Posts Tagged With: Great Notley parkrun

Brilliant Bradford parkrun

Digested read: parkrun tourism took me and my parkrun co-tourist to Bradford parkrun.  There are lots of parkruns around Bradford, but this is the one with the ‘teeny tiny hill’.  And a bandstand!  Hurrah.  It’s in Lister Park.  They have classy benches there it seems.

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Undigested read:

Well this trip was particularly exciting!  Not just the prospect of journeying from Sheffield to Bradford, which would be a cause for giddy excitement and anticipation on any day, but the prospect of doing so to rendezvous with a relatively new convert to parkrun.  Inexplicably, it’s taken my friend a little while to discover parkrun, I’ve been drip-feeding her for years – but you have to let people make the transition from bemused outsider to enthusiastic convert in their own time.  Better late than never, and they do say, the best time to join parkrun was 15 years ago, the second best time is next weekend.  Anyway, this weekend she demonstrated just how far she’s come in embracing the parkrun concept, by contacting me to say she was going to be away in Bradford this weekend, and why don’t I come up and join her for a tourist run.  This is hugely significant, because she has now officially recognised that there’s no point in being away anywhere for the weekend unless you check out the available parkrun options.  She has also noted that of course I’ll get up at stupid o’clock to come and join her. Also, it’s ‘proper’ tourism, because instead of going together, or travelling from home, this involved an overnight trip.  This is brilliant news, it opens up a whole new world of shared adventures, ‘nipping across’ to parkrun places – I’m hoping worldwide even one day – in the quest to complete a running challenge or discover a new parkrun community.  So.  Much.  Fun.  AND I’m so excited!  I just can’t hide it.  As I think may have been said before somewhere, sometime, but has never been more earnestly meant than here and now.  Hurrah!

So we agreed to go to Bradford parkrun

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It was just a couple of days before, that it dawned on me, there are a fair few ‘Bradford’ parkruns, like Sheffield, it is blessed with a few that might reasonably be said to fall within the environs of the city:

Horton Park (2.2m), Bowling Park (2.9m), Myrtle (3.4m), Bramley (5.8m), Oakwell Hall (6.7m), Cliffe Castle (7m), Halifax (7m), Brighouse (7.5m), Armley (7.6m), Woodhouse Moor (8.8m)

What’s more, some have epicly brilliant names.  How often do you get to hear of a place called Myrtle? That’s right, not nearly often enough.  There’s a Harry Potter themed challenge potential if ever there was one, that, then The Pastures parkrun, loads more I’m sure. And didn’t Horton find a Who?  That’s would merit a special trip.

Presumably Bramley is lined with fruitful apple trees, year round, albeit cooking ones.  I mean the possibilities are nigh on endless.  Well, maybe not actually endless, but at least reach double figures.  This is indeed a parkrun hotspot.  Oh well, no worries, I guess I’ll just have to keep coming back for me.  The important thing was we did both rendezvous at the same parkrun.  We did some research, poring over parkrun course descriptors – planning is part of the fun for such excursions after all.  In the end, we went with the ‘obvious’ i.e. the titular Bradford parkrun – for now, though it is actually in Lister Park, so I suppose it’s theoretically possible it may yet be swept up in parkrun namechangegate.  This phenomenon is sweeping the country and causing much consternation to some.  Honestly, I find it hard to mind too much, as I use the running challenges just as tool for choosing somewhere new to go really, though I think if I woke up and round all my lovely virtual badges vapourised I would be devastated, if it’s just the odd one or two that need rethinking I can live with that.  It does make sense though that some parkruns change their names as multiple new venues come on board, some with a greater claim to the name of their nearest centre of population.  For now though, this is Bradford parkrun, and that’s where we’d head.  I don’t know what Lister did to get a park named after them.  Invented Listerine mouthwash perhaps?  Patient Zero for Listeria?  I was confident all would become clear.  parkrun can be most educational like that.

I did the usual Facebook page stalking and was hugely impressed to see that only the week before our visit, the tailwalker completed their duties whilst knitting.  Excellent multi-tasking there, and taking inclusion to a new level. Crafty indeed.  I don’t know what she was knitting, but I like to think it might have been a knitted scanner holder.  I saw them at Barnsley parkrun on their 400th event and the concept blew my mind!  Inspired.  I’d be equally happy though if she was knitting parkrun protective headgear/ fancy dress as disported at Great Notley parkrun a while back.  I may never know, but that’s a boon, I can let my imagination run riot!  Look!  See how talented and creative parkrunners can be nationwide:

Anyway, enough of knitting although perhaps it’s good to know you can knit en route if you wish.  This doesn’t apply to me though, I’m not a knitter, I can barely sew a button back on, to tell the truth, well, not without being grumpy, still, perhaps for you dear reader, it’s a clincher for you in picking your parkrun destinations.  So, back to practicalities, according to the official Bradford parkrun website course description blah de blah, the course is described thus:

We are lucky that the paths in Lister park are so wide, smooth and well kept making an excellent course for running. The course starts by the fossilized tree along past the bandstand and the beautiful Cartwright Hall, through the formal gardens and past the mughal water gardens before turning left down a long gentle downhill path towards the entrance to the park on Manningham Lane, you then turn left again on a beautiful long meandering slightly downhill path, past the large playground – great for kids to play and cheer you on as you fly by! then up the teeny tiny hill to the fossilized tree again. It’s 3 laps then past the bandstand and to the right to a glorious finish on the elevated section just above the bandstand.

I do like the sound of a parkrun with a bandstand AND a fossilized tree, don’t see too many of them out and about. I wonder how tall it is? I’m hoping for something the size of a giant redwood, that would be cool.  And as for a teeny tiny hill – well, it’s teeny tiny, so probably hardly registers even as a speed bump for those of us used to trotting round Sheffield parkruns.

It looks like this:

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Three laps though.  Not over-keen on three lappers, but, then again it’s situated in the lovely looking Lister Park which even mentions Park Run (sic) on their website amongst activities available.  They may not be able to spell parkrun (aowalc) correctly, but at least they understand it’s dizzying allure.  However, the absolute clincher, was checking out the Refreshment Room in the Cartwright Hall Museum which, their website states authoritatively, is open from 8.00 a.m. on Saturday.  This means loos, and even potentially pre-parkrun coffee which I don’t normally do, but if arriving as a tourist paranoiacly early is definitely good to know.  You dear reader may feel likewise.  That’s settled then.

So the morning dawned, and it was the calm before the storm.  Bracing, but – for now at least – still.  I left Sheffield around 7.15.  It wasn’t the nicest drive, I got mightily confused with the road layouts as I neared Bradford, multiple lanes of traffic and ‘just-in-time. guidance from my satnav that would be more accurately described as ‘easy to be wise after the event’ guidance.  I was glad I’d allowed lots of extra time, as I did a few unintended diversions en route.

The approach to the park was, erm, without wishing to be rude, unpromising.  Apart from driving past the Alhambra theatre building which is A.Maz.Ing.  though I wasn’t sure if it was still operational as it had a rather shut up look – not unreasonable at 8.20 on a Saturday morning I suppose… However, ‘suddenly’ I found myself turning into North Park Road, and discovered I was alongside a glorious, mature park, a green oasis amongst the urban surrounds.  Very soon you pass some exceedingly magnificent gates, and get a sneak preview of Cartwright Hall, which you get to run past later on.  It’s very impressive.  Ooh, I’m going to like this.

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Now admittedly it doesn’t take much to confuse me, as I’m not over-confident driving to new places.  You need to hold your nerve to find the carpark, I didn’t find the signage particularly intuitive.  Also, there is a massive NO ENTRY sign on the left hand lane of the carpark entrance, with those metal spikey things that basically impale your vehicle if you attempt to drive over them.  I don’t really get why they were there, because you just drive through the unbarricaded lane on the right hand side, but it was a weird layout, and made me feel as if I was going the wrong way down a one-way system.  Fortuitously, as I pulled in, I espied my parkrunning friend from Victoria Dock, who’d come by bus from her hotel in Bradford.  She’d already checked out the car parking area, which is just above the bowling greens, right adjacent to the start.  Parking was free, which was a surprise, and although not by any means a huge parking space, there seemed to be ample.  I think the majority of attendees were genuine locals who’d walked in.  Always a relief to park up.

talking of relief, we strode out in search of the cafe and loos with high hopes and high spirits.  HOnestly, my worst nightmare is arriving as a tourist after a long dry to find no pee points are available.  We headed towards the hall past a very fine stag statue. and took time out to pose by the helpful poster that was clearly put up in anticipation of our visit as we are both precious and rare indeed.  That selfie just had to be done…

We circled round the hall, debating the relative merits of stretching as we did so, and whether or not it’s helpful for running.   She’s a disciplined stretcher, does yoga and everything, where as I am about as committed to stretching as I am to foam rollering.  I have a foam roller I bought about 6 years ago still in its cellophane…  As I understand it the evidence base isn’t that strong in favour of stretching, and in fact stretching before a run can increase risk of injury – though a warm-up is a different thing and generally thought to be a good idea.  However, for those who find it beneficial, feel free to crack on, and to show my sincerity in support of stretching, I’ve even managed to source this excellent video of an innovative stretch routine in case of interest.  You’re welcome.

