Hatfield Forest parkrun (not actually in Hatfield…)

This weekend we had planned a family outing to Hatfield Forest parkrun. Last year we visited Wimpole Hall, one of the parkruns that take place on National Trust grounds, and had decided that we should try and visit a few more, with Mum in tow, and sample the cafe after to make it a bit more of a morning out.

Hatfield Forest, in Essex very close to the Hertfordshire border, had been penciled in for a while but I found out recently that it is due to relocate to Bishops Stortford (in Hertfordshire- my quest to do one county seems never ending!)- their news page had information about why if you are interested. So as we could not manage next weekend, this weekend was our only option. (If you look at it on Trip Advisor there is a review which starts off with the person saying that it is nowhere near Hatfield in Herts- I wonder if they went there first?)

It’s around a 40 minute drive from here, but they close the gates to the car park at 8.40 (the course uses a bit of the road, but as we found out it’s also a bit of a walk from the car park to the start) so Mum and Dad (with my brother in tow) picked me up just before 8am. It was so much colder than earlier in the week, so I opted for a t-shirt, a long sleeved running top over the top, and my OH hoodie. I was glad of three layers and could see my breath as I stood outside.

We arrived in perfect time (driving past a DFYB sign and commenting that if anyone had forgotten their barcode, it was a bit late for it now), and were welcomed by the car park marshal who asked where we were from and then told us he would see us for the first timer briefing in a bit. They closed the gates shortly after we had parked. There was a huge queue for the parking machine, but as we are all members we initially opted to leave one of the membership cards on the dashboard. Mum then decided she should queue up, and it was ticking closer to 9am she told us to go ahead.

We walked through a little wooded area and then around the lake before arriving at the cafe/hut where people were assembling. We hadn’t dawdled but it was gone 8.50 so it turned out we missed the first timers briefing. Never mind- we knew it was a one lap course so it would be a case of following the people in front- no need to count laps. I’d brought a bag so we left out jumpers in it- I kept my long sleeved top on as it was still cold. We kept an eye out for Mum, worried in case she’d got lost, but just as we started Dad noticed her so we could relax.

After the main briefing we walked the short distance to the start and headed off.

The route was fab. We ran up tracks through rows of trees, over little ditches, through big muddy puddles and there were even some tiny logs to jump over. It was mildly undulating but not really hilly- a few short gentle up and down hills but nothing tough. Although it is called a forest, there were also patches of the run through fields (dodging the mole hills). The little ditches were the most fun but they were hard as you needed momentum to get up the sides without slipping. Dad said he had heavy legs as he had cycled 100km on Friday and I was worn out by a week at work, so we were chatting and not worrying about time (as per usual).

The thing about one lap routes is that the km markers seem to appear so quickly – I felt like we had just gone around the first corner when we saw the 1km marker (although my dad never notices them!)- at one point we ran through a gate and past the 3km sign, and then had a lovely long downhill. We then ran through the car park and Dad commented that he hadn’t seen any markers and had no idea where we were- as he said it we passed the 4km marker, and the route then went the other way around the lake (if you look on the picture of the route, we would have walked clockwise around the lake to the start). We then had to run uphill slightly towards the finish- my brother (who’d been a little ahead of us most of the way) got more of a lead. We rounded the corner and Dad said “it feels like we are close now as everyone is speeding up around us”- I pointed to the finish area (which he hadn’t noticed) and he broke into a sprint finish.

As we finished it turned out that my brother had left his barcode in the car- schoolboy! Dad went with him while I stayed and chatted to Mum. She had acquired a carrier bag full of plants while we were running (she does love a bargain)- she’d wandered to the shop but it was closed, and outside were some plants that had been nibbled by deer, with an honesty box. One of the plants had orange flowers and she knew we have been making an orange and purple flower bed so she’d decided to get them for me.

While we were waiting we chatted to a parkrun tourist who I recognised from Heartwood Forest- back from touring in the US (one day…).

It took them so long to get to the car and back- we were waiting for about 20 minutes and I was starting to worry that they would start packing up! Luckily they got back before the tail walker, and then we went to find my bag and put on our extra layers- it was pretty cold and damp.

