Digested read: parkrun tourism took me to Isabel Trail parkrun. It was very nice thank you for asking.
That’s me, nothing if not I-catching! See what I’ve done there, hilarious!
All a bit of a blur, as you can see. I feel bad for saying so, but before I went to Isabel Trail parkrun to see it for myself I thought that Stafford was basically the middle of nowhere. Now I see it is au contraire, the centre of everything, it’s all simply a question of how you choose to look at it. I will concede that sometimes the visions of loveliness that were the hi-vis heroes for the day were somewhat blurred, their busy perpetual motion meaning they were at times moving faster than the speed of light to keep the parkrun show on the road, but their cheery animated all round wonderfulness shines through all the same I’m sure you’ll agree. Look, aren’t they lovely?
Rhetorical question, yes they are!
But I’m jumping ahead of myself, lets start at the very beginning, it’s a very good place to start.
Oh my gawd, those outfits are classic! I am so going to make my own version out of repurposed curtains if a singalonga Sound of Music makes it to my neck of the woods anytime soon… They would work as an alternative to the parkrun hi-vis too I think , certainly distinctive and hard to miss. By logical extension the RD would have to sport the full Maria outfit, but that’d be OK, it’s not all that different from the distinctive RD outfit sported here anyway, not so much a radical departure from the norm as a welcome upgrade surely?
Practically indistinguishable. Could catch on.
Right, stop distracting me or we’ll never get this parkrun tale related and I expect you have places to go, people to see, things to do, a life to lead even if I don’t, so let’s crack on shall we. Agreed?
So, waking up in the small hours, it was still dark. I lay blinking into the abyss of gloom above me and was overcome with foreboding and existential angst. This did seem a bit desperate, setting the alarm for stupid o-clock to go to some unknown part of the world blooming miles away, where you wouldn’t know anyone, all on your own, to run a parkrun beginning with ‘i’ to get one stage nearer completing the Alphabet Challenge just to get a coveted – but pointless – virtual (i.e. not even real) running challenges badge…. eventually. What’s more, any purist will tell you, you can’t even really do a proper alphabet, because there is no parkrun beginning with ‘x’ anywhere in the world – (Cross Flatts parkrun and Exeter Riverside / Exmouth parkruns show willing but aren’t the same) and a ‘z’ requires an excursion to either Poland or Russia. Russia one sounds more fun to be fair – which would be a great adventure, but is pretty unlikely to occur. What was I thinking? The ridiculousness of it all nigh on engulfed me. Maybe a duvet day would be a better option?
Hmm, dear reader NO IT WOULDN’T. I did feel low, but when I fired up my laptop to check for any last minute cancellation notices by Isabel Trail parkrun on Facebook, I saw a post from a fellow parkrun tourist, who was already on a train station heading off to their faraway parkrun destination. Yay! I’m not alone, there is a whole parallel universe of parkrun tourists, emerging from duvets, heading off into the night to board planes, trains and automobiles to join their parkruns of choice. What’s more, a helpful exchange followed. She was off to Newcastle, but had already done Isabel Trail, and revealed a handy top tip – the start is not easy to find apparently, but she shared an infographic photo she’d taken on the day to assist me in locating it:
Ah, ok, the phrase ‘none the wiser’ sprang to mind on seeing this, I’m not gonna lie, didn’t feel fantastically enlightened, looking like a rather indistinct hedge mostly concealed by fog, but hey ho, it’s the thought that counts. More helpfully, she said that despite having a minor panic about locating the start when she arrived, she was eventually greeted by a pink unicorn. I’m thinking a pink unicorn would be fairly noticeable. Also, that is grand to hear, what greater incentive could there possibly be to head out the door and make your speedy way to a parkrun than knowing that it has it’s own resident unicorn. Other animals are also available there too apparently. Things were looking up! There are all sorts of reasons for choosing a particular parkrun on any given day – since discovering Ross-on-Wye parkrun has individualised signs like this:
it’s shot up my ‘must do’ list, but the prospect of seeing a unicorn, a real one, and a pink one at that, that would be motivation for
many a runner surely?
I’ve lifted other comedic sign shots from the UK parkrun tourists page, cheers for sharing people, you make the world a better place!
