Zuiderpark parkrun- my parkrun alphabet is complete!

Ah, this has been such a long time in the making!


Fast forward over 2 years and I finally got to run there!

The Queen’s Jubilee meant that we had an extra day off work on the Friday before half term, and the day before was a training day, meaning we could book a Thursday night Eurostar and then have all day Friday to be in The Hague, minimising the chance of me getting lost. (And of course also sightsee).

The journey was good although there were very long queues at the Eurostar check  in- at least unlike flying you know they are not going to let you get stuck in security. The train went to Amsterdam but we had booked to Rotterdam, and then it was around a 20 min train journey to The Hague, all very easy (apart from the ticket machines being outside of the barriers of the station in Rotterdam). Our hotel was right by the station which helped.

I will do a separate post on the trip, but I absolutely loved The Hague and am so glad that I went. Without the pull of the parkrun alphabet, I would probably have never been there, but I am so glad I did because it was a wonderful city- so pretty with canals and parks, but also by the sea with a huge sandy beach. Honestly, even if you don’t care about parkruns or alphabets, have a look at it.

The huge copper building in the centre of the park is amazing! Plus makes it easy to find the start. I loved the Dutch signs.

Zuiderpark parkrun is a few km from the station, and there was a tram (9) that went straight there. After my disaster in Dublin it was just sensible to get the tram there. I couldn’t quite work out the times, but they were pretty regular (every 10/15 mins), with pay stations on board to get your ticket. I had only packed a t-shirt, no long sleeved tops, but it was pretty fresh at 8am and so I took my rain jacket with me for an extra layer, and standing by the station in the wind I was pretty glad of it.

I got on the tram and tried to buy a ticket, but it said “no tickets available, no card purchase available, no cash accepted”- a woman approached me and asked if I was going to parkrun- she was too. I showed her my tram ticket from the previous day (bought on board) but neither of us could get the machine to work. We had to hope that if a ticket inspector got on the tram we could explain why we didn’t have tickets for that day. We had a lovely chat on the way- she was based in Brussels and had been doing lots of European parkrun tourism (that morning she’d got a bus at something like 4am to get over here)- it turned out we had been to lots of similar parkruns in the UK too.

The trams were easy to navigate as they all had electronic screens announcing the next station, so it wasn’t long before we arrived in the park and started looking for the start. I’d seen the big copper building on their course page, so knew to head to that. Of course we met more tourists walking through the park, and it didn’t take long to see the sign directing people to the start (if you walk the circumference of the building you will find it).

Photo op by the big sunglasses!

The run briefing was completed in English first, and then in Dutch, and of course there were plenty of tourists. We were warned to watch out for bikes and with perfect timing a bike sped past. Some people had emailed in about them completing the alphabet, other people were doing their 100th- it felt as if everyone was celebrating something. I took a few photo by the huge sunglasses, and some of the signs in Dutch (making the most of a new parkrun country too), and decided to tie my rain coat around my waist as I knew I would get warm running. I particularly liked the “Let op:renners” sign which means “watch out riders”- I think warning cyclist of runners?

Then we walked to the start and we were off! It is a fast course- two flat laps around the park. Lots to see on the way around, and a few marshals at key points who were all very enthusiastic. I had a total mental blank over what thank -you was in Dutch, but they all seemed to be speaking in a combination of English and Dutch anyway.

My pace was fairly quick (and a lovely royal flush negative split too)- 8:55, 8:46, 8:44 and 8:30 for the finish. But it was pancake flat with nice wide paths and not many runners so no congestion at all. I didn’t want to rush through and not enjoy the experience, I was so happy to be there after the 2 year wait.

There were 85 runners and I had token 50. I took a few more photos at the finish but didn’t want to keep Andy waiting too long (and we had a train to Rotterdam later in the morning) so I jogged the 1/2 mile back to the tram stop and got one a few minutes after arriving. Perfect.

Starbucks from the station to warm up after too!

