NI parkruns: Stormont

It’s not often you get the chance to attend an inaugural parkrun event, so I was very happy to get the opportunity to go along to the beautiful Stormont estate for their first run.

I’ve worked in a couple of the buildings in this estate during my career, so I’m sort of familiar with some of the trails, though they do look a little different when you’re running with 200 others!

The first of the opening-day hiccups occurred when I arrived at the gates of the car-park by the Mo Mowlam playground, the car park suggested by the parkrun homepage, to find they were locked! No matter, the hotel across the road has a huge carpark, and I was easily able to get a space there, and get sorted with Minnie’s belt and gear. It’s a very busy road, so do use the pedestrian crossing lights to cross safely.

Yes, yes, Norn Irn is a very small place, and yes we do all know each other. This week I bumped into:

    an old colleague from my Forest Service days
    someone who’d seen me at Waterworks and is a fan of this ‘ere blog
    a fellow Waggy Racer in a Team Minnie vest
    a Weimaraner I’d met at Victoria


The course starts half-way up the very imposing Prince of Wales Avenue, and thankfully begins by going DOWN the hill. I’ve done a couple of 10ks and the like in this venue, which involved running UP the hill, and that is seriously tiring. The avenue is also nice and wide, so the start is very good for allowing the elite pack to get away without any hemming in. At the front gates, it’s a right turn to make a small loop on gravel paths through the trees.

There’s one short hill with a 90 degree turn at the top which could be tricky for buggies and wheelchairs, and as the loop finishes along the same path where it started, there’s a short section with runners going in 2 directions. Cross the Avenue, the course follows the good tarmac path along the side of the playground, and then turns on to gravel paths again round the back of the tennis courts.


Through some lovely wooded areas, and back onto the main Avenue. Repeat. The finish line is down by the main gate, and that final stretch is deceptive – I started into my sprint as I turned onto the avenue, and found myself thinking Where is that line???? Answer – it’s about 400m away!
I’m not sure why the pre-run brief took place at the finish line, entailing a 7 minute walk up to the start, maybe that will change.

Post run:

There’s no real shelter or access to kitchens here, so scanning just takes place outdoors. Could be an issue on cold and rainy days. Another first day hiccup was that there didn’t appear to be anyone on hand with a pen and paper to record the numbers of barcodes that weren’t scanning properly, leading to long queues. I’d been hoping for treats like a sweet (or a bacon buttie like Bangor had at their inaugural do!), but instead I had my chilled Starbucks latte and an apricot/ almond ball* in the car park while Minnie had a couple of bowls of water. Dogs don’t need any special carb-loading for running, but they DO need to be properly hydrated, so I always make sure I have lots of water bottles with me.

* Recipe: 100g dried apricots, 100g roasted almonds, zest of one lemon, pinch of sea salt, and a drizzle of agave nectar or honey. Blitz in a food processor, roll into walnut sized balls, keep in the fridge.

Strangely Appropriate Song on Shuffle:

I’m in training for a half-marathon in a couple of weeks, and a lot of running is in your head. One of my motivational tunes is Foo Fighters “Best of You”.


I’ve been having problems with my toes, specifically those right beside the big one, which seem to be getting squished and numb during long runs. I’ve found that compression socks exacerbate this problem so today I went for ankle socks. I’ve also been getting too warm on parkruns, so I chose the sleeveless Jog Lisburn top, and a skort, and was happy with that. I didn’t see a box for putting car-keys in, so I tucked mine inside my trusty sweat-wristband.

I always recommend taking it easy the first time you visit a new run – that way you can go back later and clip a few seconds off for a PB! That’s my excuse anyway – 28 something put me 2nd in my age-category.

List of all the parkruns I’ve completed.

Capsule wardrobe for Autumn

I spend far too much time faffing about in the mornings trying to decide what to wear. I’m working on compiling a few capsule wardrobe sodukos (they’re not really, they’re Latin Squares).

Here’s a sample for Autumn 2015:

4 each of tops, bottoms, shoes and accesory

4 each of tops, bottoms, shoes and accesory

Skirt 1 – black suede wraparound
Skirt 2 – gold LK Bennett
Skirt 3 – black/ white tweed LK Bennett
Crop trousers – graphite, M&S

Top 1 – Biscuit drapey sleeveless LK Bennett
Top 2 – Purple satin shirt
Top 3 – White 3/4 sleeve V neck jumper
Top 4 – Black scoop-neck tee

Footwear 1 – Black boots
Footwear 2 – Gold flats
Footwear 3 – Beige heels
Footwear 4 – Black flats

Accessories – Belt in putty, black perspex cuff, bronze/ purple flower pendant, pewter chunky. They are all laid out on a large khaki soft square scarf.