Mum had looked at the cafe but it was really a hut with lots of picnic benches outside- this would be lovely in the summer but it was cold and rain was forecast. A quick look on google showed us a Bill’s (my choice) and Wetherspoon’s (everyone else’s choice!) close by in Bishops Stortford, so we walked back to the car and headed there. We didn’t even get back to the car until around 10.10 and then there was quite a bit of traffic in the town. The car park we found was a 5 min walk from Bill’s, so we headed there for hot drinks and pancakes.

Even my toe nails were muddy after that run- great fun!

I am so glad that we managed to visit there- the new venue in Castle park will be worth a visit too, but Hatfield Forest was really pretty and I am sure we will head there at some point with our NT memberships for a walk, so even though I won’t parkrun there again, I shall be back.

Official time- 29.44, 178/298, for my 117th parkrun and 27th different venue

Westmill parkrun- getting closer to all the Herts ones (possibly..)

A couple of months ago, Westmill parkrun began in Hertfordshire (around the time I went to South Oxhey for my then penultimate Herts parkrun)- it is only a few miles beyond Panshanger (on the outskirts of Ware) but due to holidays and celebrating Dad’s 100th we just hadn’t had a weekend to visit there until this week. The plan was for a visit there and then back to mine for breakfast after.

As Dad would have to drive past me to get there, him and Mum picked me up at 8.15 and as it is fairly close we were sat in the car park at 8.30. The parkrun takes place in a sort of outdoor activity centre, with a go-ape style climbing section, a golf course and apparently axe-throwing (although I didn’t notice that). We parked in the first car park and then found someone in a high viz vest who directed us down a gravel track to where the parkrun finished- there was an additional car park here (and to be fair the directions on the website did mention a gravel track but as we also drove down one from the road we thought we were already there)- it was only a 5 min walk and as it was such beautiful weather it was fantastic to enjoy the views across the valley and down to the lakes.

Mum was going to watch (and basically chat to anyone around, especially anyone with a dog) while we ran, and was very handy as she also carried our jackets once we started as it was a bit nippy- it definitely felt more autumnal.

The first timers briefing was fairly busy- this was only its 8th event so as well as tourists there were lots of local runners who hadn’t run it before. We could see it would be a little hilly as we could see markers down in the valley and the finish funnel half way up a steepish hill. It was described as “flat with added gravity”- the RD had seen my Ellenbrook top and commented that it is very flat there, but I reassured her that we used to run at Panshanger before that started so we are OK with hills. Once the briefing was completed, we walked up the track (back towards where we had parked) as the start was a little further up. They mentioned to us that there was a waffle house cafe as a place to get a hot drink and breakfast once you finished so we thought we’d have a look at the end.

The route was nearly two laps- you started half way up a hill, ran to the top, across fields and a golf course, then down (including some very steep downhills where we were all warned as last week someone had fallen into a bush at the bottom) to the lakes, around the lakes before a steep uphill to the finish area, then you continued up the hill (next to the track we walked along to the start) before repeating the loop again.

I ran with Dad for the first loop and then he decided to push on for a quicker second lap so he sped off and I took a few photos while I was running.

It was such a gorgeous setting for a parkrun- the course didn’t feel that long (in fact I got to the lakes for the second time and wondered when my watch would beep for 2 miles, and when I glanced at my watch it was on 2.6 miles)- it was fairly twisty and really varied so it kept your interest on the scenery. At one point we ran down a shaded track and the drop in temperature was really noticeable. The short steep uphill was tough for the first time around- much like the old short and sharp finish at Panshanger- and I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it the second time around! As I ran into the field I could see Dad up ahead just finishing, so I made sure I pumped my arms on the hill and put in a bit of a sprint finish on the flatter section to the finish funnel as he cheered me through.

He finished in position 32 with 27.03, and I was position 48 with 29.30 (and second in my age category). Only 78 people ran so it’s a fairly small one still, which adds to the community feel.

