Summer Solstice 10K 2024

A local club, the St Albans Striders, host lots of 10k races, including this Summer Solstice 10k, held in the evening of the summer solstice. Despite it being close by and often well-attended by my club, I’ve not ever done it before. Often I’ve been at a yoga class, or had a meeting after school which meant I couldn’t get back in time to head out. But this year, the diary looked clear enough with a meeting that ended at 4:30, so I signed up.

It’s a bargain at around £15- you get a medal at the end, a water station on the route and water at the end, so not bad for that price.

It happened to be the same day as one of the England matches, so traffic getting home was a bit of a nightmare as I think everyone was leaving to be home for the 5pm kick off. I didn’t manage that but I did get home in time for the goal.

I find evening races harder for fuelling and being hydrated, so this time after making myself drink more than usual during the day, I opted for a cup of tea and some toast, hopefully leaving long enough between that and the race start.

Heading to the start line with mu number- look at the weather!

You had to collect your number on the day, and the registration opened at 6:45, with the race starting at 7:45, so I got there at about 7, walked around to collect my number, walked back to my car to sort it out and swap into my vest (it was way too hot for a t-shirt which I was wearing), and then walked back to the start to find the rest of my club.

It was such a gorgeous evening! Earlier in the week it had been forecast to rain, but by midweek that had disappeared and we were lucky with just beautiful sunshine. I opted for sunglasses because I struggle in the low sun, but a lot of the route was shaded so I probably would have been fine in my regular glasses.

Pre run photos- pink on one side, green on the other, then alternating, the attempt of a jump and trainers!

Of course we had to get some photos, and when we realised we had 3 in pink and 3 in green (and me in black) we tried out different formations. We also were persuaded to try a jump (which I have never managed to do)- it ended up being my favourite photo as half of us are jumping and half are not.

My mid run selfie attempt/ scenes of the race and the start/finish arch

After a quick briefing we were off. The route started in a park, soon joining the Alban Way (an old railway line that is now a footpath and cycle path), eventually doubling back coming back to the park again.

I ran with Shelley, and took a few photos mid-run as it was so pretty with the low evening light. She did convince me that I could do a mid run selfie, but as you can see above I cannot, and in fact nearly ran into a bush while I was trying to take it!

Medal photos and such a gorgeous sunset

As we headed to the finish some of our OH ladies who had already finished were cheering us in, so after getting our medals and a cup of water we headed to join them. The race did have a great atmosphere and was encouraging to the back of the pack runners, despite being organised by a club (with a speedy reputation).

The medal is really pretty too- such pretty colours with the km markers around the outside of the sun shape. Totally worth it! I got a bit chilly and I think if I did it again I’d leave an old jumper in the field as then I could put it on once I finished (as they said there was no bag drop). But that is a minor thing and just something to remember for next time.

There were food stalls (including vegan options) but it felt too late to eat a big meal by then, so I drove home, showered and had some cereal before bed.

How do you cope with evening races? I am definitely getting better- I did a 10k in Bournemouth years ago and that was not a good experience as I had eaten lunch too close to the start time, whereas the Bedford one I did with Dad last year was better in that respect.

Also, the next morning I was so thirsty. I drank a glass of water, water with a rehydration tab, made a matcha and also had a green smoothie. I was definitely a bit dehydrated!

A revisit to Leavesden and a volunteer celebration!

In the wilderness between milestones (still well over 3 years to my next one) chasing random challenges (hello Wilson Index) is a fun way to occupy the time and also to help me decide where to go. I know I go on about it, but as Ellenbrook Fields didn’t come back after the pause, I do not feel I have a home parkrun. I think Panshanger is my official one, and I do love it there, but it’s not the same.

Anyway, the Herts branch of Vegan Runners UK have a fab stats person (Gary) who each week produces some stats linked to parkrun attendance in Herts- number of Herts locations visited, number of VR’s at each location and so on. I have been to all the Herts parkruns, but not in this calendar year, and so I decided that this weekend I’d head to a Herts parkrun that I’d not been to this year, to move myself up on that table. I’d been to Jersey Farm, Panshanger, Letchworth, St Albans and Aldenham, so my choice was between Leavesden, Westmill and Stevenage.

