Upton Court parkrun!

One more letter ticked off!

By the  end of the week I was feeling pretty tired (my phone alarm woke me up on Friday which pretty much never happens- the radio in the other room goes off a few minutes earlier and I usually hear that), but then this is our last weekend for a while where we don’t have much on, so in the back of my mind I’d pencilled in some parkrun tourism. My dad was away and my brother wasn’t well, so it would just be me, so I decided to see how I felt on Saturday morning. I was up bright and early before my weekend alarm, and so decided to head to Upton Court (which I confuse all the time with Upton Park) for the parkrun, to get another letter ticked off.

It’s close to Slough, so it means heading around the M25- fairly quiet first thing on a Saturday but a bit of a nightmare once heading home (and I tell myself that driving on the M25 anyway is good for me because I am not a fan of motorway driving but it gets me more used to it). Ah well, the things we do for these challenges.

I left at around 7.45am and arrived in the car park at about 8.40 (which is free to use- the postcode was telling me to turn a little further up the road to where I think was the exit to the car park, so very easy to find). I ended up chatting to a guy who parked next to me (he was wearing a 100 top so I knew he was there for parkrun)- thankfully he showed me the way as it was a bit of a walk. I’d made my usual mistake of looking at where the parking was but not where that was in relation to the start, plus when I parked there were cones and things set out which turned out to be some sort of fitness thing and nothing to do with parkrun…

On the walk we chatted about various parkruns that we had both done- he’s done around 30 different ones but hadn’t heard of the alphabet challenge when I mentioned it. I think at first he thought it was a bit strange (maybe it is?) but then he started listing them- it seemed like he had a fair few letters.

Anyway, the parking was only around 1km from the start and once we had gone through the gates from the car park I could see lots of runners heading in the same general direction, and then the finish funnel etc. Just as I got there, they called out for the new runners briefing. Again, I had not even read the course description! I turned out to be a two lapped course, with the first lap containing a little extra bit (by the conker tree I think the guy said). They asked where we were from and the guy next to me said “Ellenbrook Fields” so I replied “me too”- what a coincidence. When he asked me why I was here and I said “getting my U” he said “me too”- at least he understood my madness! He had around 5 letters left- very impressive.

The main run briefing then took place and it was very hard to hear as big planes kept flying over (it’s near to Heathrow) but I could just about make out the volunteer thanks and a milestone mention. They asked to find the tourist who had come the furthest- the lady from Cape Town won that one hands down!

Then we were off. The start was up a gentle hill (basically the field was on a small slope)- it wasn’t much but suddenly the sun came out and I was boiling. It seemed there were lots of fast runners there too as it felt fast for me (I didn’t look at my watch while I was running, but when I looked on Strava after I had an impressive positive split of 8:46, 8:48 and 9:05- whoops) and I struggled with my breathing for some reason.

Anyway, the route was really enjoyable. They had permanent km markers on the way around, a few marshals out on the course, and the route was varied enough. It went around a field, across the top (near to where I had parked) then around a wooded area to make the first lap longer. There were lots of lines of trees to run past, so you couldn’t see the rest of the course. At around 3km I passed through the finish area before starting my second lap, and I think they were just getting ready for the first runner to come in- incredible as I think it was around 15 mins)- I like this element of lapped courses as you get a little mid-run cheer from the token people.

The second lap seemed to fly by (although I was finding it tough and all I could think about was my t-shirt and how hot my arms were).

I finished with position 85, with 27:35, so a fairly speedy time. If only I had paced myself better I am sure I could have been faster- it seems like a fairly fast course.

The scanning took place in the little rugby clubhouse- I saw a few people with bacon rolls and things, but annoyingly I’d left my purse in the car so couldn’t buy a cup of tea or anything.  It seemed like you could leave bags etc inside too which would be handy in the winter if you wanted to leave a jumper or something. I made use of the toilets (including washing my face because I had also forgotten face wipes) before walking back to the car as a cool down. I’d brought some water and a blueberry nakd bar with me so I had something to eat before tackling the drive home (where I managed to get a bit lost by thinking I knew better than the satnav…).

I really enjoyed this course- I think in the winter it would be tough as most of it was on grass so it would get very boggy, but it was a really friendly event.