As we walked back to the car we had a look inside the cafe at the menu, and have decided that in the spring we will come back and aim for breakfast there. (I’m sure I’ll head there at other times too as it was such a pretty place to run- I love the parks that feel more like countryside than a city centre park or cricket pitch). We then drove home and enjoyed watermelon (loving this after a run), croissants and tea (or coffee for my parents).

Now, the important thing is how am I getting on with the Herts parkruns? Well, as of this weekend I only have one left to do (Cassiobury in Watford still), but there is a parkrun currently in Hatfield Forest (Essex) which is relocating to Bishops Stortford (Herts)- so in October I’ll be back to having two left to do! There’s worse problems to have I suppose!

Are you chasing any parkrun sets? What type of places do you like to run in? Do you mind hills or laps?

Another parkrun milestone and a brilliant cinema trip

So, on Saturday I was busy packing all of the cakes into a big Ikea bag (this was my mum’s brilliant idea last time because none of my bag for life bags were big enough for all of the cake boxes) ready to take to parkrun.

The parking at Ellenbrook is at the uni, and it is a short walk through the car park and along a road to the actual start. There’s no parking at the start as it’s a track and access for the fields, but the RD always parks on the grass next to the track as they have stuff to unload. I walked along carrying the huge bag (which was very heavy and awkward) and arrived to find my parents parking next to the RD’s car- I should have thought it through as they would have let me park there I am sure. Mum had baked loads of cupcakes, and also they had sliced two large watermelons- when we went to South Oxhey someone had brought along watermelon and it was a perfect snack to eat after a run, so we stole their idea!

After unloading the cakes onto the table (and then having to balance more cakes on the big plastic box used to store things in….) we made our way to the start. At the announcements (where at first they announced that “Maria’s Dad” was running his 100th- a bit of a joke as for a while Carrie, the RD and our club leader, could never remember his name so used to cheer him past as “Maria’s Dad”) they gave him a newly acquired crown to wear so everyone would know. We also had a regular volunteer earning his 25 t-shirt, so he got a crown too. As my brother had come too we decided to run together (this usually means my pace as they are both faster than me on a good day), and it was very enjoyable. Lots of people congratulated Dad on his way around, and some children who were marshaling with their parents shouted “it’s the king”, so we decided he would be parkrun king for the day (and then I got the Greenday song stuck in my head).

Once we had finished and had our tokens scanned, we saw how well Mum was doing at handing out the cakes.

It was lovely to spend the time catching up with people- due to holidays and touristing I’d not been to Ellenbrook all summer. I was the run report writer and you can see my write up here.

Image may contain: 5 people, people smiling, people standing, tree and outdoor

Dad was asked to pose with some of the first timers for the facebook page.

After the tail walker arrived and the marshals came back, we managed to give out most of the cakes- all the watermelon went so if you are celebrating any milestones it is a good tip. We packed up the last few bits and then I headed home as I was off to London.

We had tickets to see the only UK screening of Skid Row Marathon– Martin Yelling had organised it after seeing the film, so I’d heard about it on the Marathon Talk podcast. The producer and director (Mark and Gabby Hayes) were coming over from LA for a Q &A after. It’s a documentary about a judge in LA who tries to support homeless people through running. The documentary followed several people on their journey of becoming marathon runners.

As the screening didn’t start until 3.30, we had plenty of time, so drove to a tube station and wandered around the shops in Covent Garden and central London. I went into Lululemon to browse as I have a voucher but of course I had forgotten to bring it- luckily I didn’t see anything. Andy wanted to go into the Lego store so we had a look- it was very impressive with so many models made of lego-things like this tube map were really clever. We went for a quick lunch in Leon and then it was time for the main event. While we were waiting outside I saw a lot of running royalty including Martin Yelling (of Marathon Talk podcast fame) and his wife Liz (of general running fame) and the founder of parkrun, Paul Sinton-Hewitt. I am not good at speaking to people I don’t know, and with famous people I always think they must be annoyed with people forever coming up to speak to them (and I had met PSH at the parkrun volunteer evening so I didn’t think I needed to talk to him again). I am sure had I introduced myself to Martin Yelling as a listener of MT, he would have been very friendly as he always comes across that way, but he looked busy sorting out the producers and that sort of thing.