A couple of other members of my club fancied Leavesden, so it was decided!

It is a super convenient parkrun- there is parking right by the start (you can see the flag from in the car), there is a little cafe and toilets by the start, it’s not too far a journey and not too difficult to find. It doesn’t seem to get huge numbers, but I think that’s a good thing as it’s a 3 lap course with one section where you have to keep to one side as runners come in the opposite direction (almost like a figure of 8 with the middle section where people meet). For us this was fine but if it was busy then it would be harder to pass- we had 99 participants that week.

I ran with Fiona and we had a lovely time chatting about all running and parkrun (and how much we missed Ellenbrook). It was sunny as I left home, but as we drove it had started to rain, and it drizzled on and off during parkrun. Nothing too bad but not really the weather we expect in June! The shade of the trees was still appreciated more as shelter from the rain.

Of course once finished we had to get a few photos. Gary (of VR stats fame) was also there so we got a picture for the VR club, plus of course we needed one of our little touring group too. Gary was also with a guy who used to run at Ellenbrook, so the day felt very themed towards that- lots of our club got into parkrun tourism after the pause because they didn’t have a parkrun home any more.

The cafe at Leavesden is really nice but we all had to head home so just went back to the car after taking the photos and scanning.

When the VR stats came through my name was on several of the categories-

Finished Top 20 for Gender: 13th at Leavesden Country parkrun – Maria W, Fastest Female Times: (I was number 3)- 00:29:57 Maria W Leavesden Country parkrun, Most Herts Finishes -11 (along with several others- the top person has 24 this year), Most Herts locations visited in 2024- I am on 6 which is now joint top of the table! I think this is the one I am most likely to do well at as I could potentially visit them all (although maybe would choose not to revisit a couple…). So it was worth me visiting there just to see my name in lights!

On Sunday I was off to Norton Common junior parkrun (Letchworth), as Branka was celebrating her v250! What a fantastic achievement! It was also their first birthday (which is why we had party hats on). The park is so pretty! I’d been for a little wander around as I sometimes park there when going to Letchworth, but the junior parkrun route is so lovely with all the tall trees. It has a wilder feel than the more manicured parks that other junior parkruns are in. Anyway, I was barcode scanning which was good as I was then at the start/finish area for the event.

Congratulations! Very much looking forward to seeing the green shirt in real life!

It was even more of a celebration as another RD was also celebrating his v250! All the things! Finally the High Sheriff has been making her way around all the Herts parkruns, and she was visiting. I think this is the third time I’ve seen her now- she was at St Albans, Letchworth and now Norton Common juniors.

Of course, if I am in Letchworth I am going to head to Vutie Beets for breakfast after. I opted for a crookie this time (croissant + cookie) and tea, and then bought some buns to take home and share with Andy later. Because the weather was so good (at long last) we had a long walk in Panshanger in the afternoon before watching the football in the evening.

Panshanger park/ breakfast/ on my walk/ the birthday decorations at NC.

How do you choose which parkrun to visit? I know I am in a great situation with so many within a short distance. I am still going for my single-ton at Panshanger so that is still on the cards for when I have a busy weekend too.

Harrow parkrun

Not to be confused with Harlow parkrun or Harrow Lodge, Harrow parkrun is another of the north London ones that really isn’t that far from me. Dad was away and I only had work plans for the weekend so fancied some tourism.

Thankfully some people in my club also wanted to go there and so a little band of 5 of us set off in Saturday morning. We drove and one thing I would say is that the post code on the website does not take you to the car park. The car park is tiny and we ended up using street parking, but some of those streets had restrictions (including Saturdays) so it is best to research before you go. (I don’t want to put information here as that sort of thing can date very quickly).

The park looks fairly small and as soon as we got inside we could see signs, high viz and the flag- always good. Some of our group popped to the toilets and I was photographed while waiting! We missed the first timers welcome but we had seen it was 3 laps (plus an extra mini lap)- I’d rewatched the A Little Adventure Time video of when they visited to give me an idea of what to expect.

