Had a wild old time here!
A fine, fun, forest foray indeed! What’s not to like?
There is a reason why forest bathing has become quite the thing. Basically, it’s lovely, calms the soul, soothes the spirit and puts all in context. Add in a parkrun to the mix and it takes forest bathing to a whole new level of awesome. This was truly a parkrun of all the things. Acrobatic tail walkers; celebrity parkrun authors*; huge trees; forest trails; smiley marshals acing directional pointing; astonishing views; brilliant wood sculptures; chariot racing opportunities; warm welcome (probably axiomatic to state that) and a post parkrun café that I could happily take up permanent residence in. Who doesn’t get hugely excited at seeing halloumi on a menu? I’m jumping ahead though, but soooooooooooooooooo many things to share, where to start?
Hmm, where to parkrun. Always a dilemma, so many to choose from, but not all are accessible to me these days.
Over the last couple of weeks I have noticed a definite nip in the air on some mornings, and the days are getting shorter. Once the clocks change it’s going to be less appealing and less practical to venture too far afield for parkrun tourism. I am therefore trying to pick off some of the reachable but far away parkruns before the clocks change. I also have to factor in my bloomin’ uselessness at forward motion at the moment. It’s so frustrating. Chevin Forest is reachable from Sheffield and oh look! A friendly name I recognise as tailwalker. Two of them in fact. Phew, that takes the pressure off. I was advised it’s a ‘proper’ trail surface, mud in winter, but it looked doable and with my sticks it would be a good test of what I can and can’t do. I’m treading (literally) that fine line between trying to do a bit more to find my limits, without actually coming to grief in the process. parkruns are perfect for this when they welcome walkers as it’s a safe and supportive environment to try to increase my mobility without ending up having to call mountain rescue because I’ve toppled into a ditch up the top of kinder scout. This would be sub optimal for a number of reasons, not least that you probably can’t get a mobile signal up there, so I’d have to just lie in a star shape and hope the circling of vultures overhead would eventually attract attention. parkrun doesn’t require vultures to alert others to your needs, instead it anticipates them with Cheery Chevin Marshals (other alliterated parkrun marshals are available see Cavorting Castle Marshals; Marvellous Millhouses Marshals; Enchanting Endcliffe Marshals; Iridescent Isobel Marshals etc) to see you safely out and back.
What’s more, said tailwalkers will be pirating it! Yep, you read that right. Having already done their aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh, this would be the seventh of their seven seas. It’s a Running Challenges thing – only 8 parkruns and you too can get a virtual sticker AND to dress up as a pirate (inflatable parrot optional but hugely hoped for) on your final parkrun in the set. Yep, pirate party at the back sounded just the thing, and lacking full functioning limbs would be a boon in such a gathering. Captain Hook and Long John Silver anyone? Though there were also fearless, fierce and female pirates past too, who hung onto their limbs. Not that we should be glorifying pillaging, obvs, but who doesn’t enjoy having a nice new badge for their virtual sticker chart?
Then the Queen died. Suddenly uncertainty about what might happen. In fact a great many parkruns did opt to cancel, some because it was out of their hands – the National Trust cancelled all on their properties, other event teams felt it was the right thing for them to cancel too. Personally I was grateful for the parkrun announcement that let event teams make their own call locally. I did not want to lose my opportunity to access a parkrun somewhere, I’ve been denied too many of late.
Much hitting the refresh button to see what this might mean for Chevin Forest, and checking the parkrun cancellation page I wish I’d taken a screen shot of it now, as it was interesting to see which way event teams made the call. Fortunately for me, Chevin Forest parkrun made the call to go ahead. Now I had only to stress about getting there and where to park etc.
Right, so the Chevin Forest parkrun website blah de blah says:
Getting there by road
The nearest postcode to the start/finish is LS21 3DD, East Chevin Road.
