Hampstead Heath parkrun

At the end of January I was off to my first new event of 2024. My friend Branka was off there and had offered to pick me up, so of course I was very happy to join in.

I was treated to a gorgeous sunrise while I got ready, and even when we had arrived there, the skies were so wintery with that low light you only get at this time of year. The ground was frosty in places, with a few icy puddles.

Pink and purple skies, top right the winter skies at the start area, and then all the people on the start line!

The parking was on East Heath Road, and be warned, there were no parking machines and I had wrongly assumed that I could pay using my phone- nope! Thankfully there was enough internet so I could download the parking app and sort it that way. We paid for 2 hours, having arrived at 8:30, which was the right amount of time for us to not rush after, however had we wanted to stay for longer, it was something like £7 per hour after the first two hours, so London prices!

We walked uphill from the car park, and this gave us a flavour of what the route would be like- it was quite steep!

The course was essentially a lollipop shape- you started at the top of a hill, ran down the hill, completed two undulating laps past the ponds and health land, and then ran back up the hill to the start/finish.

Even at 8:45 it didn’t seem very busy, and we couldn’t even see the purple sign, but just before 9 there were suddenly people everywhere! The start is very narrow and I was not in a rush. The path was also a bit uneven (covered with big stones and lumps of broken brick) so I was taking it gently, not wishing to fall over. I was glad I had worn my trail shoes as the thicker soles help on that sort of uneven ground too. We had been warned about some ice near the ponds, and there was a lot more ice than expected- I walked across those icy bits because I think I would have slipped if I had tried to run. But that was fine – it’s not a pb course so I was happy to take it gently and take lots of photos.

One thing to mention, and I had read this on the excellent Blog 7t, but there are a lot of dogs there. And I mean a LOT. As someone who is a little nervous around dogs off their leads, I was not keen on this aspect of the route- Hampstead Heath must attract loads of people with dogs off leads. At one point a massive dog hurtled down the hill towards me, and because it was uphill of me it just seemed so much bigger than me. The owner did call out to the dog but I just stopped and waited for it to go past.

A few photos taken mid-run- I particularly loved the bottom right one- you run along the ridge and then down, and if you looked back you could see the silhouettes of other runners at the top of the ridge. I was token 463 but actually had position 423 so I think they must have dropped a bunch of tokens- it happens!

Once finished and scanned I noticed that the purple sign had been put up, so I asked someone to take my photo- you have to commemorate these trips with a purple pop up picture. Anyway, soon the event team started packing things away, but I knew Branka (my friend, who was walking it) would want a photo, so I thought I would delay them by getting my photo taken again (I’d put my hoodie on by this point). While I was hovering by the sign, lots of people kept asking me to take their photos, so I think I must have taken pictures for about 8 people! The RD came to take it down and I explained that my friend was still on the course and would like a photo with it, so he asked me if she could take the sign down (as he found it tricky), and he then left it up so she could have a picture with it too.

That did make me feel a bit sad though- had we walked together then the sign would have been gone, and I know it’s not the actual point, but it’s a shame if the sign is there only for the runners or people near the front, and not for everyone.

My two pop up photos.

After we had taken some photos we went looking for a toilet as someone had told us there was one further up, but we didn’t find it. Anyway, a fun morning chatting all things parkrun on the journey there and back.

Event number 106 for me, and my first new parkrun of 2024. Here’s to some more tourism this year!

January parkrun touring- close to home

Of course my first parkrun back after having a holiday was going to Jersey Farm and running with my dad. I’d been away for all the extra parkrundays over the holidays, so I was really looking forward to getting back to one.

I nearly forgot my barcode, and had to run back inside and could only find this one! Whoops!

Jersey Farm was actually not too muddy, as it had rained a lot in the week. There was one big puddle but actually if you stepped gently the water didn’t even go over the top of your shoe, so it was OK. We ran together and after finishing, walked back to the big puddle so I could get a picture in it.

The puddles and then a cup of tea to warm up after.

There were two girls trying to pick their way around the outside, and I did try and show them that the middle was actually better as it wasn’t that deep, compared to the squelchy mud around the outside, but they weren’t convinced!