The start area in the park, running up the “secret hill” and the purple pop up photo.

Very soon after arriving we heard the main briefing- the RD told us that as it was the football clubs’ party later on, by the time we finished their might be a bouncy castle by the finish area and they might even put the scanners in there! A fair few people had milestones and they were all called to the front for photos. It had a really friendly vibe. Then we walked to the start and began. As we walked to the start another participant mentioned my socks (the orange parkrun ones)- she was very impressed by how coordinated I was with my orange top (it’s my I Love Ellenbrook Fields top). I would say that the secret hill was not that secret- it was a long drag up one side of the park and even on the first lap I found it tough. I had to remind myself that I was just over my cold and had not run that much in the past two weeks.

The map of the route- you can see the extra mini loop in the middle.

The park was really varied with some wildlife areas and some more manicured parts. It had a really busy feel, with loads of people out being active in so many different ways- tennis, cricket, football, outdoor exercise machines, walking… it reminded me a bit of Brighton in that there are great outdoor exercise facilities and people are always using them. I think it’s crazy that you can be in such a built up area and then suddenly be in a park, particularly one like this that was bigger than it initially looked. The volunteers were amazing too- I was thanking them on each lap and wondering if some people just thanked them on their final lap. They were all calling out “great running”/” have an amazing weekend”/ “looking strong”/ “one more lap to go” etc- and did not stop. Even though we arrived relatively late (close to the start time) we had so many interactions with the team and this was just so welcoming.

Three of us being photographed at the end/ our purple sign photo/ up the hill again/ finish token.

I actually felt a bit wobbly when I finished and had to sit down for a minute before I was OK. Then the same lady who had complimented by socks came over with a camera (she was wearing a volunteer vest too) and asked to take some photos of us, and then of my socks!

Always good to see the new map once the result has come through!

So that was location 114 for me. One that in paper would not appeal particularly, but actually the volunteers made it fantastic, and the park was really varied so it didn’t feel monotonous like laps can sometimes. Once again, thanks to parkrun I have experienced a new place which I would not have been to otherwise.

How do you choose which new events to visit? Have you ever been really surprised by an event compared to the description?

Dietenbach parkrun, finally a German flag!

Back in 2018 we had a December trip to Berlin, and as we were flying there on a Friday night, I’d planned to go to a parkrun on the Saturday morning. However, once we had checked in and dropped off our bag, our flight was cancelled (and you would not believe how many hours it takes to get back a bag that only 5 minutes ago was in your hand…)- anyway, the next flight was not until the Sunday, so although this meant I got to go to Ellenbrook Fields parkrun on the Saturday, it meant I had not managed a new parkrun country.

Fast forward to 2024 and the German flag was going to be mine! We were heading to Europa-Park, a theme park in Germany, and happily there was a parkrun about a 25 minute drive away.

A few pictures from Europa-Park

We had a good few days in the park, plus one day where we hopped back into France to visit Colmar. We’ve been there before for the Christmas markets, so it was wonderful to visit in the summer. There are loads of good markets in that region- Strasbourg, Mulhouse as well as Colmar (and all reachable by train which is what we did each time), and then Saturday morning came around.

Beautiful Colmar and a pretzel

Andy had agreed to drive which I was very relieved about. We had driven our car and the roads were all fairly empty, but I am just so bad at interpreting the satnav if I am driving somewhere new. As we drove I kept looking at the maps thinking that if I had been driving, I would have taken that section of the exit- I would have gone wrong twice and one of those would have been driving back up the motorway in the wrong direction. He drove because we had to check out and then were driving to Disneyland Paris on the way home, so it made sense to go from parkrun rather than wait for me to get back and then leave.

The parkrun sign to direct you from the car park, the briefing and more of the signs.