We recommend parking at Surprise View cark park, opposite the Royalty pub on York Gate (LS21 3DG), and walking to the start along the path which runs across the top of the valley and down, crossing East Chevin Road, to the Danefield side of the Chevin. It’s a pleasant 15-20 minute walk although unsuitable for buggies as there are width restrictions. There are three car parks on East Chevin Road itself. Please DO NOT park in the small car park directly next to the finish line, you will be asked to move unless you have mobility difficulties or a buggy. Alternatively there are several car parks in Otley, allow time to walk up the Chevin to the start. Please DO NOT park along the road, this can cause visibility obstructions and is regularly patrolled by the police, who issue fines.https://www.parkrun.org.uk/chevinforest/course/
Hmm, was a bit discombobulated. I can now negotiate a parkrun, but didn’t think I’d be able to do the extra 20 minute out and back especially if it was a bit bushwhacking territory. I wouldn’t be able to carry a machete and my walking poles, and not sure what the etiquette would be for leaving a machete unattended as I set off for my parkrun. Then again, am I considered immobile enough not to be turned away at the car park. Would there be some sort of hierarchy of needs you’d have to satisfy to get a parking space or would it be on trust. I felt I needed to be near the start, but maybe not as much as some others might need that. In the end, I just did my usual of setting off at stupid o’clock and having done some google-based research, which has all but replaced any actual primary research these days, established that it looks like there are a couple of carparks nearby.
On arrival, hurrah! There is a diddy carpark right next to the start, but a second, upper carpark which is about 100 metres away. It’s not huge, but certainly enough for a fair few vehicles and if you arrive early enough space was fine. I was amongst the first couple to park. I’m finding though a minor frustration of early arrival at some of these carparks creates enormous confusion for me about where you are supposed to park. It would really help if there were some demarked parking spaces as I’m sure you’d accommodate loads more vehicles that way, still I was fine, so that was good.
It was also exciting already! I was a bit daunted by the steepness of the hills – I drove down one to the nearest supermarket to use their loos before returning. I was wondering if this was such a great idea. The trees were gorgeous, and it was lovely to be in such fantastic scenery, but ringing in my ears was the words of Ambassador Z from Millhouses who had warned me this was a trail parkrun course. I feel I need to test myself, but don’t want to come a cropper either. Aargh.
Oh wait, you want to know what the course descriptor is? Hang on, erm….
This is two-lap anti-clockwise course with an additional point to point at the finish.
The course starts on Chippendale Ride, where it crosses the stream. Head east for a few metres and then turn right, up a steep hill. Follow this bridleway through Deer Park Wood and Memorial Wood, then continue straight on along the footpath through Quarry Wood (this section can get very muddy) at the end of this path turn left onto the bridleway and go down the hill to the chariot sculpture and gate, then turn left alongside Caley Wood, Keepers Wood and Stag Wood until you reach the first corner again. Loop around for a second time. On completion of the second circuit follow Chippendale Ride back up the hill towards the road to the finish line.
The route is all on trail or forest footpaths and the ground is uneven and often muddy, trail shoes are recommended particularly during autumn and winter or after rain.
Trail shoes, they want trail shoes. Oops. I only have one pair of shoes that my mutant feet can tolerate at the moment, with cut out bits so my foot can sort of levitate above the sore parts, which is basically all of it. I do have trail shoes, but I’d have to carry them, rather than wear them, and call me massively intuitive but – I’m thinking they expect them to be on your feet rather than randomly adorning your person. Oh well, I’ll have my walking poles to assist.
The map of the course looks like this:
It doesn’t entirely help, as basically you can see the route is entirely within trees. Trees usually mean tree routes and forest paths. Aesthetically pleasing, but maybe a little ouchy underfoot. Hmm, trail shoes territory indeedy.
Trees are lovely though aren’t they. They ooze other worldly soothiness. I love them, they just instantly transport you. I love the smell of trees and the sound of trees and all thing tree-like. I love squirrels in trees and the endurance of trees. It makes me sad when trees are under threat. An old tree is a thing of wonder indeed, but even a new sapling, exudes joy and manifests hope for the future. Planting a tree is a mark of optimism surely? Everyone should plant trees if they can, where the habitat is appropriate to do so. Just as everyone should have a water source in their outside space if they have any; wear fancy dress when the opportunity presents itself (not limited to parkrun venues); befriend a frog and a squirrel and experience parkrun as a walker. Just saying.