Mixing these up in the Latin square gives an outfit across each row, up and down each column, all 4 corners,and the 2 diagonals.


I think I need a pair of pewter/ bronze Skechers to wear for the walk to and from train station!

The trick to doing a Latin square is

NI parkruns: Mid-Ulster Sports Arena (MUSA)

Altogether now: “The hills are alive with the sound of MUSA!”


I’d been putting off doing this parkrun. For a start, it’s 40 miles away. Just about doable on a Saturday morning, but it would mean an early start. For seconds, it’s a “no dogs allowed” course. Minnie takes about 3 minutes off my run times, so I like to have her by my side (OK, slightly ahead of me) whenever possible. But in August, with some rare warm weather, the journey was going to be pleasant enough, and M can get a bit overheated in these conditions, so it seemed like the right time. And as a bonus, I had tickets to see The Sound of Music in the Grand Opera House that afternoon, which allows me to make all sort of nasty puns.


Google kept me right as to the quickest route – situated on the outskirts of Cookstown, the venue is just about slap bang in the middle of Norn Irn (you’d guessed that from the name, hadn’t you?). There is plenty of car parking space, and loos are available in the main building.

Barcodes and scanners and marshalls with whistles,
Trainers and T-shirts and routes with no thistles,
Token position that makes my heart sing,
These are a few of my fave-parkrun things!

I was there just after 9, and a steady stream of cars made their way through the gate after me. They were a chatty bunch, my 50 T-shirt was admired, and the pre-run brief was upbeat and encouraging.

musa start

Do, a deer, a female deer

It was a lot tougher than I was expecting! I’d imagined it was a single lap around a trim trail, but it transpired to be 3 laps weaving in and around the buildings of the CAFRE agricultural college. That said, the paths were road-grade tarmac, wide enough to avoid any hemming or bottlenecking, and arrows on the ground kept the runners on the right route. There were some sharp turns, and a few testing hills, but I managed to get a sprint finish in the final strait. There was a caution sign for deer, and a windmill was close to the finish point, and it was easy to see it from around the route and use it as a spur on.


Post run:
Tea, a drink with jam and bread

Scanning takes place in a little portacabin down beside the main buildings. There’s tea, coffee, squash and biscuits, and chairs set around for runners to rest their weary limbs and enjoy the post-run banter.

Strangely Appropriate Song on Shuffle:
Something Good

I do love the Utah Saints tune “Something Good”, which is nothing like the Sound of Music tune of the same name, and samples Kate Bush’s “Cloudbusting”. No clouds today, and I hummed along to “Oooooh I just know that something good is gonna happen”.


I am 16, going on 17

The course record stands at 15.56, but there was no danger of me beating any records today. I do always check the age-category table, especially for new or small parkruns, and while my run time of 29.22 didn’t quite make it into the Top Ten, it did put me at number 16 in my age category.


List of all the parkruns I’ve completed.

RSCDS Summer School 2015

The Summer Schools run at St Andrews by the RSCDS have been going for over 50 years. They attract dancers from all over the world, many of whom return year after year. So they must be doing something right! Now, I may mention a few niggles that I encountered, but the evidence is clear that these are a successful venture, likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

ss packing


This was my second time at summer school. Last year I was with a whole bunch of fellow dancers from NI, and it was great to be part of a big group, who all knew their way around. This year I enjoyed a bit more independence, and didn’t feel I had to do something just because it was the tradition. It was a lot quieter, and less lively, but that had its own attractions. I do need a bit of space and peace every now and again!

When booking my flights, I’d found that Glasgow was about half the price of Edinburgh, but it was only when I went to research actual transport options after I had booked my flights that I discovered I had very few options at the times I was travelling on a Sunday. But it was feasible, though there was little margin for error. If I missed one bus, I was stuck.

On the day I left, my super-smart phone alerted me that there was a one hour delay to my flight. I had a minor panic about my onward journey – my original plans had been to catch the X24 which goes directly from Glasgow to St A, and the bus leaving at 17.40 would have me there shortly after 20.00. I did a bit of googling and decided that hiring a car at £80 or taking a taxi for £160 were not really value for money options. There was a later bus at 18.40, and the difference between arriving at 9 pm rather than 8 pm was, frankly, minimal.

