Athletics 2017!

At Christmas Andy gave me tickets to the athletics championships in London. Of course at the time it seemed ages away but on Saturday the day was finally there. We’d watched some of it while we were away in Germany (Eurosport with German commentary turned out to be quite entertaining as they pronounced Mo Farah to rhyme with Que Sera Sera, and interspersed German with the word “Mo-Bot”) and then once home we had a week to watch the highlights each evening.

We drove to Loughton and then got the underground in, as it was then only a few stops. The instructions said that you could not bring in meals but you could bring in snacks (and of course food would be available at concessions) so we went to M&S to get a late lunch/ early dinner. It was so busy and as if a plague of locusts has descended upon the shopping centre- the shelves were pretty bare!

After eating our lunch we went into the stadium (and we could easily have brought the food in with us as people had loads with them) and browsed the merchandise (which, by the way, only had men’s technical running vests, no women’s at all which very much annoyed me) before finding our seats.

We were up fairly high and in the middle (opposite the final 100m of the track) so we had a good view of what was going on. I feel like the event was hosted really well- they had Ewan Thomas walking around talking on the microphone, and also commentators saying what was happening with the events. When we first arrived the men’s javelin from the decathlon was going on, and then women’s high jump started. At one point they had Martin Lewis (yes, from the money tips website) giving the crowd some stats and tips, which to me seemed rather pointless as he only appeared a couple of times and I am sure someone else could have told us the facts.

Of course the big ticket races were the 5,000m (with Mo on his final track race) and the 4x100m men’s relay (with Usain Bolt’s final appearance) but in fact everything else going on was really exciting. Some of the athletes would try to get the crowd going, and there were big screens with information on them, as well as the stadium announcer giving details of distance/ height and current standings. The crowd were great at supporting all of the athletes too- during the high jump  our two British women had missed the height once, so really we should have been hoping that the other nationalities would not clear the height either, but there were only cheers when the bar wasn’t knocked down.

After the decathlon javelin finished, they had to then extend the tape and move the TV cameras back ready for the javelin competition to start- the decathlon guys has 55 and 65m marked, whereas for the main event it went to something like 85m. I don’t find this sort of thing interesting on the TV, but I think partly it is because you can’t really get an idea of how far each one is thrown. Being there meant it was easy to compare each throw, and the crowd would go wild when a huge throw was recorded.

When the 5,000m started it was such a tense atmosphere- and I think the crowd pretty much kept up a mexican wave for the whole 13 minutes- as the main group came in front everyone would stand up and shout even louder, then as they passed they would sit back down again.  Of course it was disappointing that Mo didn’t get a gold medal, but a silver medal is still very impressive and he really gave it his all- it is always more surprising that other runners have not grouped together before to try and get him with tactics.

It was a very exciting race, and a little later they held the medal ceremony which was cause for more celebrations.

There was a small break so we popped out to get a drink. The info had said there would be water fountains, so bring a bottle to fill up, but we could not find one. We then thought we would buy some lemonade to share, but all the stands were sold out, so we ended up sharing a hot chocolate (our throats were hoarse after all that shouting and we had more to come…). As we were going back to our seats we saw one water fountain but it had such a huge queue and we didn’t want to miss any of the races so we left it.

In contrast to a rather long race, we then had the 4x100m women’s final- seeing the women take silver was brilliant.

Scattered throughout the evening were medal ceremonies and it was great to see everyone being very respectful of the winners- everyone clapped and stood for the national anthems. I was interested to find out what the ANA athletes would have (these are Russian, but as Russia was banned somehow they get to compete as neutral)- it turns out they get the IAAF anthem. A lot of the crowd didn’t seem to know what ANA stood for as there was a bit of a confused murmur as it was announced.

Then it was time for the final event- the men’s 4x100m relay. I knew we were in for a shout of a medal as I had heard the heats when I was driving back from my parents- the Brits were a whisker behind the USA team so bronze was going to be possible (we were assuming it would be USA and Jamaica battling first and second). Well, of course by now you know what happened- the British (and NI- why aren’t we Team UK?) men did brilliantly and although I saw Bolt trip I was more concerned with yelling at the top of  my voice for our men to bring it home. It was like (I imagine) seeing your team score the winning goal in the world cup- everyone was leaping up and down and cheering. It was a pretty perfect ending.

This is still a very ugly thing.

It was a long shuffle out of the stadium and back to the train station, but everyone was in great spirits- there was even one volunteer playing music through his phone into a loud speaker. It wasn’t quite like when the Disney parks close, but it was close!