Now the letters left for me: D, I, J, K, Q, V (and I suppose Z if I count international ones). I have loose plans for Queen Elizabeth Country parkrun (I did try to do that before but ended up at Portsmouth Lakeside), and possibly Victoria Docks when we are in London in July, but I am not sure about the other letters. Any suggestions? Do you mind driving to new places? I’m much better with a satnav now, but I still prefer to be able to picture most of the route before I leave as otherwise I can get a bit flustered if I get lost.

A catch up and happy birthday NHS!

How is the weekend over already?

Last weekend was full of unpacking, weeding, a little visit to the garden centre and a 10 mile run (my first in double figures for a while). This peach cobbler tea is delicious (in my new mug).

I’ve been having success with the viridian sports mix- I have been adding it to either coconut water or iced tea (this was lemonade iced tea) and so far I’ve not had a headache when using it.

I saw this Hazelnut milk in the shops and could not resist- it is pretty amazing and although it’s been way too warm for it this week, would make a delicious hot chocolate.

This week looked like this:

Monday- 10 mile run, plus a walk into town later on

Tuesday- 3 mile run (I was feeling pretty shattered so just took it slowly)

Wednesday- yoga including a bit of time outside on the grass attempting handstands- it was the closest I have got and my shoulders were really achy the next day from it.

Thursday- 3 miles in the morning (I was on a course so made the most of needing to leave a little later)

Friday- home to find that Andy had bought these little peanut butter caramel things from M&S- so a couple plus a cup of tea made the perfect start to the weekend. We had a nice walk after dinner once it wasn’t quite as warm.

Saturday was parkrun celebrating 70 years of the NHS. I was going to go to Panshanger as I’ve not been there for a while, and then early on Saturday morning I got a message saying we’d be out on Sunday morning, so I decided to run there and back on Saturday (parkrun sandwich) to get my long run in then.

The run there is just over 4 miles, and I always panic about missing the start, although I got there at about 8.50 so good timing really. There was bunting up all over the car park entrance, by the finish funnel and where the scanners stand. It was brilliant to read so many of the amazing achievements- vaccines/ transplants/ screenings (although how was it that in 1954 the link between smoking and cancer was discovered, and smoking wasn’t banned in public places until 2007???). Before the start they asked everyone who worked for the NHS to come up so we could give them a clap, and a local nurse (who I think they said was an MBE) did a little speech. A few people had paper on their backs saying things like “thank you NHS for saving my life” and listing various illnesses.  It was brilliant to hear that some GP’s in Hertfordshire are exploring prescribing parkrun to people- I really think that being involved in a community like this is way better for your mental health than your physical health, and just getting people outside for some fresh air is so beneficial.

Then we were off. I was in no hurry, knowing I had to run the 4 miles home, and just really enjoyed the scenery. I saw someone from my running club but she was ahead of me and I didn’t catch her up.

I finished with 30:30, and made sure that as soon as I was scanned I started running home so I would not get too stiff.

I saw this pretty plant on the way back- lovely red leaves and layers of pink flowers- I need to work out how to search google for it.

Did your parkrun celebrate the NHS?

Why York parkrun? Yes

I was rather happy that we stayed in York for the final night of our trip to Scotland, because this meant not only more parkrun tourism, but ticking off a rather tricky letter. I think the only other one is Yeovil?

After leaving Newcastle, we drove down to York, stopping off at a NT place for a walk around the gardens. As a side point we found it good to break up the journeys with stops this time, as our default setting is to power through and then feel all stiff when we finally get out of the car. We managed good amounts of steps each day, with a high of 27,000 steps on the Thursday and a low of 13,000 on the first Saturday.

I was very pleased to see amazing looking scones, so I treated myself to a cream tea as a sort of late lunch- it was so good.

Once in York we had a wander around- it was jam packed with people, and such a hot and sunny day. We went for dinner in Source, which had loads of veggie and vegan options, I was spoilt for choice. We shared a lime-grilled avocado to begin with. I’ve not had warm avocado before (I don’t think) but it was really tasty. It was served with a little bit of crusty bread, so it was a bit like warm guacamole or something. Very creamy and delicious.

