Digested read: lots of inspirational running stories doing the rounds today, so great to spend the morning at parkun. New venue Clumber park, home of celebrity triathlete Bailey, glory by association. Friendly run, great coffee. What’s not to like? 🙂
I might have stolen that rallying cry from the Clumber park parkrun Run Director to be honest. But, couple of points: Firstly, I wasn’t the only one giving him grief during his pre-run briefing, and secondly, I think you’ll find that it isn’t plaigerism if you properly reference your sources. Oh no, it becomes ‘modeling’ and helpful triangulation of primary sources, probably so that’s all fine. Don’t worry about the ethics of this post on that account. Feel free to fret about the post contents on many other areas of dubiousness if you so wish. But on that particular point, I’m most definitely in the clear….
So, to business. It being Saturday, it is parkrun day, obviously, but I felt in need of a bit of parkrun tourism today. Much as I love and feel loyal to my usual Sheffield haunts, it’s good to ring the changes from time to time. And besides, keep this up, and one day there may be a cow cowl in it. Plus, entry through those elusive wrought iron park gates into the UK parkrun tourists group. I can but dream. In search of a new venue, I settled on Clumber Park. I was hopeful of a scenic route, maybe some woodland tracks, and it’s far enough away to constitute a pleasing ‘day out’ but near enough not to be a bit too extreme for an early start. Bearing in mind that I do like to be paranoiacly early to things, especially parkrun. Plus, free parking apparently (always a boon) and toilets for my precautionary pee. What’s not to like? Oh, and it’s a National Trust property, so high hopes for post run refreshment opportunities. Also, bluebells in season, and you know what? There were!
So my day actually began with watching somewhat erratic live streaming of the much-hyped sub 2 hour marathon attempt. I only watched the last ten minutes or so (I’m not that committed/stupid as to get up at 4.45 a.m. or whatever it was). But it turned out to be surprisingly compulsive viewing. However passing your interest in running in general and marathon running in particular, you’ve got to respect the nigh on superhuman effort that went into that. Not just the running very fast for a very long time part, but the maintaining elegance in running form and coping with having a camera trained on your running face in high-definition colour for the duration. No way would I subject myself to that. Though I suppose on reflection, the fear of that image being on display somewhere for the duration of my time in motion would probably speed me up quite a bit. The other point of interest, is that it seems – somewhat surprisingly – that I do in fact have much in common with the last man standing. Or more accurately running. Because, even though I know parkrun is a run not a race, and it doesn’t matter what speed you travel those parkrun paths at, in my heart I too would have been very disappointed not to get a sub 2 hour run at my parkrun effort today. Really, the only discernible difference between me and Kipchoge is that I achieved my time goal, but he alas missed his. Still, he did jolly well though. Really he did.
Seeing an inspirational runner first thing in the morning did put a spring in my step. I do get motivation from seeing what limits other runners will push themselves too. It makes me work a bit harder, and today seemed full of inspirational runners stories. The news as also full of Mr Gorilla AKA Tom Harrison who has raised nearly £50,000 for gorilla conservation by crawling around the 26.2-mile London Marathon course in costume over six and a half days. Not my chosen way to move forward, but you have to admire the tenacity of that progress. I find it hard to stand upright again after bending down to tie my shoelaces, his back must be either honed to steel or completely broken. I fear the latter.
And if that wasnt inspiration enough, arrival at Clumber park brought me into the same space as another inspirational runner and celebrity triathlete in these parts. The amazing Bailey Matthews. I had quite forgotten this is his home parkrun, but more of that later. The point is, that if you, like me, sometimes find your enthusiasm for running flagging, take heart, courage and inspiration from all those amazing athletes out there. Be they Kathrine Switzer – not only first woman to run Boston marathon, despite officious man trying to drag her off the course, but also running it again, fifty years later! Local hero Corin Leach, Fastest marathon dressed in a Ghillie suit (female): 3:58.57 (2016); the woman in this year’s marathon who attempted to break a record for the fastest tree. (Didn’t quite make the record, but not the point, nor did Kipchoge) or Mary Keitany of Kenya who broke Paula Radcliffe’s women’s-only world record to win the London Marathon in two hours 17 minutes one second, the second-fastest time in history. That’s really, really fast. Or how about, Mahsa Torabi and other women, still making history by running at all in contexts where women are not supposed to be visible. Running might feel hard, but at least we can take for granted our right to do so. Time to get up, get out, and get running. Yay!