Did you watch any of the athletics? Have you been to any live events like this? While Andy was getting our drink I was asked to do a survey- the only live athletics I have been to was this and the Olympics, but I think that if the tickets weren’t too expensive I would be more likely to take a chance and head along to a session.

Heartwood Forest parkrun tourism- possibly the closest yet!

I sort of have three home runs really, (St Albans where I started, Panshanger when that started, and then Ellenbrook since that got going), but any different venue counts for tourism for me. I am still trying to visit all of the Hertfordshire parkruns (I think there are now 13), and last weekend was the turn of Heartwood Forest.

Heartwood Forest was recently created by the Woodland Trust on some land outside Sandridge, a small village on the outskirts of St Albans (which is why a lot of the trees are only a few feet high at the moment as they were only planted a few years ago). The parkrun has only been going a few weeks, and we chose that day as I was off to the athletics in the afternoon, and Dad and Tony had a football match to get to so we all needed to be finished fairly promptly.

There is only a small car park on site, so they ask people to use other parking in the village, or better yet, to cycle or run there.

On Thursday I had been to my parents for lunch, so on my way home I parked in the village and headed along the bridle path to a walk around the woods, as I had not actually been there. It is lovely, with meadows and paths and amazing wood carvings.

I pondered how to get there- I could park at my parents and then run there as it’s a couple of miles down a track, but my dad and brother would be cycling so I wouldn’t keep up with them and would take longer to get back. In the end I parked in the  village about half a mile away and jogged to the start- I got there so early (as I was worried about it being busy) so I ended up running around the course a bit.

We had the new runners briefing (loads of people- as it was only the third event so most people would be new to the course) and I chatted to a lady from Milton Keynes parkrun (it’s on my list) before I noticed Dad and Tony.

Then everyone walked up to the start, right by these amazing carvings of badgers.

The course is nearly two laps- you start half way up a hill, run a lap (which is a funny shape and at one point is two-way so you have to keep right) finishing at the bottom of the hill, and then have to run up the entire hill on the second lap. Annoyingly because I had used my Garmin for the warm up, although I pressed to do a new run, when I thought I pressed go, I actually must have selected run, as it beeped to go into power saving mode around half a mile in, so my Strava is incomplete!

I ran with Dad, and it was very enjoyable, although on the second time going up the hill I think I would have walked if we hadn’t been running together! I was aiming for under 30 minutes, and we started fairly near the back as we were not paying much attention on the walk to the start!

I loved this archway that you ran through- so many amazing carvings on it.

You were rewarded by fabulous views once at the top. They also had really brilliant marshals. I know parkrun marshals are always great (especially any OH ladies at Ellenbrook Fields), but we had cheers from every one- one lady was playing music on her phone and dancing as we ran past, a few people had children with them and loads of instruments- they really were very encouraging- we commented that perhaps they had been borrowed from the Gamesmakers at the Olympics.

From their facebook page

A few also had cameras (including this one placed at the top of the hill- I promise we enjoyed it even though we don’t look like it!).

After the hill there was a flat windy part through meadows and slightly taller trees, before heading to the long downhill to the finish area- it was the perfect downhill gradient as I didn’t feel like my legs were running away from me, or that I would trip as the surface was fairly smooth. When we reached the end of our second lap there was a sharp right-hand turn at the bottom of the hill before a final sprint to the end. My time was 29.03, for my 114th parkrun and my dad’s 99th!

Badger Selfie of course- I took this before the start as I knew we had to head off quickly at the end.

As we had to be quick, I jogged back to my car and Dad and Tony got their bikes- they had their photos taken to advertise cycling to and from the parkrun:

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people riding bicycles, bicycle, outdoor and nature

From their facebook page

Then it was time for pancakes made by Mum before we all headed off to our respective afternoon sporting activities.

It’s great that there is another parkrun close by that we can all easily meet at, and it also means that if I fancy incorporating a parkrun into a longer run, I could adapt it and park at my parents before running there and back. I need to go back and get the Strava route correct!

So, now the Hertfordshire count is here:

Done: St Albans, Panshanger, Ellenbrook Fields, South Oxhey, Aldenham, Stevenage, Rickmansworth, Barclay, Tring, Gadebridge and Heartwood Forest.

To do: Cassiobury, Westmill

I will miss the next two weekends, and then it is Dad’s 100th so we will be at a home run for that, so touristing will have to take a break until mid-September.

