Posts Tagged With: Pontefract parkrun

Romping Rother – parkrun tourism takes on Rother Valley

best things in life are free

You never forget your first time do you?  Wherever you take on your parkrun duck, that memory stays with you.  For me it was at Sheffield Hallam, but for my Endurer buddy it was today at Rother Valley.  I for my part was ridiculously excited to be there on hand for the big event.  Plus, I was a first timer at Rother Valley too, oooh, the joys of parkrun tourism.  Granted, these may seem mysterious, even tenuous to the non-parkrunning community but what do they know.  We mustn’t take the uninitiated too seriously, rather we should pity them.  They just don’t know what it is they are missing out on, and the longer they delay coming along to join in all the fun,  the more distant is their dream of ever acquiring a milestone Tee!

milestone tees

So today is the day after Hot Cross Bun Day and the day before Chocolate Eggs Day.  For some parkruns that made today Easter Bunny Saturday, Pontefract parkrun, I salute you, and by way of tribute, I have lifted one of your photos.  It deserves to be disseminated  more widely to my reader at least.  Luckily this was not a rabbit on the run in New Zealand, or it might have ended rather differently.  As it was, presumably the rabbit was eventually just trampled in a stampede of faster runners coming up behind, like nearly happened today in the Cardiff half marathon to that athlete – Geoffrey Kamworor – that fell over on the start line.  Only the half marathon guy wasn’t in fancy dress.  I think it’s probably a bit hot for Kenyans to train in onesies, but then again, what do I know about the professional running elite, they could spend the whole time running at altitude where it’s decidedly nippy for all I know, and if that’s the case then this garb would be just the ticket?

pontefract bunny

So, for those of you who like the blah de blah, Rother Valley parkrun actually takes place in Rother Valley Country Park.  Although a former slag heap, it is now a 750 acre country park, according to Wikipedia (so it must be true) ‘The Rother Valley Country Park is a country park in the Metropolitan Borough of Rotherham, close to its border with Sheffield and Derbyshire. It covers 3 square kilometres (740 acres), has four artificial lakes, recreational activities and nature reserves. The majority of the park is on the site of a former quarry, with the main excavation sites filled by the artificial lakes. There is still much of the original quarry machinery below the water‘.   Rother Valley parkrun course is generally reckoned to be one of the faster parkruns in these parts, because it’s flat, tarmac (near enough) and just one circuit.  The official blurb describes it as follows:

The 5km loop begins on a rolled limestone road (with a few speed humps to negotiate) en-route to the gate near cable water ski area move on to tarmac, the surface changes again to rolled limestone / gravel path alongside both lakes. Head through two gates at Northern Lake area and then the route takes a right turn after Northern Lake through the causeway between the Northern Lake and Main Lake (next to the play area). Follow the lake path towards the main car park and finish on the grass between the miniature train track and the lake path.
This is quite a flat route and in a lovely country park on the borders of Rotherham, Sheffield, Worksop and Chesterfield.

All very commendable, but what I really wanted to know in advance of attending was whether or not I’d be able to have my precautionary pee on arrival.  I can give positive feedback on two counts here.  Firstly, when I messaged the Rother Valley parkrun Facebook page to ask about the loo they not only didn’t laugh in my metaphorical face, but also replied very promptly and reassured me there were facilities at the start.  Secondly, on arrival, this turned out to be true.  Hooray, no having to run round with my legs crossed, which to be fair wouldn’t have been so much running, more contorting sideways like a remedial-level wannabe contortionist in training, which I am not.  If you do spot me flailing around whilst out running, I’m probably just about to fall over, and you are witnessing my last ditch futile attempt to defy gravity, so stand well clear.

So, Saturday morning parkrun day!  Yay, despite being woken up at 2.00 a.m. by next door neighbours ringing my doorbell to gain access to our flats, I was in fairly good spirits today.  Excited at prospect of being present as a new running buddy was inculcated into embracing parkrun.  I went wild, and had two cups of coffee on waking (feeling hugely confident in the pre-start facilities) and headed off from Sheffield pretty early.  Rother Valley park is easy to find – follow the brown signs though, not satnav.  And all the instructions worked well.  A very friendly and jolly parking official at the gatehouse did indeed charge only £1 for parking on sight of my barcode (it’s normally £3.50 for the day), and suggested I pulled over to let the car behind me overtake so I could then tailgate it to the start.  That part of the plan didn’t really work, as the other driver whizzed by like he’d got lucky in a wacky races rally, but you couldn’t really get lost on the way to the start.

Just follow the road for a mile – trying not to run down any of the more hard core runner that are jogging to the start, turn left over a bridge, and voila!  Car park awaits.  Also awaiting was a quite significant gale.  My it was windy!  I remembered too late that Rother regulars do lament the tendency towards storm like conditions at the park.  It is partly because of the open lake I think, it’s always windy there, but today we have Storm Katie – (or is it Katie McKateFace), to liven things up a bit.

