The Hertfordshire parkruns

Since running all of them, I thought I would do a post about the different parkruns in Herts to give you a bit of an idea as to what they are all like.

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Aldenham

Near to Elstree

How to get there: I don’t think you would be able to get there via public transport. We drove, using the postcode provided on the website. You have to pay to park as it is held in the country park, but you get a discount by showing your parkrun barcode. It’s close to the M1 so easy to get there from other parts of the country too.

Course: Two flat laps of Aldenham reservoir- really nice scenery as you run through wooded areas as well as next to the water.

Amount of runners: It’s a really small parkrun, according to their page it’s 60 runners on average per week. If you fancy a high placing, it’s a good place to go.

Post-run food options: There is a cafe on sight, but we didn’t sample anything from it when we visited.

Anything else: Somewhere I’d like to revisit (although it was 2016 I went and I still haven’t been back!).

Barclay

Hoddeston (between Cheshunt, Hertford and Harlow)

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How to get there: I drove and parked in the car park (postcode EN11 8JY)- it was free to park and around a 5 minute walk to the park where the run was held. Lots of people were walking to the start as it’s very close to the town centre.

Course: When I visited they had to modify the course, but it is essentially 3 laps of a town centre park- there’s a lake in the middle, there is a hill to run up each lap.

Amount of runners: When I visited it was fairly busy, but the local running club Ware Joggers (famous for their lovely cakes- they are the ones in red in the photo above) were giving out cakes to promote their 10k and 10 mile races. Usually there are around 60 runners (according to their website).

Post-run food options: Well I had some cake when I went there!

Anything else: The Ware Joggers are a super friendly bunch and it seems there will always be someone from that club at this run.

Cassiobury

Watford

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How to get there: I followed the directions on the course page and parked in the underground station car park (it takes cards- phew), although there seemed to be plenty of on-street parking nearby if you were willing to take the chance. If you were travelling from London, the underground would be an option (it’s a 5 min walk to the park from there).

Course: Two and a half laps of a section of the park- fairly flat (gently downhill then gently uphill on each lap but a fairly fast course really). All on paths so would be a good one for the winter time.

Amount of runners: It’s a busy one for around here- around 300 runners a week.

Post-run food options:There’s a cafe right by the finish area, although I was heading to breakfast at Mum’s so didn’t even sample a cup of tea.

Anything else: They had a nice cheer station when I was there (by the local club, Watford Joggers). It is very close to South Oxhey, which has tiny numbers of runners each week in comparison.

Castle Park

Bishop’s Stortford (close to Stansted airport)

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How to get there: I used the postcode (CM23 2BA) on their course page which took me directly to the town centre (pay and display) car park. The start was very close, although I hadn’t looked in advance. I walked through the Waitrose car park, crossed the road and then saw the park. It’s a central parkrun so using the train would be an option.

Course: Two very flat laps of parkland and playing fields (dodge the stray footballs). I imagine it would be very muddy in the winter.

Amount of runners: 250 per week

Post-run food options: You’re in the town centre so there are a lot of options. After Hatfield Forest we drove into Bishop’s Stortford and went to Bill’ for breakfast, and after I ran Castle Park I went to the Starbucks in the shopping centre, but there are plenty of options all within a few minutes walk.

Anything else: This is an unusual one, as it started up when Hatfield Forest  had to close. I think most of the event team transferred over. The team had a good sense of humour with some of the event signs.

Ellenbrook Fields

Hatfield

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How to get there: There is free parking in the University (make sure you use the post code and don’t end up in the wrong campus though)- the Sports Village backs onto the fields where the run is held. The train station in Hatfield isn’t that near (2 miles ish) so you could run it if you fancied a longer warm up/cool down.

Course: The route is very flat, across fields on the old airfield (even through a field of long-horned cattle), past woods and then finishing on the old taxi-way. You begin on the taxi-way a little way along, running a small loop that takes you back past the finish area, before going on a big loop around the fields, finishing on the taxi-way again.

Amount of runners:133 on average- it’s a fairly small one.

Post-run food options: There’s a coffee van that parks up in the finish area. There is also a Starbucks inside the Sports Village building but I’ve never found it (I’ve only been inside once though!). You are also a short walk from the “Outlet” shopping centre of the Galleria with Caffe Nero and Costa for quick things (plus pre-cinema places like Nandos).