So I arrived, I parked up. I felt a wave of apprehension. Aargh, difficult terrain, unknown parkrun; new people; what if I didn’t know anyone? What if I did know anyone, and they didn’t know me? What if I did know lots of people and had to interact with them in some way? What if I was too slow? What if I needed the loo again? What if, what if? Maybe I should just get back in the car and drive home again right now, just to by pass all the social awkwardness and embarrassment, it could save everyone a lot of time. Not least at the end as they’d be waiting for me to finish.
As I was processing these thoughts, I found myself walking down towards the lower carpark, and then was greeted by a vision of loveliness incarnate, cartwheeling up in a blast of positive energy and freneticism (is that a word? It is now) the human tornado, core team, regular volunteer co-ordinater and rotational RD (that would account for the energetic spinning) and most importantly of all for today 50% of the tailwalking team; whirling her way up to the carpark to wave down the other tail walker. She greeted me warmly, explaining she was directing one fellow With Me Now podcast listener from the Surprise View Carpark to the start, and another from the upper car park to the lower, so in full-on organisational enabling mode, but still had time for enthusiastic welcoming and waving. It was all going to be fine. Also, this meant I had instant new friends from near and far. Hurrah, and we all found one another too, AND did I mention that as well as being RD; tailwalker (50%); With Me Now listener; parkrun acrobat and all round awesomeness this person is a selfie taking sensation? I didn’t? Well she is, check out the number of her shots I’ve lifted for your edification, enlightenment and enjoyment in this blog post. You’re welcome. With Me Now is a podcast ‘About parkrun passion by passionate parkrunners.’ If you don’t want to soil yourself by clicking onto their Facebook page, you can go straight to the With Me Now podcasts here and You Tube channel here. Go on, you know you want to, even more of a need for it now Free Weekly Timed is no more, not that that was any great loss to be fair, but if you enjoyed that, my, you will be properly MIND BLOWN by With Me Now. There are a log of podding and vlogging parkrunners these days. See also Nicola Runs – these vlogs have been a real tonic of parkrun joy in dark days when I couldn’t get out at all, as well as happier days when can relive parkruns past enjoy parkruns present and look forward to parkruns still to come…
Speaking of which, here we all are, just to get the parkrun party started:
The die was cast. I would be embarking on the forest bathing parkrun. My tailwalkers were in readiness, an entourage assembled, hurrah! I look like I’ve shaved my head. I haven’t. I forgot my buff though, if there’s one thing worse than running in the buff, it’s been caught parkrunning without one. Fortunately, my amiable companions were too polite to mention it.
Delighted as I was to see my tail walking buddies I couldn’t help but clock the absence of any fancy dressery. They had made the call that to avoid giving offence to others today wasn’t the day. It’s true, Fancy Dress in general and Pirate Fancy Dress in particular can go horribly wrong. So perhaps a sensible call. Do you remember the Colin Darch incident?
A former hostage has spoken of the moment he walked into a Women’s Institute meeting to give a talk on international piracy and found the group dressed as pirates. Colin Darch said he was amused that members of Parkham WI in North Devon had donned fancy dress for the occasion.
Darch, a retired sailor from North Devon, has written a book about his experience of being kidnapped by pirates in 2008 and often gives talks on the subject. The 75-year-old said his hosts had been “embarrassed” by the mix-up.
“Since I was released five years ago, I have spoken at a lot of conferences and serious events about the dangers of piracy and how to survive,” he said. “More recently, since writing the book, I have been taking to Rotary groups, Probus clubs and the occasional WI.
“When I arrived there were ladies with blue rinses wearing pirate hats and waving swords around. They had been led to believe it was a talk about piracy through the ages and not something right up to date.
“I think they were worried I might be a bit upset that they were trivialising it, but I thought it was funny. I just laughed and said it was like something from The Pirates of Penzance.
“They were more embarrassed than me and they asked me to judge the best pirate costume. They even bought a few of my books.”https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/may/02/colin-darch-piracy-womens-institute
Hilarious though, but definitely awkward.
