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.

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 J├╝rgen┬áKrauss 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.

A birthday Brighton weekend

If you have read this blog for a while, then you will know I love Brighton. Honestly, a weekend there is just fantastic and one of my favourite ways to spend a weekend. There are lots of parkruns to choose from, you can walk by the sea, there are fun little shops to explore in the lanes and of course amazing vegan food options.

My birthday is around the May Bank holiday weekend, so we often go away for the long weekend as a birthday treat (last year we went to Bakewell for the weekend), and this year we headed to Brighton. Andy had got the train down earlier in the afternoon so he could check in to our hotel (as it had a time limit for checking in), and I got the train after work and we met up for dinner, then had a sunset walk by the sea.

The run to parkrun by the sea/ the 5K app showing me my options

Of course Saturday morning was time for parkrun. We were staying in Kemp town, so I think I was actually half way between East Brighton and Hove Prom. Before this weekend, I’d been to Hove Prom 10 times, Preston Park 8 times, Brighton and Hove once, Bevendean Down once and East Brighton once. You can see my favourites (but they are also the easiest from the city centre as both are a jog/walk from most hotels). We planned to meet for breakfast after, and this was closer to Hove Prom, so the decision was made. It is probably my favourite of all the Brighton ones.

Photos with the selfie frame (lesser spotted selfie frames now… and of course the purple pop up- the beach huts in Hove make a great backdrop to photos too as they are so colourful.

It was the most beautiful morning, with blue skies and the sun glinting off the sea. It was also Star Wars Day (May the 4th) and I was very impressed to see a few people in outfits. Some people actually ran in full length costumes and masks which would have been tough in the heat. I admire their dedication. I have a Grogu Christmas jumper but there was no way I was running in that, I would have been overheating in no time.

Hove Prom is out and back twice, but you start in the middle, which sounds complicated, but basically you run out towards Hove, back along the front passing the start line, up to the Peace statue, then back along towards the start/finish line, and then repeat. It is very inclusive with a separate start for VI runners and wheelchair participants, it’s flat, well marshalled and really friendly. This time as well as people in Star Wars outfits there were a few hen dos – there were 762 runners in total which seems mad! I first went there in 2015 and there were 108 runners! They had pacers so I tried to keep up with the 29 minute pacer. I think if it had been less busy then the 28 minute pacer could have been an option but it takes a while for the crowd to thin out enough to get into your own pace. The pacer was great, turning around and cheering on the group frequently, and I was very happy with 28:38 as my time. I do really think they need a double funnel though- the funnel loops back and forth around 4 times I think and there were people trying to duck out, people milling about and not closing the gaps- the poor funnel managers were having a terrible time. It wasn’t as bad as Clapham Common but it does seem to be really exploding in size- the course can cope with big numbers but the funnel really can’t. I got there just as the funnel was filling, but a bit behind me people were stopping before the finish line as there wasn’t space in the funnel.

The most delicious pancakes from Nowhere Man (my new favourite Brighton breakfast spot), the funnel going on and on, up and down, finish token and another beach hut photo.

Andy messaged as I was in the funnel to say he had ordered breakfast so I couldn’t hang about for long- time to get scanned, get my top and head back into town. Those pancakes are delicious- Nowhere Man do vegan pancakes and also non-vegan ones. These were dark chocolate raspberry ones. They also serve Bird and Blend tea which of course makes me happy.

Children’s day parade, iced matcha and tea at breakfast

On the way back to the hotel after breakfast we stumbled across a children’s day parade- all the schools had decorated floats and were parading them down the main street. We watched for ages- they were all so brilliant. After finally having a shower and getting changed we then had our standard Brighton Saturday afternoon- a walk to Hove, a drink from Bird and Blend, a wander around the shops in the lanes, and a delicious Purezza dinner.

