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!
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?
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:
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!
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?