So there we have it, the parkrun alphabet has now been completed. I am so glad that I chose this one as my Z, as it was a great place to visit and I am sure we will now go back at some point.

I do love seeing the new badge appear on the chrome extension (third from the left on the top row) and of course a new country flag, although sadly since Crissy Fields stopped I’ve lost my USA flag. I shall have to remedy that soon, as more parkrun tourism calls of course …

Have you visited anywhere that surprised you? Where has parkrun taken you to?

Completing the UK parkrun alphabet

In March 2018 I started looking at completing the parkrun alphabet. Back then I had been to 38 different events and so had filled in lots of the letters without trying. However I still needed D, I, J, K, N, O, Q, U, V, Y and Z. Quite a few!

I could tick off a few fairly easily- I drove to Oak Hill one Saturday, Northala Fields a few weeks later, and managed to go to York parkrun as we stopped there on a journey back from Scotland. A few weeks after that I drove to Upton Court, and then we had a weekend in London (seeing The Muppets Take on the O2) and originally I was going to do Victoria Dock, but it was cancelled, so I went to Valentine’s. Ticking those letters off nicely.

Bruce Li was at Northala Fields taking photos when I visited, so here I am just finishing and getting my phone out to take a picture!

We often head to Bath Christmas markets and I would do a parkrun on the way, so my D was at Dinton Pastures in November 2018, and then a few weeks later Jersey Farm parkrun started less than a mile from my parents home, so I had the first of many visits for my J.  A trip to Southampton in April 2019 meant I could head off and run at Queen Elizabeth, and later a weekend in Kent in May 2019 meant I could visit Kingdom (and meet Danny Norman from With Me Now as he happened to be there at the same time).

So most letters ticked off after just over a year of trying to find ways to incorporate the tourism into weekends away or touring slightly further from home (I feel like a hour drive from home is the most I’ll go realistically unless it’s for a super special occasion). Kingdom was my 62nd parkrun location so I had done lots of other touring too, and the alphabet was ticking along nicely when I got the opportunity to visit another letter.

All I had left at this point was I and Z.

Pointing at the I as my UK parkrun alphabet was completed with that letter!

There were not that many I’s, and none near at all, but then Irchester Country parkrun started. It looked wonderful too (one lap, woods) and I managed to persuade my dad to come along. It was the final parkrun before the pandemic pause, and it did have a bit of a strange feel with people keeping their distance a bit more. However I loved the route and would happily go back. Despite the strange feeling that parkrun was going to stop for a few weeks (how little we knew) I was happy to complete my UK parkrun alphabet. I had seen that Zuiderpark parkrun had just started as The Netherlands had opened as a new parkrun country, and was hoping to get the Eurostar over there during the Easter 2020 break. Of course, the world had other plans….

Are you trying to complete the parkrun alphabet? Or have you finished it? Do you like this sort of challenge?

parkruns in May- Jersey Farm, Panshanger, before my alphabet is complete

I am not sure what has happened to the year but somehow we are half way through. Weekends are suddenly much busier (and not just with parkruns to go to- can you believe that this time last year they weren’t back yet?), particularly with a slew of previously cancelled in 2020 things that have been rearranged and are finally on. I don’t know how I used to cope with busy weekends because at the moment I am behind with everything.

So, rewind back to May.

Vegan chocolate coconut croissant brought back from Brighton- the best! Garden life and parkrun scenes.

After our fab weekend to Brighton for my birthday, I was back at Jersey Farm with my dad the following weekend. They were on their summer course which is two slightly different laps- an outer and inner lap.

Two lots of tokens for two different weekends plus me running with Dad (he’s in the blue next to me)- having a chat as we run as usual!

I think it seems harder as you can see further up the hill beyond you on the meadow part, whereas the winter course is along narrow bridle paths so you can’t see how much further you have to go. Anyway, it’s so pretty, as they let the grass grow long in the meadows, and you get two different sets of views.

