A year in the life of a parkrun tourist.. by Jason Newell 2012

Part 1

By the end of this year I should finally be over the 20 different parkruns mark and onto the leaderboard on the website. That would be 15 new parkruns this year but what has been the highlight, and why do it???

The “why?” is easier to answer – sometimes because I happen to be in a different part of the country so take advantage of the nearest local parkrun. Sometimes it’s planned for somewhere different to go, different people to meet- occasionally there’s someone I met in the discussion groups online that you just have to meet! Which reminds me- I must schedule Coventry in the diary for next year…

So to the highlights of a year of parkrun tourism – where have we been and who have we met??

My first visit this year was the Valentines Day run at Huddersfield, where event organiser Kerry Noble let me be a guest Bunny. All I will say is they are mad for the bunny over there and I got fantastic support and a decent time on a course which is the best example of human spaghetti I have ever seen! There were people everywhere and a fantastic atmosphere, probably the best venue for the kids too!! This picture is actually from our second visit to Hudds, but included meeting parkrun uber-tourist Dave and is one of the very few pictures of me I actually like!! The other is from the same day when Yorkshire Cancer Research launched their Bounce event – Jamie having a blast!!

A couple of weeks later we hit Oldham parkrun, travelling over with parkrun royalty Nicola Forwood, Ben and Jaz and meeting the infamous Simon Bruce Lee, sorry, Lake. Slightly odd choice this but bear with me- knew Simon from the forums hence good to meet but after the run I was meeting a mate and along with Ben we were catching the train from Manchester to go to a gig in Glasgow. Makes sense now!! Interesting course, usual friendly people and Ben in particular ran a blinder with a comeback pb that saw him finish in the top 10 and taking me down in impressive style on the last lap! The gig was fantastic too – a great weekend, though Preston station is not great to get stuck on a Sunday due to engineering works…

Next to Colwick in Nottingham- not a good run due to a late night out with far too much alcohol but a lovely course! Just over a lap round the lake and flat- this one needs doing again properly, and don’t be put off by the trails- keeps it interesting!! Definitely recommended, and one of my favourite courses!

In between travelling we do of course attend our local parkruns – and do some volunteering!! Sometimes I am off wandering, alone or with other tourists, but parkrun is always part of our weekend. Find out more about our touring plans by joining our Facebook group “Discussion Group for parkrunners on tour”.

Part 2

The week after we went to Wythernshawe in Manchester to meet with Fi and Jon, 2 parkrunners I got to know through friends online. This was a muddy one – flat but tough and again I enjoyed it in a decent time. Jamie (my boy, aged 6 and a half at the time) ran with Fi (thanks Fi for giving up your run for him!!) and he showed his true colours- let him run alone and he did 33 minutes, with a lady for company more like 39!! Too busy chatting!! Great to meet new friends and had a MacD’s for breakfast afterwards- a good day!

Pontefract next – loop then a lap around the racecourse. Jamie didn’t feel like running so the enclosed children’s playground right by the finish was a blessing. Don’t worry, he wasn’t alone having a tourist friends little girl for company!! Enjoyed this course- seems to be a lot more downhill than uphill somehow but having run the Northern Counties Cross Country here 20 years ago I know it is bitter and exposed in winter- still recommend it though and I think it will get you some quick times!!

Braunstone in Leicester – nice friendly event, relatively flat but with a sneaky hill hidden in the trees at the halfway point!! Certainly caught me out but otherwise another great event!

After that we took the “Yorkshire Tough” challenge to Barnsley with the guys from Roundhay, aiming to beat their pb’s and settle the toughest parkrun question once and for all. I have to say that despite beating my Roundhay pb Barnsley is much tougher!! Much, much tougher!! They have the same 3 laps and the same long hill on each lap but Roundhay is a consistent hill whereas Barnsley’s alternates beween steep and not so steep, with corners! The constant change in gradient is a killer, so much so that I could not feel my legs and enjoy the steep downhill at the end of each lap! Definitely a great challenge- and really friendly with a playground for the kids by the finish!

Half term week at the end of June saw us take a family holiday in Scotland – a long drive with a 6 year old and especially with my mother and step dad who, after a near fatal car crash a few years ago, really do not enjoy being in the car too much! The solution- take advantage of the Travelodge offer of £10 rooms and break up the journey- set off Friday for Glasgow, the same the week after to Edinburgh. Result- 2 parkrun opportunities, totally planned of course and fantastic that they all let me get away with it!!