So, we circled the building in search of the refreshment rooms and with it access to their posh loos. I  was imagining pre-warmed toilet seats and fluffy white towels.  Well dear reader.  CATASTROPHE.  We found the entrance to the cafe, but it was very much not open, and it was almost 8.40 by now.  Other tourists likewise appeared, wearing their cow cowls, and we all stood in a line together, blinking at the extremely closed doors.  There was a light on within, but no-one at home.  Uh oh.  This was not a good start.  A local materialised, and informed us that ‘unfortunately, it can be a bit hit and miss with the cafe and its opening hours’.  Aaaaargh!  There are some alternative toilets the other side of the park, but these are currently shut due to vandalism.  I’m shamed to report that desperate times called for desperate measures, and I may have resorted to nipping behind a tree and anointing the grounds with some shame.  I mean, it’s no worse, indeed very much better than what most dogs do, but it was such a well maintained park if did feel disrespectful.  I didn’t really pass any alternative stopping places en route either, so if you are coming a fair distance, arrive prepared!

A panicky al-fresco precautionary pee isn’t the best preparation for parkrun, so I feared i was in for an uncomfortable run.  Oh well, here now, an I was hoping a lot of my need for facilities is psychological.  One way to find out.  We also clung to the hope that maybe the loos would open shortly, and as we’d pass the cafe three times, if absolutely desperate you could nip in mid-parkrun.  They didn’t, you couldn’t.

We made our way back to the start, passing marshals heading out to their spots.  How exciting, the parkrun party is most definitely building.  This park is truly spectacular, with impressive features like the fabulously substantial bandstand, and a boating lake, with more statues of the great and good and various beasts (lions as well as the stag) than you could shake a stick at.

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Volunteers and runners were starting to assemble, and there was an upmarket coffee van serving up superior coffee and various snacks.  I’m not sure if it’s there every week, but it was doing an ok trade pre run and a positively roaring one afterwards.  One fun thing about this particular parkrun, was the number of bespoke signs, early warning of the teeny tiny hill, but also various spots on the course have their own names.  There is Tony’s Turn and Arthur’s finish and a helpful one to remind parkrun participants that they are ‘awesome’ just when it is most needed on the teeny tiny hill.  This is the parkrun that thinks of everything.  Care and creativity have gone into course signage.  Loving your work Bradford parkrun core team, good job, well done!

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Loving the personalised high-vis too.  Epic.

There was a bespoke sign for first timers too, but honestly, I’m not sure if there was an actual first timers briefing, as by the time we’d implemented emergency precautionary pee protocols we were a little late to the party, and people were starting to gravitate towards the start, which was a shortish stroll away, towards the fossilised tree. Which, spoiler alert, is not a tall giant red wood, but a stump.  Still impressive, but my expectations hadn’t been managed all that well in this instance.  Less traumatic than no loos, but worth a mention all the same.

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So we were gently shepherded down a gentle slope to the start.  There was a pretty good turn out, I overheard volunteers guesstimating the numbers ‘350, it’s always 350′ one said with considerable confidence.  In fact, I can report that it was 508.  Wow, that’s quite a lot actually.  You’d think it would feel crowded, but the paths are wide and tarmaced and participants courteous, so it didn’t feel congested beyond a bit of slow get away.  Then again, I always put myself towards the back, I’m sure further forward it would have been a speedier start if that’s your thing.

The RD was able to give a run briefing from sort of on high, flanked by hi-vis heroes.  There was a description of the course, and usual shout outs.  I think it’s a generic intro rather than having a separate first timers’ briefing.  However, lots of people approached us and chatted to us so it felt like a friendly place if you turned up on your own.  People did talk through the briefing though, that so infuriates me, and I never know whether it’s ok to ‘shush’ people not at your home run.  It feels a bit rude to do so, but honestly, what chatterboxes there were.

In the start funnel you get a great view of the bandstand ahead, and the gentle incline that you will get to run up not once, not twice, but a glorious three times!  Hurrah.  This is the parkrun with slopes that keep on giving!

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So after the RD pep-talk it was go!  And awf we went.

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this is an ace parkrun.   Don’t be put off by the inclines or the three lap thing – or indeed the precarious loo presence.  It was a cheery, inclusive group.  A lot of walkers, buggies, dogs, a good cross section of participants.  Although it is a three – lapper, there’s loads to see, and plenty of cheery marshals at strategic intervals to encourage you round.  Some showed very considerable stamina keeping up the clapping continuously til the last participant came home.  Much enthusiasm was in evidence.  Plus, as you get to pass the point where people break away to the finish, you get to see faster runners sprinting up hill to their climactic ends, as well as being lapped by some on the way round.  Unless you are the one doing the lapping of course, in which case you get to pass slower ones.

So it’s up the hill, past the token men at the end of the carefully choreographed finish funnel.  Round the side of the house where a super-smiley and clappy volunteer shooed you round past the still-closed refreshment cafe.  Quick dog leg round the corner, past some quite formal planting and grand statues towards the other side of the enormous iron gates I’d passed on the way in.

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Then you get to whizz down hill for a bit, with Mr Lister gazing down on you – a little sternly I felt – and corner past another clapping hi-vis hero, who, if my memory serves me correctly, was very wisely cradling a cup of coffee in between whooping encouragement.  Thank you marshal!

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Mr Lister was carrying some sort of cloak, but dragging it on the ground rather.  I’m not sure if he was poised to use it to cover any muddy puddles en route to protect the dainty feet of timid parkrunners.  I rather think not.  It turns out, Mr Lister is not in fact the Mr Man who embodies people who write ‘to do’ lists, nor even the one that has a tendency to lean to one side.  Rather he was very big in wool apparently.  The chimneyof his wool mill towers over the park if you but bother to look for it – I got this insight from the Talented Tony later on.  He invented the Lister Nip Comb.  That’s Mr Lister who invented it, not Tony – talented as he is.  Oh, and not nit comb either but nip comb, completely different thing – you need to concentrate more when you are reading.  Nope, me neither, had to look it up, and I learn that the Lister Nip Comb separated and straightened raw wool, revolutionising the industry apparently.  He – that’s Mr Lister again, not Tony, donated the land for Lister Park which was philanthropic I suppose, but the size of his fortune must have been absolutely immense for him to be able to do that, and you can’t help but assume he accrued such fortune on the backs of a great many workers in his mill.  He was a Baron as well.  Barons always make me think of Baron and Baroness Bomburst in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – which for too many years I honestly thought was Shitty Shitty Bang Bang, which was unfortunate – I daresay other barons are available, but the Bombursts had better costumes if the photos are anything to go by.  The facial hair is equally spectacular for both though.  It could well be that is a prerequisite for such honours, I wouldn’t really know…

I didn’t have all these insights as I was pootling round though, but you can have the benefit of them in advance if you like.  It’s fun learning these things.

The route carried on past a quite impressive play area, and a boating lake with it’s own circular cafe building.  I found out too late that this opens at 10.00 and I think it’s where the core team adjourn to for results processing.  Might have been a better option than the cafe where we two ended up.

As I was taking my time, I think the first of the speedy runners came through when I was on this stretch.  The paths are wide though, so no hairy moments overtaking.

At the end of this stretch, is a marshal very much owning his spot.  Dear Reader I give you Tony’s Corner.  He was a very vocal supporting, giving extra loud encouragement to known regulars who he cheered by name, but enthusiastically cheering everyone by,.  it was great.  I reckon he would have made each and every one of us feel like a sporting superstar, or at least a pretty goddarned amazing humanbeing just for being there.  I think life would be so much nicer if we all had cheerleaders to encourage us as we go about our daily business.  Still, in the inexplicable absence of that, you can at least get an little inoculation of feel good adulation to get you through the week as on each of the three laps, multiple marshals applaud you for your efforts.  Excellent!

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Round the corner, there was another statue, no idea who that was – and another group were doing some sort of outdoor work out session, with their own loud speakers pumping out motivational music.  A sign pronounced that you were now embarking on Teeny Tiny Hill.  I do like visual aids at a parkrun.  OK then, let’s see what that’s like then:

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Ok, as a Sheffield parkrunning regular, I can report the hill is steep, but short and sharp, and not too bad if you are used to say Sheffield Castle parkrun or Graves parkrun in Sheffield.  However, it is definitely an upward flat section, and the field was mixed between those that embraced the challenge, taking a run up at it, and those that threw in the towel early on, power walking in preference.  At the top, of the steep bit, just where you corner, was another marshal flourishing a ‘you are awesome’ sign!  Like I said, this was a feelgood parkrun good for building your self-esteem if ever there was one.  From being acknowledged as ‘rare and precious’ on arrival, to ‘awesome’ on every lap, there was much positive reinforcement going on!