Anything else: I may be biased but the OH ladies make the most encouraging marshals. We also have parkrun royalty in the form of Danny Norman’s mum and dad, who set up, marshal and tidy away pretty much every week without fail.  Although I don’t usually like laps, this one isn’t really (you only repeat the first part of the first loop a second time) and I do like running past the finish area as you get lots of cheers and smiles from the volunteers. Saving Private Ryan was filmed on the fields, and there is lots of wildlife (I’ve seen foxes, owls, red kites, woodpeckers and heard cuckoos…).

Gadebridge

Hemel

How to get there:I used the free car park mentioned on the course page, which was easy to find and you could pretty much see the start from the car park. It’s fairly central to Hemel, (a walk through the park takes you to the town centre) and about 1.5 miles from the station.

Course: Quite hilly! It’s pretty much two laps with a bit of out and back at the start, but you run under the road (an underpass), up along a ridgeline and back down.

Amount of runners: 133 on average

Post-run food options: A short walk through the park would take you into Hemel town centre where there are lots of cafes.

Anything else:

Heartwood Forest

St Albans/ Sandridge village

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How to get there: You can’t park in the Heartwood Forest car park, so you need to find somewhere in the village of Sandridge. There’s lots of street parking (I think I used St Leonard’s Crescent) but make sure you allow time to walk to the start from wherever you park.  If you live in St Albans you can easily run or cycle- it’s close to the Jersey Lane cycle path.

Course: Just under two undulating laps of lovely countryside.

Amount of runners: Hovers around the 100 per week mark.

Post-run food options: There are a few pubs and even a tearoom in Sandridge village.

Anything else: It’s a fairly new forest, so lots of the trees are still very small. It is filled with amazing wood carvings and is well worth a walk at another time.

Panshanger

Welwyn Garden City/Hertford

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How to get there: You can’t use the main car park (it starts in a car park) but there is plenty of street parking in the village of Hertingfordbury, or parallel to the main road into Hertford. Lots of people cycle and there are lovely cycle racks presented to the parkrun team on their second birthday. It’s close to Hertford town centre (1 mile ish) so you could come by train and then walk/jog to the start, and it’s close to the Cole Green Lane old railway (now a cycle/footpath).

Course: One beautiful lap of lovely parkland, woodland, fields, past lakes… it’s very very beautiful. It is undulating, but not a slow course (compared to Tring/ Gadebridge). Yes, it is a bit uphill at the start, but then it’s flat with long downhill sections before a teeny uphill finish. It does get congested at the start as it narrows immediately for the section through the woods.

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Amount of runners: 250 average, but they did get 364 on Christmas Day this year.

Post-run food options: There is a coffee van in the car park by the finish area.

Anything else: It’s really worth a visit- in the spring there are bluebells carpeting the woods and lambs in the field, in the summer the lakes twinkle in the sunlight and in autumn the  colours on the trees are stunning. It’s also one lap- my favourite type of course! The park is gradually being opened up more- there is a very old oak tree that you can walk to, and a bird spotting area.

Rickmansworth

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How to get there: I used the info on the course page and parked in the car park of the Rickmansworth Aquadrome – the car park is free.

Course: Two flat fast laps of the lakes. It did feel busy on the first lap as the paths are narrow in places.

Amount of runners: 200-300, although they had 501 on new year’s day!

Post-run food options: The on site cafe looked lovely but Mum was cooking for us so we didn’t hang around.

Anything else: Lots of bird spotting opportunities here- seems like a lovely place for a walk after. If you like this, you’ll like Aldenham (and probably place much higher too!).

South Oxhey

Watford

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How to get there: We followed the directions and parked in the pub car park (for free), right by the start area.

Course: It’s three laps of a big field (but with a sort of wooded area in the middle so you can’t see all the way to the end)- a bit uphill at the start of each lap and a lovely long downhill to finish. A bit of a hidden gem.

Amount of runners: Very small compared to the other Watford one (Cassiobury)- 45 per week on average

Post-run food options: A coffee van (when we visited, someone was doing her 50th and supplied slices of watermelon which was the most amazing post-parkrun snack for a warm day).