Glasgow is a big un -353 the week we were there, and the guys gave a shout out to Jamie in the run briefing which made his day!! A great course, couple of laps on tarmac through the woods and probably tough if you are going for it but I ran with Jamie so I could enjoy the scenery! Definitely another I’d like to do again in anger!! Edinburgh was a complete contrast- a more professionally organised event I have never seen, pa, van, banners all in evidence gave it a true race feel- and the course is perfect for it! This is one where the weather can make or break your run- it’s a completely flat out and back course on the esplanade so the slightest hint of wind and you are going to get it at some point!! We had perfect conditions and I went for it- way too fast!! At halfway I was on for a 2 minute pb and I think you can guess what happened next…….

Part 3

In June we attended the inaugural Dewsbury parkrun, again after a night out with too much alcohol! I think it helped that I couldn’t feel my legs as this is another Yorkshire Tough course – 4 laps, twisting and turning starting up the hill, and finishing up it too! Ouch. Run by Nicki and Jonny, originally from Huddersfield parkrun it has a great atmosphere and a nice café in the park. It is tough though, so much so at our second attempt Jamie dropped out after 2 laps!! I tell you, 2 laps of that eyeballs out is not easy but great fun!

The Longest parkrun, Yorkshire. 7 parkruns at 6 venues in one day. Please make sure this is in your diary for next year. 3 of us did 9 between us: including Jamie taking off on his own at York in his wellies! Too much to put that in here but Steve Darby’s blog of the day is fantastic!! http://runningonaraisin.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/longest-parkrun-yorkshire-2012.html

Last year Jamie and I went to Conkers in Leicestershire for their 4th parkrun- there is a really good childerens activity centre there and a campsite next door so it made for a perfect weekend. Problem was I was injured so ended up timekeeping (with those little timers with no display to tell you it is working- even with only 22 runners that was the most stress ever at a parkrun, respect to timekeepers everywhere!!!!) and Jamie gave out finishing tokens! This year we went back with the group from Huddersfield parkrun who were going off to do the Thunder Run afterwards and joined in their parkrun. In the run briefing they said they were missing a few marshalls, especially along the canal. When I hit this point we turned off and I was in a dilemma as to whether to wait for Jamie or not. He has run many parkruns on his own with no problems but this niggled at me all the way to the finish. I immediately ran back and couldn’t see him and I knew straight away where he had gone wrong. Following the path I passed a number of people who said they had seen him “running for England” so I kept on going. Eventually I caught up with him, ironically at the car park at the finish where they generously gave him a finish time – and I had run 4k extra faster than the run itself! Lesson Learned!!!

So now we come to August, and a visit to my all time favourite parkrun course. Surprisingly this is in Milton Keynes, not somewhere you would naturally think of as high on your list of places to visit but I love it!!! We first visited in August last year on our way to Wembley to see Leeds Rhinos lose the Challenge Cup final – travelling with a couple of Leeds parkrun mates Dave McGuire and Janet Glynn we set off at 5:30am, collecting my step dad in Nottingham en route. We had such a great time and loved the course so much we decided to repeat this again this year – as did the Rhinos, losing yet again at Wembley!!

The start is by Willen Lake with a number of café’s and lots of room for warming up and a great view over the lake, complete with mist and swans taking off and landing!! The course is a single lap (bonus!!) and starts with a long run on paths to the canal, following the towpath until turning back towards the lake on dedicated footpaths. You then drop down and have the strange view in front of you of a steep hill complete with steps!! Lots of them!! The route however follows the switchback, zigzagging up the hill with hairpin bends to stop you going too fast!! Then its down to the lake and the last 2k following it round giving a very fast run into the finish. I would recommend this course to anyone, though maybe without the 3 hour drive to get there! Definitely my favourite!!!

Part 4

The highlight of my parkrunning year? Got to be August the 4th at Bushy parkrun.

Jamie and I had tickets for the Athletics in the Olympic Stadium that night so decided to make a proper trip of it, going down on the Thursday, visiting friends and doing the tourist bit for a couple of days. On the Saturday we realised the only way we could get to Bushy was to catch the 7am train, a couple of others then run about a mile through the park to the start. The trains worked like clockwork getting us there just before 8:45am, then accosting a very nice family in running kit led us to the start- at 8:58 just in time for the run briefing! At such a large run I never expected to see anyone I knew but there was Chris Healey from Bradford, down for exactly the same reasons as us!!