I was initially a bit disorientated on arrival.  I was a bit early, and it wasn’t immediately obvious where the start was.  I got out of the car and went to peer at the lake.  There were loads of water birds, and some impressive looking swans.  Some feral like dogs took their chances plunging into the water after the wildfowl.  I didn’t really approve, but their owner eventually materialised and did his best to call them back.  Whilst not quite a Fenton moment, he was largely ineffectual with his recall, but to be fair, the swans and other birds looked like they could handle themselves, and the dogs eventually got bored and waded out.

I did however locate some very superior loos.  This is one of the best parkruns I’ve been to in terms of pre-start facilities.  There is practically an athletes village.  Loos are signposted, open and have toilet paper.  Later, there is a portacabin where you can leave your stuff while you run, and post run there is a on site café (albeit coffee was a bit below par) loads of seating too.  All very well equipped.  There is even a handy wishing well if you belief in the efficacy of superstitious practises in helping you to achieve a PB.

So, having availed myself of the facilities for my precautionary pee, I was able to peruse my surroundings a bit more.  The location did seem a bit bleak to be honest, it was a grey day, and there was a windswept feel to the place, including lots of blowing about litter and bare trees.  There is a lot of tarmac and road at this point in the park, though less travelled routes and footpaths are hinted at, peeling off from the main thoroughfares.  There was however quite a lot of glorious blossom which was really gorgeous and spring like.  Also catkins and other evidence of nature’s bounty, cute little primrose alongside a dinky miniature railway track – none of which my camera or photographic skills can do justice to.

Other parkrunners started to arrive, and you could see they were headed like pilgrims away from the car park towards the start.  At this point I started to feel fretful as hadn’t yet sighted my endurer buddy.  Eek, surely she wouldn’t have bottled it, that’s not the Endurer Spirit I’m accustomed to.  I hung onto my fleece, amused myself by taking selfies, and chatted to others gathering at the start.  The face is supposed to have captured my ‘I’m anxious because my friend isn’t here’ expression, I fully appreciate it looks instead like I’m impersonating a letter box.  Selfies aren’t my thing.  Nor is running really, but I persevere with both.  These are my road shoes by the way, they have great cushioning but the laces are annoyingly short and I feel they are a bit too narrow for my plate-like bunion adorned feet, but so far (touch wood) I’ve stayed blister free in them, though I’m not over-confident about their tread and grip other than on roads – which is what I bought them for to be fair, so mustn’t grumble eh, mustn’t grumble…

Endurer Buddy had said she would appear as a vision of loveliness in pink, thanks to a recent Aldi purchase, but I wasn’t sure if that was true.  In fact she did eventually materialise, and joy on joy, she was indeed a vision of loveliness in pink, but with the added bonus of poo too.  Pink and Poo!  I should clarify that this was as a consequence of mucking out horses earlier on, and I for one love the smell of horse, so pink and poo in this context is a compliment, eau de horse is, in my view, not only acceptable as a fragrance, but desirable too.  If you don’t get it you never will, that is not my concern.  We could now indulge in the pre-start joint selfie, it was easy enough to snap a couple in which we both looked equally unappealing.  Result.  Equity is everything:

DSCF9108 - Copy

Also, some attempts at atmospheric start shots, you can see the control hub portacabin, plus a few keenies engaged in warm up stretches and running too.  I should try that I know… mañana…

As parkrun hour drew near, I had to relieve myself of my fleece and remove it to a place of safety.  I’m not worried about anyone nicking it, but I do live in fear of a dog peeing on it whilst I’m pounding parkrun paths.  That’s an animal odour I can do without. So, handy to have the portacabin, a great asset, and placed near the start and finish too.  I happily surrendered my coat to its care.  I say ‘happily’ actually, I immediately felt really cold, that is quite a wind they have gusting over the start.   As if mobilised by an invisible force, I followed the throng heading towards the actual start line.  There was the obligatory briefing.  Welcomes to Brand New parkrunners – applause entirely for my Endurer Buddy I explained (though there were other parkrun virgins too), also tourists and volunteers too of course.  The bit about having to  run with one dog, I explained that this is not actually compulsory, and only going over the finish once.  I also clarified – to our mutual satisfaction I should add, my own rule, no talking and running, and each to run at our own pace – rendezvous strictly on completion.  Inevitably, the cry for ‘off’ came almost unexpectedly, but my Tomtom was agogo, and off we went.  Yay!

rother valley parkrun route

It is a wide start, but I didn’t position myself all that well, and it felt quite congested.  If you want a speedy time you’d need to put yourself near the front.  I wasn’t too bothered, anyway my calf is a bit sore from a long run last week, so I was glad to be forced to start off slow.  The route doesn’t require much in the way of navigation.  It’s basically a lap around the lake.  There were marshals on the way at strategic intervals, I did shout out thanks as I passed, but noticed it was a quiet run in terms of interaction between runners and also between runners and marshals.  The volunteers seemed pleased to be thanked, but I got the impression that the culture here isn’t necessarily to do so as you are running as they also looked a bit surprised.  The terrain is hard paths throughout, not the most inspiring of surfaces, but predictable and good for speed if that is your thing.  I could really see why this particular parkrun is prone to cancellations because of ice though, the wind had got the water up to quite a choppy sea and splashed over the paths at points, the water and wind chill would cause ice pretty quickly I think  as soon as the temperature dropped.