At Belfast International I noticed there was an Easyjet flight to Edinburgh leaving at 15.30, and enquired if I could transfer to that. But no, since it was scheduled to depart 5 minutes AFTER my flight, a transfer wasn’t permissible. As it turned out, my flight managed to make up a bit of lost time, only took off 30 mins late, was touching down 20 minutes after that, and most importantly, the luggage was very quickly on the carousel. I was out by the 500 shuttle bus rank at 16.45, (return fare £9), and at Buchanan Street bus depot with plenty of time to spare before catching the 17.40 X24 as planned (£11.10 single). There were plenty of comfy seats, and a few stops along the way, but I had some crisps and chocolate and a kindle, and overall the 2 1/2 hour journey was very pleasant.

University Hall is very close to the bus station, and at least this route avoids any of the tedious and wind-blasted hanging about at Leuchars junction. A 10 minute walk took me to the halls of residence, and I got to the evening reception in time for a glass of wine, the end of the introductory remarks, and some dancing.


ss dancing20150802_213938
On Monday morning I made my way to the communal kitchen, filled a kettle and switched it on, only to be told off for not just boiling enough water for one cup, as everyone would want freshly boiled water. My logic was that there would be a whole raft of people wanting their morning caffeine fix, and anyway, tea made with a teabag in a cardboard cup with plastic milk from a jigger was hardly going to worry about the freshly boiledness of the water.
There were a LOT of attendees in this, Week 2. It was the designated young persons week, so there were a few family groups, and it was also the musicians course, so the ranks of dancers were supplemented by a dozen or more music students. The result of this was queues. For everything. The queue for meals stretched out the dining room door and down the stairs. The halls for dancing were jam packed, and some of the classes had as many as 50 dancers in them. As there were large contingents of French, Hong Kong Chinese and others not speaking English as a first language, these large classes were rather noisy, with translation and clarifications taking place in small pockets.
I was doing the Dance Achievement Award (DAA). I had assumed that this would be an afternoon activity, but when I checked the class lists I found that it had a dedicated morning session all to itself, and there were a grand total of 7 of us. Our teacher was Elma, own of my own class teachers, and our musician was Frank, who kept us regaled with amusing anecdotes and comments. A local dancer (and former Chairman no less) joined us to complete the set to 8 dancers. We were a cosmopolitan bunch – I was representing Belfast branch, Margaret and Bill came from near Inverness, Matthew hailed from Bath, and the remaining 3 were from Claudine from France, Monika from Vienna and Polly from Hong Kong.

Our classes were held in the Girl Guide Hall. This was a good 20 minute walk from the halls of residence, but I find a brisk stroll in the morning is healthy, and blows away any cobwebs.  We took our morning coffee around the corner in Holy Trinity, and soaked up a few rays of sunshine when we could.

I’d first seen step dancing demonstrated at last year’s Thursday night ball, and I was entranced by its elegance and delicacy. I’d hoped my ballet training would make it accessible for me, and so I signed up for the optional afternoon sessions, which took place in the lower hall of Victory Memorial. This has quite a squeaky floor, even though we tried it in different directions to see which was best. The basic steps were OK, but the more complicated trebles and shuffles were rather tricksy, and reminded me a bit of times steps in tap dancing. I know I could do them, if I had the time to repeat them about a hundred times. As it turned out, I wasn’t able to attend any of the other afternoon step classes, so that will have to wait for another year.
Monday night was our first visit to the Younger Hall, which is a lovely space to dance in. The big numbers meant that there was little room for manoeuvre, and any time that casting outside the set was called for, the other dancers had to breathe in to make some space. I did miss there being a large contingent of familiar faces when looking for a partner, but a lovely lady called Margaret, who I later discovered was in charge of International Branch, took me under her wing, and kept me right during Old Nick’s Lumber Room, which had crashed and burned spectacularly the last time I’d done it.
Tuesday afternoon was when the Unit 3 teaching candidates were running through their paces, and I’d signed up to be a volunteer for this. As I’m considering going for teaching certification myself, this was a really useful insight into what is expected of them. There was a certain “script” that each formation and step being taught followed. We were supposed to be needed from 2-4, but as there were so many candidates they asked if we could stay to 4.30. Unfortunately, the shop closes PROMPTLY at 4.30, and I was just too late to hand in the branch order. They took pity on me, however, and agreed that I could submit it the next day.
In the evening, I went to the local St Andrews branch dance, which was taking place in the Boys Brigade Hall. This was a bit more relaxed and informal, and Margaret even gave me a lift in her car.
On Wednesday afternoon I’d hoped to get back to step class, but when we learned that our assessment would be taking place on Thursday afternoon, the others wanted to use that time to go over the dances, and that did seem to be a more beneficial use of resources. Some of my intrepid classmates managed to source a location (the party room), an additional dancer to make up the set, and a very talented musician in the shape of Michael. We even persuaded Elma to come along and supervise. My feet were starting to ache at the end of this, and I was glad I had brought with me many potions and lotions to rub into them. Lemony Flutter from Lush was a godsend.  Others in the class were making good use of Oil of Arnica.