Anyway, upshot was no fancy dress pirates at this parkrun, though there was a book signing, So that was exciting! More of that later
I remain hopeful that their fancy dress costumes, inflatable parrots and all, will see the light of day at a future parkrun. People do that all the time with their milestone tees after all. You can’t get them until after you’ve completed the event so they are inevitably only donned for the first time in subsequent weeks. I see no issue with doing the same for a pirate challenge outfit. It would be a positive boon to have them randomly rock up in fancy dress at a subsequent unrelated parkrun. After all, it is the parkrun ethos to allow each person to participate in their own way, doubt anyone would bat an eyelid, they might not even notice in the parade of other fancy dress themes; wedding parties; running club tees and wonky emotional support animals. Hardly worth raising an eyebrow for. It isn’t a lost parkrun fancy dress moment, merely a joy postponed, the anticipation will make the donning of the eye patches and companion bird even more exciting in due course.
Where was I? Oh yes, gathering, and then making our way to the start area. It was already distracting. There were wooden carvings already, and lovely inviting woodland pathways, and the buzz of assembling parkrunners, and the colourful collection of high vis heroes gathered in a glade like forest fairies preparing to do their magic under the directional spells of the day’s RD. Our attentive consort, the bouncy RD pointed out trip hazards – to help us to avoid them rather than implore us to make use of them. There are some uneven surfaces and the odd random hole about, which is to be expected on a trail route. It is the lovelier for it. Nature untamed. Photo opps with the pop up sign, with new friends and old. These pictures won’t take themselves!
And then, after a bit, we were called to the first timers’ welcome. We were especially honoured on this occassion to be personally welcomed by Chevin Forest parkrun’s Event Director Debbie. I can’t promise you’d be so blessed, but everyone in the team is equally enthusiastic and welcoming so you’ll never be left either unwelcomed or unenthused at this event. She has two dawgs herself; Winnie n Rosie I believe, so you are assured of a dawg friendly event if that’s important to you. This event is excellent for canines in terms of route and facilities, there is lots of space for parkrunners and barkrunners both.
There were a couple (well three actually) doing their first ever EVER parkrun, and about 35 of us who were touristing from elsewhere. Excitingly, I espied a Fell Foot apricot tee, sported by celebrity author Eileen Jones, who in lockdown, wrote The parkrun book, which has since been out on parkrun book relay all of its own. We’ve been Facebook friends for a while, but never met. I wasn’t expecting to see her out in the wild, so that was a very exciting spot. Turns out she’d been displaced from Fell Foot parkrun due to National Trust properties deciding not to allow parkrun to take place on their land this weekend. Their loss was our gain. Hurrah! I saved the sycophancy and recognition for later though, being attentive to the briefing instead, in between strolling around trying to take atmospheric photos. I don’t know why I bothered really, as mine are almost all universally terrible, and others took much better ones of the same event. Oh well, they do say it’s the thought that counts. I’d like to agree, but sometimes it’s getting the photo that counts for more. A variation on the ‘it it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen’ logic. Anyway, here we are, at the first timers’ welcome being attentive and excited and trying not to roll down the hill and crash into those already assembling at the start.
Check out the trees! See, lovely aren’t they.
After this welcome, there was a scamper down the hill to the start. Those that were able to scamper, scampered, I did my robotic shuffle. The surface was dry and although I can imagine it could get muddy over winter, it really wasn’t bad at all. Though gradients did kick in later.
Next stop the RD briefing. There was a moment when some walkers wanted to come through and the crowd of parkrunners parted to let them pass, all very amenable. The sloping start gives a good view of the Run Director and good acoustics too. So we could all hear the various announcements. I wasn’t quite sure how they’d handle the death of the Queen, but the event went for a one minute’s silence. It was serene and quiet in the woods. It is moving when people collectively gather and share experiences, that is the entire magic of a parkrun really, I mean in honesty there’s nothing to stop anyone, anywhere setting out on a 5k walk, run or jog on their own at any time – maybe standing on a street corner in a high vis timing people as they pass or shouting encouragement might be harder to explain – but it is the doing together and post parkrun faffery that builds the connections. The astonishing thing to me was that the silence was observed by all. It is apparently possible for a group to be quiet all at the same time – a lesson to carry forward to future run briefings perhaps?
