The home of parkrun!!!!

On Sunday I was due to run the Bright10, a 10 mile race in Brighton. I’ve run it the past 2 years and we’ve usually stayed in Brighton for the weekend, but this year we could not find any affordable hotels. In the end we booked to stay in Arundel, which is about 20 miles away from Brighton, so we could drive in on Sunday morning. As it’s in the South Downs we could have some nice walks on the Saturday too. We hadn’t booked anything for the Friday night, but Andy had a look and amazingly found a hotel “near to that parkrun that you always want to do”- Bushy parkrun!

So on Friday night after work we drove in to the Premier Inn in Kingston upon Thames.

On Saturday morning I had around a 1.5 mile run as a warm up- I had to run through Kingston (and only got lost once), over a bridge, to the edge of the park, and then along a straight path to the centre.

I was rather excited!

Once in the park I was amazed to see stags (and hear them bellowing)- there was a sign on the gate but they were so close to the path. They were all being followed (rather closely) by people in camouflage with ridiculously over-sized lenses on their cameras.

This was where the run started

I didn’t see that many runners on the way, (they must mostly come from a different direction) but once I reached the middle of the park there were people everywhere and all spread out. I’d worked out one group of people were waiting by the toilets, so as I wandered around looking for high-viz people or a start sign, I was a lady walking along with the new runner briefing sign. There were of course lots of new runners- particularly groups from running clubs on organised trips, and even a few brand new parkrunners. They told us about the famous “double funnel” which Southampton also has (and probably others, but that’s the only one I have been to).

With over 1000 runners it was no surprise that they had a proper speaker (perched in a tree) for the main briefing- I couldn’t see where the RD was at all, but it was quite a funny briefing (warning us that the deer could run faster than us..).

The start was very wide so even with 1233 (why not one more for 1234?) runners it didn’t feel too busy. I didn’t want to go too fast as I had the race the following day, so a little later when I saw a stag sitting in the grass I ran to the side and took some photos.

You can see the runners in the distance as we ran past the deer and then turned left at the end of the path.

The run was so enjoyable- it’s a very flat route and wound through the park, through bracken and fern, running alongside a road briefly before finishing by a lake. There were plenty of marshals out, and I enjoyed spotting some vintage parkrun t-shirts (I saw a few of the black and gold 250 ones).

As I was finishing the funnel manager was shouting at the guy a few people behind me to go into the left tunnel (I had to stay right)- the person behind me was given a letter (Q- they start at A)- so when we eventually got to collect our tokens (about 10 minutes later) they knew to switch over to the other side. All very clever.

I was number 745- my highest (lowest?) placing- I think I’ve only been to one with over 700 runners before.

After having my chip scanned I didn’t hang around as Andy was going to meet me in the park (and it finished in a slightly different place which of course confused me).

I ran a little way but then he’d managed to walk nearly to the start so we walked back together.

As we walked back through Kingston I popped into Starbucks to get a drink to take back to the hotel- Andy had bought us chocolate almond croissants for breakfast.

So, Bushy parkrun- what a great one to visit- one lap, deer, flat course, not too crowded…. My time was 28.52 (26th in my age cat- there aren’t usually 26 in total in my age cat!) and I was pleased to manage negative splits of 9.22, 9.08, 8.59, 8.28.

Then we were off National Trust walking, so I’ll save that for later.

Have you been to Bushy parkrun? What is the largest parkrun you’ve been to?

Thetford parkrun with the Honey Monster (I think)

On Saturday we had tickets to see Bush play in Norwich, so we had booked a hotel in Thetford for the Friday night, with the aim of going to some National Trust places on Saturday before heading up to Norwich for the evening. Handily the Premier Inn in Thetford is just under a mile from the start of Thetford parkrun, so my decision was made!

After a slight google maps based hiccup (telling me to turn left into London road when the street sign said Norwich road) I arrived at the meeting point (in the drizzle). At first only a few people were milling about but I think they were all waiting for the last possible moment to get out of their cars and brave the rain!

Clockwise from top left- the jelly baby corner, one of the bridges, the car park meeting place, and the sign for the town.

There was a new runner briefing and they even had a big A2 laminated map of the course- it looks pretty complicated but in reality it was well-marshaled and I didn’t go wrong once!

We did a slightly altered route due to travellers camping on part of the normal route. We walked a little way to the start from the meeting point, and then it was a bit like the shape of clover (3 leaves meeting in the middle) as there were 3 sections of the course, and you ran each section twice before moving on to the next section, with a little bit added on to take you to the finish area. I was pondering this as I ran- I was lapped during my first lap of the second section, but other than that I didn’t see any front runners. I think I went past the tail walker on my second lap of the second part, but it was never too congested.

As it was a town centre park, I didn’t know what to expect, but it was really pretty. The route went through parks filled with trees, and alongside a river. At one point someone warned me of a hill at the end, but in reality it was a slope leading up to a bridge- it had a marshal dressed as the Honey Monster (I think – he had a big yellow fluffy head..) cheering everyone up the hill. On my second lap of the loop I tried to take a photo while I was running but I took it too early so when I looked at them later you couldn’t really see him.

At a couple of points the course narrowed (middle bottom photo) as you had to pass through metal gate things, but everyone was very courteous and friendly and as it wasn’t a really busy one it wasn’t an issue. I briefly stopped once as I was not sure whether I needed to repeat a section, but the marshals were great at saying “if you’ve only run over the bridge once, repeat this loop” to all of the runners so I realised as I slowed that I needed to go around again.

It was a super flat course, and it turned out that I managed my fastest parkrun time since May (28.22) with a nice negative split too- always nice to manage a final mile beginning with an 8.  The marshals were brilliant- I feel like I say this about all of the parkruns (doing a Brucie- “you’re my favourites”) but they were honestly just fantastic. There seemed to be lots of them too- I think maybe the nature of the course meant that you passed the same people a few times, and also the timekeepers and RD could be in the middle seeing the runners, so you passed a bit more of a crowd at times. The honey monster marshal was brilliant, they have a jelly baby corner (I’d seen a plea on their facebook page for a top up as it was running low) and this week it was manned by a lady and her daughter, and then at one point there were maybe three marshals all in a row singing “if you’re happy and you know it give us a wave” and various versions of the song. I passed them twice and they didn’t let up once- very enthusiastic!

When I finished, I then realised that the barcode scanning was taking place back at the little car park where everyone had first met. I think it was because of the rain (possibly they didn’t want to move all of the kit)- this did seem like risky business and I was very paranoid on the little walk back that I would lose my token!

After being scanned (and being told very helpfully by the person my token number in case I hadn’t read it) I had a little wander around the priory to admire the stone ruins, before heading back to the hotel.

It turned out that a lot of the route was near the road that I ran along, so I could take a few photos (for example, of the jelly baby marshals) while I was heading back.

I am so glad that I visited!

Have you ever lost a finish token? I live in fear of dropping it or throwing it in a bin with a tissue by mistake or something!




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

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).

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?