It was going to be a long day so Jamie and I ran together at the back for the first 1k done in 7 and a half minutes. I could see he wanted to go so I let him! It was the most beautiful thing to see him running past 100 people over the next 4k, very sensibly keeping out of the way and concentrating on running perfectly! His 24 min last 4km saw him set a 2 minute plus parkrun pb in 31:32 which cost me a full English breakfast at the café and a Gold Wenlock later in the day!

Breakfast was interrupted by a photo opportunity- Jamie with an Olympic torch!! Even he had to stop stuffing his face for that one!! We were then interviewed by Rodney, author of the Bushy parkrun newsletter who produced a fantastic piece on my little parkrun tourist under the title of “Inspire a Generation”, complete with pictures including the Huddersfield Bunny on Tour T-Shirt! Ray and Ann Coward, the pixies behind the parkrun T-shirts we wear so proudly then gave us a lift back to the station – an hour and a half later we were back at the hotel and Jamie had a kip!!

That night as everybody knows we witnessed 3 British Olympic Gold medals in 44 minutes in the Olympic Stadium. I have never experienced an atmosphere like it anywhere, nor do I ever expect to see that level of performance from a British team in one night ever again. Jamie loved it, and when we finally left about 10:30pm he was bouncing!! The venue was so busy however it took us 90 minutes to shuffle all the way to West Ham station as Stratford was gridlocked! It was only at midnight when we finally got on a train he crashed. A piece of advice- when carrying a 6 year old on the tube at midnight on a Saturday do not change at Embankment- lots and lots of steps and a long walk is not what you need!!

The next day we went to the arranged meet up via the Marathon Talk podcast to watch the Women’s marathon. Arriving a little late we found everyone and spent the rest of the day cheering on the runners, though due to torrential rain I have to admit Jamie hid in the pub and watched on tv!!! As well as meeting some good parkrun friends there (Tom and Helen Williams, Ralph and Eleanor from Leeds parkrun and Danny Norman to name just a few) the best was meeting Danny’s parents! I had been winding him up about having tickets for that session of athletics for ages and it was even mentioned on the Marathon Talk live podcast when I predicted what 10,000m at the coming Olympics would be the best Olympic race ever! The fact I mainly did this to wind Danny up and was sat next to him when Tom read it out was a big bonus, however it was Danny’s mum Lynne thanking me for winding him up for so long that made my day! Incidentally Danny’s parents recently ran their first ever parkrun at Bushy – respect!!!

So there you have it, a perfect parkrun weekend! Ok, so it wasn’t all about the parkrun but if we’d have gone home after the full English I think it would still have been the winner! The only thing left to do was get the train home – meeting a fellow Hyde Park Harrier Matt Jackson at Kings Cross was not really a surprise by this point, even though he was arriving as we were leaving! Sitting in MacDonalds and being joined at the table by Women’s Marathon 13th place athlete Marisa Barros and her entourage certainly was- great to see an Olympic athlete letting her hair down so soon after the event!! I let my hair down when we got back with a glass of wine, just in time to see Usain Bolt in the 100m final…….

Part 5

So as the title of this piece suggests I have been planning to be on tour for most of the year, aiming to hit 20 different parkruns by the end of the year and experiencing the best that Yorkshire in particular has to offer!

After our trip to Wembley via Milton Keynes we decided to revisit some local runs again- mainly due to time constraints and other races and to be sociable!

First stop was Dewsbury – closest parkrun to the track at Spenborough where Kirklees Council organise an excellent track coaching session for under 8’s on a Saturday morning at 10am. Jamie decided he could do both so of we set round the hilly 4 lap course. After 2 laps his feet hurt so he stopped by the finish and allowed me to smash out 2 laps, nearly managing to catch Event Director Nicki at the finish despite being 100m down with 200 to go – I was out-dipped in the funnel after my heavy breathing and footsteps warned her I was coming but all good fun! One quick coffee later (plus a sausage sandwich and ice cream for Jamie!) we headed for the track where he spent a great hour and a half trying out a variety of track and field events – I can recommend this for any kids under 8 who want to have a go at athletics with qualified coaches for next to nothing!

After that a trip to my second home in Bradford to see Event Director Linda and to pace a friend to 27:30. Always good fun at Bradford despite the teeny tiny hill (x3) and I finished in 27:29 (thank you Garmin!) – my friend unfortunately struggled coming back from illness but there will always be other parkruns…..