You pass by the fossilised tree root, and the start sign, and then it’s round all over again.  Past the token men, the bandstand, the hall, the amazing gates, Mr Lister, the boating pond, Tony’s Corner, up the Teeny Tiny Hill to complete lap two.

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This time, as I rocked up the hill, the finish area was pretty busy with returning runners.  Because the whole park is basically on a slope, if you look to the right running past you can see the finishers swept off to the side, but equally as you finish, you can see the parkrunners still enroute sweeping round like lycra-clad wildebeest on migration.  All very picturesque in my view.  It really is a lovely parkrun venue.  A hidden treasure indeed.

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I paused on the way round to stand on a bench to try to get a shot looking back at the bandstand and the finish, and ended up mutually photographing a fellow tourist.  Well, I say fellow tourist, turns out this is actually her home parkrun, but she was wearing a cow cowl, and astonishingly, had deduced I must be a tourist on account of me constantly stopping to take photos en route, though I think even she was a tad taken aback I took it to the lengths of clambering onto park furnishings.  I don’t really worry about times these days, I’m not sure I ever did, but I like to document parkruns the first time I attend them.  It’s so easy to forget stuff in the sensory overload of a new venue.  I didn’t get your name, but here’s a virtual wave to my 250 tee sporting parkrun friend!

and then it was just one more lap to go.  Obviously, the field had thinned out now, but I ended up taking it in turns to sort of leapfrog each other with another runner.  Her nearest parkrun is apparently Bramley, but that’s a four lapper – don’t fancy that, mind you, I’ve not tried a four lapper yet, maybe it’s less brutal than I imagine, though I panic about not being competent enough to confidently count to four….  anyway, she’s been to this one a fair few times too.  It was nice to make a new friend on the final lap.

Incidently, if you like me, balk at the very idea of a four lap course, spare a thought for this runner, quarantined because of the coronavirus, who has been doing laps IN HIS APARTMENT totalling 31 miles.  I can’t begin to imagine how tedious that must have been.  Respect.  Well, I think respect, it’s certainly impressive, but maybe a tad obsessive.  There’s a time to run round in teeny tiny circles, and there’s a time to lie on a sofa watching box sets.  He may not have got the balance entirely right in my view…. According to the Daily Mail (sorry – but they did have the Co-runner virus pun, which might well be in poor taste, but did make me snort a little bit) he ran 6,250 circuits of his apartment.  Imagine how annoying it would have been for him if he’d lost count and had to start again from one!

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Last chance to be reminded you are awesome, and drink up the cheers from supporting marshals, and a final romp up the teeny tiny hill.  Returning parkrunners smiled or whispered words of encouragement as I lolloped up the incline to the bandstand and the finish.

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Round the corner, and the finish funnel was in sight.  Again, these marshals were so enthusiastic and friendly.  I totally get parkrun is a run not a race, and there are no winners as such, but I felt like I was definitely their fastest ever first finisher as I crashed over the line and the timers clicked me in!

It’s a little weird, because the finish line – which obvs you have to do a sprint finish through, is at the apex of the hill, and then you have built up so much momentum you are in danger of crashing into the backs of other runners as it’s a down hill queue to the finish tokens.  Serious crowd control here, no danger of funnel ducking with that barrier, and I heartily approve!  Fortunately, I had the benefit of all this space in glorious isolation on account of being first finisher, clearly, so no domino affect of my carcass toppling other runners on the way through.  Phew.

My Victoria Dock parkrun buddy, was ready with a camera, which was a mixed blessing, but always good to be immortalised with flying feet, even if I’m inclined to feel the apricot does me no favours.  I’ve been trying to think what I remind myself of, and i think it might be an oompa loompa.  This isn’t a good look.  Oh well.

Just a matter of being scanned, and then posing for obligatory photos.  Oh and notice the coffee van.  If it hadn’t been cold, I think that would have been best option, looked like quality coffee.

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We’d had a lovely time.  How could we not.  But decided we wanted to get a proper shot of the Teeny Tiny Hill sign, well, it is Bradford parkrun’s ‘thing’ if you know what I mean.  We wandered back that way, passing returning volunteers, still holding ‘awesome’ signs aloft.  We spotted ‘our Tony’ who seemed to be dismantling the course on the way back.  We weren’t sure whether to offer to help or not.  It is a surprisingly little known fact that it isn’t helpful unless you are actually helping. Sometimes if people have their own systems you can mess them up by charging in.  I have before been caught out dismantling a finish funnel by removing tape from the poles only to find that at that particular parkrun they store the funnel with the tape left on.  Oops.  They were very gracious about it, noting that it was their fault for not having sat me down with the appropriate online interactive training video, but aaaaaaaaaaaawkward all the same!  Anyway, we used our initiative to ask, and actually, turns out, there was a limit to how many signs and stuff he could carry, so we did help minimally, and thereby also gained exclusive access to the Teeny Tiny Hill sign too.  Job done 🙂 !

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and that was that.  Bradford parkrun done and dusted.

We were cold, and so rejected coffee outside option, heading instead for the refreshment room cafe.  It’s just occurred to me what a spectacularly unimaginative name for a cafe that is.  Oh well.

The good news was that it was open.  The walls had tasteful William Morris wallpaper, and it was spotless, with a good value range of cakes and coffees.  However, it was a bit, erm, well weird.  Despite the plush surroundings, it was fairly bijoux, and the offerings were very much cake rather than breakfast.  Though there was a (not very nice) vegan roll, and cheese toastie options.  The coffee was distinctly mediocre, from a machine rather than proper ground with foamy milk.  The service was friendly, but to be honest, if going again in summer I’d have gone with the van, or checked out the boating cafe if open.  However, it was unhurried, and we could have a good old catch up.  Also, we could now access the toilets.  They didn’t have fluffy white towels or heated seats, but they did have an air lock entry system with an extraordinary amount of  doors to pass through to get to them, so that was novel.  Also, everyone was welcome to use them, though only one at a time in my experience.  I didn’t see any giraffes or elephants during my visit, but perhaps they were in the adjacent cubicle?

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We exited through the museum, which was freezing.  Maybe post parkrun chill had kicked in. This had an excellent photography exhibition on, and some fine statues.  If I hadn’t been a lightweight (novel concept for me) worrying about getting cold and driving back to Sheffield as storm Ciara kicked in I might have lingered longer.  Again, staff were friendly, and the interior immaculate and grandiose on an extraordinary scale.  Reet nice in fact.

I think the woman in the statue was emphasising a point about how annoying mansplaining is, but I guess all art speaks to the viewer in unique ways, so you can interpret as you wish.

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But, all good things come to an end.  This morning was no exception.  So we went back to the car, which still had loads of spaces by the way, and headed homewards, pausing only to take a snapshot of the chimney towering over the park as we exited.  It’s mahoosive indeed.

So thank you lovely Bradford parkrun people for your warm welcome and sharing your unexpectedly wonderful park.  This is definitely one I’d happily return to do again … were it not for the lure of all those other parkruns in the vicinity I have yet to run.  But thank you, hope our parkrun paths cross again soon.  Have fun til next time.

and remember how awesome you are, just for being part of the parkrun parkfun.  I’ve seen a sign just for you that proves it!

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Told ya!

🙂

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

Categories: 5km, parkrun, running | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Bringing the Highland Fling to Frosty Tring, parkrun tourism on St Andrew’s Day. Parkfun at Tring Kilted parkrun

Digested read: it was St Andrew’s Day, and it was parkrun day, the Venn diagram intersection therefore took me to Tring parkrun where they were having a themed, ‘bring a giraffe to parkrun day’.  It was very nice indeed, thank you for asking. Frosty terrain but warm welcome.  Also tea-cakes.

Undigested read:

It’s a long one, brace yourself…

Well, that was splendid.  It’s the simplicity of parkrun which is particularly awesome.  You get to rock up at the most spectacular of locations and be part of pop-up random wonderfulness in an infinite variety of manifestations. But today it was all about a kilted flashmob taking over the winter wonderland of Tring Park all in the name of St Andrew.  Dear reader, I give you Tring parkrun.  Epic.

Granted, I had a bit of insider info that gave me the nod that this was happening, but honestly, if you didn’t make it this year, then next year it could be you – there’s always room for a few more.  Go awn, you know you want to!