On a rather damp and drizzly morning, I set off to the parkrun on the Saturday morning. It was around 1.7 miles from the hotel, so good distance for a warm up. I’d much rather run than have to navigate bus timetables and that sort of thing, and although I needed my phone out at first (the roads in York are a bit twisty) once I was on the main road heading out of the town, it was all fine. York parkrun is held on the racecourse, so there were signs once I got close which helped too.

The website does say to allow time to get from the road to the start, and it ended up being a kilometre, so you do need to be aware of this. Confusingly there were signs for a cycle event (cue a slight bit of panic in case all the lycra people were cyclists) but then I saw a couple of milestone t’s so I knew I was OK.

By then it had started to rain a bit harder, and there is really no shelter here at all either. Everyone was trekking along the edge of the track to the start, and of course as soon as I stopped running my glasses steamed up more.

The new runners briefing was very welcoming, and they had a few pacers including a run/walk pacer who came and introduced herself in case anyone wanted to go with her.

Now, I had read it was pretty much pancake flat, so thought it might be good for a pb, or at least a fast time, but I wasn’t feeling it, so in the end I decided to aim for the 28 min pacer. The route starts at one side of the race track, you do a full lap (3 k approx) and then a final 2/3 of a loop (around 2km) to the finish. I must admit that if I ran here each week I would find it mentally very tough. It started off feeling a bit interesting to be running next to the race track – we were inside the fence on a path, with the track going around the outside (although my thoughts wandered over to the morbid side of horse racing, wondering how many poor horses had been shot on the course), but you could see the whole route the entire time. It was amazing how quickly the front runners steamed ahead of everyone else, and although I managed to get to the finish on my first lap without being lapped I don’t think I’d need to be much slower to be overtaken (this doesn’t bother me but just makes it more congested and surely more confusing for the volunteers).

The scenery around the outside changed a little bit- there was a lovely wooded area to one side and you passed the grandstand near the finish area. But it was pretty much the same view all the time. I am not a huge fan of long straight roads as I just feel like I am not moving. The finish at Ellenbrook Fields is along the old taxiway and it’s a km from start to finish,  and that can feel like a slog. I must admit when I got to the 3km point I wasn’t enthused about running 2 more with the same views. I do think it would be tough on a sunny day too, as there was little shade on the course.

There were however some lovely cheerful marshals out on the course, and a few runners milling around the finish area cheering people in. The pacers did a great job too- I started further back and so took a while to catch up the 29 min pacer, only getting the 28 min pacer in sight near the end.

I finished in 28:07 in the end, so not too far from my aim, and although I didn’t look at my watch I managed nice negative splits of 9:10, 9:03, 8:59 and 7:56 for the bit. (Position 279/474)

I tried to take a pondering selfie for the “Y/Why” question…

Then it was time to head back- the rain that had eased off during the parkrun was back so by the time I got back to the hotel I was totally drenched- the hot shower afterwards felt so good (or could I have saved time by just putting the shampoo on my hair while I was running?).

We headed to The Cosy Club for breakfast- lovely pancakes with bananas, berries and creme fraiche, plus a pot of tea, and then it was time to drive home- in keeping with tradition we of course stopped off at a final NT place for a walk around some woods and gardens.

Are you a fan of parkrun tourism? Are you hunting any particular letters or doing other challenges? I quite like the pirates challenge (7 c’s and one r) but I’ve done all the local C’s already. I enjoyed my Herts challenge too (running all the parkruns in Hertfordshire) so I feel like maybe a new county would be good to consider.  I still mainly aim to be a tourist if I happen to be away somewhere, although the closer I get to finishing the alphabet, the more likely I am to become more serious about it!

Sunny Scotland!

For half term we headed up to Scotland for a bit of a whistle-stop tour. We could not have been any luckier with the weather. My theory is that if you go to Scotland (or the Lake District, or pretty much anywhere north of where we live) then if you get rain, then that’s what you expected, and anything better is a bonus. After work on Friday we had dinner, packed up the car and headed up north.

Andy had diligently researched hotels close to parkruns – originally we were going to stay in Leeds on the Friday night so I could go to Temple Newsam, but our route in Scotland changed so we stayed in Warrington. A few weeks ago they announced on their facebook page that the event wouldn’t go ahead on Saturday due to a community event taking part in the park- annoying, but I was glad I knew in advance. It meant we set off fairly early the next morning. We stopped in Sizergh castle (a NT place) to stretch our legs and of course sample some cake- we shared a piece of sticky toffee cake (a local speciality apparently) and it was so good although I think if you had a piece to yourself the sugar crash would be epic.