The following week we had been asked to wear red for Comic Relief (and donate some money too- I even got an email from Sir Lenny Henry thanking me for the donation). I was keen to visit somewhere else, so in the end we opted for Aldenham. We’d been there once before, back in 2016, and on that day there were only 25 runners, I finished 16th with my dad and brother 10th and 14th! They were all runners too, with the final person coming in at 36 minutes! How things have changed. Two of my friends were parkwalking, and of course they have the tail walker role too.

Views of the lake (?) and the fab keyring for completing the 12 days of Christmas challenge with my running club.

It was a cold morning and I rally didn’t want to take my jacket off at the start area. Usually I wear gloves in the winter and my hands warm up quickly, and I would tend to take the gloves off after the first lap of a two lap route, but this time they stayed on the entire time.

My nails matched my tribesport top but that was being covered with the red top for Comic Relief anyway.

The route is two laps of the water (reservoir/lake?), very flat but lots of tree roots to look out for. I managed a course pb which was quite unexpected and nice to see in the text, this time 56th out of 110 runners- slightly more than last time! It’s a pretty route, but you have to pay to park (although there is a reduced rate for parkrunners) and I wonder if this puts people off.

Beautiful sunrise at home and then on my way to Panshanger plus all the ice.

For the third weekend I was off to Panshanger. One of my aims is to get to 100 runs at Panshanger (a single-ton)- I started the year on 90 and so this was my 91st run at Panshanger. Even though it’s my closest, I don’t run there as much as if my parents are about I’ll head over to JF, however they were away so I opted for a parkrun sandwich. I wore all green in celebration for a club mate who was doing her 250th parkrun, but in South Africa so it was being with her in spirit. There were huge frozen puddles near the end of the course but you could easily avoid them and the going was pretty good. An enjoyable run chatting to someone who recognised me from Instagram (hi Sam) but I was pretty cold by the time I got home!

I also marshalled at a couple of junior parkrun events over the course of the month, always a fun thing to join in with on a Sunday.

One Sunday above and another Sunday below!

My final January parkrun was a brand new to me event so I’ll save that for another time.

How has your January been? It seems like parkruns are getting a big boost in numbers at the moment.

2023 parkrun touring review

At the start of 2023 I had a few parkrun plans- a weekend in Birmingham, a trip to Norway and popping down to Southampton, and I was aiming for my Cowell (100 different events), but I was still surprised when looking at my stats that I had been to 14 new events over the year. I felt like that deserved a post summing them all up.

January took me to Church Mead in Amersham- this was my 300th parkrun and so I had chosen a new event for Dad to visit with me. This was one of the nearest events that neither of us had been to, and right on the edge of an acceptable distance to travel on the day (rather than being somewhere for a different reason and then doing a parkrun there). It’s a very hilly two lap course through fields, up into a wooded area and then down the other side of the steep hill. Small and friendly. It was pouring with rain when we visited but it was definitely memorable!

At the end of January we had a Friday night in Southampton, and so I went to Itchen Valley on the Saturday to get my name badge (as I need two I’s and only had one so far). This was an amazing frosty morning- the ground was frozen solid and it was a day to slow down and not twist an ankle. The course was very twisty and I’d have no idea if I had to do a freedom run there. It was good fun, and I’d happily revisit if I was in the area again, although there are still others in the Southampton area that I have not visited yet.

In February I started working on completing the parkruns on the train line from Hatfield into London, having previously been to Ally Pally, Finsbury Park and Oak Hill. This was the turn of Highbury Fields, a bit of an iconic one as it’s 5 (five) laps! When I got there I could not believe that a parkrun would fit in the park as it was a tiny green space, but the parkrun route runs around the perimeter of the park which made the difference. There was 403 runners on the day that I was there but it was actually OK and didn’t feel too busy, and I managed to count the laps OK (of course I can check on my watch as I run too). This had the bonus of being within walking distance to Bird and Blend so I could head there for a latte before getting the train home.