So I was not alone, after all what is the point of a Saturday morning if not parkrun. Let the parkrun adventure commence!
I’d already done a bit of research which I shall share with you. The Isabel Trail parkrun course blah de blah on the official parkrun website describes it thus:
The course is an out and back route on a tarmac path along the Isabel Trail. The start and finish is at the end closest to Sainsbury’s
so not overly complicated to be fair. And it looks like this:
It seems even if I can’t find the start, I am exceedingly unlikely to get lost on the course, unless I inadvertently take off facing in the wrong direction and there is no marshal on hand to shoo me back the right way again. That seems pretty unlikely. At least, I hope it’s unlikely. Running indefinitely might be a boon for the likes of Ellie Pell – who not only has one of the best names ever but just won a 50k ultra trail marathon outright – exposing the race organisers assumption that it would be a male winner. To be fair, history suggests that has historically been the default, but times there are achanging – women distance runners are coming into their own. Not me though, I can cover distances, but not at any pace worth making a trophy for. Point being, if it’s all the same to everyone else, I’d prefer to be facing the right way at the start. Here’s Ellie though, dual wreathed. Well done. I reckon she ought to be wearing at least one of those on her head, but I’ve not been in possession of a similar set of laurels myself before, so what do I know. Well done though, excellent!
There is a bit of a worry re loos, the nearest are in Sainsbury’s 0.5 miles away according to the blah de blah, but there is a lot of pay and display parking. Forewarned is forearmed, the precautionary pee would happen, just a matter of timing. It’d be fine, yay!
The dawn began peeking out, and I headed out. It wasn’t at all a bad drive from Sheffield, though it was rather long, though not as long as the parkrunner I saw recently stating they’d flown to Tasmania, Australia, purely to do a parkrun, returning the same or next day. I’d struggle to justify that, not least, because to go all that way and not spend time in that amazing place seems criminal. Even so, I recognise the shifting sands I inhabit, for a long time I didn’t even try the other parkruns in Sheffield because I felt if you couldn’t get to your parkrun on your own two feet, that defeated the object. I suppose in honesty, for community, it is good to stay local, but to rediscover your running mojo and see the big wide world with serial parkrun micro adventures, parkrun tourism or voluntourism is definitely a seductive option….
One thing about the drive though. Roundabouts. I swear I went round every roundabout in the known universe getting to Stafford. It was insane, there seemed to be not just a proliferation of roundabouts, but of those silly-isles type roundabouts with interconnecting ones as if the road planner was trying to create their own version of crop circles of the Nazca Lines. Crazy. On the plus side, towards the end of my journey one had a great big bull on it and another a huge centaur. It wasn’t a real one sadly, but a teaser for the unicorn that might be awaiting me. Bring it on!
Yeah, yeah, they weren’t the actual roundabout signs, but I was hardly going to lean out and take pictures of the signage whilst trying to negotiate them was I? I may live life on the knife edge with my dare devil parkrun tourism, but I’m not completely stupid.
So I arrived, the satnav took me to the car which is absolutely mahooooooooooosive. It is split into short and long stay parking, and sort of morphs into the Sainsbury’s car park. You can get 2 hours free parking if you spend more than £5 in Sainsbury’s and present the voucher you get with your ticket. It is also split into flooded and non-flooded sections, which made sense of the negative reviews I’d stumbled across when I was googling Doxey Road Car park. I never knew people felt sufficiently passionately about car parks to post reviews for them. It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again, parkrun tourism can be very educational and mind expanding. I have included some photos of the car park below, in case you aren’t familiar with what a car park might look like. Also, you can see the parking lines over the humungous mound that spanned two spaces, I would not have been impressed had they been the last remaining spaces, but I couldn’t really have a rant about that in a review post, on account of the fact there were about 500 other spaces to choose from. I paid £3 for 4 hours parking, which was more than enough, but I wasn’t sure if I’d be staying for post parkrun coffee at this stage.