I enjoyed watching the goslings, and we had a good wander around the grounds before heading to Glasgow.

All the sunshine!

It was such gorgeous weather, and so after dropping off our bags we walked through the town centre out to one of the parks (Glasgow Green) and along by the river. I was also very excited to find that the Hotel Chocolat had a cafe, so we had to share a hazelnut hot chocolate.

On the Sunday morning I went on a run, to the same park,enjoying the somewhat quieter streets.

After breakfast we walked along the river in the opposite direction to where we went on Saturday, then drove to the botanical gardens for a walk and picnic lunch. The park was rammed!

Then it was time to head off to Loch Lomond- another place crowded with people out enjoying the spectacular sunshine.

We walked along the lake for a bit, and then also through a loop in some woodland.

Our hotel was on the shore of the loch with more amazing views. It was light until so late in the evening too.

On Monday we had a longer drive to Inverness. We broke it up by stopping in Aviemore for lunch- we’d been to the amazing Mountain Cafe last year (possibly the same day) so we were keen to go there again. I had a delicious falafel and hummus sandwich, but the slices of bread were about a thick as two normal pieces of bread- we didn’t need dinner that day!

We did however have room to share a piece of caramel shortbread- it had the thickest caramel ever- so good.

One of my friends lives in Inverness, so I had asked her for recomendations- she told us about the Ness Island Walks, basically paths linked by bridges going over the river, up to the town. Again, beautiful weather and such a fantastic place for an evening walk.

On Tuesday we had arranged to meet up with my friend and her two little children. We went to middle school together, and by a weird coincidence moved up to Scotland the same week that my family moved to St Albans. Despite only knowing each other for three and a half years, we kept in touch and often used to visit each other in the holidays, although as we have got older it has become harder to meet up. We had arranged to meet in Nairn (apparently the Brighton of the north) but the sea mist (I forget the Scottish word for it) had rolled in, so after a walk up and down the prom, we headed to Logie Steading, a farm with a cafe, shops and art gallery in the old stables, next to a river with lots of marked footpaths, where we had lunch in the cafe, a long walk by the river to the canyon, and then back to the cafe for ice cream. It was so lovely to catch up- of course we are in touch via social media and all of that, but in person it is different.

From there we drove to Aberdeen, although we didn’t end up seeing much of the town. We parked in the centre and went for dinner, but our hotel was on the outskirts and as we were headed to Edinburgh the next day, we didn’t go back into the centre in the morning.

In Edinburgh we visited the botanical gardens before heading to the centre. It was a bit overcast that day, but still warm.

As it was rather overcast, of course we went to the Hotel Chocolat cafe, this time for a mint one (we shared a large each time but I am very sure that the Edinburgh large was bigger than the Glasgow large).

On Wednesday morning I had a run in Edinburgh- stupidly I was remembering my run in Glasgow, thinking I’d be out before it got busy, but of course forgetting it was a work day. The run had a lot of stop-starts as I had to wait to cross roads, but I still managed to do around 4 miles looping around the city centre. It was so misty that morning that I could hardly see the castle, although it did clear during the morning.

Then it was time for my favourite- breakfast (well, brunch really by the time I’d had a shower, we’d checked out and left our bags in the car and walked there..) at Loudon’s.

I love French toast, and so of course had to have it- I went for banana, salted caramel and toasted coconut. They do special blends of tea too, so I had one with black tea, cocoa nibs and coconut, which was delicious.

After a final walk around the park, it was time to head south and leave Scotland behind. We stopped off in Alnwick for a bit of a walk, and then drove to Newscastle for our penultimate stop.

The blue skies were out in force, and it was enjoyable to wander around by the river, remembering when we were last here (for the Great North Run).

I’ll save our final stop for another blog post as it involved some parkrun tourism.

Have you ever been to Scotland? I suppose having a friend living there meant I had a reason to visit, but I have been a fair few times. It always surprises me when people haven’t been when it’s so close (and easy with options for going by plane, rail, even bus).