I was very paranoid about needing to use the bathrooms during the film as I didn’t know how long it would be or how long the Q&A would last, and as I was heading in to see if I could use them, I bumped into the lovely Anna from Anna the Apple– we’d realised on the Friday night (or Thursday?) that we were both going so had agreed to look out for each other. We had a brief chat which was great (and as Anna had an empty fro-yo pot that set a seed in my mind for later) but then it was time for us to go in.

The film was brilliant. I know I love running, but it wasn’t really about running, it was about how people help and support each other, and about how people need a second (and third) chance, and how doing something like a marathon can be empowering. The people they followed had become homeless (or living in the mission- a sort of shelter) for different reasons (drugs/ alcoholism/ prison) but they were all treated with dignity and respect and other people always helped them see that they had potential. I think I probably cried most of the way through- I found it very emotional. I have only run two marathons but as a person who didn’t like PE and didn’t think I could run, when I actually managed to complete my first one, as something I never thought I would achieve, it really boosted my confidence and I think that has transferred through into other parts of my life. I think this was echoed through the film as the running gave the people the confidence to tackle other areas of their lives, and supported some of them in their battles with addiction. There were light-hearted moments too (the judge commenting that they would run even faster if they gave up smoking, or when they were getting their jabs before going to Africa and told to not attract the monkeys) and his friendships with the runners was really touching to see. I was pretty shocked at seeing the number of homeless people in LA alone- I have been there and with the mild climate in California you tend to see more homeless people than other big cities, but the scale was just frightening. Altogether it was fantastic, and I hope that they manage to get it on streaming services. I enjoyed Senna even though I am not the biggest F1 fan, so I would say even if you weren’t into running, it was still a worthwhile watch. (Andy enjoyed it and he isn’t really a lover of running, but he does like a documentary).

The Q&A was very interesting too- Martin Yelling hosted so he had a few questions before they moved on to the audience. It was all very interesting and I was glad of the time to let my eyes dry a bit!

After it finished the sun was still shining so we headed out to find some fro-yo!

I don’t normally go for all of the toppings (mainly because it’s expensive but also I don’t like crunchy things with ice cream) but I saw someone with the passion fruit on theirs and it looked so refreshing so we shared this pot of pink guava fro-yo with  passionfruit and strawberries- very tasty.

We then had a final wander before getting the tube back- we even got home in time to watch the first episode of the next series of Narcos- it’s on Netflix so we have to be restrained and only watch one a night!

Do you like documentaries? We watched a brilliant one the other day called Chasing Coral (also very sad, as it was about the coral bleaching linked to climate change).

Enjoying the final week of the holidays

I mean, I say it every year, but the summer just flies by so fast. It’s now September. I got an email from Starbucks about pumpkin spice lattes. I do love autumn but I am not sure how it’s got here so quickly!

Last week was the final week of the holidays. After getting back from France around lunch time on Monday, we headed out on a walk- along the old railway line and then back along some paths- some were very overgrown with stinging nettles.

My quest to run 100 miles in August continued on Monday with a 9 mile run- I sorted a new route made up of the beginning of the route with the big hill (but avoiding it) and finishing up with most of my 5 mile route, but backwards. At one point in the woods I ran along new paths and found this interesting bench.

I was very hot by the end, and although I had originally hoped for 10 miles, I could not be bothered to run up the road to make up the numbers.

After a shower, breakfast and lots of cold drinks we headed off for some shopping- first to get the paint for the living room, and then to the garden centre as I still had some vouchers from my birthday and wanted to put plants in before it gets too cold.

Then my parents came over- Dad helped me with doing the first coat of paint on the living room walls, and Mum sat outside and read/ chatted to Andy while he was cutting up wood and planting stuff in the garden.

On Tuesday I headed into work first thing as the cleaners do a deep clean over the summer which involves them moving all of the furniture to the middle of the room- I spent a few hours moving back tables, drawer units and cupboards, as well as doing some printing and sorting a few other bits out.