On the way in, I espied a ‘caution runners’ sign, to the left of the car park entrance, and at the end of a footpath. This made locating the parkrun pretty easy to be fair. However, first things first, precautionary pee. Over a little footbridge and into Sainsbury’s where there is a cafe for post parkrun dining options, and, more importantly, loos for pre-parkrun precautionary pee purposes. Phew, was in need of them. As you’d expect these are clean and fit for purpose, but the ladies loos have a mysterious left over bit of space next to the cubicles, like they measured the slots wrong. It was just odd. If you go with a friend to this parkrun, you could hide in this space and surprise them either going in or coming out of their cubicle. Coming out would be fairer, if you jumped them going in, they’d wet themselves. Also, best to do this if you are female and travelling with a female fellow parkrunner, a male parkrunner secreting themselves in this hidey-hole and jumping out at unsuspecting female relief takers would have a great deal of explaining to do. And you think forgetting your barcode is the worst thing that could happen at a parkrun…. I don’t know if there is a similar use of space in the gents, didn’t check. The cafe was conveniently sited, but didn’t look all that inviting. Still, it’s people that make a place, not their environs, so don’t be deterred!
Now I could concentrate on finding the start. A few other parkrunners had appeared, and although many were tourists, there were sufficient locals, or people who knew where they were going, that you could just follow them. Head to the end of the trail at the far end of the Sainsbury’s car park, hopefully, they’ll have the sign up as well, but if not, there is an information board about the trail, so head for that, then just follow the path down a couple of hundred yards. It’s nothing like half a mile, and there is only one path to take so you’d struggle to get lost I think.
I pootled down the track, following others, and soon saw the cheery gang of hi-viz heroes busy about their work. The RD was sporting an umbrella hat at this point, but disappointingly had removed it by the time I arrived on the scene. There were a fair few other
eyecatching ‘I’ catching tourists already there, and greetings were being exchanged and parkrun tourism tales shared. There was no unicorn. That was disappointing, but the warmth of the welcome more than made up for it.
Despite rain on the way down, the sun was shining, the start all set up, the parkrun buzz building up nicely. A few innovations here of which I particularly approved. A little pop up tent for keeping bags etc not only safe but dry and free from being peed on by territory marking dogs – or indeed other parkrunners now I come to think of it, though I like to
hope think such occurrences are relatively rare, even when lack of toilet facilities necessitates wild wee improvisation. Bottom line, it was a jolly scene.
Isn’t that a cheery sight to behold on a Saturday morning. I don’t know if perhaps it’s partly because it’s a relatively narrow path, so you have no choice but to mingle with other runners, but this was a noticeably friendly parkrun. Marshals and runners seemed to know each other and, more importantly, be genuinely pleased to see one another. This also seemed to be a truly inclusive run. A good cross section of participants of all shapes, sizes, ages with and without buggies, dogs, children etc. The finish times for this event ranged from 17.26 to 1.06, which I think is excellent, as it shows it is welcoming to and catering for a continuum of parkrunners. Lately I’ve been very conscious of being a minority bringing up the rear, and although it’s true you can’t be last because of the tail walker and all of that, it is nevertheless reassuring to be part of group of slow and steadies rather than feeling like you are conspicuously slow. Well, that’s my subjective experience anyway. It’s just nice to feel a bit invisible.
People gathered, I made some new friends and checked out the start area. One of my new friends is awaiting her purple tee, and we were agreeing that it is our favourite colour of the milestone tees and turns out it is her favourite colour anyway – her wedding dress was purple even, though she expressed regret that she only got to wear it the once. Not that she was hoping to remarry, just that by convention it isn’t worn on a regular basis. I tried to persuade her to give it a parkrun outing, it would fit right in, and be a great stand in whilst waiting for her volunteering t-shirt to arrive. She didn’t exactly promise to do so, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before she sees the wisdom of such a clothing choice. If not parkrun, then there’s always the Polish wedding dress run in September each year. Another good option. Actually, that might have just been a one off – but why let the truth get in the way of a good story eh?
Can’t see any possible down side, and it would even be a good choice for hiding blackberry stains, so a great option once they come properly into season. Did I mention the blackberries?
There were indeed plenty of blackberries along the way – in a few weeks’ time you could gorge yourself with them along pretty much the whole route I reckon, powered by foraging. Nice. Kinder on the gut than sports gels too.