I also used the time circuiting the lake to contemplate my half-marathon chances.  A kindly Elder Smiley Super Geek has offered up some wisdom to make this goal a bit more achievable.  Employing expertise communicated by an interactive spreadsheet, I can now puzzle out personalised predicted finish times based on my previous running times and also projected nutrition / hydration needs.  I am struggling a bit with the notion that a jelly baby could ever be described as ‘nutritious’, and also as a vegetarian I’m wondering if I can even with a conscience stray into that territory of food group.  The advice given so far though is encouraging, practical and helpful, (though also a bit of a wake up call about how I would benefit from doing a bit more planning in advance as opposed to just turning out on the day) and (best bit).  This plan does not extend to doing 12 pre race-day recces to check the pacing is working out OK.  Not my story to tell, but serious commitment there you’ll agree!  Anyway, I’m very grateful for it, and it is tipping me towards making it onto the start line… then again my leaden legs weren’t exactly whizzing me round even 5k today so I am still on tenterhooks as much as you my reader about whether or not I’ll be on that start line!

I didn’t do too well on the eavesdropping front this time.  The field spread out pretty quickly, it’s not a huge parkrun (averages around 200 mark), and because it’s just the one lap, you get stretched out.  I did overtake a few people, but then quite happily found my pootle pace and stuck with that, taking in the views.  Apart from overhearing some quite complex negotiations between a child and adult about at which EXACT tree (the pompom one) they would be allowed to walk at before recommencing running pace.  I gathered there was some not insignificance difference of opinion about that.  I also was pursued by a spitting man.  I’m not good with spitters to be honest, I have a not entirely irrational fear that they might be trying to aim their trajectory of phlegm at my Smiley Paces bee on the back of my running vest.  Oh, have you not seen that – hang on…


I’ve always thought of it as a bee – it might be a wasp.  It’s hard to tell as it isn’t the most accurate of entomological representations to be fair, but I (and therefore you) have to concede it offers a very specific target.  I understand that some runners do need to rid themselves of accumulated mucus when running, and I don’t inherently think they should be prevented from doing so, I just wish they would aim it sideways rather than forwards. Hilariously, there are whole angry on-line running forums devoted to this very topic of spitting etiquette.  If you feel like grossing yourself out on the full range of issues associated with this theme then Google away and be my guest.  You can exchange views on the perils of blowback, saliva and phlegm consistency and the hypocrisy of demonising say hoodies for spitting whilst encouraging it to ‘clear the airways’ for ‘proper’ runners.  I even found a runners world article/video on the art of the perfect snot rocket, and yes, I think it is absolutely for real – though they do say you shouldn’t use the technique inside!  It covers directional aim; appropriate clothing and blast radius to avoid collateral damage.  Need I say more?  Bet you do follow the link though, however furtively…  On the plus side it did make me pick up a bit of speed, I wanted to either be way ahead, or get overtaken.  I had another companion on the way round.   A walk runner, he kept overtaking me, and then walking for a bit, I’d overtake him slowly, and after a bit he’d pick up the pace again and glide by.  It was good to have the aim of keeping him in my sights.

As you go round, there were two sets of marshals positioned to stop you taking a sneaky short cut and missing out the final loop.  Just as well they were there – the temptation would be pretty strong.  There is a peculiar sharp left handed turn towards the finish that requires you to slow and almost U-turn on yourself.  At this point was a man with two small children who clapped furiously at every runner that passed, it was very sweet and much appreciated at this stage in the game.  From there, it was but a short burst, past the life buoy and towards the finish.  The waves lapping on the shores of the route were pretty impressive by this point, even a few breakers.  Amongst them I spotted what I think was a crested grebe, not seen one of them in ages.  Didn’t even know I could still identify them, but it seems my early years membership of the Young Ornithologists Club was not wasted, even though I only joined because I liked the kestrel badge and my best friend at junior school had already done so.  Shallow, but true.  Not my photo by the way, taken from Google search ‘licensed for reuse’ so here’s hoping that’s true!

Distracted by natures wonders the finish came suddenly.  Smiling time keepers, and I whizzed through the funnel clutching my finish token and a scanner called me over to get my wristband barcode scanned with great efficiency. I had time to retrieve my fleece and camera and took a few random shots of other finishers:

Then headed back down the course to cheer my pink and poo clad endurer buddy back to base.  It was really fun watching her charge around the corner, smiling (which was more than I achieved on my first parkrun if the truth be told) and definitely very much in strong running mode.  I was able to snap a few shots, and then ran in the last couple of hundred metres with her, apart from when I had to stop to take a photo of the miniature train, sorry, couldn’t resist.   My first spoken word (noun)  was ‘train’ I think, and I’ve a soft spot for them.  I had a blue wind up train that went round and round in a small circle of track when I was very small, and it was the BEST THING EVER.   It was lovely being there at the moment conversion was complete, and endurer buddy passed into the Finish Tunnel of no Return.  A great cheer went up from the surrounding marshals as I called out it was her first time, and it seemed to me to be a pretty good baptism into the parkrun community.  Friendly and encouraging folk all round at Rothers I thank you!  Good to see high quality photobombing by the Queen’s representative on earth too, thank you swan, so pleased you weren’t eaten by those rogue dogs earlier.