Enjoying the pacing theme the week after (and the day before the Great North Run) we planned to get Sarah (my wife) round a parkrun in under 30 minutes for the first time. Like the four-minute mile this was a psychological barrier rather than physical and true to form she passed me on the finish straight to clock a time that was later rounded down to 29:43. Very well done Mrs!!!

The day after I travelled up to the GNR with the Huddersfield Running Bunnies to take on my second half marathon since coming back to running- despite the usual chaos (bus breaking down, driving past us and off up the motorway etc) we got there in good time, set off and knocked over 10 minutes off my comeback pb, and without stopping once!!! Happy day- though the traffic was so bad on the way back I did run out of beer…..

After 2 more weeks of pacing back at Leeds the 3 of us headed off to Harrogate parkrun with pool-playing friend Nicky for company. Nicky had gone from occasional runner to parkrun addict over the previous year and had caught me up time-wise, to the second at Leeds! Heading off round the perfectly flat half grass, half tarmac course he took his usual lead with me reeling him in slowly. After 2 of the 3 laps I realised that the cold I had been feeling was getting worse so I backed off, run/walking the last lap. The course however is so fast that if you have anything left for the last lap you can pick up a fast time! Lapping Jamie and Sarah with about 500m to go actually led me to my second fastest parkrun ever and a minute plus victory over Nicky, though the cold was to linger for a few weeks after that….. Nicky disagrees (because he does not like the mixed terrain) but I think this is one of the fastest courses out there – so long as it’s not too soggy!!!

Finally shifting that cold a few weeks later however having had a hip injury since the Woodland Challenge we set off for Hull parkrun on the 3rd Nov. Struggling to walk from the car to the start I was already planning a Personal Worse at possibly the fastest course in the country. However having tried to job at the back with the boys I figured my hip hurt anyway so I might as well get it over with as soon as possible!! Running on one leg around the lake on a very chilly morning I ended up with a very respectable time considering and promising to return next year when fit because this is a good one and a fast one!! The park itself is worth spending a bit of time and the event team are a great bunch, though I was appalled by the bad manners by a number of people during the run briefing!! I’ll be back…..

The week after back at Leeds we had one of those special events that sets Leeds apart – organised by the mighty Sam Dooley, statto extraordinaire the 3 leg relay (finally stopped calling it the 3 legged relay- completely different!) consisting of 25 teams of 3 running approximately 1 mile (ie a lap) each on a handicap system which only Sam understands but which works every time!! I had volunteered to marshall with Jamie for the main event due to the hip but as the 3 of us had entered as Team Jamie I had to do the relay! Now 1 mile is much more my thing- in the Golden mile track event a couple of months earlier I had clocked 5:38, far quicker than my 21 min plus 5k pb would suggest so I always do rather well out of the handicap system! However running on one leg still would not be easy. I ran the first lap with Jamie (aged 7 by now) who clocked 9:16 followed by Sar running 9:38 (ok, the first lap is very slightly shorter but still good going!) then I managed to shuffle round getting the team up to 3rd at the finish. Between us we managed a parkrun in 25:19 -if I had been fully fit…… Oh well, there’s always next year!! A great event with a fantastic atmosphere immaculately organised and supported – love it!

The week after I decided to test my hip out at Leeds parkrun and it did not go well- so the day after I sacked off my pb attempt (planned for 12 months) and ran the Abbey Dash 10k with Sar – supposed to be pacing I spent the first 9k trying not to let her see the time as she was on for a massive pb- 7 mins 32 seconds as it turned out!! Most I’ve enjoyed a PW ever!!! Shows what parkrun can do for you…..

And so onto the final and 15th different parkrun of the year- York. Again, reckoned to be the flattest and fastest in the country they are not kidding- if it hadn’t been -1 degree, foggy and if I had full use of both legs it would have been!! As it was I ran the first lap with Nicky’s friend then hobbled off to pick up a few places on lap 2. Nicky again beat my best time (well done mate!) and proved that in good conditions this will be very fast. The usual excellent event team even gave Jamie a shout out (for those who followed the links earlier on the Longest parkrun he ran an unofficial world record for parkrun by a 6 year old in wellies at York…) and I had to apologise that he hadn’t made it and was tucked up warm in bed! Still, another great event to revisit when we start to fill up the calendar for next year…..

So what about the festive season? Well due to special events and generally being sociable we are staying local – full details can be found on our Facebook page – feel free to add and join in!!

Have a good one and see you at a parkrun near you soon…..