Anything else: This was so friendly- the RD greeted everyone and chatted to tourists and new runners- I think the smaller number of runners meant it felt like a real community.

St Albans

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How to get there: I always drive and park (pay and display starts at 9.30 so unless you are super speedy and can guarantee there won’t be a wait for scanning, you’ll need to buy a ticket). If you were local you could easily walk or cycle.

Course: Flat. Along a path to the far end of the lake, three laps of the lake, then back along the path to the finish. They do sometimes have an alternative course which is three laps of the playing fields (not flat).

Amount of runners: Busy. Regularly over 400, and as the paths around the lake are narrow in places it can feel very congested.

Post-run food options: The official place is the Inn on the park, but a short walk down the road you will find The Waffle House, which is possibly the best option. Or you can walk through the park (seeing as you have paid to park) into the town centre where there’s loads of coffee shops and restaurants.

Anything else: It was where I started parkrunning so I try to go back once a year (now usually when my car has a service as the garage is in St Albans).  They have a parkrun band (they played at the parkrun evening I went to) and are very funny at adapting songs to a parkrun theme (for example changing “It’s all about the bass” to “It’s all about the lake”.  Get there early if you want a parking space!

Stevenage

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How to get there: We drove and parked in the large (free) car park in the Fairlands park area.

Course: Two laps of the lake and parkland. Fairly flat, although you finish on a hill. In speaking to other people, if this is their only parkrun, they think it’s hilly- if they have been to other parkruns, they realise it’s fairly flat!

Amount of runners: 230 on average, but inching closer to 300

Post-run food options: There is a cafe in the park (but in a break from routine, we actually came back to mine for breakfast that day!).

Anything else: Stevenage has a bit of a bad rep as a town, so finding this huge park in the centre was a bit of a surprise.

Tring

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How to get there: The car park is a short walk from the start- apparently now it’s getting quite busy, but it’s close to the centre of Tring so you could park  elsewhere.

Course: One glorious lap with a big hill (partly hidden in the trees so you don’t realise how steep it is. You come very close to the finish at around the 4km point, but then veer away. When we visited it was very foggy, so we didn’t see the amazing views (or cows- they have a cow marshal apparently).

Amount of runners: 161 on average (but quite often well over 200)

Post-run food options: You could walk to the town centre- the official venue is a pub in the town centre, but there are lots of other options.

Anything else: This is top of our must revisit list, as it’s meant to be stunning when you can see across the countryside. It was tough, but a one lapper is always going to beat other ones anyway. They have a pb bell- they let me ring it on my first visit (as technically it was a course pb) but to ring it properly I shall have to go back and beat my time- easier said than done!

Westmill

Close to Ware at the Edge Outdoor Activity centre

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How to get there: I drive and use the first car park by the activity centre, but if you drive down the track there is a car park right by the finish area. Not sure if you could run or cycle there. Parking is free.

Course: Nearly two laps- you begin half way up a hill, run a lap of up and down, around a golf course, past some lakes and along the bottom of the valley, before running up, past the finish area and doing the same again. The uphill finish is a bit tough, but it is a really stunning location.

Amount of runners: 70 on average- it’s a diddy  one.

Post-run food options: They have a waffle house on site (but not the same as the St Albans one) so we are going to sample it when it’s warmer (as you sit outside).

Anything else: You sometimes see people on segways or going on the high rope course- you could make a day of it if you liked that sort of thing!

 

So, there you have it- the Herts parkrun venues. If you are ever visiting any, let me know (and feel free to ask any questions). I feel like I am so lucky to have so many brilliant parkruns so close to me. I tend to go between Ellenbrook and Panshanger, but I am sure I will be adding Westmill into the regular rotation.

Which parkrun do you like the sound of the most?  Why do you think there’s such a variation in numbers in relatively close events? Have you collected any parkrun “sets”?

P.S. Letchworth is coming soon (end of January) so I’ll add that in once I’ve visited… a parkrunners work is never done!

Snow, stollen and several mudbaths

I was very glad on Wednesday that it was a rest day for me, as I looked out of the window and saw more snow.