The directions on the website were excellent- the car park was pretty empty as I think lots of people walk or cycle from the town centre (Freiberg), and there were instructions to leave the car park in the direction of the park (rather than walk towards the road), walk right and then next left, but as soon as I left the car park I could see the parkrun sign, and some little signs with arrows showing which way to go. As I took a photo of the purple pop up someone offered to take my photo. She commented on all the green, and I thought she meant all the greenery behind me, but she meant my top and hat!

Purple pop up photo and the foreign parkrun signs never get old! I love trying to guess which one means finish, which one means start etc.

I wasn’t there really early, probably around 8:40, but at that point there were only volunteers setting up the finish funnel. One volunteer came over to me straight away and began talking to me in English, saying he knew I was a visitor because of my 250 shirt! He talked me through the course, pointing out the part where we share a cycle lane so to watch out for bikes, and showing where the one marshal would be on the two lap course. He asked about how many people my local parkrun had, and when I said a couple of hundred he was almost apologetic that they didn’t have so many, and said that the weather would keep some of the sunny day runners away (the fair weather runners or the sugar people of Bushy Park…)- I said that some in the UK were much smaller but that I liked visiting them all. The RD then spoke to me, asking if I could give him some feedback after as they like to welcome visitors, and then checked if I was OK if they did the main briefing in German (which of course I was!). I always feel a bit sad that I can’t speak German. My paternal grandmother was Austrian (but she died before I was born) so my dad speaks pretty good German, but in school we learned French, and then we moved house mid year and the school I joined had German lessons, but as I’d missed the first half year I just never got the hang of it. I feel like I know a few nouns (Kartoffeln), but even words like ‘thanks’ I have to think consciously of because I automatically go to French when abroad.

Anyway, the run briefing was very baffling, even though I know what they will say, the only part I worked out was when they thanked the volunteers as the RD read out the names of every one. He also mentioned “UK” and pointed to me. Before the briefing a few more tourists had turned up, and another volunteer had shown them the course map and then shown everyone their visitors book. I recognised one of the people as Jürgen Krauss from Bake Off. At the briefing once they mentioned I was from the UK, he walked over to me and asked whereabouts, so we began chatting. I asked him and he said he goes to one in Brighton, and as I’ve done all 5 there, we could chat a bit about them. I was so sure it was him, but by that point it felt too late to actually say anything, plus if you know me at all you know I feel super awkward around anyone remotely famous (and even get starstruck meeting Disney characters) so I just kept the chat to parkrun. He ran with me for a bit but thankfully soon sped off. I felt like I was struggling a bit- I’d not run all week as I’d had a cold, and although my cold had cleared up my legs felt so heavy. (Look below to see my spectacular positive split with each mile being slower than the previous one!) But this wasn’t about a time, it was about enjoying the run which I certainly did.

The route was fab- two flat laps of a really varied park. You took in some open grassland, ran around a lake and then had an out and back section under trees and amongst long grass.

The well-signed course (and Jurgen heading off in the distance), and me being very happy to be running after a week off!

The parkrun route was very well signposted, with lots of arrows and cones marking off corners. They seem to have a spread of participants, not just loads of speedy runners, with a few people walking as well. It wasn’t busy, with 48 finishers on that day (and around double that the week later when I checked), but I could always see people up ahead, and on the out and back part I could see people behind me too.

After I finished a few of the volunteers asked me how I had enjoyed it, and then I ended up chatting to another tourist from the UK who had been in France but had persuaded her husband to detour over the border to take in a parkrun- sounds familiar! I made sure I signed the visitors book and then briefly spoke to the RD before heading back to the car because we had to hit the road! I’d packed a jumper to wear straight away, and made a tea to have in the car, and then later on we stopped at services and I changed properly. We didn’t get to our hotel at Disney until the afternoon so I didn’t have a shower until then- that’s the longest I’ve been parkrun fresh for!

Tea for the journey, finish area, finish token and change of clothes.

You don’t get a text result with an overseas parkrun, and the email didn’t come through until around 7:30pm, so I was a little relieved when it came through and I could finally claim my German flag! But of course it isn’t just about ticking off a country, it was a really enjoyable place to visit and the team were so friendly, I’m so glad I got to go there.