Yes please to this:

Tring Kilted parkrun.  Yes it is a thing.  Has been for half a decade now, my, you are late to the party.  You’ll be telling me you don’t know about Dulwich parkrun’s special day either at this rate!*  The exact origins are somewhat mysterious to me, but essentially one of the Run Directors at Tring is Scottish, so when St Andrew’s Day came around (not sure if that was with or without an apostrophe at the time) he suggested a kilted parkrun was the appropriate response.  Of course it was.  So the good parkrunning people of Tring took this directive to their hearts and thus the tradition of Tring Kilted parkrun began.  It is a fine thing, pretty much on a par with Burns night or Hogmanay in Scotland I understand – really and truly though, you have to go and find out for yourself.   This is what philosophers mean when they say travel broadens the mind.  Do your own primary research dear reader, don’t take my word for it.  Apart from anything else, it might well be a lot quicker for you to wait a while and head off to the next available Tring kilted parkrun than to spend the next few weeks and months wading through this blog post.  Each to their own though, and you have been warned.  It’s now contributory negligence on your part if you choose to read on and succumb to the time vampire that is a parkrun themed blog post.  All parkrunners have been there, photo albums are even worse.  Hours and hours dissecting every shot, blurred or otherwise, to relive parkrun adventures after the event.  Sigh, parkrun, the event that just keeps on giving eh…

Now, the pedants amongst you might be fretting at the missing apostrophe, is it St Andrews Day really or should it not be St Andrew’s Day?  Well, the thing is dear reader, this has become a moot point, as the Apostrophe Protection Society is no more.  This is obviously sad, and yet pleasingly, the person who I think practically single handedly fought the good fight, John Richards, resigned from his self-appointed post at the age of 96.  Here he is.  Looking at a very large apostrophe on his computer screen, in case you are the sort of philistine who isn’t even sure what an apostrophe looks like.  Might be your last chance to see one …

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Whilst I have no intention of still working, or indeed even being alive at 96, if I was founder of an apostrophe preservation society then I can think no better high on which to leave than when the numerals for your age look like back to back apostrophes!  Anyway, sad as this is, it does mean you can add or ignore apostrophes with gay abandon.  That battle has been lost.  On balance, I think it pains me, or as I shall be compelled to write in future ‘pain’s me’.  Oh the horror.

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However you choose to express it, the wrong way or indeed what I like to think of as the right way, Saint Andrew’s Day is the feast day of Saint Andrew. It is celebrated on 30 November according to not only Tring parkrun but also wikipedia, so at least we have consensus there. Saint Andrew’s Day is Scotland’s official national day. Did you know it is also a national holiday in Romania?  No, me neither.  Just think, that means if they had parkrun in Romania, then they could potentially have an extra parkrun today – oh only it’s Saturday anyway this year, so maybe that would be a bit of a waste.  I’m sure they have other celebratory days available to choose from if needs must.

Anyway, point is, I have contacts, I have insider info, I have an invite, I shall be there.  parkrun tourism is calling me….  Been wanting to go to Tring for ages, I mean the name is splendid for a start, and I hear they have a better class of parkrunners there.  Nice parkland location too, Tring it on!

It’s easy to over complicate things when choosing a parkrun destination.  Many of us started out innocently enough, venturing away from our home runs only when cancellations forced us to forage for parkrun opportunities elsewhere.  Next came the realisation that e.g. for me, within Sheffield, there were a fair few in reach, and it would be cool to do them all.  Has to be acknowledged though, that the gateway drug to more strategic travel for many of us is the running challenges chrome extension.  Suddenly the opportunity to get virtual badges that only you can see drives a compulsion to seek out parkruns to complete the alphabet (only you can’t because there isn’t an X and you have to go overseas for a Z and also loads of parkruns are going to be changing their names soon anyway…. oops.)  Not gonna lie, that was enough motivation for me to seek to complete, amongst others,  both my pirates and Stayin’ Alive challenges.  Yes, shallow, I know.  But look how fab they are, most decorative – and a correctly placed apostrophe, what’s not to like?

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Even so, the compulsion to complete challenges can become mildly toxic so it was good this weekend to take things back to basics.  The decision to go to Tring parkrun was simplicity distilled to its most basic form.  All I did was start a running blog about 5 years ago and include a post about my experiences of running the Sheffield Half Marathon (my first one) laying it as bait for a Tring parkrunner to stumble across when preparing to run it for myself.  Then there was just the little matter of securing a ballot place for the London marathon, but having to defer for a year, so that the year I did do it, was the same year as same Tring parkrunner also got lucky with the London Marathon ballot.  Unbeknownst to me, said Tring parkrunner would continue to read my blog because we were both training for our first marathon, and it was London.  She’s actually a reet good runner, whereas I’m, erm, what’s the word?  Oh yes, ‘not’.  Then the weather had to make it the hottest ever London Marathon, so that the night before facing London I was having a complete meltdown in my hotel room and did a looooooooooooooooong moany blog post about my angstiness.  The husband of said marathon runner would read my blog post, and then comment on it to share with me that his lovely wife – Tring runner previously referred to – was similarly stressed by unanticipated heat wave following months of training in ice and snow.  From that heartfelt message we bonded for all eternity, and it was basically from thereon in a foregone conclusion I’d be at Tring parkrun one day.  We both did London, we met up at some Sheffield parkruns, as you do, and then one auspicious day, I got the kilted parkrun nod.  The info this was happening, the offer of accomodation, and even assistance in scottish tartan beret making.  It was meant to be.  Like I said, parkrun tourism is just so simple when you strip it back to basics.  From the moment I hit ‘publish’ on my blog post button about the Sheffield Half marathon in 2016, fate directed my path so it would culminate in being part of Tring kilted parkrun on 30 November 2019.  Dear reader, this is how fate works.  You can’t fight it, you have to surrender to it sometimes, and embrace the adventures that henceforth unfold… submit to the inevitable and sometimes your life is the richer for it.

So that’s the backstory, in summary, three years blogging, a couple of Sheffield half marathons and two different parkrunners getting lucky with the ballot for the London Marathon leading to  mutual internet stalkery and becoming new best friends.  Simples.  What could possibly go wrong?  Of course, you could skip some of those stages and just rock up at a new parkrun of your choice anytime, but where’s the fun in that?  And there might not be kilts.  I rest my case.

Now what of the actual run?

Well, according to the Tring parkrun website blah de blah:

Course Description
The winter course is an out and back route on grass and dirt trails. Runners are asked to run on the left. Starting in the valley on the north side of the park next to the A41, the course heads into the NE corner of the grassy part of the park. Passing through a marshalled gate, shortly after turn right and climb a steep leafy path to the obelisk. Turn left here and carry on up to the Summer House where the path loops 180 degrees right to the top of the ridge. Follow this path south-west for 1.5 kilometres until the turnaround point just before Hastoe Lane and then returning along the same route. The finish is 200m beyond the start point. Trail shoes are recommended in winter.

and it looks like this:

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Yeah, whatever, sure it’ll be lovely, now on to think about fancy dress?  Kilted parkrun.  I take it that just means broad Scottish theme – or does it?  I wonder, does that mean deferential and respectful embracing of Scottish culture, or does it mean carb loading with a deep fried mars bar (ingredients mars bar, batter, hot spitting fat) the night before and putting irn bru in your water bottle?

Full woad as in Braveheart perhaps…  the woad would be easy enough

then again, getting the full flame effect as a backdrop would be a nightmare for the RD doing on the day risk assessments, need to think again…

Oh I don’t know, maybe better to go down the Nessie fancy dress option?

It helps that fortuitously in between me excitedly accepting the invite to go and the date dawning, we all became better informed about the Loch Ness monster FACT which is good to know.  They are  Monster eels apparently.  Clearly a conspiracy to keep people away.  Though to be fair, I’d be happy to see a ginormous eel or indeed a swimming elephant whilst visiting Loch Ness, or even Tring – is there a Loch in Tring?  Didn’t spot one on the course map…. mind you, I really like the thought of elephants in captivity, particularly not in circuses, so it would have to be a wild one to be acceptable as a nessie sighting, and I’m dubious there are indigenous elephants in Scotland – or indeed Tring.  They would trample and scare away the native haggis, and as haggis exist, the elephants can’t.  Fact.  I’m not happy about the midges though.  Lawks a lordy, Scottish midges,  now they are monstrous.  Back to eels, conger eels are potentially absolutely huge though seeing conga eels would be even more fun.  Makes you wonder…

Still, given how contentious it is with Nessie and all, perhaps I should stick with the tartan theme, which is towards the lower end of causing offence with casual racial stereotyping and/or cultural appropriation.  Hoping so.  Will be interesting to see if any other eeks nessie substitutes are present – or even a rubber chicken, that would be cool, that reminds me, I really must add Wyndham Vale parkrun to my to do list.  It’s in Australia, might take me a while to get there, even if I set off now…  Though I’ve already got a ‘W’ from Wakefield Thornes parkrun, that was a fun one – but lacking in rubber chickens now I come to think of it, though excellent on space ships.  What you lost on the fowl front you gained on the force front.  You had to be there really, no you did.  Trust me.