Minute’s silence observed, a few more parkrunners than usual in black perhaps, choosing to wear 100 tees over other colours? I think that was probably about right. Those who feel parkrun should not have happened have the option to stay away. For me missing parkrun would be just another deprivation. I was glad that once the acknowledgement was made, it was parkrun very much as usual, but minus pirate fancy dress.
Here we are at the start
and here we are underway!
Off we trotted behind them. I say ‘trotted’ it was more of a laboured amble to be fair. It is alarming how quickly the field disappeared out of sight. Very quickly you are past the time keepers and volunteer team cheering you on your way – possibly even more quickly if you don’t stop for a group photo on your way past, but where would be the fun in that?
and heading off up a fairly steep hill. Not sure if these are the right sequence to be fair, but if you’ve been you’ll know the course anyway, and if you haven’t you won’t know any better will you. A bit of creative licence isn’t a bad thing, I want you to experience Chevin Forest parkrun for yourself unimpeded by accurate spoilers in advance of your visit. You’re welcome 🙂
Good news though, plenty of distractions and interludes en route. There is the sculpture trail which is jolly fun, but also interactive marshals which were even more fun – hard though that is to imagine, and the constant antics of our tailwalking RD to keep us entertained at no extra charge. One day, I’ll get a proper camera so I can capture such moments with the clarity and va-va-voom they merit, for now, you’ll have to make do with these:
I love how the marshal is so used to the antics of our core team member escort, she doesn’t even bother to look around. That ability to get airborne is astounding though, a super power basically. Very impressive show of defying gravity. It was like being accompanied around by a life size jack in the box, except it was a Jill-out-of-the-box, and quite right too. Women should not be stuffed in boxes and restrained. Nobody should to be fair. Also parkrun is inevitably exciting, one can’t help but jump about on such occasions. Try it and see.
As well as defying gravity, we got a guided tour of sites en route. There was the trig point – though they didn’t seem to be at the actual highest point which confused me. There were also viewing points. Chariot racing photo opportunity points. The old tom (?) marshal point with the rather broken and sad hunched carving of a man, even the presence of a cheering parkrun marshal was not enough to lift his flagging heart. I don’t think it is Tom actually, but I can’t remember. I’ll try to find out, or I might just leave it as a mystery, that would be fine too.
I’ve looked, can’t find out, but did find out the sculptures were make by a local called Shane, I don’t think I’ve ever met an actual Shane, still haven’t to be fair, but this is evidence they are out there somewhere in the wild so that’s good. It’s also well worth having a gander at his creative process, the history of the trail and the trees origins. These are not random carvings, they have a story to tell. More importantly they are really fun to encounter and brilliant for posing on, with and adjacent to.
Similarly, our passage through the forest trails was not random either. (Hope you appreciated that seamless segue back on to the parkrun theme). However, nearly a week later, my memories lack actual chronology, and have merged into images of meeting people, and laughing, and posing for photos.
Oh, and there is even one dedicated to parkrun for Run Directors, Event Directors and other local parkrun dignitaries to sit on to survey their view. Isn’t that a lovely gesture? Seemed almost cruel to drag her away, left alone, she would have morphed into the landscape, and no doubt be there still, her spirit urging parkrunners on and causing dachshunds to
paws pause and ponder.
I think the elephant may have been my favourite, but so very hard to choose. And anwyway we couldn’t linger, so much to see, places to go, parkrunners to see priorities to discuss.
Here are some people we met – oh and a dachshund too, that was very cute – not that the people weren’t also cute, but this little fella was cuteness overload and some. Didn’t like the tailwalker scratching the ground though, very bad form apparently, good to know. This is a very dog friendly parkrun by the way. And don’t the dawgies know it? Rhetorical question, yes they do! There were many chilled, excited and generally happy and enthused pooches about. Some as barkrunners, some as Chevin Forest explorers sans parkrun, all were welcomed and accommodated. In the café afterwards too for the record.:
And here is a particularly fine marshal point for parkrunner spotting. In fact there were several – go spoil yourself and take a gander. We did, paused to cheer other parkrunners past; As a double lapper, slower participants will get passed as speedier parkrunners do their second lap, but this is a good opportunity for friend and celebrity spotting, and exchanging mutual cheers so a boon. The path is generally pretty wide so it didn’t cause any congestion as such, though perhaps in winter it might mean you’d need to brave romping through mud to overtake, but that’s a plus surely? You don’t feel like you’ve had a proper parkrun outing if you come home with clean trainers in winter!