The following week I went to Grovelands with a last minute change of plans. I was going to head to Lordship Rec which involved driving to a tube station, and then getting the underground in, but then there were train issues and I realised that Grovelands was close to the tube I was originally going to head to, so I just drove there. I had an eventful drive as my phone lost the maps signal for a while and I didn’t notice for a while- it was stuck on “turn left in 1.2 miles” for ages before I realised, but thankfully I’d left enough time to still be on time. Grovelands had a brilliant marshal who was giving everyone advice on their running style (I had to keep my elbows tucked under my shoulders rather than swinging them out) which was memorable.

In April we were heading to Birmingham for a comedy show on the Friday night so I ran to Cannon Hill on the Saturday morning. I really like combining parkrun with other things rather than just going somewhere for the parkrun alone. This was an enjoyable route around a pretty city centre park with a lake, a river, bandstand and other park items, fairly flat and fast, and busy with 668 runners! The finish funnel totally backed up while I was there, luckily not in a rush to get back to check out!

We also had a weekend in Bakewell for my birthday, and so I went to Monsal Trail which had been on my list for a while. It’s an out and back along an old railway line, slightly downhill on the way out and then gently uphill on the way back. It was running distance from the centre of Bakewell but the way I went not all of the roads had pavements so would probably have to go the longer way next time and avoid those roads. Later we hired bikes and cycled the other way along the railway line, again great to visit the area and spend time there rather than just travel to parkrun and go home.

For a belated birthday celebration my Dad, Mum and brother let me choose a parkrun for us to go to and have breakfast together after, so I chose Pocket as it had been recommended by someone from my running club (although it turned out that she actually recommended Peter Pan parkrun, but they all begin with P which is a recipe for things getting muddled)- also St Neots had a vegan cafe (now vegetarian) which we visited after for breakfast. I really enjoyed Pocket- it reminded me of Ellenbrook Fields as it was flat but on open grassland close to housing estates, you ran past little streams and it was more “wild” than a manicured city centre park.

I had decided by then that I could complete my Cowell in Norway, but to make this happen I needed to visit one more event before that trip. Dad had been to Sunny Hill (in north London) and enjoyed it, so we travelled there (again with Mum and my brother too) in May and enjoyed breakfast after. It sort of lived up to the name, although should have been Sunny Hills not Sunny Hill, as there is more than one (and it’s two laps). Amazing views from the top, and a fantastic cafe for breakfast after.

Then I got to achieve my Cowell in Norway at the beautiful Ekebergsletta. I had been lucky enough to visit another parkrun in Oslo back in 2019 as we went to Oslo for the Christmas markets, but there are 3 there so I could choose another one. This one actually was easy to get to from the city centre (using the excellent Ruter app) by getting a bus to the top of the hill. Andy came with me to the start and then watched the run, and then we walked around the park after. In November it had been covered in deep snow so it was great to revisit in warmer weather. He hired a scooter to get back and I ran behind him (rather than get the bus back).

In June I headed to Lordship Rec, after first looking into this much earlier in the year. I drove to a tube station, got the underground a few stops and then walk/ran around a mile to the start. It was a baking hot day and the course was flat and fast but with little shade I really struggled at the end. It had a great community feel to it, and random people in the park were stopping and asking about it too, so it felt like it would grow and really involve the local community.

In July I had added a challenge to the 5K app to complete all the parkruns in Bedfordshire, as several members of my running club had done this. One that I needed was Bedford so I headed up there to run it. There happened to be a meet up of Vegan Cambridgeshire runners, although we had the craziest rainstorm so I didn’t hang about after. It’s a flat fast course with parking right by it, so I am sure I will revisit at some point.

Later in July one of my club mates arranged a little trip to Canons Park (not to be confused with Cannon Hill which I’d been to earlier in the year)- close to us on the outskirts of London. This was a real gem- there’s no cafe but they provide tea and coffee at the finish, it really felt like such a great community. The course was good too, two varied laps around the park and through some woods. (I’m wearing my parkrun adventurers Christmas top for Christmas in July).

In the summer we were in Florida and I revisited Clermont Waterfront parkrun. Although it wasn’t a new parkrun, they were on their B course (which lead to me being totally panicked on the drive there with me thinking I’d somehow missed the start as I could see loads of runners on the path by the lake- Andy noticed they had race bibs on which calmed me a bit) so it was a new course for me to run. This was two laps through some woods (the shade was much appreciated) rather than out and back by the lake. I somehow managed to get lost on the second lap, and the people following me didn’t know the way either, so we had a bit of back tracking before we found some runners again. Still I managed a course pb which shows how tough the one in the full sun was!

