Digested read: Community minded, a small but perfectly formed parkrun. You will get a warm welcome, tadpoles (in season), access to loos and an opportunity to fraternise over a tea urn afterwards. You will not get a castle.
So, to get the important things out of the way first, it does need to be acknowledged that Sheffield Castle parkrun doesn’t actually have a castle as such on site. There’s not even an old dried-up moat here. There is a reason why this is called the Sheffield Castle parkrun. It’s all to do with there once was a Castle in Sheffield, as far back as 1066 or 1270 depending on how rigorous is your grasp of history and willingness to undertake your own research. I heard it from a fellow parkrunner and then just filled in the gaps on Wikipedia, but it’s a start eh? Unfortunately, this timeline predates parkrun, so it’s hard to be sure exactly when it all began. However, this original castle wasn’t sited here where Sheffield Castle parkrun takes place. This parkrun actually happens in Manor Fields Park, which was essentially the country retreat linked to the original castle. It had its own Lodge referred to variously as Manor Lodge or…. and a drum roll please in recognition that I’m finally coming to the point… also known as Manor Castle! Da da! See what they’ve done there? So Manor Castle, was located within what was at one time an enormous deer park, but now there are just pockets of this green space remaining, of which Manor Park Fiels is but one. I’ve just realised there is a good summary of the history of Manor Fields Park to be found on their website, so just look at that. It’s unexpectedly interesting. Well, I thought so, but then I’m quite easily entertained.
Manor Fields Park, isn’t huge by any means, and it seems to burst out from unpromisingly urban surroundings. However, it’s been really lovingly landscaped, and has some unexpectedly fine and interesting sculptures and metal work within. Look out for the carrot tops. You get to run past them, but having done so three times (it’s a three lap course) I’m afraid I couldn’t be bothered to skip round a fourth time to photograph them. Not to worry, you can have the fun of going out to discover that for yourself. As I couldn’t record its bijou loveliness myself, I’ve nicked, sorry shared, some photos from their website. I don’t think they’ll mind. 🙂
So, even though to the literal-minded it might be disappointing not to find a castle there, on the plus side, the venue did have a beautifully constructed water feature, and what’s more there were tadpoles in it! You can’t say that about every parkrun now can you? I’d rather have some living tadpoles in situ than a dried up moat. Besides forewarned is forearmed as the saying goes, consider yourself forwarded! You’re welcome.
I’m conscious that if I say that one of my favourite things about Sheffield Castle parkrun was that they had tadpoles there, this may be misconstrued as an overall negative for the event. But really, it wasn’t, the event was very fine indeed, and having big, fat, healthy tadpoles swimming about in an improvised mini-pond was, for me, simply the icing on the cake. I’ve not seen tadpoles up close in years, their presence made me very happy. Whether or not this particular parkrun has to put a volunteer on their rota particularly to tend to the needs of these pre-metamorphosis amphibians I know not. I do know that all parkruns have their unique variants, maybe this is the stand out one for Castle? There was a woman in hi-viz in the vicinity post-run, so perhaps it was her role to be keeper of the toads. I didn’t ask, as she was busy chatting. I like to think so, but you can’t tell just by looking.
As my regular reader knows, my home parkrun is Sheffield Hallam, but I was in the mood for a bit of impromptu parkrun tourism. I’m never sure whether just venturing a couple of miles away from your usual turf constitutes proper parkrun tourism, and I have been to Castle parkrun before, but not for well over a year I think, but it was a change anyway. Turns out, a few of us were in the mood for a refresh. Three of us from Smiley Paces arrived in the car park shortly before a Monday Mob contingent, also on their summer progresses from Endcliffe Park. Rother Valley parkrun was cancelled this week, so there may well have been refugees from there too. One at least was intending to come/ I know this for a fact, because they posted on Facebook asking for confirmation that the course was an entirely flat one. Someone did provide this reassurance, but I’m not sure it was completely fair. I mean, you might get away with calling it flatish by Sheffield standards, but for non-Sheffielders that wouldn’t wash. I can report from personal experience that there are at least two hills in there and each is negotiated three times, so that would erm.. Hang on, let me get my calculator – two times three makes, er – SIX! Six hills to be run up. Not really flat then? At best context-free news, at worst fake news indeed! I wonder if they came and conquered, or came and just got puffed out half way up that second steep hill adjacent to the cemetery. You have to admit that graveyard is conveniently sited if nothing else. I thought I’d expire every circuit, though in fact I have survived to tell the tale (at length as always). Be thankful.
For the record, I think this might be one of the friendliest parkruns ever. It’s pretty small, so I suppose that makes it easier in some ways, but I’d swear the Run Director greeted every one of us individually as we arrived. It’s not so much a first timers’ briefing as an individual talk through, complete with a large map for reference, and much pointing out of landmarks along the way. For this course, there’s not that many marshals on the route itself, so you have to pay attention to the cones and little yellow arrows which the volunteers have laid out in advance, it all works well though. You really won’t get lost on this one. Just need to be able to count to three, and even then I reckon the volunteers would help.