Embraced by runner’s high, we had the obligatory post-run selfie (yes, I think you’ll find it is actually obligatory, especially after your inaugural run, or if you are in the company of someone who has just completed her inaugural run)…


and then ambled over to the café.   For future reference looked like they did a good vegetarian breakfast for a bargain £3.50 including hash browns and everything, but we just had a tea and coffee respectively, and then made our way across the courtyard for some undercover but outdoor seating to debrief.  Have to give a shout out for the three large crestfallen dogs outside.  Talk about forlorn, these guys would have you with the RSPCA on speed-dial if their expressions were anything to go by.  Their shiny coats and good body cover told a different story.

So we sat down and nattered and put the world to rights for just long enough to make sure that we had completely stiffened up by the time we tried to stand again.  Gets me every time.  I then agreed to drop my running buddy off at her car, which she’d parked the other side of the lake in some free parking just outside the park.  I admit, this confused me somewhat, had she swum across?  Duathlon attempt seemed a bit ambitious for a first parkrun.  Apparently not, but it was a 15 minute walk to the start from where she’d left her car.  It involved a magical mystery tour through Killamarsh, which was a new adventure for me, as I’ve never had cause to go there before.  It’s always good to experience new things, keeps you alert to future possibilities.  So deposited her by her car, and then swept off to the tip, because I had some stuff to recycle and I know how to multi-task (athletics meets environmentalism) and also have a good time at the municipal waste site.

So goodbye to Rother Valley parkrun.  Thank you for your hospitality, thank you volunteers and fellow runners too.   I’m sure we’ll be back.  Would I recommend romping Rother?  For a rollicking Rother romp, not just for alliteration purposes, absolutely.  Happy running!  Until next time, the parkrun gear is safely tucked up and away,


but the parkrun dream lives on in our hearts because Saturday is henceforth parkrun day not only for me, but another willing recruit and what’s not to like about that?



Categories: 5km, parkrun, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Double Delights for New Year’s Day – parkrun pleasures multiplied!

This is what we looked like smugly breakfasting at the end of our parkrun double challenge, we were too wretched and disorganised to manage a ‘before’ running shot, you can draw your own conclusions about the extent to which we had positive predispositions prior to parkrun  from that telling omission…


So, for those of you who have been sleeping through the whole parkrun phenomenon, let me explain the basic principles.  This is the one day of the year when parkrunners can clock up not one, but two parkruns on one day.  EVEN THOUGH it isn’t a Saturday!  This is because it is the only day of the year when some parkrun venues lay on an extra event (they being ever so obliging and keen and it being a bank holiday), and uniquely can offer a time other than 9.00 a.m. as the start.  This created the joyful possibility of finding parkruns that are close enough to one another that you can complete one, and make it to the next in time for the later start.  To assist with the calculations for this, someone, somewhere came up with the ingeniously enticing parkrun New Year’s Day 16 double finder .  This meant in advance of today I and other similarly optimistic and misguided runners could fondly imagine bouncing out of bed all bright-eyed and bushy tailed on a crisp, clear, sunny, new year’s morning and tackling two consecutive 5km runs with boundless enthusiasm.  I can confirm that as is often so, the reality of what I felt on waking didn’t entirely conform with the fantasy previously envisaged.  No regrets on completion, some regrets on first waking to be honest, but more of that later.

So we had some collective discussion as to which of the parkrun possibilities would be lucky enough to welcome some Sheffield Hallam tourists to their territories.  An early contender was Clumber Park then Rother Valley, but in the end, following a personal recommendation from someone who’d done it last year, the winner was (drum roll) Pontefract (9.00 a.m.) to be followed by Nostell Priory (10.30 a.m.)  The point being that despite my surprise apparently Pontefract is a lot nearer than you think to Sheffield (I maintain it isn’t really but there you go) and that even allowing for sedate runners such as me, the distance between the two venues is distinctly doable.  8 miles by car, but only 4 miles if you choose to run it cross country instead (of course I didn’t).

So, as is usual for me, but very annoying, I didn’t sleep well, waking dehydrated and feeling rough in the small hours, I couldn’t get back to sleep, though on the plus side it did mean I was up for a coffee at 6.30, without this pre-run caffeine fix I’d never have made it round.  I then got an early morning text to check I was still committed to this collective endeavour (pah, as if I wouldn’t be!).  My cheetah buddy and her loving spouse had again been thwarted on waking as their road had been plunged into a power cut of many hours duration.  So she was stumbling around a darkened house, and in danger of not even managing to make a cup of tea to help them out the house.  (Ignition not working on the gas either, calamity – don’t worry though, she and he are pretty resourceful, and had matches on hand to facilitate the making of hot beverages, as well as head torches to facilitate manoeuvring around their home). I had but to wait in situ on a pavement and my lift came as if by magic hurrah!