In October we had a weekend in London for our wedding anniversary, and so the closest that I’d not done (and that I could work out how to get to ) was Clapham Common. I’d heard that this was busy and was keen to go there, but it was totally nuts. I don’t know how else to describe it. There were 974 runners on the day I did it, and it felt like lots of people there were new to parkrun in general. It was two flat laps around the park, but people just seemed to make up their own routes- at one point I was running and I think there were 4 other paths being followed by runners on the left and right of me. It still felt congested on the second lap, and they didn’t even have a double funnel so of course the funnel backed out at the finish line. The person who did the new runners welcome was lovely, but in the finish funnel a guy being polite offered for me to go ahead, as I’d finished between him and his friend. I mentioned staying in order, and it turned out he had no idea how the finish funnel worked. I explained the whole token, time keeping thing, and all was good, but it did make me think about how parkrun need to make this a bit clearer and more obvious, rather than just “no funnel ducking” chanting at the start, or someone shouting at you to stay in order in the funnel. I appreciate it is very frustrating for the volunteers when people don’t stay in order, but parkrun could do more to explain how it works I think, to make it easier on event teams. I also do not know why they don’t insist on double funnels after events get to a certain size. Anyway, I enjoyed it but was recommended Tooting Common (one more stop on the same underground line) and I think next time I’m in London I will aim for there.

My final parkrun tourism of the year was in November, to Roding Valley. Again, my club mate had arranged a visit, and so I went along with her. Originally there were loads of us going but there was atrocious weather and in the end only 3 of us went along! It was absolutely tipping it down with torrential rain, and their A course was flooded so we were on the B+ course (not sure how it was different to the regular B course). This was two laps, first out and back along a field (all good), but then close to the river and around the edge of a flooded field, and finally through a huge patch of flooded path- up to my knees at one point! It was fun but you did feel a bit mad running in those conditions!

I finished the year on 340 runs exactly, which was pretty satisfying, so 40 parkruns completed over the year.

Roding Valley parkrun- fun with the flooded course

At the start of November our club had arranged a little road trip to Roding Valley parkrun- it’s no far from Herts, close to the Essex border, and we originally had 8 of us going. However, the weather was not great (lots of rain) and so only the hardiest 3 of us travelled there in the end. I think you’ll be able to see why!

We drove and had no problems parking in the little car park close to the start- there was a second small car park a few hundred metres further away which also had plenty of space. We did get there before 8:30 (I am happy that others in my club like to be early to parkrun too), but it’s a small event so even on a better week weather wise I think the car park would be OK.

We had seen on their social media that they were on their B course as their A course was flooded, and as we were there early had a little walk along the path to look at all the flooding. It looked like a small lake in the middle of a field, but there is no lake there at all, it was all just flooded fields.

Some of the B+ course, posing with the sign after and more of the deepest bit of water.

The first timers welcome told us they were on their B+ course, and that we would get wet feet. That was very true, but they neglected to add that we would get wet ankles and wet legs too…

B+ course water feature, running next to the flooded fields, a picture taken by a photographer who was there (in all my green glory!) and the three of us by the sign at the end.

The course was just over two laps- an out and back section along the edge of a field, then a loop around fields, past playgrounds and through water. This was repeated, and then the out and back section was completed for a third time before going to the finish funnel.

The out and back bit was fine- muddy fields but nothing too bad. However, once on the loop it became clear that this was certainly the most cross country like parkrun I’d done (and I am including Jersey Farm when the path up to the finish area runs with water like a little river). One part was so deep I was in up to my knees, and I know a few people fell over in it. On the second lap the marshal had worked out the shallower parts and was encouraging everyone to keep right, and that was better (I’d gone left on the first lap). It was fun though- once your feet are wet they can’t get any wetter, and it just felt a bit manic. I was very very grateful to the volunteers for standing around in the cold. Thankfully the rain eased off and stopped while we were running.

