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!

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.

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!

Clermont parkrun- alternative course

This summer we were off to Florida with Andy’s family- there were ten of us in total (including 3 kids) and it was a fantastic, but very different holiday to usual. We were away for several Saturdays, but only had a car for a couple of them. Andy had agreed to drive me to the parkrun once, and so I got to return to Clermont Waterfront parkrun (as I had been there last summer too).

Their facebook page said they would be on the alternative course for that Saturday, but it started in the same place, Lake Hiawatha Preserve which is to the west of Lake Minneola. They start at 7:30am (sensible due to the heat and humidity) and it was around a 45 minute drive away, so we were in the car at 6:30. The main course is an out and back along the waterfront by the lake, on fantastic foot and cycle paths. As we drove alongside there at around 7:10, there were loads of runners out. I had an absolute panic that I had missed the start, worried that they had changed to 7am rather than 7:30, and worried that we had got up early and driven all that way for nothing. Andy noticed that they had bibs on, as I frantically googled the course to confirm the 7:30am start time. It turned out that I did not need to panic, because there was a triathlon taking place on their normal route (hence the alternative course) and so all the runners we could see were doing the triathlon. Panic over. I had time once we had parked to run over to the toilet block, before heading to the start area. They even had helpful signs at the normal start/finish place, directing you over the road, back through the car park and to the alternative start/finish area. (You could see this from the car park, but it was very helpful nonetheless).

Views of the waterfront at sunrise, the park map and the helpful sign showing parkrunners where to go.

The alternative course was two (and a little bit) laps under trees and on trails. You had to watch out for tree roots as they were plentiful, but the route was fairly flat and the paths were packed firmly so it was a nice surface to run on. The shade was very much appreciated- Orlando was having it’s hottest week since records began, being in the low thirties as soon as the sun was up and with the crazy high humidity it was pretty tough to be outside.

Before running, after the panic! And the walk to the lake.

They only had two marshals out on the course- both near the start/finish area making sure people didn’t trip on the edges of the paths. The rest of the course was marked with little flags (the small flags on little wires that are often used on building sites), and it was fairly busy with 143 runners that day. It’s well established (and had celebrated it’s 10th birthday a few weeks prior to my visit), so I thought I could keep the person ahead in sight and be OK. The first lap went fine, and then partway through the second route I realised that I hadn’t seen any of the little flags for a while. The person up ahead had pulled away from me and was not in my view, so I stopped and started to retrace my steps. Two people who were behind me (using my tactic of following the person in front) asked me what I was doing, so I explained that I’d not seen the flags and thought I’d gone wrong. They retraced their steps with me, but another runner ran past in our original direction, indicating that we were on the right track. We then followed him for a bit, before deciding to go back to the last place we’d seen the flags. Thankfully it wasn’t far before I could see runners looping around, but in looking at my Strava after, had I continued I am not sure I would have rejoined the route.

With the flag at the start area, and all the flags in the finish funnel and my token.

As I was coming towards the finish, another runner asked me where to go- she was a bit confused by them telling us to pass the finish line 3 times (as it was two full loops and a bit, and you started a bit further back from the finish, passing it after a few minutes- see the map below). I explained to her to run to the marshal, follow the path around and then go through the finish, and she then put on an amazing sprint to speed ahead of me at the finish funnel! Looking on the results it was her first ever parkrun so I hope she enjoyed it and returns. As I ran through the finish funnel, the lady giving out the tokens asked me where Ellenbrook Fields was (I was wearing my EF vest) and I said Hertfordshire. “Ooh, posh” she replied in a Yorkshire accent, and I realised that I’d spoken to her last year too! I mentioned it to her and she laughed (last year she had asked me and I’d said near London, which usually seems to be enough info for Americans, but she was an ex pat and wanted more info). A bit of a coincidence but also lovely to see that it is a proper community and not just full of tourists.

Even with the getting lost, I somehow managed a course pb of 32:47 (vs 33:58 in 2022). I think the shade really helped! Also, this was a couple of weeks into our holiday and I’d been running regularly around the hotel grounds, so was a bit more acclimatised to running in the humidity, as opposed to last year where it was our first Saturday and I’d not run at all there.

My full up wrist with Garmin, parkrun barcode and Magic Band (needed to unlock the hotel room), flags at the finish funnel and a sweaty face after running!

After finishing, I took a few photos and then walked back to the car to find Andy. I cannot convey how sweaty I got running in that humidity- even my legs were pouring with sweat! Thankfully we had brought a towel for me to sit on (last year I sat on my buff in the car on the way back which didn’t do much!). We always pack little rehydration tabs to take with us to Florida, and I’d added one to some water to take with me, so as Andy drove back I drank it up and gradually cooled down.

Another enjoyable parkrun morning, and with the early start it meant being back super early for a shower and breakfast.

Canons Park parkrun

Not to be confused with Cannon Hill in Birmingham (which I went to earlier this year), Canons Park is close to Stanmore, so when it was suggested by a club mate as a little road trip I decided to join in.

It was also Christmas in July, as celebrated by the parkrun adventurers pod, and a time to wear my ugly (not ugly) Christmas singlet. Normally I wear it in the winter over long sleeves, but it was actually OK wearing it on its own. I did suggest Christmas running gear but no-one else joined in- ah well!

Seriously- how cute is the koala design? It’s hugging a pineapple and even has on a little Santa hat. Adorable.

We arrived nice and early- one of our club members (Mel) was keen to run here as it was close to where she used to work, so she knew where there would be parking. We parked in the road right by the park entrance, but others parked in the tube car park and walked through, so I think there are lots of options. There was one toilet open before the start which a few people queued at.

There didn’t seem to be many people there even a quarter to, but by the time we’d taken photos by the sign and then listened to the wonderful new runners welcome (so very welcoming) there were more- around 150 I think.

The course was three laps, and lots of it was through woods so it would be good on a hotter day too, although a few roots to look out for as you came out (maybe harder to spot going into the glare of the sun). Three of us ended up running together which was lovely- it’s always nice to chat and run.

There wasn’t a cafe (it’s being renovated according to the course page) but the volunteers had tea and coffee at the finish, which was such a nice touch and meant that lots of people hung around at the end. We had chatted to a few tourists at the start (one of them had Panhanger as his NENDY so he was asking about it), and we chatted to more at the end. One person was very confused by my Christmas top- when I said it was Christmas in July, he said something about the football in Australia (women’s world cup) so I don’t think it was quite clear the link.

So that was my 103rd location and a very enjoyable one at that. After finishing it was time to head home and watch England’s first match, so a good start to the weekend all round.