It was really cold out, brrrrrr, cars were covered in thick frost and the pavement was decidedly slippy.  The sky was a miserable dank grey, and there was a distinct oppressive doom and gloom feeling to the day.  Not how I’d imagined it at all.  The car that came to scoop me up breezed into view, pre-steamed up windows from the occupants already in confinement.  The driver was a regular running buddy, who had bought her teenage son along.  He is very tall, but as the late addition to the outing, somehow was concertinaed into the extra ‘kiddy seat’ in the boot of the car.  It was a miracle of contortion that he made it in there.  Not a regular parkrunner I can honestly say I’m not sure what possessed him to make his double debut on limited sleep and on ice, but it was good to see him all the same.  My suspicion is that having made a new year’s resolution to do more exercise (though he disputed this) by doing two parkruns straight off, he would effectively have finished his resolution by noon.  That’s a result surely.  Also present cheetah buddy and cycling spouse (also an awesome runner, a quality we exploited later) and a further parkrun regular who I have my eye on as a potential hobbiteer for 2016.   The other female runners are fellow Smiley Paces members, and I felt shamed that I’d not thought to wear my Smiley vest too – partly out of club loyalty, and partly because it was freezing, and it would have been a great excuse to don an extra layer without hearing cheetah buddy’s voice in my head saying ‘step away from the fleece‘.  I long to keep on more clothes than I should when running, she is always right about it being more comfortable to run with fewer layers, but I need her to encourage/ remind me to do so with ridiculous regularity.  She has clearly done a course sometime about how to motivate people, as she is very good at offering vocal positive feedback when I spontaneously (but reluctantly) peel off outer garments prior to a run without prompting. It is also really true, that I am quite literally hearing her voice in my head telling me to do so as I strip.  I can tell she’s proud of me – and her influence on me that has made it so – when this happens.

The journey to Pontefract was on deserted grey roads.  Navigation seemed to be operating somewhat on a ‘just in time’ and ‘need to know basis’, I was quite pleased it wasn’t my responsibility.  I did feel that Pontefract is in fact quite a long way from Sheffield, and had I been driving on my own I would have been in fear of falling off the end of the world at any moment, like those early voyagers, bravely setting sail, even though they believed the world was flat.  Well, almost like that, apart from not being in a boat, not being in the sea, not being made to eat ships biscuits and it actually only taking about 45 minutes or so to get over there, otherwise though, identical.  On the more unexpectedly positive side, I learned that we were at the birthplace (or was it spiritual home) of the haribo, who knew?  (Well, everyone else apparently, but then I’m vegetarian so it is more of academic than practical interest).  I also learned what  a Pontefract cake is, so it was quite an educational morning.



Honestly though, I was less worried about falling off the edge of the earth, and more worried about whether or not I’d get an opportunity for my precautionary pee … particularly because due to a change in routine, it wasn’t so much a precaution today as a necessity. Fortunately, although I was the one to cave in and admit to this requirement, others were all takers for finding some conveniences too.  There was a bit of debate about whether there might be loos at the course, but the consensus wast that it would be too high risk a strategy to go there and find out there weren’t so we instead did a quick detour into the McDonalds on the roundabout just opposite the entrance to the racecourse.  We trooped in en mass.  One of our number worried about the ethics of this – should we feel obligated to buy a coffee or something.  Personally I don’t.  I consider the only benefit the McDonald’s franchise has brought to the world is the provision of clean toilets in unexpected locations, so I am happy to exploit this feature.  This is unlike me as normally I can do the British apologetic guilt thing of saying sorry for being alive or having the temerity to allow my foot to be stamped on even though I am standing still.

Comfort break concluded, we piled back in the car, the driver didn’t speed away without her darling son as we feared she might reversing out of the parking bay, but it was actually forward planning, not abandonment, so no need to involve social services.  And into the venue.  Yay!

pontefract race course

Much excitement, there were loads and loads of cars queuing to get in.  This double parkrun day malarkey has clearly built up some momentum.  We parked up a little way off from the start, and followed the migration to the start, dodging cars at the weirdly confusing roundabout thingamajig that you had to cross to get there.  The first surprise though was the ice.  Just walking to the flags that signified the start it was pretty slippery.  I was very glad of my trail shoes, but even so still a bit nervous about the grip underfoot.  Loads of people were milling about, and there was a good welcoming atmosphere.  Chatted a bit to other runners, whilst trying to hang on to my jacket for as long as possible – though with awful inevitability it was eventually prised away from me.  It was fun spotting other tourists though. I had a bit of vest envy at some folk from Nostell Priory who had specially printed ones saying exactly that ‘Nostell Priory Tourist’ how brilliant is that.  Maybe, incredible as it sounds,  a parkrun tourist tee, personalised with the name of your home run could be an even more desirable as a Christmas gift than a snow flake made of tampon applicators?  Food for thought, certainly.

Thank you Stephen Wong for the photos by the way.  Fabulous capturing of the event.  For those who like to know such details, the usual Pontefract parkrun course is described thus:

the route is … contained within the parkland on the inside of Pontefract Racecourse which at 2 miles long is the largest flat racing circuit in Europe. However, the course itself is not entirely flat; the highest point is by the Grandstand and the lowest in the north east corner by Park Road/railway bridge.