It really couldn’t be much more straightforward, you do just literally run out and back along a flat, well surfaced path. I was a bit worried that the path seemed very narrow, and I wasn’t sure how that would work with other trail users and faster runners coming back the other way. Still, you have to have faith in the event team, I’m guessing they’d thought of this and done it a fair few times before so not my worry. Also, I was distracted by the fine backside of the designated tail walker.
I love the fact that you can ask to photograph someone’s bottom at parkrun and it’s considered not only acceptable but completely understandable. Other parkrun bottoms have also been captured elsewhere this weekend, and quite right too. Check out these offering from Chipping Sodbury parkrun apparently they have a selection from which to choose a tail for the day. Yes, they do wear them all day, not just for the parkrun. Well, I like to believe so anyway.
I met some voluntourists from Newcastle, at Graves junior parkrun the other day, well today actually, just got back from volunteering there and so even though I’m writing as if this is Saturday, it’s actually tomorrow Sunday now, so I’ve sort of been travelling in time. Lord only knows when you stumbled across this. Could be decades later for all I know, that would be really confusing. I like to think parkrun will now exist in perpetuity so at no point will this be echoing around in cyber space and future generations are pondering ‘what is this strange parkrun phenomenon of which she speaks?’ that would be too depressing…. Anyway, hope that’s not overly confusing. Bottom line point is, they told me that at their local junior parkrun they also have a selection of tails for the tail walker, and if a junior runner has a birthday on junior parkrun day, they get to select which tail is to be donned. How brilliant is that? That’s right, very brilliant indeed! Now that’s class, right there, may it catch on everywhere. They even have a dinosaur tail. That would be really good… If you can’t have an actual dinosaur, which would clearly be better still, and have the added bonus of motivating everyone to achieve a pb potentially too! Not that everyone is necessarily after a pb, just being part of it is enough. Having said that, I have a feeling even I’d put a wiggle on if a dinosaur was chasing me down.
Anyway, got chatting with another runner about the it being ok to ask to photograph someone’s bottom at parkrun and how much fun the ‘anything goes’ ethos is. It was pointed out there are other occasions when you can dress up as animals, and have fun too, but they aren’t necessarily quite so family friendly, and it may not be appropriate to take photos either.
Back to Isabel Trail parkrun. People gathered and chatted and milled and chilled. After a bit a call went up and a merry cohort trustingly followed the hi-viz wearers round the back of a hedge for the first timers briefing. Amazingly, there seemed to be no first everers so the briefing was pretty brief. There was however a focus on where all the tourists had come from, the RD acted as minute taker and the locations just kept on coming, she was going to need a bigger sheet of paper for sure – to coin a phrase! That reminds me, have you seen the 30 second parody bunny movies? You could just invest 30 seconds of your life on the Jaws one and take it from there. Good in parts it’s true, but you are missing out if you don’t have a bit of a rummage around at the options available. Your call.
People had come from South Wales, St Helens, Sheffield (erm, well that was me) all over. The RD dutifully scribed all she could fit on her paper, so everyone could have a shout out at the RD briefing later. Nice touch. I presume she had shorthand.
The briefing was to the point. A plea not to be a token magpie, and a warning that, although the trail is flat, there is one eroded patch of path which, despite being surrounded by cones, every week someone manages to fall into, we were warned not to be that person!
Back to the path. …. Did I really see a volunteer come striding back with a shovel? What on earth?
And a few minutes later, all down towards the start, where the RD fought her way through to the starting point clutching a ladder and megaphone, to give the briefing. Now, I had seen a proliferation of signs earlier imploring for quiet during the run briefing, including some that looked like paddles with which I would have cheerfully whacked the miscreants who talked loudly throughout the whole thing. I couldn’t see them being deployed though, and it would have been good if they had been. I really struggled to hear anything, which is a shame, as it was a nice welcome and run briefing. I vaguely caught milestones being recognised and even birthdays. It had a lovely community feel. It enrages me that people won’t just shut up for this, it’s part of what builds a parkrun community, celebrating each others achievements, and noting who has a special day, as well as of course thanking volunteers. I probably mind disproportionately about this to be fair, but this was such a welcoming parkrun, and it isn’t too much to ask for a bit of quiet during the briefing. It was like people shouting over the sound system in a noisy pub round me at times. I felt like as it wasn’t my parkrun so not my role to shush them, but I passively aggressively steamed inwardly, that would show them! Rant over. Until next time.