Here you go:
I feel I should be more informative about the route. I was too busy gazing about to notice really. You do a sort of outy bit, then go round in a big loop, then go around the big loop again. Marshals cheerily waited for us, and for the second circuit we were just me and the two tail walkers and the remaining marshals really. Some marshals once stood down opted to head back, others carried on round the route to get their steps in and enjoy some quite forest bathing of their own.
As is often the way, we had some good chats at the back, in between our spontaneous partying. Fun stuff and serious stuff too. So topics covered fancy dress highs and lows, the nature of trauma passing down generations – yep, you might be surprised how powerful walk and talk can be in terms of opening up conversations. We also shared stories of parkruns we have known and loved and had quite a lot of talk about walking at parkrun. Next month, October is to be dedicated to parkwalk at parkrun. No it isn’t parkwalt despite the graphics, and I share the slight disappointment that it isn’t parkwaltz either.
Despite the weird graphic, I couldn’t be happier about this. It’s a tricky one. In theory all parkruns welcome walkers, but those of us at the back today have experienced walking at parkrun and as parkrun passionistas don’t wish to be critical of the events we know and love and appreciate the efforts put in by volunteers. Yet it remains the case that experiences of walking at parkrun can be erm, ‘mixed.’ I’ve had awesome tailwalkers see me round and RDs welcome me, and I’ve also been at the parkrun where the tailwalker walked ahead of me the whole time, telling every marshal as she got to them ‘you might as well stand down, this one’s going to be ages’ I was in tears after that one. Then there’s the well-meaning but misguided encouragement to skip bits of the route, cut corners – ‘no thanks, I’ve come for the 5k, but now I’m really thinking you want me to hurry up so you can all go home‘. The dismantled finish funnels. The celebratory cake long since consumed. These might seem small things, but they can be very alienating. Also the message from some that walking is the gateway to the ‘normal’ participation of parkrun by running, not an end and massive achievement in itself.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to run again, perhaps. But for some health conditions only deteriorate. What I do know, is that for a time last year, I didn’t know if I’d ever make it out of my house again, let alone back to a parkrun. Although I’m frustrated at my progress, I can walk now, and although it takes it out of me, I am getting better I think. There are others for whom walking is what only happens on a good day, it’s not the expectation that once you are ‘better’ you will suddenly be able to run. It feels like a guilty secret to admit there are sometimes issues with how walkers experience parkrun. People mean well, but don’t always understand the undermining impact of a throw away remark or casual inference that walking isn’t doing parkrun ‘properly’. ‘It’s called parkRUN‘ is a common refrain. Oh FFS, things can evolve. How would innovation ever occur if we didn’t try to do things differently, let’s not leave improvements to chance, let’s experiment with change. New beginnings are exciting. It’ll be an adventure – be open to its possibilities. It’s going to be grand.