Incidentally, another monster at Loch Ness is this 80 mile ultra marathon, bet that’s amazing, but then it would have to be to brave the midges, they are the real monster resident in Scotland!  Looks blooming gorgeous though… seriously tempted. Don’t worry, you don’t have to do the full 80 – awesome as that would be, you can just do a few marathons instead if you prefer.  Go awn, go awn go awn….

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Anyway, you keep distracting me, we are heading to Tring not Loch Ness, and I’m going with the tartan.  I had a chat with Geronimo – oh, did I not mention she’d be coming too?  Well, we did London together, and so she’s part of our Tring twinning enterprise, it was only right and proper she comes along for the ride.  Also, I understand from my Tring contacts that exotic African creatures have historically had a home at Tring park.  I put her through the washing machine especially, she has never arrived at a parkrun more fragrant or more aptly attired…

geronimo

We talked about improvising with green tights to create a nessie creature, but it was a non- starter.  Geronimo felt that would cramp her running style, and she didn’t want to look stupid in the way that the wearing of green tights can so often result in.  It’s a look not everyone can carry off to be fair.  Upshot was that I came to think the tartan is a simpler and safer bet.  Granted, some may see our wearing of the tartan as lazy and casual racial stereotyping, but I see desperate times calling for desperate measures.  If Brexit happens I’ll be wanting to demonstrate my Scottish credentials as best I can, however tenuously, and surely a robust celebration of St Andrew’s Day will smooth the passage towards gaining Scottish citizenship further down the line.  Sporting some tartan along with happy smiles is sure to swing it should the need arise.  Decisions made.  Hurrah!  It’s all going to be just grand.  A wee adventure for the both of us!

Oh you want to know more about the exotic animals at Tring.  Fair does.  I was keen to find out more too.  Basically, my Tring parkrun contacts informed me that Zebras are ten a penny at Tring.  I can now confirm from personal experience that the parkrun route is carriage friendly, it even has a carriage turning circle at the top of the ridgeway which is most certainly a boon for anyone planning on taking their own zebra carriage for a spin along the paths there.   Look, spoiler alert, this was taken mid parkrun, but it I can’t keep it from you anymore, so exciting to be able to share:

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OK, I will concede it isn’t perhaps immediately obvious this is a turning circle for a zebra carriage, but surely you can see it now you are in the know?

I don’t honestly know if there are specific rules in the parkrun code regarding the inclusion of exotic animals at parkrun events, but for the record, Geronimo was made welcome, as a giraffe respected in her own right.  This was especially pleasing, as I do worry that once she’s spotted in a forthcoming feature film next year people might treat her differently.  Her meteoric rise to inevitable stardom is a foregone conclusion, hence it’s all the more important to treasure these personal memories before she becomes famous and potentially relationships shift.  Here it felt the welcome was authentic and genuine, and equally offered to all incoming parkrun tourists and regulars alike.  You are curious about her stardom?  Well, I can’t say too much about that just yet – confidentiality clauses and all that –  but I will say she could be upstaging big names on a big screen near you come summer 2020, no-one parties like Geronimo under a storm of confetti at a street party in Sheffield.  I’ll say no more…  I think we just all need to apply a bit of common sense, but those confidentiality clauses are a bind.

Clue though:

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Nope, that’s it, nothing more, my lips are sealed…

So back to kilted parkrun day.  As has already been established, Geronimo likes to party, so she came sporting a kilt, and that made her a shoo-in for a VIP welcome.  I daresay other African mammals would also make the cut, but contact the core team via the facebook page in advance if in doubt. This is the usual turn out convention with zebras at Tring – looks like the ‘one dog per runner’ rule is upped to four zebras per participant max here…

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I’m not sure of the ethics of riding an endangered giant tortoise round the route, although the photos would suggest it’s been done before.  Presumably this would have to be recorded as an ‘assisted run’ and only one barcode allowed.  Actually, that’s not true, I am pretty sure of the ethics around this.  It’s a terrible idea, let the poor animals be.

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Depressingly, most of Rothschild’s eclectic menagerie collection ended up being stuffed and displayed.  That makes me sad.  Then again, some of his impulses were around conservation, and much of his collection ended up in museums contributing to research.  It’s complicated.  You can read more about him and his life – including how he got given a museum for a 21st birthday present one year, as can happen apparently… here.  It does however explain the sign about wallabies roaming in Tring, I know wallabies aren’t from Africa, it’s the ‘exotic’ species link I’m making here.

and probably also explains why no-one really batted an eye about a giraffe rocking up at Tring parkrun, though they did like her fine tartan beret, as indeed they should.  It was a gift from the good Tring parkrunners who hosted me too.  Their hospitality was beyond compare…

Speaking of which.  This visitation was not so much ‘parkrun tourism’ as parkrun mini-break.  I set off from Sheffield on Friday afternoon, and arrived at my guests abode late afternoon, in daylight and in time for pre-parkrun faffery.  parkrun is even more fun if you prolong the experience with pre and post parkrun related activities.  In this case, we had to check out the various fancy dress options, experiment with tartan ribbons, and especially pleasingly for me, be the recipient of a fine parkrun tartan beret.  I had been alerted to this development in advance, and it was tailor made using a panda as a model.

parkrun beret modeling

They aren’t from Africa too, and this particular panda isn’t really into parkrun, but was happy to contribute to the success of the occasion by offering up a head to aid beret construction.  That’s one of the many things I love about parkrun, there is scope for everyone to be part of it, even if they aren’t running or even rocking up on the day.  It’s a community bigger even than the impressive Saturday morning attendance stats suggest.  Hang on, I’ll check it out – right, these are the summary stats as of today, 4 December 2019 (yes, that’s after the date of this blog post I know, so shoot me, time travel is possible in the land of blogs, you just post for whatever date, past or future – you don’t seriously think I’d have written all this on Kilted parkrun afternoon, as well as having post-parkrun eggy bread and going through all the photos?  Quite.)

Number of events: 156,628

Number of runners: 2,240,488

Number of runs: 32,284,453

Number of locations: 684

Number of clubs: 6,667

Number of PBs: 5,540,683

Average runs per event: 206.1

Average number of runs per runner: 14.4

Average run time: 00:28:46

Total hours run: 1,767 Years 233 Days 16 Hrs 33 Min 28 Secs

Total distance run: 161,422,265km

Wowsers!

No wonder it’s changed so many lives.  Hurrah that Mr P S-H, got awarded the he RSA Albert Medal this year, it’s given annually for innovation in the fields of creativity, commerce and social improvement.  You can watch the full presentation and his speech here:

but come back and do that later or you’ll never even get to the start line of Tring parkrun, and never find out if it was a Braveheart-esque line up on a big long start line like William Wallace and the massed Scottish armies, or a more sedate trot out as if on a carriage ride pulled by zebras.  However, you can snigger at the childish observation of Danny Norman of With Me Now who boasted that he got to touch Paul S-H’s Prince Albert.  (Chortle).

Hang on, there’s an official press release thingy parkrun Founder wins prestigious award  with a more formal portrait.  And the medal is so very fine, it even comes in it’s own box I see!  Now that’s class!

official photo RSA

Lots  of teeth in the pictures, most impressive.  I admire teeth, and intend to hang on to mine for as long as possible.  Not in a creepy way, if I do lose them I won’t be threading them on to a necklace, but you are unlikely to meet anyone as obsessive about brushing their teeth regularly as I am…  Anyway, stop distracting me with teeth talk, even though it is true that the best Batman and Robin episode ever was the one where Robin had to save himself from falling to his death by hanging on to a rope with his teeth because his hands were tied behind his back, and Batman said in the closing moments ‘and remember Robin, you owe your life to dental hygiene‘  He was so wise…  And ahead of his time too, oral hygiene prevents heart attacks too dear reader.  Actually, this isn’t a complete digression as Batman and Robin were both present at Tring parkrun too – how else do you explain the cape?

Can’t wait for the next With Me Now podcast, it’s going to be epic, even if it might be light on tooth care. Then again they all are, the podcasts, with or without oral hygiene segments, frankly, I could stay in the house til spring now, just listening to the WMN back catalogue and venturing out only to attend actual parkruns in between listening to, and poring over accounts of ones that have already passed…  I have to catch up on Free, Weekly Timed too, being a late adopter there.  In fact, that’s my Christmas Day indulgence sorted.  parkrun podcasts and a sofa post Christmas Day parkrun, and I shall be living in an earthly paradise indeed. Ho ho ho.  That’s lifted my Christmas spirit, can’t wait now.  Not many more sleeps to go…

Anyway, back to arriving at my hosts.  Fancy dress sorted, parkrun tales shared, just the little matter of carbing up nicely the night before.  We had vegetarian haggis with neaps and tatties which was excellent.  And then we had Scottish cranachan recipe courtesy of Mary Berry  fortunately, my host used the pictorial directions in the recipe dividing up the pudding into three portions… it was only the next day she noticed that the quantities were intended to serve 8.  Still, parkrunners like a challenge, we managed to polish of the lot, and very nice it was too!  Delicious in fact.  Great way to set ourselves up for the Scottish delights that would unfold before us on the morrow…

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and so the morrow came, which is actually today – if you believe the post date for this blog, or a few days ago if you are pedantic and want to know in real time what the timelines are.