Still, I joined in the clapping when it seemed appropriate, and looking around, it was a jolly and colourful crowd. And anyway, it was parkrun day, can’t be too pissed off for too long today! I wonder how the shopping trolley was acquired, quite a boon for moving of stuff. I’m sure it was legitimate, but even if not, there were alas, plenty for the taking dumped in the watercourses round and about the superstore. Sad but true. If they have retrieved it from being dumped, that would be a great public service, though I rather suspect it was willingly offered up by Sainsbury’s.
So then, after a bit, a surge forwards. Well, not too much of a surge, as I’d slotted myself in quite far to the back, and it took a while to get going. I don’t mind that at all, in fact, I find it reassuring as it takes the pressure off and I’m never going for a time, just a positive experience. However, I guess if you were a faster runner it would make sense to put yourself towards the front if you could. It was a little bit congested going over the line, but all very good natured, and surprisingly quickly, the field spread out and it really didn’t seem to be an issue with giving way to other park users or taking over the path.
I dodged to the side now and again to take some shots along the way. I was trying to get one of every marshal I passed as well, which was made easier by dint of the fact you pass them all at least twice – on the way out, and then again on the way back! Who’d have guessed it.
Although it’s ‘just’ a trail, the route was surprisingly diverse. There were wooded bits, and you get to run under a couple of bridges which is a fun thing to do, and over a couple of bridges which is also a fun thing to do. You can interact with clapping, smiling marshals – they didn’t do a great deal of directional pointing, but to be fair, there wasn’t all that much call for that. You pass by a cemetery, which I suppose it handy for disposing of runners that are spent before they make it back. Was that what the shovel was for earlier I wonder?
They start ’em young as marshals here. A pint-sized marshal was on hand to dish out high fives to passing runners. Excellent work there!
And then soon enough, the front runners were flying back, homeward bound. There was plenty of room for all, and it was fun watching them sprint towards the finish area. One thing which was really nice to see, was the number of returning runners, high fiving their friends who were still heading out. Like I said, this was a friendly parkrun, I got the impression people knew each other, and were open to meeting new people too.
The route is a bit unexpected in that you pass some open water bits that feel like full on countryside / rural idyll, and then other parts have a distinctly urban feel, complete with car grave yard – perhaps to complement the human one, and graffiti/ street art/ vandalism, depending on your point of view. Ever felt like someone was watching you on a run…
Each marshal and marshal spot seemed to have a particular USP, whether that was due to dress, responsibility, age, high-five deliveries or marshal buddying up system. This one was responsible for raising bump awareness over a bridge. It worked, out and back, nice chalkery.
And don’t these two make a lovely pair? I reckon they clapped the entire time, even when no runners were in sight. That’s dedication for you. Having said that, they have ceased applauding in this photo, but that’s only because I distracted them and put them off their game. Sorry about that. As you were.
The marshals along the way were really outstanding. For different reasons I noticed a couple offering non-judgemental assistance to runners in need. I’d have no hesitation in recommending this particular parkrun to a newbie runner, it was chilled and supportive and very good natured. Just seemed a happy place, and we all need them don’t we. Also, gotta love a parkrun where someone is donning a pink tutu. Why wouldn’t you? A pink tutu rocks at any occasion. Fact. Try it for yourself if you are sceptical. Go on, rock up at work tomorrow in one (unless it isn’t a working day for you tomorrow, that would be weird) they aren’t that hard to get hold of, or you could make you own out of a repurposed net curtain stained with ribena. Someone, somewhere near you could provide them I’m sure. You only have to reach out and ask for help sometimes, and friends and neighbours can make it so.
After a bit, well, more specifically, at the half way point, there is some fine cone positioning and a U-turn with a smiley marshal to ensure you don’t shoot on by and run to infinity and beyond. Though strictly speaking, you can’t run to infinity in this direction, as this is pretty much the end of the trail and near to a handily positioned ambulance HQ if the overheard conversation between other runners near to me is anything to go by. It must be a tight turn if you are going at speed, but if you are stopping periodically to line up photos, not so much of an issue.
All good. All smiley. All going according to plan. I trotted off again, and after a bit got to wave at the tail walkers coming up the path to the half way point in the other direction. Always time for a high five and a cheery wave.
