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.