I had some work to do, so decided to get on with that as I had nothing planned. I did get super cold sat at my desk though (and a dreadful case of “mouse-hand” – which is what we call it when your right hand goes so cold from being so very still sitting on the mouse for hours on end), so after lunch I walked the long way to town- 5 miles in all. The pavements weren’t too bad but the wind was so cold.

I did get treated to another gorgeous sunset- the colours at the moment are so beautiful. As I got to town the sun was properly setting and loads of people were taking out their phones and snapping away.

I also got to see the giant projector that is on the old Shredded Wheat factory (they have finally started to demolish it)- the whole thing is huge and the projection shows various animations. It’s very clever as the spinning candy cane things were lined up with the columns of the building.

Once home in the warm I made some little Christmas pudding truffles- we had quite a bit left over, and I’d seen this recipe on the internet (a Nigella one I think)- basically mix up the crumbled pudding with some golden syrup, melted chocolate, and rum or something (I left that bit out), then decorate with melted white chocolate so they look like little puddings. I had some bags and tags left over from the fudge so I parcelled them up for my parents and my cousin.

On Thursday I went out for a run in the morning, but the pavements were so icy that I spent a lot of it walking. I had wrapped up well, and so I didn’t mind just spending the time getting fresh air and listening to podcasts. It was so pretty (I love seeing the different types of ice and the patterns made by it) but at some points huge puddles had frozen into smooth sheer ice- I couldn’t smash some of it when standing on it, so it was pretty thick and very slippery.

Then I went to see my cousin and his wife- they don’t live far away but we don’t meet up that much (and as they are both teachers you would think we’d manage to meet up more in the holidays)- my parents went over too so we had a walk to a local pub for some lunch. It was so nice because I had no need to look at the time at all. On my way home I stopped to get some wood for our fire, and then went to get my car washed (a job that’s been on my list since the summer holidays…), and then after dinner we went to see Star Wars. I’m not a childhood fan or anything, but I quite enjoyed it (and I do like the little puffin things).

On Friday I had another run- it wasn’t raining when I set off but by the time I was half way around the freezing sleety rain had started and it was not fun. Once home I got on with my favourite passtime- baking, and specifically, baking a stollen.

It is a bit of a lengthy project, because you have to activate the yeast, make the dough, soak the fruits, let the dough rise, add the fruits, let it rise again, roll it out, let it rise (lots of rising going on), but the results are so good. Anything with marzipan wins in my book, and it must be my Austrian heritage that explains my love of all their festive traditions (gingerbread). One for us, one for my parents and one for Andy’s parents.

On Saturday morning I was thinking of going to Panshanger parkrun, but Dad was time-keeping at Ellenbrook so I went there instead. I left a little late and on the short jog from the car park to the start, blasted by the freezing wind, I wasn’t feeling that inclined. I’d not been to Ellenbrook for a couple of weeks, and it was somewhat muddy! It’s a flat route, mainly through fields,  but the paths had been covered in huge puddles, and as it’s sort of sandy (silty?) underfoot anyway, it was just boggy. The wind was crazy- we were promised in the briefing that by the end it would be a tail wind and that we would most certainly have earned putting our feet up afterwards.  At one point it felt like I wasn’t moving as the wind was so strong, and at other times you’d aim for your foot to land somewhere, and the wind would whip it away and then your foot would end up in another puddle. By the end of the first little loop I’d managed to soak both feet by going into puddles up to my ankles. My poor (chilblain-prone) feet! M brother came along too, so we ran together for a bit which was good, but in the end we were concentrating too much on avoiding the biggest puddles to chat!

After finishing (30.49) I put my coat on and chatted to Dad for a bit. I had a stollen for him in the boot of my car, so I needed to wait. The final runner came in past the hour mark, and then we helped packing the table away and things, so I was pretty cold by the time I got back to the car.

I actually ended up cleaning my trainers later on, as I wanted them to be dry for Monday (new years day). So much mud came off them- I usually only clean the soles as they need the mud gone for grip, but ended up cleaning the tops too. We spent late afternoon at my parents watching football. On Sunday we headed to Milton Keynes. The original plan was to pop to Ikea (is that even possible) to get some shelves for our living room, pop to the shops (I wanted to get some new shoes and have a 50% discount for Sweatshop) and then have a walk around Willen Lakes. Well, even though we felt fairly quick, by the time we’d finished (and in fact the Sweatshop was not in either shopping centre but by the snowdome so that meant a bit more of a wander) it was nearly getting dark and as the lap of Willen lakes is about 3 miles we decided to head home and save it for another day.