How do you usually travel to parkrun? If you have several near to you, how do you choose which one to visit each week? Are you aiming for anything particular at parkrun at the moment?  Once I have done the Hertfordshire parkruns, I might look at the alphabet challenge but that seems to make touristing a lot more complicated! I’d also love to add a few more countries to my list, but that will be a more long term goal.

The week where I remembered just how much I dislike steaming wallpaper!

Seriously, I don’t understand the appeal of wallpaper- it must be a pain to put up with mixing the paste and measuring the paper and making sure it goes up straight, not to mention lining up any patterns. I think we were lucky as our last place was a fairly new build, so when we decorated we just had to paint over the old paint.

(Ignore the big hole- we’re having a fire put in next week). Luckily my parents have a steamer so I had hours of fun this week – the wallpaper is so thick that it has to come off in two layers, and the top layer is woven which makes it a right pain. We are most certainly not going to be putting up wallpaper- the walls seem nice and smooth so paint it is- then at least if we want to decorate again we won’t have all this faff first.

So, what else has been going on this week?

I’ve had lots of nice runs- 5 miles on Monday before a lot of sorting of unpacking/washing and a walk to the shops, and 8.5 miles on Tuesday before visiting my oldest friend (not my oldest friend, but my oldest friend- we went to Nursery together) and her gang of children (5 of her own plus 3 she was looking after..)- it was so lovely to catch up.

It poured on Wednesday- I think we had a months worth of rain in one day. I needed to post a letter, so I decided to get some fresh air and walked for about 1.5 miles.  I had to shelter under a tree for a bit.

I’d recently had my boots re-soled, and it turns out that they are not water tight against this sort of downpour- I had to change my socks and jeans when I got home. What are you playing at August?

One of my friends was visiting later in the morning and she brought along these amazing galaxy caramel cupcakes (she is a brilliant baker and has a lot more patience surrounding piping than I do!).

Then, as it was still pouring, I decided an afternoon of baking was required.

I have wanted to make this for ages- Earl Grey tea cake- it has ground up tea leaves in it as opposed to “normal” tea bread which is dried fruit soaked in tea- this had no fruit in it which surprised me- it did have lemon zest in the icing though.

It didn’t have much tea in it, but it’s really speckled inside. I also made two tea bread cakes (the proper ones where you soak dried fruit in tea) for my parents and for Andy’s brother and wife (they’ve just had another baby).

On Thursday after another 5 mile morning run (I have nearly perfected my route now) I went to see my parents for lunch (and to pick up the wallpaper steamer), and had a wander around Heartwood Forest, to scope it out as we were planning on parkrunning there on Saturday. I also managed a big weeding session where I filled our green bin with brambles and assorted twigs. As Andy finished work fairly promptly we headed over to St Albans for dinner at The Waffle House (a waffle topped with hummus, avocado, tomatoes and sweet chilli sauce) and then a walk around the lakes.

Then on Friday it was all the wallpaper stripping.

Some fresh tomatoes with my lunch (grown by my parents- and you can never leave their house empty handed) before more pre-decorating.

I’ve done just about 3 walls, and the final wall is mainly porch doors so it won’t take long (hopefully)- I’ve saved the rest for Sunday now.

I also had a little post pre-decorating treat of some of these wafers- I love them and bought a few packs from Vienna- basically they are a bit like wafers with nutella inside each layer.

Do you have wallpaper or paint at home? Do your parents like to insist that you take something home with you? Usually I get given eggs, but their hens were eaten by a fox and they got some chicks on Friday but they are not quite old enough to lay eggs just yet. Do you like tea bread or tea cake?


South Oxhey parkrun- one step closer and two steps back

To achieving all of the Hertfordshire parkruns that is.

I think it was last year that I decided to try and run all of the Hertfordshire parkruns, and often Dad has accompanied me. So far as well as our home runs of St Albans, Panshanger and Ellenbrook fields, we have managed to run together at Tring, Aldenham, Rickmansworth and Stevenage, have run Gadebridge on separate days, and I have been to Barclay on my own. This only left two- Cassiobury and South Oxhey, both in Watford. As I am away for the next couple of weekends, we decided to tick one more off. I was given the choice as I would be driving, so I went for South Oxhey as it seemed easier to park and tended to have a smaller field of runners- perhaps less congested and maybe a higher placing for us.

I picked up Dad and Tony just after 8am, and we arrived at 8.30 with plenty of time, so we sat in the car park and chatted for a while before deciding we should head out just in case the start was a bit further away. We needn’t have worried as the parking is in a pub car park and the start was just behind the building. We had a wonderful welcome from the RD (Michelle) who seemed to know everyone else by name.