Besides if others walk it doesn’t prevent people from running if they want to participating just as they do now, it simply opens up the event for others, I don’t see why it should be contentious. For me the joy of discovering parkrun has always been finding an environment of runners where as a slow runner I could join in – and then volunteering, well, that’s fab too obvs. Running clubs seemed just to feed my sense of inadequacy, the last straw being when the club vest was only available in a men’s cut up to a size 16. I’ve taken part in runs where ‘no-one is left behind’ and that meant people did wait, only to sprint off again as soon as you are breathlessly in sight, thus I was perpetually on my own, breathless, never getting a chance to recover with my mind battling ever more intrusive thoughts about my own inadequacies. Worst of all those who announce they are injured so feeling really pathetic so they’ll join the slow group, and still sprint ahead seemingly mocking those of us for whom their bad day is unobtainable. parkrun has been my safe place as a runner and now I can’t run at all, walking at parkrun has enabled me to participate up to a point. However, even as an experienced parkrunner, familiar with its ethos and with many scattered parkrun friends I can feel inadequate, apprehensive and lost rocking up at an unknown parkrun as a walker. I’d just so love that to change, to feel confident setting out. It takes courage to step out the door sometimes, and although I try to embrace ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ and I know that only be moving our of our comfort circles can we grow, I just long for a parkrun day to come round again when I didn’t have to pluck up courage to go. It’s the uncertainty about what you might encounter. I’ve pretty much never regretted a parkrun, but I have had mixed experiences and certainly there are some I’d be more likely to recommend to worried walkers coming for their first ever parkrun than others. junior parkrun seems to have nailed this. My local Sheffield Olympic Legacy park junior parkrun is fabulous in its capacity to welcome all comers without pressure or judgement. That’s as participants, volunteers or adult carers taking part alongside their youngsters but with their own fitness goals. The juniors who amble round at the back swinging a favourite rabbit toy by the ears, taking an occasional detour to circle a cone or high five a marshal bring extra joy to the event, it’s not a problem, it’s a total bonus. I think junior parkrun retains an innocence and inclusivity that some of the 5k events have allowed to slip away. There is no cynicism at junior parkrun, for the most part the times really don’t matter, and the important thing, the only really important rule as junior parkrun founder Paul Graham would say, is to ‘have fun!’ A mantra I try to pass on to all first timers I encounter. This emphasis is what needs to be restored to the 5k events. Walkers shouldn’t be a problem to a parkrun, they should be a joy, an asset and in honesty, it could be where the events have maximum impact. I know without being able to walk at parkrun I wouldn’t have had a safe way to increase my distances and experiment with new terrain as I try to recover mobility, I’m hugely grateful for it, but I also see how it has scope to be more welcoming still, and it’s fantastic if that initiative is coming. I can not wait! Bring it on! And if you are a bit dubious, maybe just try to keep an open mind…
For others to be able to access parkrun as a gateway not just to being active, but much more importantly to being connected, to be able to cry with laughter sharing stories with people you’ve only just met. To discover new places; be given permission to play again and parkfaff with the best of them. Or even just to come, do you own thing and go away again, without pressure to interact if you don’t want to, that would be fab too. An exciting new chapter in parkrun, new adventures to unfold, a fresh page turned, it’s going to be great!
The real challenge of being a walker at parkrun is that it’s impossible to be invisible, you are often a minority, and can feel a burden on events. I don’t like thinking I’ll be making a team wait for me in inclement weather. I have done my fair share of volunteering, I know it’s hard in the freezing cold waiting for someone ages behind everyone else. But if the event was packed with more walkers that would be ace, plenty more people to cheer home. I’d just love to do a South African parkrun where I understand walking is almost the norm and numbers are huge so you are never alone at the back of the pack. How extraordinary that would be. To be central to a parkrun event, not an add on.
I really hope that this initiative to encourage walkers will make walking not just acceptable at parkruns, but more of the norm, so I and others like me don’t have to feel self-conscious, inadequate and a burden, but can just rock up and do it. No messaging ahead apologetically to say you’re sorry you’ll be slow, or scanning events’ results histories to see if they are used to slower final finishers. By the way, don’t get annoyed if we seem to be taking even longer because we stop to take photos and chat to marshals on the way round, that’s a coping strategy for pain management – though also a massive boon and enrichment on the way round.
If you are someone who normally whizzes round a parkrun, why not walk one in October? Properly walk it, right at the back, not trying to encourage walkers to run, that might not be realistic or their objective, but just to experience parkrun in a different way. It’s a revelation, much like volunteering, you will see the event very differently.
The irony was, we three at the back, weren’t witches, though we are most definitely wise women and to be fair, not much wrong with being a witch in the sense of having our own agency and power – we were are all comfortable with walking at parkrun, yet we did initially put a bit of pressure on ourselves not to dilly dally too much. No worries though, our tailwalking RD has it sussed, her marshals are used to her, it takes the time it takes. Walkers welcome! Chevin Forest parkrun welcomes walkers indeed.
and we did have a blast at the back:
So even though we were well over the one hour mark, the end seemed to come quickly. I went through the tunnel ahead of my tail walking companions who were like an official entourage. I’ve decided I quite like having them at a parkrun. Loads of stories and laughs to share, someone to navigate and act as official photographer as well as see you home safely. It was a bonding sort of a parkrun adventure, just lovely.