I was initially a bit put out that the Race Director directed his remarks, about the current course record of 16.39 minutes, to a young athletic looking male giving it as the time to beat. When I protested, he hushed me before adding that ‘the female record holder time is 17.26 minutes‘ so I was pacified. I decided not to go for that today (cough). After all, I’m really just starting back into my running at the moment, and I wouldn’t want to rock the boat by blasting all the Sheffield Castle parkrun regulars out of the finish tunnel, obviously. Bad for morale.
It was good to catch up with people at a new venue. There was a handy wheelie bin where you could deposit your coat for dry safe-keeping whilst on the run. I think that’s what it was. It may of course have been an impromptu jumble collection/ clothing exchange drop off point. Perhaps I committed some terrible breach of etiquette by placing my own fleece in it at the start and removing the same one at the end. Who knows. The volunteers were all very friendly, pointing out the loos and being generally encouraging. At the run briefing the race director went through the usual tourists/ first timers/ milestones but then also really urged people to stay afterwards for a tea or coffee. They ask for an optional donation as they are collecting for a defribulator, but you were encouraged to have one anyway if you had money or not, you can always pay another time, but anyway, it seemed to be really about building a community. This is a parkrun where if you turned up not knowing anyone I’m really confident someone would approach you and make you feel welcome.
So here comes my parkrun geek alert. parkrun have recently produced their first parkrun UK run report 2016 I am keen enough on both parkrun in general and procrastination in particular that I have actually read it.
In amongst the general overview, something caught my eye. Now, (and quite honestly, this is a sentence that I never thought I’d think in the privacy of my own head, let alone write down) this was the fact that there is now a new mission statement for parkrun. Honestly, I couldn’t have told you what the old one was, but knowing it has changed the new one feels apt to me, albeit on the ambitious end of the ‘for the greater public good’ end of the continuum. Basically, it says this:
In 2016 we redefined our previous mission statement from ‘a parkrun in every community that wants one’ … to ‘a healthier and happier planet’. A statement that is intentionally ambitious, and represents our desire to instigate change, and pro-actively target areas where parkrun can make a difference…
.I take that as a shift from the focus on getting people who already know they want to be able to run running, towards more of a focus on community enrichment, engagement and involvement. I wonder if raising the profile of volunteering and getting the message out about it being ok to walk at parkrun is part of that. It was interesting to read this in the days before coming here to Sheffield Castle parkrun, because this one really does have a community feel. You can just run and disappear off afterwards if you wanted to, but at this parkrun the socialising aspect is really actively encouraged and embedded. They have tea urn at the ready! You don’t want to turn your back on that! No wonder people kept on coming at the start.
Parkrun is full of (pleasant) surprises. However, although they do try to be encouraging, try not to be misled by the parkrun signage on this course. It’s further from the start to finish line than it appears in the photo. You have to run round quite a lot between these two signs, it’s not a straight A-B. Don’t be scared though, you can walk round if you want to, a friendly tail marker is available here. Or was today at least.
So, where was I? After the run briefing you set off pretty much straight away. It’s not a big parkrun, there were only 68 today, and the highest ever attendance is just 97. The average is given on the parkrun site as 39.3 I include this statistic because I am fascinated by the concept of a 0.3 runner. I wonder if that might be me? Someone dropping out after just the one lap perhaps? By the way, they are planning birthday celebrations I think the first Saturday in August this year. Course run in reverse, presumably cake? One for the diary surely…. On a separate note, as numbers are relatively small, even though it’s a three lap course, faster runners shouldn’t feel boxed in here as by lap two the slower runners will be pretty much spread out, and the whole route is tarmac so lends itself to overtaking.
Honestly, I found the first lap hard. The first ‘incline’ is in actual fact, a hill. Definitely. But then again, when you get to the hill proper, you shift perspective. It is a long haul up the hill alongside the cemetery, but on the plus side the views are really unexpectedly stunning. I will concede the novelty wore off a bit by third time round, but if you want the challenge of heave-hoing up a hill, the sight of trees in blossom and miscellaneous public sculpture works will offer welcome distraction! As you summit the top of the killer hill (is it acceptable to use ‘summit’ as a verb in this context? Apologies to any grammar police out there who may have now spat out their tea in agonies of convulsion at the very idea). I was saying.. as you summit, the start/ finish area comes into view, and the time-keeper – who on this occasion was also the run director – called out the minutes elapsed for your first lap. This is helpful and potentially either encouraging or depressing, depending on how you view things. Again, because numbers of participants are relatively small, it’s not frenetic, so I guess the timer is able to do this without becoming apoplectic with stress. All good.