I’d put a few old towels in the boot in case it was raining, but thankfully we were greeted with blue skies for the  duration of the run.

There were a few other tourists so we had the usual briefing (3 laps of the park, including a hill hidden behind some trees) and then the main briefing, where we were all mentioned to the rest of the runners. One runnr (Evelyn) was running her 50th and so had brought along cookies and watermelon slices for the finish. Just before the start a PCSO turned up with a lady and her guide-dog- I recognised her from the parkrun volunteers evening as she had been on the stage with one of her guide runners speaking about it. Someone had been blocking her route so she had called the police to help her, but it did cause us a little bit of a wry smile because everyone we had mentioned this to had said about how rough the area is, so having the police there only added to the stereotype.

We walked to the start, a little way down the field past the finish area, and then we were off.  The route was very simple- 3 laps of the park, although the other side of the park was obscured by trees so you could not see the hill.

We were told to look up when we got to the top of the hill- the views were lovely and so green- I took a few photos while running and they didn’t even come out blurry!

We kept it fairly steady and by the third lap the hill was feeling more painful. We chatted to another tourist (she was in Watford for a work do) and encouraged her to try and catch us up when she stopped for a little walk break.

29.04 official time

I didn’t look at my watch while I was running (although I managed to work it just fine and felt it vibrate and beep after each mile), so I was very pleased to see a royal flush negative split (9.34, 9.17, 8.58, 8.03) and position 19! A top 20 finish is a rare thing! Even if there were only 38 runners in total! I was third lady and also first in my age category- again that doesn’t happen often for me!

We all enjoyed a piece of watermelon before getting our tokens scanned. The lady with the visual impairment was barcode scanning, so we were asked to make sure we handed our personal ones first as she wouldn’t be able to see which way around we were giving them.

We were tempted by the coffee van, and had another chat with the RD and also one of the other tourists, but Mum had promised pancakes so we headed back after a quick photo.

So, why one step forward and two steps back? Well, today was the first Westmill parkrun, close to Ware, and next weekend Heartwood Forest parkrun (between Sandridge and St Albans) begins, so I now have three more than need doing!

This year my parkrun aims were to do my 100th parkrun, and get on the UK most events table (you get on there once you have run at 20 different UK events). Of course the eventual aim is for 100 different events but that is going to take years, so to keep me busy I am looking at different sets. The Hertfordshire set is the first one that I thought of, but I have seen people chasing the alphabet. I’ve also been listening to the parkrun adventurers podcast (based in Australia)- they have all sorts of cool sets like a pirate (seven C’s and one R), a statesman (which is either one of each state, or all of the parkruns in one state, I can’t remember). I’ve seen compass ones (most northerly/southerly/easterly and westerly parkruns).

Are you interested in any parkrun challenges? Have you completed any or are you aiming for anything? Do areas near you have a bad reputation?  South Oxhey parkrun was so lovely and welcoming, and had a real community feel, and weirdly it’s so close to Cassiobury where they get 300+runners. I do wonder if they had a different name, more people might go to it?


Edinburgh parkrun- 20 in the UK completed! (And maybe have a plan B)

Last Friday we flew up to Edinburgh- we were picking the hire car up before 1pm the next day so I had enough time to get to a parkrun. We went up to Edinburgh in October and I went to Portobello parkrun, so I decided to head to a different one, Edinburgh parkrun, this time around.

Edinburgh parkrun is 5 miles north of the city centre. It’s along a prom (no road) and it was a bit hard to work out exactly how to get there. It seemed there were buses that went to somewhere called Cramond, but depending on the bus you would be either a 10 minute walk or 2.5km away, and so I decided to take an uber instead. I got it to take me to the end of Marine Drive, which was perfect as that road was on the coast and looked down onto the prom, so I could see people heading to the start area.

In Scotland they start at 9.30am, and the new runner briefing is at 9.15. As I arrived earlier I had plenty of time to take photos and spot tourists- I even saw some Harpenden Arrows (it turned out to be the weekend of the Edinburgh marathon so there were lots of tourists for that).

The finish funnel had loads of flags flying, and there was also a parkrun van. There was a speaker playing music- it was great.

I loved this info board too- so many parkrun facts. There was a pacer chart so if you wanted to finish in a certain time it told you your km splits, and a board of statistics about the parkrun.

After some milling about it was time for the briefing. Now this was comedy gold and I really wish I had filmed it.