While it isn’t Ellenbrook Fields and never will be, we often see people we know there now (usually from OH ladies) so it does feel more like a community event as we get to see more familiar faces- we know a few of the regular marshals too and often will wait around for a bit and cheer in other people that we know.

One weekend my dad was away, so I did the parkrun sandwich by running to and from Panshanger.

Sunday mornings have been filled with runs of various lengths- I quite like 10 miles but sometimes they are shorter if I either get up late (it’s the one day I don’t usually set an alarm) or if I have somewhere to be. I have started going on the 20/20 route again and one weekend did 11 miles (most of it on that loop)- I had forgotten how hilly it was though, so not for any sort of speedy run. I would quite like to do the whole thing again (just over 13 miles) so I will look at doing that at some point this summer.

Mildred’s pancakes, the lake on my run at Stanborough, iced chai and the blue skies of London.

One Sunday rather excitingly I was heading into London to meet with a couple of my friends. We often meet for afternoon tea but had not managed to catch up since last summer/autumn. We had booked to go to Mildred’s as we had aimed to go there once before but it was closed due to a leak or something. It used to be a veggie restaurant but is now 100% vegan which means lots of options for me, hoorah! (Happily my two friends are very happy to go somewhere like this even though they are not vegan). As the trains weren’t that regular I had some time before our table and so walked up to the Bird and Blend store in Angel (the Mildred’s we went to was at Kings Cross). They had launched their tea wall and Butter Brew, previously a limited edition, was now a permanent fixture. I had taken along an empty tin (you get 10% off if you bring a tin to refill) and of course had to get an iced chai because they are just the best.

When we got to Mildred’s they served brunch until 3pm, so I opted for pancakes (you know how much I love pancakes)- my friends ordered a main and then pudding but I was happy with mine- banana and butterscotch which was really delicious, plus carrot and ginger juice. It was so good to catch up, although the train home was not so good as it turned out Arsenal had been playing so the train was full of lots of sweaty football fans- I was glad of my mask!

We also had a night out in May- how exciting! Andy had booked a surprise for my birthday, and had just told me we would have dinner at home and then head off. We ended up driving to Stevenage, to a theatre I didn’t know existed, for “An evening with Mortimer and Whitehouse”. It was wonderful- so funny and uplifting. We didn’t get to see Athletico Mince (Bob Mortimer’s comedy podcast) as we had tickets for March 2020 but rather than reschedule they just cancelled, so this was a sort of replacement and brilliant.

How is this year going for you?

Brighton Hove Prom ppppb! And a fab weekend too.

The early May Bank holiday usually ends up being my birthday weekend too, and after being home from Ireland for a couple of weeks, of course we felt the need to make the most of the long weekend and head somewhere.

We got the train to Brighton on Friday evening, and came home on the Sunday.

On Saturday morning I headed to Hove Prom. Our hotel was slightly closer to here than to Preston Park, and I think I did Preston Park more recently. It turned out very lucky as I saw that Preston Park had to cancel with 5 minutes noticed due to a festival in the park being unaware of parkrun taking place each week.

I ran down to the start for a nice warm up- it was breezy but warm so I left my top in one of the boxes by the beach huts. When listening to the main briefing, they pointed out pacers for 27 and 30 minutes. Since the pause I have not managed to get a time under 28 minutes, so thought I would have a go at that. I don’t often run for time, and usually if I am in Brighton I’d have a race the next day so would be parkrunning sensibly. But I thought if I could keep in between the 30 and 27 minute pacer then I could stand a chance of finishing in under 28 mins.

I kept the 27 min pacer in sight but I was a bit behind her. At the half way point you pass the start/finish area again, and on this occasion the timer was calling out times- I heard 13:42 so spent a bit of time calculating that if I maintained my pace I would be under 28 mins- excellent!