ss potions
There was social dancing in the Common Room that night, and some people found the programme a bit tricky. One dance in particular, Tiptoe and Sway, I couldn’t get the hang of at all, especially without a walk-through. But I did enjoy doing Swiss Lassie with Monika – it’s a favourite of some of my fellow Belfast branch dancers, and one I’d done a few times before. Monika was now officially going to be my partner during the assessment, so it was useful to get more practice dancing as a couple.

Thursday was the day of the assessment, and we were all a little nervous. We’d decided the day before that the examiners wouldn’t want to sit with their backs to the door, so we’d had to swap around the “top of the room”. Most of Thursday morning was spent aligning the tables and chairs for them to sit at, and then working out where the sets should start and finish, by means of lining up with fire extinguishers and bins, counting tiles on the floor, and panels in the roof. I think perhaps that next year I shall make sure to pack a divining rod and a tape measure!
During the assessment I know I could have danced better – I didn’t phrase my Rondel terribly well, and I was so busy concentrating on keeping my thumbs down that I nearly went into a pousette instead of an allemande! But there were no big disasters.

I managed to make it just in time to the talk on using social media. I was instrumental in setting up the Belfast branch Facebook page, and am a reasonably competent Twitterer (Tweetheart?). There were some useful tips, such as bearing in mind what time it is in the States when making postings. But I was getting frustrated by the actualities: the reception in St Andrews is patchy, and I kept trying to tweet and facebook pictures with the summeschool2015 hashtag, but being unable to upload them. My other quibble was that the hashtag was not unique, as there are summer schools happening in all sorts disciplines and locations!
On Thursday evenings there is another dance in the Younger Hall. But you need to get a ticket. I’d completely missed this fact, and by the time I realised it, they were sold out. At least, that’s what I heard, though someone else told me that there were in fact some available. It does seem a bit daft – why can we dance in this venue on Monday and Saturday night, but need a ticket for Thursdays? Forking out another tenner on top of the already pricey fee for the week seems unnecessary and mean. There are various demonstration teams performing at this event, including Step and Highland. I can’t put my finger on why I feel a bit uncomfortable about dancers being in more than one dem team – of course it’s right and proper that the best dancers are used to show off their skills, but I’d like to think everyone got a fair chance. It must make scheduling rehearsal times a nightmare.
Anyway. I hadn’t got a ticket and so I resigned myself to a more relaxed evening’s dancing in the Common Room. This turned out to be most enjoyable – all the dances were walked through, including that pesky Tiptoe and Sway (I think I’ve got it now!), there was room to manoeuvre, and I was dancing with a different bunch of people than I normally would. As an added bonus to round the evening off, I went outside and in the crystal clear skies I got to see the most glorious diamond-bright pass of the Space Station. I waved them night-night and went to bed in good form.
On Friday morning our class could relax a bit more, swap around partners, and we got to try some of the dances out of the new book. Between Friday and Saturday I’d done Ruby Rant, Neil M Grant, Miss Eleanor, Rundumadum, and First Rain of Spring. Frank introduced us to “smeddum” a Scottish word meaning urge or drive, and we listened and danced to older strathspey tunes compared with the newer more lyrical airs. We were saying goodbye to Irene, so I gave out present to her, Elma and Frank, including some cards where everyone had written some funny memories and quotes, and even some illustrations.


Friday night was the ceilidh. I’d toyed with the idea of writing one of me pomes, especially since “Week 2” rhymes with “queue”, but decided I’d rather keep schtum in case anyone thought I was criticising. The entertainment was fun, I shared some sweeties with my classmates and new friends, and led a party of interested ones in another ISS sighting, before going to a lively party hosted by Chester branch.

Saturday morning means parkrun, and I’d persuaded Claudine’s husband to give me a lift up the road to Craigtoun. It was a bright sunny day, and I managed to run the course (which seems to be all uphill!) a minute faster than last year, so I got a very welcome and rare PB.