This is one of my little summer projects- I bought a set of drawers (they are sold for screws and things)  and have made labels for all of the bits and bobs like pens, whiteboard pens, blue tac, hairbands- I even have a drawer for my teabags! I attached the labels with little sticky pad things and I am maybe a bit too excited about how neat my desk will look!

After getting home later than planned (closer to 1pm than the 11am I had imagined), I needed to do another coat of paint on the walls. I was supposed to be meeting some friends for a picnic/cake in the afternoon, so I got straight on with it instead of having lunch but painting the walls by myself took a lot longer than the day before when Dad had been helping (or more accurately, when I was helping Dad), and by the time I had finished and messaged them they were going to be leaving (it was a 40 min drive away too)- a shame but we have some other dates to meet up. I had a super quick shower and a change as decorating in the warm weather was very hot work!

As I’d got straight on with painting I hadn’t eaten lunch, and we had a cake voucher for John Lewis that ran out at the end of August, so we walked into town and shared this strawberry and rose cake. I very much needed the tea at that point too! We also had a look at curtains and rugs, and when I got home I ordered a rug for the living room as I had some vouchers for there too.

On Wednesday I had a bit of touching up of the paint to do- I wanted to get it finished as Andy’s parents were coming over in the evening and we had left the living room with all the sheets covering everything for the past few days as the prep just takes so long. I went on a run first, and then when I got back I needed to wait for the hot water to heat up (we only have a small tank but usually it’s OK as I tend to have a shower in the evenings), I decided to get on with that before a shower.

I had a message saying that the rug was ready to collect, so I drove into town (it’s just over a mile away, so I would usually walk but it was pouring with rain and the rug was heavy).

Later on we finally took away all of the sheets and put the furniture back and the new rug down- I love it!

I did a spot of baking in the afternoon- a cherry and almond cake- ready for Andy’s parents in the evening.

As it was pretty rainy out, I made myself a chai latte with the Bluebird tea sticky chai- I had much more success this time (using some common sense..)- I put the chai into the milk before I heated it, and then strained it into the mug after. It was delicious. I had that while I watched Bake Off (and I do miss Mel and Sue, but Noel and Sandy are funny too, so I think it’s going to be OK!).

On Thursday I had a run first thing- I thought I needed to do 5 miles to get to the 100 miles, but just in case I went for 6 miles, so instead of the 5 mile loop I did an out and back into the woods- lovely.

It had rained a lot in the night and the ground was fairly damp in places- it was also a bit misty in places and the light streaming through the gaps in the trees was so gorgeous.

I also found that I could post a sort of update on Strava, so to celebrate my first 100 mile month of 2017 I posted this photo on there.

As well as a bit of admin for work, I got on with a lot of baking, as it was Dad’s 100th parkrun on Saturday! The final list includes white chocolate and macadamia nut cookies, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate orange brownies and a lemon and blueberry cake. I bought some gluten free cookies as I always worry about having trace bits of flour in my kitchen.

On Friday I was having my hair cut in the morning, so I walked into town and had a bit of a mooch around. I ended up getting a dress in the Fat Face sale and some new work trousers.

After more baking (I made the lemon cake on Friday) I walked around to the amazon locker to pick up an online order- I saw these tins online and thought they would be perfect to store clif bars and also maybe some nice chocolate.

While I was walking back I was listening to a podcast, and it started making a weird beeping noise. I couldn’t work out what it was, and when I got my phone out of my bag it turned out to be my brother ringing me- I’d never had that happen with my headphones in before.

I’ll get to the weekend in another post- but the final week was pretty satisfying with a nice mixture of relaxing and getting things done.

Running in France (including some shoe surgery)

As I mentioned before, I took my running things with me to France as I thought I would get the opportunity to run.

So- my first run was on Monday. We’d walked along the cycle path the evening before- it was right at the end of the track that our gite was on, so not hard to find at all. I went left, and decided to do an out and back. I got slightly confused as I ran beyond where we had walked (we’d only walked for 3 miles in total) and at one point the signs directed me up to  a road, across it, back down again only for me to end up where the signs had started. As I got back to our road I had run 4.5 miles so I ran out in the other direction for a bit to round it up to 5.