The start is on the track around the inside rail of the racecourse close to the south eastern corner of the boating lake and takes in an anti-clockwise circuit of the lake before returning to the track for a full circuit of the racecourse (clockwise). This is followed by a second circuit of the boating lake, but this time in a clockwise direction. The finish is on the path around the lake, close to the start point.

The bit that I register is that you basically get to run round a race track.  Anyone that has previously encountered prancercise , or ever been a seven year old girl (or boy to be fair, though I suspect that that is less probable), playing horses in a garden somewhere, cannot fail to be wildly excited at the potential for pretending to gallop around a real race course, where actual horses have been.  (Sort of, you are actually on the inside of the railings, but that’s being pedantic).  Today, the ice was such, we did an out and back route rather than the usual looping the loop variant.  The race briefing was friendly, but a bit tricky to make out.  I did get that there was some co-ordination with the Nostell Priory dessert run, (this Pontefract parkrun being either the starter or main course, depending on your eating habits), the essence of which was obey the marshals on arrival at venue two.  Clapping was offered up to volunteers, warnings given about mud and ice, and then ‘aaaaaaaaaaawf’ away we went.

I found the start a bit scary to be honest.  It was narrow and I got a bit boxed in, plus I had a few skids on ice early on, and it never really opened up for me.  However, it was still fun to be going, to have made it out and be underway on part one of the New Year’s Day challenge.  You could tell a fair few, well more than a fair few, were up for the double.  There were some superheroes on hand, always good.  A few canines, some doggedly determined slow and steady runners further back.  All shapes and sizes, which is what I love most about parkrun.  A few buggies, one of which got spectacularly muddied on the way round.  As we approached the turning point it was a bit of a heave up hill, and then the faster runners were crashing back towards us.  This was good to see them in action in all their rippling lycra, but it was hard to have to head off beyond them before returning homeward myself.  I find out and back routes a bit demoralising, but others in my party preferred this.  I suppose it gives certainty, a known destination to aim for and a clear end point in sight throughout.  My problem is that I still in my heart of hearts almost subconsciously can’t see the point of running, so when my eyes can see you are just going to end up back where you started, my brain makes the very rational and compelling point that it would be a great deal easier to just stand still here and wait for everyone else to come back.  Circular routes, whilst a literal manifestation of ‘running round in circles’ bizarrely don’t impact on me this way because you can’t see the end until you come upon it.  Irrational I know, illogical certainly, but true for me all the same.

Honestly, I found it tough, but there were some joyful sights to help us round.  Cheery marshals at the turn around point, grimly determined faces of other runners suggesting I wasn’t alone in struggling a bit, and a particularly welcome high five from a child spectator at just the moment I was flagging most.  It seems it is really true, that such contact  can help you speed up after such encouraging tactics on the way round.  The other thing that helped me pick up a bit of speed, was my slightly too close proximity to a rather loud and phlegmy runner just behind me. For most of the return run I was in constant fear of a mighty gob of spit ending up in my pony tail .  In fact I can report I returned with my hair still both spotless and spitless (though rather windswept), so whoever this unknown runner was, he had a better aim than I gave him credit for at the time.  I should have had more faith.  Actually, I had quite a bit of mud splattering most of the rest of my body parts,  but that’s OK, cleansing even!

pontefract spectator high five

Pontefract delivered up a quality event.  A photographer was even there to capture most of us in action – ready or not.  Go Smilies, and go male relatives of Smilies to, awesome are we all!  In fact, it turned out the photographer was doing his own double shift, as he materialised with his magnificent equipment in evidence at Nostell Priory too.

Inevitably, I was the last of our part to make it back to the finish funnel.  There was a bit of an optical illusion at the end, I’d swear it kept moving away as you approached it.  Still, one bonus of my slothly movement is that the others were there to greet me, and had even had the foresight to reunite me with my jacket.  Yay, so happy!

We waved what I hope were cheery and grateful goodbyes to our Pontefract hosts and it was back in the car to join the convoy of vehicles heading off for part two of the morning’s challenge.  Personally, I think if this double parkrun day phenomenon continues to grow it would be a great innovation to have some sort of magnetic flag with the parkrun logo that you could plonk on the roof of your car to indicate you were part of this running convoy.  Maybe something for tribesports to think about as part of their new sponsorship deal?  I’m just saying.

Sooooo, venue two, Nostell Priory.  We were quite literally in convoy as loads of vehicles were making the same trek.  Shamingly, as we sat in the car steaming up the windows and stationary in the queue waiting to wind our way to the rather gorgeous National Trust property, we spotted little groups of runners.  They had managed to complete the first run, and find both the time and energy to run the 4 miles to the next, and I noticed one woman in red who subsequently stormed home at the Nostell Priory parkrun way towards the lead.  Impressive.  We had some discussion about whether or not these runners would feel justified superiority as they ran past, or might be looking longingly at us roasty toasty in a heated interior.  It was nippy out, but they looked hardcore, probably don’t even feel cold.  Here she is – caught on camera, still giving it her all.