So, upshot, out and at it. I drove to a friend, who drove us to Clumber park. We were a bit confused about where to go. Turns out the park is pretty big, with multiple potential entrances and parking point. We just headed to the visitors centre, which was in fact fine, and easy to get to, with a massive car park where the main problem was which space to choose of many at that hour in the morning. Shortly after we arrived, a couple of high vis parking attendants arrived, so I ambled across to check out whether we were in the right place, and whether or not we had to pay. Basically, I grilled them with parkrun related questions until I’d established that we were indeed in the right place, and we didn’t have to pay – as long as you display a spare barcode somewhere prominently (or are a NT member). Good to know.
Just as I turned on my heels and walked away, another potential parkrunner turned up with an identical set of questions. I heard a brief exchange: ‘are you wanting parkrun?’ enquired the helpful parking attendant, to which the upbeat and direct response was ‘it’s not a question of want, I need to be here, because I’m fat.‘ We all have our own running motivations it is true.
So after a bit of sitting in the car, and sellotaping the barcode to the dashboard, we ventured out in search of the start. We headed off, basically following a couple of runners ahead who looked like they were parkrunners. Soon there was another two people in our collective wake who’d made the same location finding calculation. That is, follow others in trainers who look like they know what they are doing… However, as we seemed to be led ever further from the signs to ‘The Burrow’ me and my running buddy eventually bailed, leaving the two behind us in a state of confused indecision. For those who come after us, just follow the signs to ‘The Burrow’ not the speed merchants who are running a quick lap of the route in reverse as their parkrun warm up. Well you could follow them I suppose, but do so at your own risk. Turns out bailing was a good move, we found our way to the cricket pitch instead, and almost stumbled across an unexpectedly huge gathering.
As we headed up the not-too-steep hill to the start area, we found ourselves at an already big, but ever-growing assembly. There is a cricket club there (which was having an open day), lots more parking (though I don’t know quite how you find it) and an extraordinary number of runners and hi-vis heroes. I hadn’t expected this particular parkrun to be so big, I don’t know why. It was very well attended, with 334 runners this week. As we arrived, the volunteers were in a circle formation, from afar, it looked like they were engaged in some pre-run initiation or building up to some sort of Maori haka inspired posture dance. I really hope they were. Though if they did, I missed it, probably due to having temporarily disappeared in order to avail myself of the facilities.
We managed to nab someone to take our ‘proof of presence’ obligatory team shot, though I concede it could have been taken practically anywhere. Good to see we have mirror image people on our shoulders. We are working towards doing a complete Zaphod Beeblebrox at some point, but I think there is still some way to go, you get the idea though.
There were indeed brick-built loos, (no need for brick s**t house puns though) and some handy parkrun innovations that may or may not be unique to Clumber park parkrun. Like a special trolley for the safe keeping of personal paraphernalia; a Bailey Board (outlining his latest achievements); a map of the route. All sorts.
There was an absolute first-timers briefing, and then a more generic run briefing, which was a hoot. In my opinion it was improved by heckling of the incumbent Run Director, by the young pretender, celebrity triathlete Bailey, who had taken on the role of Run Director last week it seems. Not content with melting hearts and defying expectations, turns out he is also a dab hand at the pre-race briefing. The usual RD put on a good show of not minding, but clearly he’s going to have to up his game to hold onto that position. It was less a master class in managing heckling, and more like watching an impromptu double act in the making, whilst being a little unsure who was going to be the ultimate fall guy… There was even audience participation ‘Have you got your barcodes?‘ the RD shouted out ‘yes!’ we chorused in crazed union; ‘Will you go through the finish tunnel just once?’ ‘Yes!‘ we screamed back delightedly. I was going to call it a ‘runner centred’ delivery, but on reflection, maybe I was experiencing the early stages of being groomed in preparation for signing up to some sort of cult of personality (I’ve already crossed over into the benign cult that is parkrun I know). It felt inclusive rather than scary though. I wonder if that is how these things always start?