From the Flickr page photos

The guy running the briefing (who did something for parkrun Scotland- he mentioned doing all the Scottish parkruns in one weekend, and all the Irish ones- something I know Tom Williams has mentioned on MT before) was the most enthusiastic person. His briefing lasted the full 15 minutes, and included audience participation (quizzes about what he had just said), a selfie with the runners and running into the crowd and checking that people actually had their barcodes. At one point he spoke about being well hydrated, and then grabbed a doughnut water bottle from someone, and had a mini rant about being able to last for more than 30 minutes without having water, and then he threw the bottle over a barbed wire fence into the next field. He then encouraged others to do the same. It was all very funny but also a bit bemusing! He did of course mention the rules, and the course (but it was an out and back, one lapper, so very easy to explain), and he also talked about the history of the event, being one of the first in Scotland and the first in Edinburgh.

At 9.30 on the dot we walked to the start for the main briefing- lots of people reaching milestones which is always lovely to hear. It was also mentioned (not sure which briefing) that children should be encouraged to take part for their own enjoyment and not pushed beyond their means. I totally agree with this and really loved that they emphasised it.

The course was beside the water so I enjoyed the views. It was super sunny and very warm, although on the way out we were running into a breeze which helped to cool it a bit. I stopped briefly to take a photo as it was just so lovely.

From Flickr

The course had a bit of a lollypop at the turnaround point, and then the breeze was gone. It was so hot I was wishing I had worn a headband/sweatband, as sweat was pouring into my eyes and stinging them.

From Flickr- I did a thumbs up at the photographer but not as extreme as the lady behind me!

There was a cafe along the prom and there was a staff member very wisely shouting things out like “get your bacon rolls here/ hot coffee in the cafe” and they had even written things like “cake” on the pavement with chalks. As it was so hot on the way back someone said to him “a cold drink please” so he then started shouting “ice creams, cold drinks” etc.

There was a photographer out on course (at the 1k and 4k point) and there was someone snapping away at the finish line too, where the course peeled away from the main prom under some trees.

I finished in 28.01 which I was pretty pleased with (although I did think I could have got sub 28 had I not stopped for a photo!). I like to finish in under 30 minutes but as it was flat and no laps I should be a bit faster really.

My Ellenbrook fields vest is now my parkrun tourist wear (I have a Panshanger t-shirt but now it is too hot for t-shirts).

I walked back to the road and watched the last few runners heading along the prom.

Then, things didn’t go so well. I looked on the uber app, and it told me there were no cars available, but I could book one for a later pick up. I booked one for a pick up between 10.30 and 10.45 (it was around 10.20 I think by the time I had scanned my chip and walked back to the road). Not too bad I thought. I had the email confirmation, so I just had to wait. Each time I looked at the app, it told me “allocating your car”. I had brought a long sleeved top with me (I tied it around a fence near the start) so I put that on as the wind was making me fairly cold. At 10.45 I had a notification saying my pick up was cancelled as there were no cars, so please try again. Argh! I then looked and there were no cars. I  was messaging Andy as we had to check out at 12, but also pick the car up before the hire place shut at 1. It was a bit stressful. I was going to look at where the bus stop was (in the other direction from the finish line though) and I opened the uber app one more time and saw one car nearby. Thankfully I managed to get it (book it?), but as it was finishing another drive nearby it didn’t pick me up until gone 11am. I was so thirsty and quite hungry by that point but I could not risk popping down to the cafe to buy something in case I missed the pick up. There was a little roundabout so I was waiting just beyond that as it didn’t seem a sensible place for a car to stop. As I was waiting a couple walked to the roundabout just as my car pulled up, so they went to get in it! I panicked even more here, so I ran towards it and asked him “are you for Maria?” (I knew it was as the registration matched)- I was so relieved to get into the car and be on my way back. I got back to the hotel at around 11.30, so it was a very rushed shower and a short blast on the hairdryer before having some breakfast (Andy had been out on a walk around the town and got me some).

I really should have had a plan B! I prefer when I can run there myself- this was 5 miles away but in fact if I had run back I would have arrived sooner- I’ll know for next time!

But, it was very enjoyable, and now I am on the UK most events table, having been to 20 different UK parkruns. I ordered my cow cowl yesterday, so hopefully it will arrive before my next tourism (we are going to Kent at the end of June so I am aiming for Maidstone parkrun that morning, and I need to plan with Dad to visit the last couple of Hertfordshire parkruns too).

Are you a fan of public transport? Have you been to Edinburgh? Do you like to visit different parkruns? Have you ever forgotten your barcode? (Quite a few people in the briefing had forgotten theirs)