So it was off round again for lap two. You can see the front runners streaming ahead, which reminds me. Incidentally, if you are new to parkrun firstly where have you been? Secondly, don’t worry about getting lost, you can’t. You just follow. Even if you are in the lead it’s very obviously sign-posted. For lap two, in my case, I was reminded that I have not been paying enough attention to training running up hills. Fortunately, just on my heels was a cheery monday mobster, who – perhaps unwittingly – kept me going. It isn’t about being competitive, I wasn’t seeking to beat her, it was more a sense of if she can keep on going so can I. When I felt like slowing, I heard her getting closer, and tried to pick up speed again. I can’t talk and run, so couldn’t communicate thanks at the time, but it was appreciated. May I thank you now, Monday Mob Motivators.
Somewhere on lap two I started being passed by the faster runners, it was OK though. I tried to breathlessly cheer them on with ‘great running’ or some such vacuous commentary. For the most part they said something encouraging too as they sped by. It was extremely good-natured. It was nice to be at a smaller gathering for a change. For the record, there was a particularly fabulous marshal at the bottom of the long haul hill, he was just very encouraging. I spluttered out my ‘thank you marshal‘ as I passed, with increasingly poor diction as the laps took their toll, but he kept up his supporting and encouraging clapping and comments. It’s a long stint of clapping a parkrun, when you are a solitary marshal out on a course and the runners are all so spread out.
At the end of lap two, the timer was still able somehow to shout out cumulative lap times as well as click in the finishers. Impressive multi-tasking. I was slowing. Oh dear. By the third lap I was struggling a bit, but I know I can run 5k continuously, so I was determined not to stop. On the course was a small child with a scooter, at the top of the first incline, heading back towards the park community house. She was proffering high fives, which was really sweet, and surprisingly effective in encouraging me to continue on past the carrot tops sculptures and get me to the bottom of the big hill for the last time. It is counter-intuitive, but the last lap is the easist one, because the literal as well as metaphorical end is in sight. Indeed, as I got in sight of the finish tunnel my Smiley Buddies were waiting to cheer me in. You can’t slack when your running club mates are watching FACT, I even managed a (short) sprint finish, and crossed into the tunnel feeling like the first one home. Admittedly only because there was such a big gap between me and the person in front, but hey, details. Still a case of yay, done it. Phew, that was hard.
Got my finish token and barcode scanned in record time, and then was able to cheer back the final few finishers. They stormed in. One of the things I love about parkrun is that everyone’s a champion here!
There was a bit of generic milling about whilst people collected belongings and did some post run stretching and fraternising. Obviously, we also had to do some mandatory posing for pictures. Then it was next stop communal tea drinking. Also a sport associated with parkrun… and not just any tea, but Yorkshire tea. Actually, in these parts, I’m not sure there is any other tea available, and quite right too!
There is a little house – York House – which seems to be a community space. As well as having a loo inside and out for pre run precautionary pees, there is a kitchen space with a big urn, tea and coffee and mugs put out and you can help yourself to a hot drink (or water/ juice) can share running tales with friends old and new or family as you wish. There is a pot for an optional donation. The photos show the post-run euphoria captured brilliantly! Now wasn’t that fun.
Tea/ coffee quaffed, we said our farewells to the great and glorious volunteers. Thank you Sheffield Castle parkrun people. We’ll try not to leave it so long next time, and we’ve put your Fourth Birthday Bash in the diary for 5th August (nearest date to inaugural one on 3 August 2013, so presume that’s right). Hopefully see you there. Presume there will be cake? 🙂
and we went in search of post-parkrun breakfast. Which isn’t compulsory but might as well be. On this saturday we went to The Forge Bakehouse on Abbeydale Road (we were in a car), which I’d not been to before. It’s got an extraordinary selection of fabulous looking stuff. Mostly sweet. Expensive, but very nice. I had the french toast, which was delicious, but not as expected. The place was heaving, so we had to sit outside, but that was OK because you can borrow a complimentary grey blanket if you wish. We did wish, it might be the may bank holiday weekend but no-one has told the weather gods it’s time for some warmer days.
So this was my post parkrun fix – probably negating the positive benefits of running but oh my, quite a treat. Note to self, would have been better without the chocolate sauce as well. Next time I think I’ll try the mexican bean breakfast as a more savoury option.
So Sheffield Castle parkrun. Friendly, unexpectedly scenic, three laps (not keen on that) watch out for them there hills. If you just want to know about parkrun, register here, go to your nearest just remember, as always #DFYB – Don’t forget your barcode! (Though if you do, you can still run, you just wont get a time, and where’s the fun in that?)
For all my posts about Sheffield Castle parkun see here
For all my parkrun related posts see here