As we reached the final turnaround point, the pacer slowed and gave us some encouragement, saying “try to keep up”- I called to her that I was trying my best, and a guy in front also joined in. I was amazed that I was keeping pace, and for the final section just counted up to 100 over and over again to try and keep my breathing in time with my steps. The pacer slowed as she got close to the  line and cheered us in. I stopped my watch soon after getting into the funnel and was on just over 27 minutes- I was amazed by that and so had a brief chat with her and the guy in front- I was so thankful for her for running such a steady pace and for being so encouraging. When the text message came in, I had gone even better and got sub 27- a 26:59! I’ve only managed a time beginning with 26 on 7 other occasions! This was also a course pb so deserved extra celebrations! And of course it was a post parkrun pause pb too! All the p’s!

Now that Ellenbrook Fields is gone, my local runs are not flat- either Panshanger or Jersey Farm- so I would not stand much chance of getting a similar time, and really I am usually happy to go around at an enjoyable pace and chat or enjoy the scenery. But it was nice to know that a couple of days before being a year older I could still do a fast (for me) time.

Acai bowl, pancakes, iced tea and delicious roasted almond butter chocolate

During the weekend of course we had some great food. Wolfox Café is becoming one of our favourite breakfast spots, with plant based pancakes or French toast (one branch is all vegan, but the other one has “onmi” food too), so I met Andy there after parkrun.

Of course we went to Bird and Blend- it was so warm I had an iced strawberry lemonade for a walk along the seafront to Hove. In the evening we got Purezza pizza which is just always delicious, and as it was so light we even had a walk after dinner along the seafront too.

The Sunday was a bit more overcast. I opted for an acai bowl for breakfast before another walk. We often have lunch at Leon when we are down there, as their Love burgers are so good, but I’d read lots of good things about the Vurger Co, so we tried something new. It was really tasty (loads of pickles- always the best bit) and I loved that you could get half and half fries (half regular and half sweet potato) but it was sooo messy! I am sure half of the filling ended up in the tray!

Time for a final Bird and Blend visit for a chai latte to take on the train to head home. A pretty perfect couple of days.

Do you have places that you like to visit often? Do you aim for specific times in races or at parkrun or are you happy to enjoy the experience in other ways? Do your local events often have pacers?

Ireland trip

In brief, our Ireland itinerary was as follows:

Friday night- fly to Dublin

Stay in Dublin until the Monday

Monday- collect the hire care and drive to Kilkenny.

Tuesday – drive to Waterford

Wednesday drive to Killarney, where we stayed until Sunday

Sunday- to Clare

Monday- to Galway for 2 nights

Wednesday to Westport

Thursday to Derry

Friday to Belfast (via Giant’s Causeway)

Saturday drive from Belfast to Dublin to fly home

First up, Ireland is absolutely beautiful. I’d never been (not even a weekend trip to Dublin which seems crazy given how close it is) and of course knew it as the Emerald Isle but there was gorgeous stunning scenery at every turn. We expected rain so were pleasantly surprised with lots of blue skies, and only one day of rain in the whole two weeks.

Loved spotting the green postboxes of course

I took my running bits with me, as I was aiming (and managed) to visit 3 parkruns, but I did a few other runs here and there, particularly in Killarney as we were there for a few days and it had easy running routes close by.

So, for a little more detail, read on…

Poolbeg parkrun

Dublin was wonderful and I would head back again in a heartbeat. After my parkrun near-disaster at Poolbeg, the rest of the time was spent walking around the city, going to the big library there to see the Book of Kells and the amazing collection of books, walking by the river, going to the Guinness factory, walking in the parks and enjoying lots of food (they have a Leon there, and one night we treated ourselves to a Wagamama in the restaurant rather than a takeaway). Through the excellent Happy Cow app (amazing for finding veggie and vegan places when travelling) we found The Rolling Doughnut who made amazing vegan doughnuts, and a few places that did delicious acai bowls so breakfast and snacks were sorted too! I even found a café that did a London Fog (usually only find them in Canada) so I was very happy!