Bracing.  That was the word.  A deep, picturesque frost – in fact, loads of parkruns in Sheffield and elsewhere were cancelled due to ice, so I got lucky in having already made it safely south.  Hot coffee was quaffed, and last minute parkrun faffing commenced.  My hosts with the most drove me through pretty villages – used as a backdrop for many a midsomer murder episode apparently, and towards Tring.  Now dear reader, Tring parkrun has many excellent attributes, but it is not blessed with conveniently located loos.  My regular reader knows I cannot countenance undertaking a parkrun without a precautionary pee, fortunately my hosts catered for all needs, so it was that we did a Tesco detour en route.  There are loos in the public car park apparently, but the Tesco ones are nicer, and have a handy tampon/ condom machine too.

Precautionary pees completed, off to the parkrun venue.  Apparently there are a couple of different car parks, but I didn’t pay too much attention to this, as I was chauffeur driven.  We arrived nice and early, passing the not at all conspicuously attired parkrun carpark marshal(s) already mustering and in situ extra early to keep parkrunners safe and on track.

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It was cold though, not gonna lie, was glad I’d not gone for the bare-legged kilted option, though kudos to my travelling companions who did.  Brrrrr.  Next challenge, fancy dress sorting.  This is what goes on behind the scenes quite probably at a parkrun near you.  I think the degree of self-sacrifice (baring legs in the cold) and creativity that goes into making the parkrun fancy dress transformations  happen adds to the parkrun magic, but look away now if you don’t want to see the smoke and mirrors lifted…

I think she was helping to put the kilt on… not sure.  You know what, the parkrun code requests that we all respect everyone else’s right to participate in their own way, so let’s do that, and not worry about the particular dressing/undressing car park shenanigans shall we, each to their own.

And that was it. OHMYGAWDTHISISSOEXCITING!  Kilts on? Check.  Barcodes present and correct?  Check.  Laden with shortbread tins of tunnocks teacakes?  Check  Ready for action dear reader,  Bring.  It.  On.

Last minute check round for anything left behind.  What’s that – a pair of gloves, bound to belong to a fellow parkrunner, my contribution was to scoop these up and take them along too.  Truthfully, I wasn’t much practical assistance to the Tring parkrun experience, unless you count enthusiastic and appreciative participant, which I do.  My hosts were doing a great job with their jenga balancing skills being tested by a quantity of tins and flasks of hot coffee, would have undermined their confidence if I’d thought to offer to help… probably.  Almost certainly, that’s why I didn’t risk it.  Anyway, I was too distracted by the stunning location and sights and sounds of the venue to focus on being useful.  And we’d not even left the car park for goodness sake!

In fact, the set up team, who’d been out even earlier, took some amazing photos of the frost-scaped early morning.  Reet nice out as we say up north!

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You leave the car park through a pretty gate, and turn right following the sign to Tring park (a clue for the observant amongst you) and head along the path towards a spectacular curly bridge.  Not hard, and the chances are there’ll be other parkrunners to follow.

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Don’t forget to admire the wildlife murals, they are to an impressive standard.  There was even artwork on the curly bridge, but I didn’t take a photo as I was clinging to the handrail to avoid skidding on the icy steps at the time.  If you are braver, or there is less ice, you could look for longer.

It’s super exciting when you get to the curly bridge, because it’s quite an architectural feature in its own right, but it also opens up the most fantastic views across Tring park and you get the fun spectacle of watching from above as ant sized parkrunners start to congregate.  They weren’t actually ant-sized FYI – well not unless there are some exceptionally large mutant ants in these parts, they just looked tiny because they were far away.  I’ve been through this before.  These are small, these are far away a la Father Ted,  Yes, she is carrying a bottle of irn-bru.  The coffee in flasks story was just a cover…

Rather epic isn’t it.  And VERY EXCITING!

So we trit trotted over the curly bridge, you can tell you are in the right place because of a strategically placed ‘caution runner’ signs.  Always a relief and frisson of excitement as a parkrun tourist when you espy one of those.  We tagged along with the gathering throngs.  It was not only beautiful and atmospheric, but also a lot of fun, as we started to espy other kilted parkrunners striding towards the gathering point.  My pictures make it look a bit bleak, but honestly it wasn’t, it was just lovely, and perfect… if a tad bracing for my liking – and I still had my fleece most definitely on at this juncture.  Pity those sporting naked legs.  I mean, kudos for honouring the kilted spirit but brrrrr.

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There is a pleasing mini optical illusion as you approach the clan gathering point.  You think it’s flat, but actually, the path – which is basically cross country rather than a formal walkway as such – ‘suddenly’ goes down into a dip.  These means even though you feel like you are basically walking on the flat, you unexpectedly (to me, you’ll know so I suppose I’ve potentially ruined the surprise for you now, oops) find yourself at what is the brow of little hill, and unfolding before you in a big reveal was the encampment!   So exciting.

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It’s hard to describe the scene, but I won’t let that stop me, why let a picture be a thousand words when you can type considerably more than that and gift your reader confusion wonderment?

It was like espying an arctic research station, or a first human settlement on some remote planet, or possibly even a festival tent, the first marker of a party tent for those that come.  It was epic!  Look at the early picture of it put up in the dawn light.  I say put up in the dawn light, but it looked quite complicated, they had probably been working on erecting this for many weeks, I doubt the cows hanging around were all that much practical assistance to be fair.  Good job.  This photo is amazing, it captures the Brigadoon like way that Tring parkrun sort of materialises out of the mist.  They do have regular results listed on their official parkrun page though, so I’m pretty sure it appears more often than one day every hundred years (imagine how annoying that would be, particularly if the one day that Tring appeared it was neither a Saturday nor bonus parkrun day. Oh, the horror!).  Still, wouldn’t hurt to check their Tring parkrun Facebook page in advance if you are making a special trip, just to be on the safe side.

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In fact, this domed cathedral was the VIP tent.  It covered a table groaning under the weight of Scottish consumables, and was adorned with flags as well as being awash with good will.  In fact, as you will appreciate, all parkrunners are equally important, so everyone could access all areas, and very nice it was too.  My hosts added to the weighty load of the table, whilst I helpfully lurked and took photos, and wondered at what point I’d have to take off my fleece.  More dedicated sports people warmed up for parkrun with traditional sword dances, as you do.  Impressive.

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People continued to arrive, all smiles and kilts.  Happy parkrunners a-gathering on an auspicious and frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! Cèilidh!  I do like it when people make an effort, and I also like it when there are photos to document such dedication that can be endlessly looked at later.  It extends the timeline of joy that parkrun offers up, beyond the Friday night anticipation, the Saturday morning big event into potentially many months of memories and reflection and sometimes laugh ’til you think your knickers will never dry shared recollections.  I wonder why tena haven’t been approached as parkrun sponsors?  Other incontinence product manufacturers are available.  Only a matter of time surely.  I mean, they may not be so necessary if you are wearing a kilt and adhering to tradition in terms of what lies beneath, but pads could be a boon at non-kilted parkruns, particularly for those who lack strength with their pelvic floors.

There may have been a certain amount of posing, and those swords were most certainly a boon for creative play.  Every parkrun should have photo props methinks.  Game changer!

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I say I took photos, and indeed I did, but I also foraged for some subsequently, and so many of the better shots are not attributable to me, but to the Tring parkrun official photographers, for which many thanks.   They were fab.  All high vis heroes are.  Obvs.

Where was I? Oh yes, mingling at the start.  Another innovation at Tring, is that they lay out a huge blue tarpaulin on which you can leave all your stuff.  I feel they missed a bit of an opportunity to transform it into the Scottish flag the St Andrew’s Cross through the simple effort of tippexing a white saltire onto it, but maybe they didn’t have enough time after spending ages putting up the VIP tent.  The idea is that this keeps your stuff together and dry.  Hang on, I’ll find a pic:

Hurrah!  It’s the usual ‘leave at your own risk’ system, but you’d have to be a bold thief to take on the collective might of the ferocious-looking battle-ready broadsword- brandishing core team left behind at the pod to keep order whilst parkrunners did their thing.  Well, they were gathered around the finish funnel area nearby in their high-vis vests, which amounts to the same thing.

I still had the pair of gloves I’d picked up from the car park so tossed them in the middle of the tarpaulin where hopefully their rightful owners would discover them.  I mean surely only parkrunners would be roving round the carpark at this ungodly hour, carelessly dropping their gloves for others to find.  I did ask half heartedly around for glove droppers, and tried to discreetly look for gloveless hands turning blue with cold amongst those gathering in the hope of using my Miss Marple skills to find the person who had suffered this loss, but my efforts came to nothing.  …  Oops, hope there isn’t some poor random dog walker even now checking round their car puzzling about where on earth else they could have dropped their favourite woollen gloves on their sojourn to Tring park…  Oh the angst.  You have no idea!  At least the gloves were getting their own micro adventure I suppose, but at what cost.