Sunset views, more tea and the talk at the Brighton festival

On Sunday we had tickets for a talk by Caroline Lucas, about her new book, as part of the Brighton Festival. It was a bit rainy that day but had stopped raining once we came out of the talk. We saw some more beautiful sunset views on our evening walk. Then on Monday I went for a run in the rain, picked up breakfast (The Flour Pot bakery do amazing vegan croissants too) and then headed to the train station via Bird and Blend for a final matcha. That was less fun as lots of trains were cancelled due to a reported landslip, but thankfully we got home, albeit rather later than planned.

A rainy morning run, and the matcha wall of dreams!

So, another pretty perfect weekend in Brighton.

Where do you like to head for a weekend away? Which parkruns do you like to revisit?

Great Denham parkrun- completing Stay in Beds

If you have the 5k app (the purple one) then as well as keeping track of things like the alphabet challenge, you can also create your own challenges. A few members of my running club had started tracking the Bedfordshire parkruns, after completing all the parkruns in Herts, so I added it to my list of challenges. At that point I only had a couple left, Bedford and Great Denham, and visited Bedford last summer.

This April was finally the time for me to head there, as Dad fancied doing some tourism too. In fact my brother even joined us which was lovely, as he often plays football on Saturdays so then doesn’t do parkrun as much as he used to.

I was a little worried about the parking situation, as there is a car park right next to the start, but they ask parkrunners not to use it, as it is used for things like kids football matches, and instead they ask you to use a park and ride car park 1km away. We left a little later than I would have liked, but the traffic going up there was fine, and in fact the walk from the park and ride to the park didn’t take long at all (it was 0.6 miles according to Strava) so definitely a good option. We were a bit late for the first timers welcome, but at the main briefing they mentioned they are trying to get a junior parkrun agreed, but it wouldn’t be if the residents were upset with the parking arrangements, so it is important to adhere to their requests. (If you go to the parkrun page and look at the course map, you can expand the map and it opens google maps, you can then click on the green start pin and navigate towards it)

The course itself is two laps of the park, it’s very flat and all on paths. It was a beautiful day with blue skies, although there was quite a strong wind, which of course you never feel when it’s behind you, but as soon as you turn and run into it, it’s there!

Scenes of the route plus the pop up at the start.

I really enjoyed the route- the park was quite varied with grassland, a few wooded areas, some ponds, and at times you ran past a row of trees and could glimpse the river through them.

I ran with Dad and as usually chat and don’t look at watches while we run (he doesn’t have a GPS watch or anything, and I just press start and stop and that’s it) but he commented that we were going pretty quickly. I think he said more than me in the second lap. I don’t look at splits much but when cropping the route map it was pleasing to see a royal flush negative split (each mile quicker than the previous one), particularly as I felt I really slowed in the final section as we ran into the wind towards the finish line. My time was 28:23 so a fair bit quicker than I have been running recently.

The finish funnel bunting, obligatory token photo and purple pop up picture.

On that note, I loved their finish funnel! It reminded me of Clermont Waterfront, which has flags from around the world decorating their funnel. This one had bunting made from old high viz jackets- it looked so pretty fluttering in the wind.

Photos of my brother with me, and then Dad joined us. I was glad of my sunglasses as my eyes would not have been open for any of the pictures otherwise!

Time for some photos before we walked back to the car and drove home, as Mum was at home ready to cook us some breakfast.

New and old Vonoroi map! Before- that green triangle was Great Denham, and now it’s purple because I’ve been there.

The 5K app also had an update where you can now select Vonoroi when you look at the map of events. This was available if you use the google chrome extension- parkrun challenges- still the original way to track challenges. However even if you have chrome on your phone, it wouldn’t work, but now you can have the fun of looking at the map on your phone instead.

So, Stay in Beds complete, and here are the dates I visited first:

Bedford- 8th July 2023

Dunstable Downs- 2nd March 2019

Great Denham- 20th April 2024

Henlow Bridge Lakes- 27th November 2021

Luton Wardown- 4th September 2021

Houghton Hall- 27th January 2018

Millennium Country- 13th April 2019

Rushmere- 22nd September 2018

(Complete until of course another one starts in Beds…)

Have you been to any of all of these events? Are you as taken as I am with the Vonoroi map? Which challenges are you working on if any?