The route was run through (two laps); tourists were welcomed (Whitley Bay parkrun rather trumped our Sheffield offering). We were reminded to be respectful of other users, though personally I never came across any cyclists, horse riders or indeed the promised naked rambler. Maybe I misunderstood the descriptions and just didn’t recognise them as they appeared? After these cheery formalities, we all turned around and started a migration to the start. I was a bit confused about which direction we’d be facing, so had a brief panic I’d inadvertently find myself in the front of the pack, but that didn’t happen. I joined the mass moving to the start, which was a little round the corner from where the briefing as held, and then, soon enough (though a bit later than 9.00) we were all awf.
For those of you who like to properly know the route, the Clumber park parkrun course is described on the Clumber park parkrun page thus:
Our route is clockwise and starts and finishes close to the Burrows café.
Runners head east into woodland, then turn right following a downhill path, turning right again onto the lake shore path. You then run back towards the main carpark and turn right before the cycle hire point towards the start / finish area.
Remember it’s two laps
This doesn’t help much. It doesn’t convey that it’s quite a lovely route. The paths were mainly hardcore, with just one short bit of springy forest track. Road shoes would have been fine, I wore my hybrid trail ones. You run past mature trees, see bluebells, green meadows and at one point have a great view of an artificial lake that appeared seemingly out of nowhere. There aren’t that many marshals going round, but those that were, were very encouraging, and clapped a lot.
I’m a slow and steady runner, but even so, with a much bigger than expected turn out, I did get a bit boxed in at the start, which didn’t bother me, but faster runners probably do need to position themselves a bit further forward. There were also lots of children around me, that rushed about like ball bearings scattered across a dodgems’ rink. That is, somewhat speedy and erratic. Kept me on my toes. Incidentally, have I ever told you the story of my childhood friend’s most mortifying day on earth ever? It was when she accidentally spilled the entire contents of a tampon packet out of her pocket whilst on the dodgems during a teenage group outing to a local fair. As they spun off in all directions she wanted nothing more than to die. It became the stuff of legends. Try it and find out why for yourselves. It’s worth it.
I digress, off we went. One parkrun walker was carrying the tiniest baby imaginable, start ’em young indeed. It was great to see! It took a while for the field to open up, and I uncharacteristically even started to overtake a few runners ahead of me, although the novelty of that wore off disappointingly fast. I was having a few unexpected twinges when running. My regular reader knows I have a lot of problems with foot pain from arthritis, but today I think it was due rather to a change in gait. I was running in some new Hoka One challenger shoes. They have fantastic cushioning, and for the first time in years I’m allowing my toes to take the running force, and even risk bending them a bit, rather than crabbing onto the side of my feet which is what I tend to do instinctively to avoid that and to minimise pain. Ultimately, I think this will be a good thing. However, it has shifted how I run, and I was getting some strange tugs as I moved my feet and legs in unfamiliar ways. I am used to running in pain, but not these random ‘stop!’ signals that felt like nerves being trapped and released as I mobilised my foot in new ways. It’s only their second time out, I probably need to get used to them. I like them, but they require adjustment. I still could really do with some running shoes with a really big toe box though. I have yet to find some that properly accommodate me and my disproportionate plates. Basically I need clown shoes, but with lots of cushioning and decent grip for off-road. Any ideas of where I can source them, please do let me know… As of now, my quest for the perfect shoe continues, though I do rate the hokas a lot. They feel bouncy, but in a good way, not in a ‘this bra isn’t working as I hoped‘ way.