What next?  First timers’ briefing I think.   There was a fair few of us from near and far.  Some who like me, had been wooed over by the prospect of kilts as well as the intrinsic glory of Tring.  Wave to the Poolsbrook traveller, who I didn’t meet on the day but found out we were fellow travellers from the north after the event.  Hello, next time maybe?

There were even a few first time everers!  What a one to choose for your debut.  I like to think they will have gone away believing kilts to be not just de rigueur at Tring, but actually compulsory at parkruns everywhere.  People came from near and far, with and without kiltery, which just goes to show, if you build it they will come!

The briefing was welcoming and succinct, something about a hill, and the route was described, and the ridgeway, and things to look out for.  Hills don’t particularly phase me, not because I’m fast, but quite the opposite, I’m really slow, and hills legitimise me walking, so all good.

Then there was a little bit of anticipatory waiting.

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At some point I availed myself of the thistle on the cheek temporary tattooing service, so that was good …  Actually, can we just pause for a moment to appreciate the magnitude of that particular offering.  Someone had the initiative, foresight and creativity to bring along with them a thistle stencil and a sponge preloaded with face paint or indelible ink, I forget which – purely for the purposes of helping fellow parkruns really rock the Scottish themes.  That’s awesome.  For this great public service fellow parkrunner – and your most excellent plumed hat, I thank you.  He got about 40+ marked up pre-parkrun I understand, and you can see his handiwork captured in some of the photos.  Grand is it not?  You might have to squint a bit to see them, but trust me, there are there, twice in one case, check it out!

He probably would have got more, but his efforts were interrupted as we were corralled for the mass walk to the start, which was just a little way on, up a slope.  The walk was lovely.  It was fun as a collective activity, and also fun because there were coos along the way.  Coo marshals shooed them to one side.

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The cows were calm, photogenic and placid. Unlike Sheffield cows which may be photogenic but need to be given a very wide berth.  Not phased by the parkrunners at all, which was a relief.  I also took a mandatory selfie.  Has to be done.  And I had by this point removed my fleece.  Kill me now.  It was very cold indeed.  I thought my nipples would freeze and fall off, they didn’t on this occasion, but it was touch and go I don’t mind telling you.

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Then we were gathered at the start, where by complete coincidence there was fiddler and an accordian player on hand to provide musical accompaniment to the run.  I mean, honestly, what were the chances of that, and how very fine!

It was apparently the Run Director’s event debut, you couldn’t tell, it all seemed very slick to me, clearly a well oiled team runs this show, or well lubricated by early morning seasonally appropriate Scotch Whisky on this particular occasion at any rate…

We were gathered in a semi-circle for the briefing, cheers for milestones, cheers for volunteers.  To mark the occasion, there was also the official kilt wearing shot, and the kilt lifting one too.  Has to be done.

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and then suddenly, there was the countdown and we were off!

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Up a hill, to the accompaniment of this: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=419351318973065

As usual, I just slotted myself in at the back.  I like to pootle these days, partly dodgy back, partly being unfit anyway but a great deal of liking to take my own time and take in the view.  The view from the back can be glorious, it is often the fun factory of a parkrun, and what’s more, on this particular route, being out and back, you get to see everyone at some point anyway.  Hurrah.

You head off up a fairly gentle incline, and then along a flat bit known locally as cowpat ally.  It was so cold, the ground was pretty much frozen, so no mud bath or slurry pit sliding required today.

Rather you could skip through, and cheerily greet the marshals on the gate in situ to see you safely through into the wood and the first of the proper uphill up to the ridgeway.

Well dear reader, I can report that it is indeed a hill.  Quite  a long one.  It’s picturesque (my signature word of the day forTring parkrun it seems) in the wood, and sheltered too, but it is also quite a long heave ho up the woodland track to the obelisk.  A full kilometer I think, but I didn’t check.  I did have a vague moment of clarity when I recalled my host telling me that when she was trying to get her husband into parkrun she deliberately didn’t take him along to Tring for his first one for fear of putting him off forever.  Hmmm.   Possibly a point.  I paced myself by walking.  Works for me.  As others peeled off ahead, you could see them through the trees.   There was also a lurking photographer at a corner spot, to capture the action.  All details attended to at this parkrun.

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It’s quite hard taking photos in the wood.  The trees are magnificent and tall, and bright sunshine above tried to break through their canopy.  You are heading towards the obelisk.  I do like a landmark on a parkrun, and this one was particularly fine.  It was so high the top was way up in the winter sunshine, so with the dark at the base it took on a near mystical quality.  This spot has its own regular marshal to keep you in order.  He offered smiles and words of encouragement on both the out and back.  Sometimes there is even music from speakers here apparently, though not today.  There is a story about that I gather, but I didn’t get to hear what it was.

From here, you do a zig towards the summer house, and then a zag back upwards to the ridgeway.

Lots of friendly marshals along the way.  Well, maybe not lots, but certainly sufficient, and they all had interactive settings so you could engage with them en route.  You could even pose for photographs with them, or get them to take photos of you and your new best friend you’ve just made at parkrun.  Inexplicably, some parkrunners just sprint round the whole course without stopping to pose for pictures, but perhaps they haven’t yet realised this is a viable option.  Maybe one not absolutely compatible with getting a pb, but then again, I pbed automatically on this route because it was my first time, just putting it out there as a thought.

Once you are on the ridgeway, breaks in the tree line now and again give amazing views, which once again are alas, hard to photograph, but you might get a broad gist from these two – it’s the same site, but with different emphasis on foreground in one and view in the other.  I tried dear reader, I tried:

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As I was having a leisurely event, I paused to try and photograph some runners at the carriage turning spot.  There being a distinct lack of zebra drawn carriages along the way today, there was plenty of room for runners in both directions.

Onwards, and a bit further up was another view point, and the uncontested winner for top trumps cameras in situ too.   Size might not be everything, but sometimes you have to acknowledge it can impress, as with the obelisk, so too with this lens thingamajig.  And you have to concede it is quite something to be able to draw attention away from the eye-catching redhead in full pelt as well as full tartan sprinting by in the foreground.

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Oh look more runners coming by – including mein hosts!  Hurrah!

Though if they are coming back the other way, maybe time to get a wiggle on myself.   It’s reasonably flat and sure footed along the ridgeway, and after a bit, you reach a turn around point, where you are invited to run round, if not the actual marshal, then the cone at this point.  It doesn’t specify how many times you should run round the cone, as many as you like, I was running a bit late, so just did the one, but others may have done more.  One enthusiast apparently overshot the point entirely, and had to be wrestled back by the marshal and spun round to head back to the finish funnel.  They are alert and primed for action at a moment’s notice these marshals.  Quality effort.

Coming back along the ridgeway, you see the views again, better actually, as the light was less whiting out and more illuminating.  Oh look, tailwalkers.  Always a welcome sight, and companionably putting the world to rights as they went along by the look of things.

I noticed more details on the way back.  There are little footpath signs and a Walter’s Wander walk of sorts.  I tried to get a parkrunner bordered by the cut out sigh, but never a parkrunner en route when you need one, maybe you can photoshop yourself in some time later.

And then check out this view – you can even see the finish area and the Rothschild stately home too, if you aren’t so worried about the prospects of getting premature wrinkles you can have a good squint.

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And friendly marshals again.  Still friendly and supportive second time round.  Marshalling in the cold of a crisp winter morning, and greeting all parkrunners with equal enthusiasm takes tenacity, stamina and grace, all were in evidence today, for which I thank them all.

And check out the summer house, spectacularly lit by the sun.  Great place to sit and watch the parkrun whizz by methinks.

and from the summer house, you can see the obelisk ahead, homeward bound now, and some proper downhill coming too, the yin to the yan of the up.

It was quiet by now, and I was nearly caught by surprise by a stealth photographer still en route, but he caught me and Geronimo in full flight.  For the dubious amongst you, and I think there may be a few, surely this shot is absolute proof that running with a Giraffe is not as much of a help on a run as you might think.  The psychological and emotional support of having a companion animal along with me cannot be overstated, but in terms of six legs better than two, maybe not quite so much of an asset as you might imagine!

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Actually, it might be time for some gratuitous parkrunning action shots, courtesy of the official photographers, a little interlude, before we come to the climactic finish.  Running with a buggy must have been tough.

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So after smiling and waving at the photographer en route, you charge on down the hill, depending on your courage and your faith in your trail shoes, and back out of the wood and into cowpat alley once again.  As I passed through, a runner who’d already finished was coming back the other way, holding refreshments I presume for the marshal(s), who must have been getting cold by now.