NP run run runner

There were some pretty efficient logistical operations going on when we arrived.  Marshals were directing parkrunners to a different area to park up, and even though we’d grappled around for a spare barcode to display to get free parking, in fact our bedgraggled appearances and lycra adorned bodies were enough to gain admission and recognition for our status as runners.  It seemed crowded, but well organised.  Lots of volunteers and friendly marshals.  Proper loos, with a helpful National Trust staff member even nipping in periodically to check the loo paper supplies had held out.  That’s quality.  Although queueing for the loo was annoying, it was also companionable.  We took the opportunity to snuggle together for bodily warmth and hear details of the course from home run regulars.  Also met the lady in red who’d run from Pontefract, and another runner who was sporting shiny new trainers – first outing of a Christmas present, pretty sure they would have been muddied well and truly by the end of today!

The race briefing was pretty comprehensive and very jolly, though it was cold.  There was recognition of both volunteers and the National Trust for hosting, and usual rules of engagement were given.  Warnings of mud, and something about checking the electric fences for voltage by lobbing a small child at them.  I wasn’t sure if you could use any child of your choosing, or whether you were supposed to have brought your own for this purpose.  In the event I just used the gap in the fence to go through them rather than trying to scale it with my bare hands.  There was also something about not driving off too soon at the end of the run if other parkrunners were still on the circuit because of the risk of running them over.  I know, health and safety gone mad!  There was particular congratulations to a runner on achieving their century, they were punished for this achievement by being made to run with a balloon, I am thinking this is becoming almost as obligatory as running with a barcode  – and if it is, I think I broadly approve of it.  Maybe it should henceforth be incorporated in the code of conduct for parkrun.

NP 100 runner wtih obligatory balloon

After the pre-race briefing, we made our way to the start.  Slightly disconcertingly, I’d swear there was a ‘Birnam wood to Dunsinane’ moment when the flag that designated the start point, and I’d thought was firmly planted in the ground, appeared to magically relocate as we approached it.  It stopped eventually, and we were once again underway.

Oh, hang on details of the Nostell Priory parkrun course blah:

This is a 2 lap course, starting 100m down footpath adjacent to the Stables and Courtyard leading to car park (approx 5 min walk from car park).
Follow path down to wooden gate, bear right up roadway towards church, keeping to your left, turn left to follow roadway towards car park, turn left again and follow pedestrian footpath back up towards Priory House. Follow footpath down towards the wooded copse, turn left along the unmade road then left again after about 200m into a barked footpath alongside lower lake, through the copse to road, turn at junction to return on footpath up (climbing steadily for about 400m) to House then back down and up (about 100m steady climb) towards the Church. Repeat as at start. Retrace steps for second lap but instead of turning left onto unmade road, do a u-turn (clearly marked and marshalled) and return up pedestrian footpath to the Priory House. The finish is at the right hand side of the House and is about 150m away from the Stable block with the nearby entrance to the courtyard for toilets and café.

Main point though is that it was really well marshalled, so you just follow the person in front or the direction someone in a fluorescent jacket is pointing.  No navigation necessary.  I really liked this course.  It was loopy loopy, which we have already established I like, plus glorious views throughout.  I found the terrain more reliable in that there was not so much ice, and I liked that the slightly undulating landscape and doubling back on yourself route meant you could see other runners moving across the landscape. Lovely friendly marshals, and the added bonus of spotting other runners who’d already been at Pontefract.  There were the superheroes again, but also persistent plodders, supporting families and capering canines.  Also spotted were fellow tourists from Sheffield Hallam, pleasing to have the company.  Lots of lovely photos courtesy of volunteer marshals and National Trust car park attendants as well as the aforementioned public spirited Stephen Wong.

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Stand out moments, oh so many, and I’m tired what with all the running around and now all this typing.  Besides which, you’d have to be a pretty dedicated reader to still be sticking with me at this point.  Dedicated, or possibly still sufficiently hungover from last night’s excesses that a bit of mindless reading offers welcome excuse to procrastinate over more worthwhile tasks.  I’ll press on anyway, as I’m trying to build up my endurance for 2016.  I liked the assault on the senses as you went round.  The woodland trail was soft under foot, and the distinct aroma in those parts was not in fact a build up of body odour from people rotting post the first run of the day, but a rural blessing of natural fertiliser I’m sure.  You had a handy church with associated graveyard en route.  Useful for offering up a prayer before hand for the religiously inclined, or for laying to rest those that didn’t quite make it having underestimated the effort of undertaking parkrun on no sleep, no food, dehydration and little training.

The hills weren’t too bad, but they were deceptive, finishing on an upward incline.  I wasn’t keen on being made to do the run of shame passing the actual queue of those who had already finished and were now waiting for their barcodes to be scanned, nor on having to run past the finish and then double back to it again.  I think a discrete screen to hide this sight from slower runners like me would help morale at this point!  On the other hand, lots of clapping from brilliant marshals helped speed us round, and there was an unexpectedly shortened loop at the end, which helped lift spirits just when most needed!

Special mention should go to the woman who must have sprained an ankle or something on the final loop, and was being escorted back to the finish by a volunteer marshal. She was limping stoically, whilst the marshal was cheering her along saying reassuringly ‘it might not be a pb today, but we’ll get you to the finish and you’ll get your time‘ to which the limpee responded in an inspirational display of positive thinking ‘actually, it’s my first time on this course so I’m guaranteed a pb.‘  I know, awesome!  Plus, it sort of embodies the parkrun spirit, not so much commiserations that you have possibly knackered your ankle and shall henceforth walk with a limp for the rest of time, but necessary focus on reassurance that your barcode will be scanned and your run will count.  It’s not just a run, it’s a percentage of a milestone T!