Holyrood parkrun – what a treat!

I absolutely love going to Edinburgh and have had many happy times there, both with and without parkruns. I’ve been to both Portobello parkrun and Edinburgh parkrun before, and when Holyrood parkrun started it was on my list as I’ve been there to run and it’s just so scenic.

We drove up via York on the Thursday night, and then up to Edinburgh on the Friday. We parked the car on the outskirts of the city (booking a car park space) by a tram and train stop, and then got the train in, so we had not car for the weekend, but you don’t need it as Edinburgh is fab to explore by foot. We were there until Monday so plenty of time to spend in the city.

I’d slightly twisted my ankle the week before so had rested it and tried a few walks, but no running as I really wanted to be able to spend time sightseeing, but also I really wanted to take part in parkrun on the Saturday. My jog there from the hotel was about a mile and a half, and I ran/walked it, enjoying the scenery and listening to a podcast. My ankle felt fine so I was happy that I’d be OK to run rather than walk it (which of course is an option but just delays breakfast!).

Of course once I arrived I just could not stop taking photos. It is such a stunning location with Arthur’s Seat in the background.

The scenic start line and the purple pop up and flag

I was there ahead of the first timers welcome with plenty of time to get photos by the purple pop up, as I was meeting Andy at the breakfast place after so would not hang about too much at the finish.

I had been warned about the elevation- you basically run one lap but it’s a mile uphill, then a mile of flat, then a mile downhill, although you finish slightly uphill again so save some energy for that! The first timers welcome shared that, and mentioned how they encouraged walkers too. It felt very friendly.

Toad crossing signs, the very busy start, the beautiful yellow gorse bushes and the lake at the top

I couldn’t hear anything at the main briefing and didn’t even realise that it had started. I chatted to a local guy for a bit before he stopped to walk, and that was good as it meant I didn’t set off too fast. I’m used to courses with undulations (Panshanger and Jersey Farm are both up and down courses) but running a mile uphill is very different to short up and down sections. As it was curved you couldn’t see the next part of the course and I kept thinking that it must be the top, but no, it kept going. It was however absolutely stunning. The forecast rain had stayed away, but with the darker skies it looked even more dramatic. Once at the top the course went around a lake, so up ahead I could see all the runners reflected in the surface. Then the downhill started- I got overtaken more there than anywhere else. I’m not the best at steep downhill anyway, but with my ankle I needed to be even more careful. I just loved the views- if you looked to the left and slightly behind you could see the sea, you could see all the monuments on Calton Hill, it was all there.

I was so happy to be running again after a week off, and then the views on the downhill section

Once finished I got a few more photos before heading to breakfast.

Purple pop up pictures

There were 445 participants that day- it’s a popular one but after the first part it thinned out quickly so it can take that number of people.

You can see the elevation below- they have a chart on the FAQ section of their facebook page too- be prepared!

After the photos, I ran/walked to Loudon’s where Andy had booked us breakfast- he was walking from the hotel and met me there. They do delicious vegan pancakes so of course that is what I had.

Then we had a wonderful few days in Edinburgh. It was super windy (up to 50mph) due to a storm, so all the gardens were closed, as well as the botanical gardens, and we didn’t think a walk up Arthur’s Seat was advisable in that weather so spent more time in the centre instead, going to a museum, visiting Bird and Blend and of course enjoying all the amazing vegan food options available.

A windy walk in Edinburgh/ sunshine in the park/ pancakes at Loudon’s

It was coming up to Andy’s birthday so the Buttermint matcha was something he chose for a birthday treat.

Black Rabbit vegan cinnamon and Biscoff buns (heavenly), Bird and Blend matcha, the amazing tea chest in their store, and our purchases!

All in all, a fantastic weekend in Edinburgh. I’m so glad I got to experience Holyrood parkrun, it really is special because the scenery is so amazing. Definitely one to add to your list if it’s not already on there.

For me it was parkrun 353, course number 111, my third Scottish and my third Edinburg one!

Is Holyrood on your list?