The light was beautiful, and the scenery lovely, and my erm, let’s go with ‘sedate’ pace meant I had it pretty much to myself too.

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The pictures don’t really do it justice I’m afraid, but think of them as but a spoiler, something to whet your appetite so you make the effort to go and see for yourself.

After a little while, again the finish funnel comes into view just as you are coming over the brow of the hill.  There is the usual glorious sight of welcoming volunteers, a well staffed finish funnel and a few parkrunners who had stayed behind to cheer the final few through.

What was less usual, but exceedingly glorious, was to be serenaded by the duo who were there from start to finish.  It was a.maz.ing!  Only problem is, I want live music at all my parkrun finishes now.  And not just live, but bespoke, so themed to each and every occasion.  Is that really so very much to hope for?

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Also, and this is a bit weird, it was like entering a different world on the return leg.  Sunshine had melted the frost and the grass was green and the shadows just as atmospheric but the scenery quite transformed somehow.  I had my barcode wristband thingy scanned in record time.  I treated myself to one of the anniversary wristbands, but it’s not had a great success rate scanning, two out of five occasions used it didn’t record for some reason.  No worries today, see, everything about this parkrun was practically perfect in every way!

So that was my parkrun ended, but it wasn’t the end of the fun.  So much still to do.  Specifically, to play with the swords, too good an opportunity to miss, particularly when you’ve come dressed for it especially.  You know, I think that’s one of the most brilliant things about parkrun, yes, yes, we all know it’s good to exercise and be part of a community blah de blah, and I am 100% behind those aspects too, however, maybe for me the bottom line is something about it creating a space where we have permission to play.   Being able to participate in parkrun in your own way includes joyful scampering about.  Where else would it be completely acceptable to mess about with swords in some country park somewhere and be confident that parkrun friends would join in and someone would have the wit to photograph the occasion for posterity – even direct the participants to ensure they captured the perfect shot!  I can’t quite decide which is the perfect one though, so you’ll have to look at the slide show for a whole load of them, and other posing too.  It’ll be fun, it was for us, you can have fun by association, or simply think yourself accursed you were not here, though it was St Andrew’s Day remember, and not St Crispin’s.

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No animals or parkrunners were injured or distressed in the posing for these photos.

Still time to linger, avail ourselves of refreshments, enjoy the view and welcome back the volunteers and tail walkers.

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However, all good things must come to an end.  Eventually everyone was accounted for, as the last of the marshals came in en masse

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Then there was just the little matter of taking down the VIP zone.  That was quite technical, and involved a great many people helping, and me circling around unhelpfully whilst I fretted about the gloves.  Remember them?  Well, they were still on the tarpaulin so not reunited with their rightful owner then.  Oh lawks a lordy, someone, somewhere has probably lost multiple digits from their hands because of me ‘helpfully’ removing them.  Just as I was falling into near despair at this thought, I vocalised my dilemma, only for someone to pipe up ‘oh, they are mine!  It’s OK, I had a spare pair!‘  Phew, it ended happily dear reader.

So too with the tent deconstruction, with some expert supervision, it was dismantled with exemplary teamwork.

I commented to anyone in earshot that this was the sort of high performance practical problem solving that would make me confident that Tring parkrunners are also able to fold up their collapsable start sign and even parkrun flag.  Awkward.  Apparently not.  One amongst our company disclosed they actually have the Tring parkrun start sign very much open on their kitchen floor, steadfastly refusing to be packed away despite having watched youtube tutorials on the theme.  It may even have been the cause of a blip in usual domestic harmony.  Oops.  Assume nothing dear reader, learn from me.  Mind you, those bannery things, they are tough!  Here’s Great Notley parkrun, grappling with the pop up so we don’t have to:

and that was that, everybody started to disperse, and where once there were runners, now there was nothing but footprints and the echo of laughter.  We took away photos and memories.  Some departing were noticeably more laden than others!  Bravo volunteer heroes, above and beyond on so many levels.  Your labours were very much appreciated.  Best kilted parkrun ever!

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Yes, I did notice it looks a little bit like they might be trying to dispose of a body, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.  Even if they are, I’m sure they will have had their reasons.  Talking through the run briefing does really need to be stamped out, I didn’t notice any of that at Tring, and perhaps this is why…

Oh, an in case you are regretting having missed it, you can relive the glory of the run through this actual footage of the kilted parkrun, or possibly the kilted coaches, but it looks broadly similar, so you’ll get the idea.  That’s a fancy dress haggis chasing them down at Tring by the way.  They aren’t real, that would be silly.  Real haggises (haggae?) are much, much smaller, but equally ferocious, and don’t wear fake tartan hat/hair combos, obvs.

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You’re welcome.

Back to the carpark – remembering to check out the lovely wildlife pics again:

Time for a quick pose by the gate – one for the family album surely, or at very least their fridge…

and alas, that was that.  Just the mud on the shoes remaining to prove we’d been there.  I’m not one to bear a grudge, but couldn’t help noticing my toesies were a lot muddier than Geronimo’s.  Still, we’d both had a fab morning out so no cause for complaint.

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So basically, this was indeed the best parkrun ever… until the next one.  That’s the funny thing, it was completely brilliant, but I never fear anticlimax at my next parkrun, because all parkruns are uniquely wonderful. Just as the capacity to love is infinite, so too is the capacity of parkrun to engage and enthrall… worst case scenario is type two fun – only fun retrospectively, but that’s still fun is it not, and parkrun is always parkfun, or your money back!

Also, for me, the awesomeness wasn’t even quite over yet, as it was back to mein hosts for post parkrun eggy bread – which I’ve not had in years and years, and steaming hot coffee, and a de-brief about all the fun we’d had and a sharing of some of the photos too.  Perfect end to a perfect parkrun.  Post parkrun brunches consolidate parkrun fun and parkrun memories.  It was just brilliant.  I felt like I’d been not so much on a mini break, but on an actual holiday, maybe in part because I had.  This might be the way forward for parkrun tourism, groom befriend people over the internet for a period of a few years and then turn up at their houses wanting to stay the night so you can run at their parkrun the next day.  Only moving house will prevent this occurrence from happening again.  Actually, now I come to think of it, there was some mention of a potential move further down the line… no surely not, had to be bluffing, and anyway, just a coincidental mention.

So sadly, the time came where I had to leave.   My hosts cheerily waved me off cheerfully.

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Possibly a little too cheerfully at seeing me go now I come to think of it, but then again they had to crack on with the rest of their busy day.  You can see they are just itching to get on with their spontaneous outburst of Scottish Country dancing, and that shortbread wouldn’t be eating itself now, plus there was scotch to be drunk also.  I think they keep the Drambuie back for bathing in.  It lightens the legs.  No rest for the wicked as the saying goes…  Just another typical parkrun morning, paying homage to their wannabe Scottish heritage.  Honestly, when they aren’t indulging in Scottish themed consumables, they are running up tartan accessories and working on their highland flings.  I know, I’ve been there.  …

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So thank you lovely Tring parkrunners all, but especially thank you to my virtual and now actual parkrunning Tring friends, we have officially bonded now, we have shared a kilted parkrun together, this can never be undone, not that we’d want to, because it was brilliant.  Exceeded expectations even, which is saying a great deal as I’ve been excited about it for ages and ages!  🙂

Incidentally, if you would like to triangulate my account of this Tring parkrun with another, then dip into the very fine debut run report for event #276 Highland (Fl)Tring!!!! which you can access here.  Recommended.  Full exposure of Tring parkrun.  There are also a gazillion photos (yes, I think it is an actual number) with albums aplenty included kilted parkrun album part one, Lucy’s perspective (yes, that’s me!)  and the final collection – like I said, really a lot of photos, but you can never have too much of a good parkrun thing.  FACT.  Also, what’s new year for if not for reminiscing about the high points of last one, all those pics could come in handy.

Same time next year anyone?  Or just get in the habit of wearing a kilt anyway, they are surprisingly warm to run in apparently, and handy if you need an al fresco precautionary pee I understand.

So keep on having parkrun fun y’all, here’s to new parkrunning adventures for all of us, wherever they may lead us.

By the way,  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, and you might be needing to get on with your life again now.  You are needed in it.

*Oh you want to know about Dulwich parkrun. Well, turns out it may be Dul by name but it is far from Dul by nature (see what I did there, gawd I’m hilarious sometimes, great punning action).  They only do a Eurovision Song contest themed parkrun every year.  That’s my 16 May 2020 parkrun destination sorted – hopefully it won’t be negatively impacted by Brexit.  Do love a parkrun that sets its own traditions. Colwick parkrun has its Hawaiian shirts, Tring parkrun its kilted run and Dulwich parkrun the full European spectrum.  Choose your parkruns wiseley dear reader, and your grand tour will be most enlightening, educational and – best of all – entertaining.  Start making your bespoke bunting now…

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