But wait, there’s more!
Yes, yes, that was parkrun done. Through the funnel, avoiding getting my final bingo numbers obvs, timed in, token given and scanned, but then it was celebrity meet up time, because there she was, The parkrun book author, hurrah. ‘How parkrun changed our lives by Eileen Jones‘ Appropriate adulation followed, and was taken in good humour, as all possible permutations of parkrun people and parkrun book and parkrun author were experimented with. Turns out Eileen is a hugger too (ask first), this makes me happy! I miss hugs:
I needed another pee and am slow, so ambled ahead to the café round the corner and associated conveniences. I thought at first the café must have a dress code as some pretty snappy dressers around, but turns out they were for a wedding party in an adjacent converted outbuilding. We got to descend into the old cowshed which was just ridiculously picturesque with lovely worn stone and a beautifully maintained informal cottage garden and loads of seating inside and out. Dog friendly, it that’s important to you and parkrunner friendly too, offering a discount on presentation of your barcode only I forgot about that. The cakes and breakfasts to choose from were amazing. The temptation to just faceplant onto the counter or have one of each was pretty enormous. post parkrun faffery, post parkrun breakfast, forget ‘it was always about the coffee’ this was a full on second – and possibly third breakfast scenario! Dear reader, I bring you the Mistal kitchen
We had such excellent faffing! It might look like we all knew each other but that was not so, it is testament to the bonding power of parkrun that we had connections everywhere. So Red Ted was spotted by someone who knew his creator, and then our author ended up doing some impromptu book signings, and then others of us found connections with parkruns we had in common albeit on different occasions and as if that wasn’t enough there was always the fact we’d just done this splendid one to bond us together. We are all part of one another’s stories now, a proper connection that will endure! It was really affirming and lovely and all memories of early morning starts and pre parkrun apprehension evaporated. The cafe brought out trays laden with steaming coffees and imaginative and beautifully presented breakfast options. I could happily have lived there were it not for my frog and squirrel guardianship responsibilities back home in Sheffield.
After a bit, some people with lives to lead began to disperse, but me and 50% of the tail walking team lingered longer in solidarity with the ‘it was always about the coffee‘ directive, we did move inside, and it might have even been a three coffee morning, I only ever drink coffee on parkrun days, I was buzzing for the journey home.
So morning morphed into afternoon, and then I too had to depart. It had been a fantastic morning. Chevin Forest parkrun is a truly welcoming space, and the forest gorgeous. The views out from the route promise a wider landscape that would be amazing to explore. It was a little overcast, but that made the light perfect for seeing into the distance. If this was your local walking and running playground you’d be blessed indeed. The vegan and vegetarian friendly café was the icing on the cake, a great deal of cake, not cheap, but for a treat pretty fabulous.
Thank you lovely Chevin Forest parkrun people, thank you celebrity parkrun author, thank you fellow parkrunners, thank you lovely tail walkers and brunch companion(s) – thank you all for a healing morning in the forest. Thank you all the high vis heroes who made the magic happen, Chevin Forest parkrun is gorgeous, joyful, spectacular and very wonderful indeed! Bravo!
#loveparkrun #walking at parkrun I’m not sure where next Saturday will take me parkrun wise, but you’ll be a tough act to follow.
How did anyone manage in a pre parkrun world? parkrun is a precious thing indeed. Nurture it.
Oh and if you are interested the full results for Chevin Forest parkrun number 52 are here and rather more interestingly, there is a fab run report from tail walking titan Ali here. Or will be, as soon as it goes live. And you can read all my parkrun related posts here. Or not. It’s up to you. You’ll need to scroll down for older entries though. Your choice
*presence not guaranteed, but in other news, every parkrunner is a celebrity in my eyes, all have a story to share and unique intrinsic value of their own.