So homeward bound. It always seems quicker on the return leg. I spotted the big coned off hole this time, which I’d somehow missed on the way out, don’t know how. At least I didn’t ankle turn into it, I wonder who did? It did look a bit like a newly dug grave though. Was that what the shovel was for? Maybe they take talking through the run briefing more seriously than I realised. Good for them!
Homeward bound, and there was a rather cute dog, with its walker still attached, watching from the side lines, desperate for someone, just one person, to stop and say hello. I decided to be that one person, it was very pleased indeed that I did so. It made me feel special in a good way, not something that happens to me all that often at a parkrun. I must be going soft in my old age, I’m not really a doggy person, but this one seemed to be so genuinely delighted to meet me it melted my icy heart just a little bit…
Past the last couple of marshals, still all in good voice and good cheer:
Then, there it is, the finish funnel, and the happy scene of welcoming smiling faces to cheer you in. I wanted to take a picture, and paused to do so, securing photo of someone photographing me as they did likewise. We will probably now be caught in this loop for all eternity. As they seemed up for it, I even did a ‘one, two three JUMP!’ for them, to secure an action shot, but they didn’t twig initially, and so we had to do it all again, when they obliged brilliantly. A finely choreographed team I’d say. Wish my camera had been quick enough to properly capture it.
I wonder why I never seem to get any faster at parkrun. Honestly, it’s a mystery.
That was me done, through the finish funnel, token secured, token scanned. Marshals photographed, next few finishers cheered in, busy, busy busy!
Done and dusted. Just the little matter of mutual photographing with fellow tourists to get that all important ‘I’ve been framed’ Isabel Trail parkrun shot.
And that was that. Time to go home.
I decided not to hang around for coffee in Sainsbury’s in favour of heading home, but I get the impression you’d be warmly welcomed if you chose to do so.
Overall then, have to say I was impressed by Isabel Trail parkrun. I only really went there because of the ‘I’ to be honest. Shallow, but true. But it was such a friendly, supportive and welcoming team. I think if it was your local you’d end up with over a hundred new best friends pretty fast. They are rightly proud of their run, and it seems a well run event with a healthy pool of volunteers and a genuinely inclusive ethos. I can’t promise you a unicorn, as that wasn’t my experience, but you do get a centaur en route if you come through Uttoxeter, and with all those mini roundabouts to contend with too, it’s really quite an adventure. I wish Uttoxeter would start a parkrun, no idea how I’m ever going to get within touching distance of a ‘U’…
Why not add it to you to-do list, you will be welcomed, and if you are a speed merchant it has the potential to be a pb course as it’s flat and straight, but welcoming of the slow and steadies too. Definitely a parkrun in the Goldilocks zone, and that’s grand!
Hmm, maybe we should do an update of this poster for parkrun purposes, the ‘just right’ parkrun? Oh wait, we have, here it is:
See: lovely, and practically perfect in every way!
Thank you Isabel Trial parkrunners, volunteer team, participants, spectators and all you were fab. Hope to grace your trails again someday, but maybe I’ll see some of you out and about on the parkrun tourism trail in the meantime. Thanks for sharing the parkrun love. Only one teeny weeny, but heartfelt bit of I hope constructive criticism. I really would have liked to have seen the pink unicorn, but then again, maybe it adds to the mystery and folklore of the run. It has been espied in the past, and it may yet be glimpsed again, but only fleetingly, out of the corner of your eye, if you turn to stare, it will be gone again. Fair enough, I understand, just another bit of parkrun magic mystery.
So there you go, that’s that for another parkrun week. Sigh. If you are really desperate you can relive some more 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.
Incidentally, can we have a random shout out for Elliot Line? He just does great stuff week in, week out, and I don’t think I’ve given him any recognition for a while. Would that be alright, to give him a shout out? Oh we can, that’s good. He produces these ace parkrun stats, week in, week out. I thought I had zero interest in statistics, but guess what? Turns out I do, these are fun, check out the parkrun stats for this week by way of a taster, go on, go on, you know you want to!
And finally, if you are feeling like a can crushed under the jackboot of all the current inhumanity evident in the world, these might raise a wry smile.