A contributory factor might also be that I’ve finally made it back to the Accelerate Woodrun sessions. (Every thursday in Ecclesall Woods – I’ve not been in months due to working away) upshot is I was trying really hard with my form. I know that sentence will cause those who know me to spit out their tea in disbelief, as I’m not known for paying attention to my running technique, but dear reader, it is true. I was concentrating on pushing off, and not over-striding, with the inevitable consequence of starting to over think things to the point that I couldn’t sustain it, and rapidly started falling over my own feet, and getting my leg and arm swings out of rhythm to boot. It becomes alien. I have started volunteering at junior parkrun recently. The way those children run, effortlessly, and with grace, charging round with an instinctive good form is extraordinary. I wonder if I’ll ever crack doing what seemingly ‘comes naturally’ to the very young. When did we all unlearn that? Such a shame…. I also found out recently that I skip wrong too. Disappointing. Discouraging even. Oh well, best to know the worst and be able to tackle it, than run and skip on in ignorance perhaps. …
So, pain aside, good views made for a good run. One extraordinary feature of this run, is that it appears to have more downhill than up. I have no idea how this is possible, but it really does. There is a lovely long stretch where you run down towards the lake, and the first time I sped (cough) along there, I enjoyed it, but was a bit fearful of what uphill might come later, but it doesn’t really. There is a long gentle incline, but that held no fear for me coming from Sheffield where the word ‘hill’ has an altogether scarier meaning. The other cheery fact about this run for me, is that I didn’t get lapped, which these days is unusual for me on a multi-lap course. I suspect it’s because this isn’t an especially fast parkrun, and for me that is a good thing. You get your monies worth if you are out and about enjoying it all for a bit longer!
I was able to parasitize the motivational talk other runners were shouting out to their accompanying children. One father was saying ‘I’m so proud of you my girls, you are brilliant‘ and it put quite a spring in my step as I tried to keep up with them on the off-chance he might be up for adopting me at the end – or at least making me up a personalised compilation tape of motivational phrases. Another runner, catching up with a young sprinter who had temporarily slowed similarly tried to encourage. ‘Come on lad. Imagine the shame if you let me overtake you – look at the state of me, you can’t let me get ahead!‘ It was most comical, gentle and effective. The youth looked at the runner, assessed the situation, and set off at a sprint with renewed vigour! Incidentally, just to be clear, I am extremely mindful that slowing and walking is perfectly fine, and nobody should be pressurised to do more than they want at a parkrun, or made to feel like slowing is failing if that is what they need and want to do – however, what I witnessed was a lot of good-natured banter. This seemed a very friendly run. Great atmosphere.
The turn into the finish was quite remarkable. I’ve never seen quite so many marshals at the end. There was a whole wall of hi-vis to direct and cheer you in. I was fast through the funnel and quickly scanned, and then I joined the cheering of some of the people coming in behind me. I love this bit. There is something joyful about being at the finish line of parkrun, and that novelty doesn’t diminish. Ever. There is always drama and glory on display. One eventful finisher was the woman with the dog who came charging up to the finish, seemingly giving his handler a running edge, until it suddenly dived to the side, dragging the woman with it as it went to greet a familiar face. She recovered, but it was a powerful argument against those who maintain running with a dog brings any kind of an advantage!
After a bit of clapping and cheering, time to go in search of post run refreshments. There is a coffee shop right at the finish. Which includes a tempting soft play area! Alas, the coffee machine was broken. Disaster! However, no worries, we headed off to the visitor centre area, which was a good move. Squishy chairs and a lake view to enjoy along with our lattes. There might have been scones too.
Refreshments taken, we then had a wander about taking in the delights of the discovery centre (tadpoles and sticklebacks); local art exhibition (ho-hum to unexpectedly good); history of the site (genuinely interesting); garden centre and second-hand book shop. All in all a grand day out. With parkrun too – pretty much a perfect saturday morning!
So there we go. Clumber park parkrun? Tick. A really good morning, best run briefing to date for entertainment value (which is high praise indeed, Sheffield Graves parkrun briefings are awesome always). Nice route, super friendly, and great facilities. Not for speed merchants perhaps, but I really liked it, worth the trip for sure. If you want to read the official report of the Clumber park 6 May parkrun you can do here.
Thank you Clumber park parkrun lovelies for your warm welcome and slick organisation. I’ll be back! ‘Til then, happy running y’all.
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