groups heading off on escorted Segway tours. This was loads more entertaining than you might at first think, especially because every helmet had some sort of distinct feature attached to it – presumably to help to differentiate them from one another and make them easier to find. It did lead to me speculating out loud (wish I could learn not to say whatever it is I’m thinking and just keep some of those thoughts in my head) why that woman had some sort of mutated sex toy on her head. In fact closer inspection revealed this was really a set of pink bunny ears. Later on we saw a child with a helmet improved with Mickey Mouse ears, a good look. Then there was the guy who was decked out in hard-core off-road biking gear, but astride a unicycle which he was furiously pedaling around all over the place, very impressive. It led to quite a debate about whether or not riding a unicycle or indulging in prolonged planking sessions would be a more effective core workout. Speaking personally I reckon it would depend on whether or not laughing constitutes a core workout (which I think it might) as there is no way I’d ever get balanced on a unicycle for long enough to work my stomach muscles otherwise.
It was lovely and unrushed enjoying the sun on the cafe decking, this is a fabulous potential venue for a Smiley takeover run we reckoned. There is so much else on offer for non-running family members that you could justify making the trek over and make a day of it, hiring bikes, having a picnic, going ape or whatever.
Post run conversation covered topics as diverse as holiday destinations; difficulty of learning to ride a unicycle; genital resculputuring (undesirable) associated with extended running related chaffing injuries; differentiating between coffee offerings on a ‘filthy’, ‘acceptable’, ‘very nice artisan’ continuum – coffee today ‘acceptable’); favourite running events; pros and cons of fancy dress; and embarrassing incidents. Of which we all had a great many, some of which were harder to brush off with laughter than others. We ended up staying around for long enough that we even started to wonder if our little pale white faces were being scorched by the first real sunshine of the year. We went our separate ways, with many a promise to return.
Oh, hang on, I nearly forgot. Post parkrun pictures, mandatory on occasions such as today (I didn’t run in my fleece by the way, that was for afters only!):
So that was Sherwood Pines parkrun. Thank you all for your hospitality. This is a brilliant parkrun, and one that could cope with more runners due to the great on-site facilities. I will definitely be back, and hopefully persuade other Smileys to do the same. It was really like having a mini-break. You have to love parkrun!
By the way, if you fancy some virtual parkrun tourism, I recently came across this time vampire. An (hopefully) ever-growing selection of parkrun courses recorded by vid-cam and compressed into a sub 5 minute experience. Genius…