The gorgeous drawing on the cover of their guest book, my new flag and my message- It was raining so I was trying to write quickly so I could put the book back in the box!

And the updated Vonoroi map! I love looking at this so much.

So, that was parkrun country number 8 for me. I’ve sort of got them in pairs- UK and Ireland, USA and Canada, Denmark and Norway, and now Netherlands and Germany. My next parkrun country is going to be even more challenging with the language barrier than Germany was, so we shall wait and see if I end up getting there.

Do you like visiting different countries for parkrun?

PS a few Disney pics! One by the castle, the castle rainbow coloured at night, the main mice and then the vegan burrito which was the best dinner after no lunch as we were travelling all day.

Panshanger for Mel’s 200th… with Mel being elsewhere

A while ago Mel in my club had mentioned her 200th parkrun was coming up, and had arranged for everyone to head to Panshanger to celebrate. I’d mentioned this to Dad, and he was happy to come over this way, and on the day my brother also came along too.

Sunglasses on as it was a gorgeous day! Check out the start and views from the run.

I never know what time I need to leave- if I was running there it’s a couple of miles so I’d leave around 8:15 to give me plenty of time to walk, not panic about missing the start etc. If we drive, it’s a 5 minute drive but the parking does fill up, so Dad picked me up at 8:30 and we were parked by 8:35, right at the front of the row of cars. We sat inside for a bit chatting, and then saw our two friends Donna and Lee, so we got out to chat. I mentioned that it was a bit late for Mel and everyone else to be arriving, and Donna told me that they were all at St Albans! I had somehow missed the change of venue-oops! Our running club group has migrated from using a closed facebook group to a whatsapp channel with lots of different sub groups, so it was in the parkrun chat group but I’d just missed it. I don’t often get the chance to check my phone during the day at work, so sometimes (particularly on a Friday) I get home and there will be 40 notifications in one group, so I tend to scroll down and not necessarily read them all. Clearly I’d missed it.

Anyway, back to Panshanger. Dad’s birthday is coming up and he said he wants to try and get first in his age category before moving to a new one, so he went up closer to the front and I stayed with Tony. We had a lovely run chatting together. It was a sunny day and the park just looked so beautiful. That was my 95th run there and it never gets old. We saw the cows and calves at a distance (they have longhorn cattle there are they are good for controlling aggressive grasses which then helps with biodiversity) and I also read that they are going to be introducing some iron age pigs which are good for turning over the land and helping tree saplings. Something exciting to look out for in the future.

We took a few photos by the sign, a few more scenes from the run, and the token photo

At one point we passed a marshal (Jacqueline) who I knew, and as we ran past and thanked her she mentioned that our dad was up ahead looking strong. Good news!

Once finished we took the obligatory photos (Dad has learnt that I need a photo by the parkrun sign each time I go!) and then he dropped me off home, I had a quick shower and then headed over to theirs for breakfast. When the email came through he was so frustrated as he had finished second in his age cat (23:48- a time I could only dream of!), with the guy who was first only a few places ahead. Ah well, you never know who else will be there with you! He still has a few more weeks to give this a go.

My parkrun whatsapp was filled with photos from St Albans, where Mel had actually gone to, so it was nice to see the celebration and hear about it after even if I did manage to end up in the wrong place!

Snacks in front of the football and CWW tea

After feeling fine in the morning, once I got home I could not stop sneezing, my throat was sore and I ended up with the typical half term cold (Andy reminded me that this time last year almost the same thing happened in Norway, as I was fine for parkrun in the morning and then ended up with a really bad cold the next day). Cold weather warrior tea is always good for this. I was glad I hadn’t volunteered at junior parkrun, and just chilled at home and then packed, as after Andy got back from the football (seeing Saints at Wembley) we were off to Germany via France and the Eurotunnel.

So a good start to half term even if it wasn’t quite what I had imagined. parkrun 360 and 95th at Panshanger. That single-ton is still within sight before the end of the year.

Have you managed a mix up like that before?