On our drive from Dublin to Kilkenny (South Park anyone? Or just me?) we stopped at a big house and gardens for a walk around, and also stopped at Ireland’s tallest waterfall which was very impressive, green and lush.

Kilkenny itself was a pretty town with a castle (there were castles pretty much everywhere in Ireland) and a park- the map to the park had the parkrun start and route on there which I was super impressed with. We were not there on a Saturday but enjoyed a walk around the park in the morning before we had to leave.

On our drive to Waterford we stopped at another castle to have a look around, and then Waterford itself was very interesting as it had a history of Viking invasions.

On our drive to Killarney we stopped off in Cork to break up the journey and stretch our legs. The traffic was a nightmare as the road we needed to the car park turned out to be closed, but once we found somewhere to park and had a wander the iced chai we found made up for it.

Up until this point we’d stayed in hotels, but we had booked an Air BnB for the next few nights so we could relax a bit more. I discovered some nice running routes (the artwork above was all along the wall of an alleyway), we drove around the Ring of Kerry for some stunning views including white sandy beaches, and one day we hired bikes and cycled into the national park (as cars aren’t allowed on the roads there).

Chai latte, sunset views from our Air BnB, riding the bike through the national park

The Star Wars island in my selfie- can you see a porg?

After parkrun on Saturday we walked 2 miles up a mountain to see the most stunning views across the lakes and national park. I absolutely loved it there. We watched Death on the Nile in the evening as we needed to chill out and rest our legs after all that walking.

Up the mountain and very happy

On our drive to Clare we stopped off in Limerick to get some lunch, and then headed to the cliffs, which were phenomenally windy- I was worried my phone would blow away if I took a photo!

Awesome cinnamon rolls from a vegan deli which sadly has now closed, plus vegan pancakes from the Lighthouse Café 

Galway was a really lively place to stay for a couple of days, and perfect for vegans as there were loads of little independent places. I think I visited the Lighthouse Café each day, for cake, for a chai latte, for brunch and even for a sandwich to take with us on our journey the day we left. One of the days was when it rained most of the day- we had a walk by the coast which was lovely, and even saw a dolphin out in the harbour, and it was only drizzly rain so not too bad.

The drive from Galway to Westport was like driving through the Scottish highlands- beautiful lochs and heather covered mountains, until we reached the coast and then it was blue skies and the sea stretching as far as you could see.

Derry scenes- Guildhall, Derry Girls mural, views across the city to see all of the murals and the peace bridge

Having watched the new series of Derry Girls that week, it was exciting to be heading into Derry- the cast had been at that mural on the launch day. I didn’t know what to expect- growing up in the 90’s meant lots of scary news coming from Northern Ireland, and being there felt a bit like Berlin- with a difficult past but with that past being acknowledged if that makes sense. We walked around the city walls (around 2-3K I think) and it had information boards at regular intervals to find out more about the city. We also walked into the Guildhall which had the most stunning stained glass windows (this had been mentioned on the Derry Girls podcast as a location for a future episode, so I am keeping my eyes peeled for that).

Our hotel had great vegan options so we ate there for dinner in the end, but of course found a vegan café to get some takeaway cake for later.

Then we were up early to get up to our booking at the Giant’s Causeway. It’s National Trust so if you are members you can get in for free, but be warned, you need to book in advance! It was amazing to see the rock formations, but a little strange to see people clambering all over them. I would have thought they would be more protected?

My two souvenirs- a Dublin mug and pebble art from Giant’s Causeway.

And finally we arrived in Belfast for the afternoon/evening. The city hall was lit up in rainbow colours (and of course we found a vegan doughnut) and we walked over to the river so I knew where I’d be heading for parkrun in the morning.

It was great to bookend the holiday with another parkrun, and the timing was perfect as I just had time to get back to the hotel and shower before we had to check out and drive back to Dublin.

All in all, a pretty perfect holiday.

Have you ever been to Ireland? Do you like road trip holidays?