I did get new shoes though- I used to love Mizuno’s so thought I’d give them another go as they didn’t have any of the Asics that I liked. I did try on some Boosts as lots of people in the running club rave about them, but the ones I tried had uppers so thin they felt all stretchy and weird. I’m not one for new years eve- we watched a film (Moana- my choice) and then I got grumpy when the fireworks outside seemed to carry on until gone 1am- don’t these people realise I’ll be off to parkrun in the morning?

New years day is the only day where parkrun hq let you run two events, and lots of events stagger their start times so that you can manage two. I’ve not done it before- last year we went out for breakfast instead as I was recovering from a bug, and the year before I ran one and my dad and brother ran the later one (but I think that was 10am at St Albans so I don’t think I would have made it there on time). I have run an unofficial double for the Ellenbrook test event- Dad and I ran Panshanger at 9am and then hot-footed it over to Hatfield for the 10am test event.

There was lots of activity on the parkrun tourist page, and of course it could be a good way of visiting two new events. I briefly considered this, but the nearest events that I’ve not done are not that local (or in London), I didn’t want to be twice as stressed about driving somewhere that I’ve not been to before, and at new events I quite like to hang around for a bit and take photos. I wanted to do the double properly, so decided that my two closest (and favourite) events would be the best bet. Panshanger started at 9am, so I parked away from the start (to give me an easier getaway). I met up with a few people from my club (who all accused me of being far too cheerful- maybe because I don’t drink?) and as we were all doing the double we’d agreed it would be a sociable run and no fuss about times. Panshanger has had permanent markers installed (see the pic above)so I took a few photos on the way around. It can be fairly muddy, but it wasn’t too bad- just one section through a field where you couldn’t really get much of a grip. I had packed spare socks but in the end I didn’t need to change.

Then it was off to Ellenbrook, which was starting at 10.30. By the time I got my chip scanned and walked back to my car (it’s half a mile from the start), it was 9.45, and it is a 15 min drive, so I  would not have made a 10am start, but the wait until 10.30 meant I did get cold. I’d taken my coat so I put that on and walked around to the start- Dad was there (giving out tokens) and he said that he could tell all the people who’d run already with the mud up their legs. It was nothing compared to what was to come!

There was someone dressed as a stag to launch something about the Herts year of sports- the person actually ran the whole thing in the costume which was crazy! More rain since Saturday meant that the puddles were even bigger- we were told in the brieding that it would be the muddiest parkrun of the double, and that was certainly correct. I had mud splattered all up the front of my top as well as a total coating on my legs. After one foot ended up in a puddle it seemed pointless to try and avoid them any more. It was good fun though- the group of us that had run at Panshanger stayed together for Ellenbrook too- reaching the taxi-way for the final km felt so strange to be running on a hard surface.

I thought Ellenbrook would be busier (I knew some people only coming out for the later one) but in fact there were 303 at Panshanger and only 194 at Ellenbrook. I think some people went to a different second one ( St Albans was also on at 10.30). Anyway, it was fun, but I was really tired after. I think having the gap between them made it much worse as I got quite cold in the middle, and of course neither route was easy due to the mud. Also, as I finished running at about 11am, I then had to get my chip scanned and walk back to the car, so I got home at about 11.45- too late for breakfast!

I’m glad I did it anyway- it was a fun way to start the year and of course a couple more towards the next milestone. Panshanger time- 32.58 and Ellenbrook 30.36, for parkrun numbers 132 and 133.

Clockwise from top right- shoes and socks after the double, after Ellenbrook, after Panshanger, one clean and one dirty shoe mid-clean! At least they have a week to dry out before the next parkrun!

After a bit of brunch (I had a shower, then sat on the sofa under a blanket trying to warm up) we went to the cinema to see Molly’s Game, which I thought was very interesting and well-done (if a little tiring to watch- they speak to fast! However, when I needed to stand at the end my legs were so stiff- bad move!

Did you manage a parkrun (or double) this year? Do you like visiting new parkruns? Have you seen any good films recently?  Are you a fan of stollen?