Lots of shots of us tourists in action, we do all (with one notable exception who actually had stopped for a bit of a nap on the way round apparently)  look like the second parkrun of the day was taking its toll, but how smug we felt afterwards!

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As regular readers will know, the real purpose of being a parkrun regular is to be part of a post parkrun breakfast club.  We were a bit worried that there would be uncharacteristic pressure on the cafe to accommodate us afterwards.  Given depleted reserves, sleep deprivation and serious sugar drops this was a truly terrifying prospect.  We thus nominated  our faster runner to head straight to the cafe on completion and get our orders in.  Everything panned out perfectly.  It was nippy waiting in the queue post the finish, but companionable too.  I met both a Nostell Priory regular and a refugee from York parkrun which is completely underwater at present.  Those floods are pretty horrific, puts my complaints about cold hands and feet (oh have I not moaned about that yet?  Take it as a given) into perspective.  Very efficient management of the finish, I was scanned and shot out the processing funnel into the warm embrace of my Sheffield Hallam parkrun companions.  I retrieved my backpack, which I’d stuffed behind a handy iron gateway, and then followed the seductive beckoning of our lead runner to a cosy corner of the cafe where steaming latte and superior scones awaited me.  Even better, once we’d stuffed our faces with this lot, my proffered fiver was declined, both for reimbursing the purchaser of refreshments and for a contribution towards petrol.  I should mention though, that there was some debate about who this really was.  Fleet runner, who had placed the order but – allegedly – is usually without his wallet, or cheetah buddy who often ends up picking up the tab, but on this occasion reunited fleet runner with his own money instead – but only after she’d already footed the bill.   Child of driver, though by far the most photogenic amongst us, had suffered a serious stitch mid run and even had to sit down for a bit before recommencing. (Still made it back ahead of me though, despite apparently having paused for this mid-point nap).  He seemed to recover though, and also had a useful feature of apparently radiating heat which made him a most useful accessory to sit next to after a run.  Is it inappropriate for a 50 year old woman to snuggle up to a teenager for warmth?  I’m hoping not.  I also had a go at putting my hands in fleet runner’s brand new OMM jacket’s pockets, which I know sounds sleazy, but it was in direct response to an invitation, and you wouldn’t believe how lovely and snug it was in there.  Amazing.

So plied with coffee and cake (technically scones for most and a flapjack for one) we were able to play around with posing for selfies, and enjoy all our running endeavours retrospectively. Result.  Warmed and refreshed, back to the car, pausing on the way for compulsory posed photo within handily placed posing frame.  Thank you passing stranger who obliged as our very own David Bailey stand in – no charge either:

Nostell Priory Team Photo

Journey home was mostly uneventful.  Apart from two of my companions remembering that they’d left a visitor slumbering alone in their darkened – and to her unfamiliar – house midst a power cut.  At first they presumed from a status update on facebook she must be alive, but in fact that had been posted 19 hours before so it would be quite possible they’d return to find her lying dead on the stairs or something.  You never can tell.

So fond farewells, protestations of thanks, and back to our respective homes for hot baths and power naps – or in one unfortunate case for a further outing involving a bracing family walk.  Personally, much as I like the great outdoors, I was very happy to leave it to its own devices for the rest of today.

I must publicly thank all of my running buddies for today: our nominated driver; the logistics co-ordinator; the orderer and purchaser of refreshments; the motivator; the radiator.  I have yet to work out what it is I contribute to the fold.  But maybe I can make the others feel good for their charitable acts. Someone has to be the beneficiary of all that outpouring of generosity of spirit, maybe that job is down to me?

Finally, may I say thanks to today’s hosts.  You were fab.  Specifically to the volunteers, who made it all possible, may I too thank you here.  You are awesome, and look fabulous in those purple 25 shirts too!  Thank you for your labour throughout the year, and particularly today, thank you too to all those parkruns who have hosted tourists over the festive yuletide winterval break.  I can do no better than this open letter to parkrun volunteers beautifully expressed.

Talking of beautiful expressions (I know, tenuous link alert) after yesterday’s crafting with tampons feature, I’ve decided to go a bit more high-brow with my referencing for the new year.  Check out Margaret McCartney making the case for the all round medically proven brilliance of parkrun participation.  If you don’t want to read the article yourself (even though it is on the bmj website and would do wonders for your credibility if ever the authorities were to seize your computer for some reason and examine your previous browsing history) it basically says parkrunners gathering are like a pack of yelping dogs.  Recognising the gleeful combination of social interaction and exercise, they  get horribly over-excited the prospect of a communal run.  All true.

So if you have, thanks for sticking with me.

For all us parkrunners out there, bring on tomorrow, it’s officially back to parkrun day.  Yay, we can do it all over again, this time with feeling!

tribesports happy new running year

Categories: 10km, 5km, motivation, parkrun, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

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