The early morning sunlight was just gorgeous on the rows of trees and the river. There was so much bird life there too- as I was leaving I saw a red woodpecker on the tree out the front, and later on a jay flying across the path (I also saw a red squirrel on the roof of the gite when I was reading one morning).

On Tuesday I headed out, this time turning right. The tarmac path quickly changed to a rutted track so I kept switching from one side to the other trying to find the smoothest path. After I had run out for 2 miles, I turned around and came back, and then decided that as I was feeling good I would go for 1 mile along the tarmac before turning back, for 6 miles. All good.

More beautiful flowers to spot along the way too.

I spent some time on Strava on my phone trying to find my monthly mileage, as trying to do 100 miles in August had briefly crossed my mind. Of course when running maths is harder, and I could not remember all of the runs I had been on. When I look at Strava on my laptop I can see my monthly and yearly miles, and this year I have not been doing such high mileage (whereas in 2016 I did 1000 miles in total including 100 miles in July, September and December). This year I managed 93 in January and 85 in February (half marathon training) but then I’ve hovered around the 60-70 mile range. All fine, but I fancied a challenge.

Anyway, you can’t see this on the app (well I couldn’t work out how to anyway) and by scrolling through and adding up my runs it ranged from 60-70 miles- with only a few days left in August once I got home I didn’t know if it was possible.

Anyway, Wednesday was a rest day (walking around gardens instead) and then on Thursday I decided to go on a bit of a longer run. I headed along the track, and after a few miles I kept feeling like a had a tiny sharp stone moving about under the ball of my right foot. It would make me hop as it was so tender. A few times I stopped to take off my shoe and shake it, but then a bit later I would feel it again. It was as if there was a tiny stone that was moving about a bit as I couldn’t always feel it. I took my sock off in case it was stuck in there, and then carried on. It happened again and was so painful that it worried me, so I limped over to some logs and sat down. I took off my sock, and then took the insole out of my shoe. Inside I could see something dark and sharp sticking up- it looked like a huge rose thorn. I tried to get it out but it was really hard to get any grip- I’d undone all the laces to get the tongue out of the way, but I couldn’t pull it out. It was really hard and then I started to worry it was a rusty nail or something- when did I last have a tetanus injection??? I knew I couldn’t walk back without my shoe on as the path was so stony, so I picked up a stone and tried to push it back down into the shoe, hoping that I had done enough for it not to make another appearance. I should have messaged Andy really because the 7 mile run took me 90 minutes and he was starting to wonder where I had got to.

When I got back I got some scissors and managed to poke the offending item out by pushing the scissors up into the sole of the shoe. It turned out to be a shard of (brown) glass. Now, it doesn’t look that big in the picture, it was maybe 1cm long, but having that digging into your foot when you are running is pretty painful.

On Friday I had my last run in France- a very enjoyable 6 miles along the tracks again. My left calf was super tense though- I think it had taken a bit of a battering from all my hopping the day before.

The morning was fairly overcast (storms had been predicted) and it was really muggy- sweat was pouring off my when I got back and I hadn’t even gone very fast!

Despite doing fairly similar routes all week, it was really enjoyable as the paths were very quiet- I passed a few cyclists and saw a couple of runners on my last day (up ahead just as I turned around). I listened to some podcasts while I ran, stopped to take photos when I fancied it and generally just enjoyed being out in the countryside. I would not want my running to get in the way of our holiday, so if we were sightseeing or traveling around I wouldn’t want to use that time for running, but as we were having fairly laid back days it was good to stretch the legs and see some scenery to start the days off.

When I got back and looked at Strava I had reached 81 miles, so I decided to still aim for the 100. I had a long run of 9 miles on Monday (boy that was hot) and then a 5 miler on Wednesday and Thursday to total 102 miles (I think it always rounds down so all the .2’s made the difference in the end).

How was your bank holiday weekend?