The finish token number was not as low as I had expected- more hardy souls braved the weather than expected (I was number 64)- my poor green leggings at the end and then us at the new runners welcome trying to keep warm at the start!

When we had arrived, someone had asked about the purple pop up sign, and it was still in the storage shed. There were lots of tourists (there was a Met Police sports club meeting there too) and so some of the volunteers kindly got it out during the run. I don’t think I have ever been asked to take quite as many photos after parkrun- I must have taken pictures for maybe 5 or 6 groups of tourists. I think everyone very much wanted proof that they had run in such tough conditions.

We had all packed spare shoes and jumpers for the journey home, which were very much appreciated. Of course one you are home and have warmed up, you feel great! Plus my trail shoes had a nice clean in all the deep puddles!

So that was my 105th different parkrun event. I’m gradually filling in the gaps on my map (Roding Valley is between Gunpowder and Valentines, which I have already been to, so it was quite satisfying to join them up).

Clapham Common parkrun- so very very busy!

As mentioned previously, we had a weekend in London and so of course I had a look to see if I could visit a new parkrun. I’ve been to some of the most central ones, and not knowing the underground map it took a bit of time looking at course pages to see one that I could get to via the tube. I settled on Clapham Common as I could get to it from the Northern Line to Clapham Common station (although afterwards someone let me know that Clapham South was nearer the start/finish area and on the same line). After briefly going the wrong way to the tube (Borough station is not that near to Borough market it seems) I got there with plenty of time to spare, and was happy when I came out of the station and saw the Caution Runners signs very quickly. However the actual start area was nearly a mile from the station, right on the other side of the park. There were loads of runners heading in that general direction, but I was glad I’d left plenty of time as I got there just in time for the new runners welcome. This was delivered in a very entertaining way, with an interactive element- the volunteer would say “we have two laps. How many laps?” and we would all have to say “two” etc.

They asked people to line up in order of finish times, although there were not actual signs (Preston Park in Brighton have signs out in the start area which is very helpful), but then when the RD spoke I could not hear them at all- there was so much chatting and despite several runners shouting “quiet” people were just not paying attention. In the new runners welcome they had warned us of roots and low hanging branches, so I was glad I’d listened as I could not hear the main briefing at all.

The course is two laps of the perimeter of the park- very flat but as it was so busy (and with tree roots) not one to aim for a fast time I don’t think. I was there to enjoy the experience, but I think if I was aiming for a faster time I would have been quite stressed as it didn’t even thin out on my second lap. At times it felt like runners were making up their own routes across the park- there would be 4 or 5 paths being created by runners rather than everyone following one path, and I had no idea if I was on the correct one or not! You can sort of see this in the photo above- there are runners to the far left of where I was running, and two other paths on the right of me, as well as the one I was on at that point.

I didn’t get lapped but I did hear the first finisher head in just as I started my second lap. As I got to the finish line, the funnel was full and backing out onto the course (again, I don’t mind this but if you were aiming for a certain time it could be a bit frustrating). I was very surprised that they didn’t have a double funnel, as other events with similar amounts of participants do. On the week I was there, they had just under a thousand people taking part (and if you added in the nearly 50 volunteers, it would have been over a thousand). The funnel was out, back and out again. The guy in front of me tried to let me go in front of him, as it turned out he was with the guy behind me. I just said something about keeping in order, but then as they chatted I realised that it was their first one, so I explained how the barcodes and tokens worked. They then could see why I needed to keep in order. We had a nice chat about the various London parkruns that they could head to in the ten minutes ish that we were in the funnel for!

I did like their token sorting buckets, clearly labelled for each lot of 100 tokens.

Zig zag finish funnel, token sorting and of course the purple sign picture.

I couldn’t hang around after as I needed to get back for the hotel breakfast. We then had a busy day in London, walking all the way to Camden (8 miles), having a late lunch/early dinner at Purezza and going to see the moon exhibition in Southwark Cathedral.

The cup again makes an appearance at Bird and Blend- one day a pumpkin spiced latte and one day an Earl Grey Creme latte (basically a London Fog).

(Not the best vegan options in the hotel so when we saw that Buns from Home did a vegan cinnamon bun I got one to supplement my fruit and yoghurt).

Seeing the moon, and total step count from Saturday!