After the last session of our class, where I was nearly in tears saying goodbye, we’ve all become such good friends, I took a relaxed walk through the town. One of my favourite things to do in a seaside resort is find the best ice-cream shop, try an unusual flavour and eat it while looking out to sea. The queue outside Janetta’s stretched down the street, but I had time to wait in it. I was almost deafened by an extremely loud family behind me, I had to put my fingers in my ears to try to turn the volume down. My cinnamon-walnut and chocolate peanut butter combination was delicious, well worth the wait, and I wandered down to East Strand to enjoy the view.

ss ice
I’d missed the daily news updates given at the first session of the morning, so I didn’t find out till the next morning that there was a garden party with cake. Oh well, serve me right for going running instead.
Saturday evening was the last dancing in Younger Hall. I wore my formal tartan skirt that I’d bought last year here at summer school, and everyone was looking their very best. The programme had been well designed, and we’d done all of the dances at some stage throughout the week, so a quick recap was all that was required. Dancing which such a group of experienced dancers is always a real pleasure, and we were even more rewarded by having a 13 piece band from the musicians course on stage. The atmosphere was electric, with dancers showing their appreciation for each dance by drumming their feet on the wooden floor.

We reprised many of the dances with a “once and to the bottom”, and I thought we’ll never get through the whole programme if we keep this up! But we did. My classmates each sought each other out, and we pencilled in dances that we really wanted to do together. I booked Monika for my branch’s theme tune, City of Belfast, a beautiful dance devised by Lucy Mulholland, and one which I’ve done many many times. The music was excellent, and I almost cried when I identified the strains of Callum’s Road, a tune that means a great deal to me, and one to which I’m devising a dance myself.

ss skirt
There was a light mizzle outside, so no space station sightings this evening. Luke, a friend who was in my class last year, arrived as he was doing Week 3, and although he wasn’t allowed to dance, we did get a catch up over a drink.
Sunday morning was a reasonably early start. I’d done most of my packing the day before, and after bidding farewell to friends in the dining room, I walked the short distance back to the bus station. This was the journey that had some crucial connections, and the first leg was the 99 Tay service bus to Dundee. This great service goes every 30 minutes, and does a round-the-toon pick up journey before heading north to the Taybridge. So it’s wise to double check whether it’s the 99 A, B, C or D that you’re boarding! A single fare was £4.80, and I sat beside another of the Lyon contingent, who was embarking on a very long and punctuated journey by train, bus and lift back home. This service stops at Leuchars junction, so it is popular with any visitors using the train. It takes half an hour to get to Dundee, which was looking very fine in the Sunday morning light. My bus to Glasgow was due to depart at 10.05, but I felt the 9.30 service from St A didn’t leave me enough of a window should there be delays due to roadworks, or passengers querying the fare, or the wrong kind of mist. So the 9 o’clock bus I’d caught gave me time to get a cup of tea and local delicacy, a Tunnocks teacake in the little café. (As it turned out, the next St A bus WAS late, and arrived with less than a minute before the Glasgow bus departed).
The M9 bus back to Buchanan depot cost £17.10, and took 1 hour 40 minutes. There’s a much better sense of geography when travelling by bus – you get to see place names at junctions and intersections, as well as distance boards so you know how far away you are.

I made it with no problems onto the 500 shuttle, and arrived at Glasgow airport just as the bag drop desk opened. There was no queue, the security check was short and simple, and I was soon enjoying a Spaghetti Oceana in Frankie & Bennys, which has a lovely view out onto the runway. The boarding process is a necessary evil. It’s good to get the squealing kids out of the way and boarded first, but people seem to like queuing for as long as possible. Me, I prefer to stay seated for as long as possible, especially if there’s assigned seating. I’ve found that using a squishy backpack as my hand luggage is the best option, as it can be shoved under the seat in front, without any elbowing for space in the overhead lockers. It’s the same at the other end, I obey all instruction on seat belts and mobile phones, but I don’t see the point in getting out of my seat and crowding the aisle before the doors have been opened. Baggage reclaim was pretty smooth too, and the only niggly problems were once I’d got outside to meet my husband in the drop-off and pick-up zone. This is always a bit fraught, it’s a badly designed space with a zebra crossing going through the middle of it, and cars wanting to stop in the first available space. Failing that they’ll just stop on double yellow lines or in the middle of the zone. And then there’s always a queue while drivers fish out a pound coin to be released from this hell pit.
But really, it’s a minor inconvenience. Though my husband will be reluctant to be my taxi service at this particular airport in future!


Post-script: We all passed, with flying colours!

NI parkruns: Waterworks


Waterworks parkrun, in North Belfast, was the first one in Norn Irn, and attracts around 200 runners every week, making it one of the province’s biggest. It has taken me a while in my parkrun career to visit it, only because for a long while there were ongoing works to the park, meaning they weren’t using their “official” course. And if anyone actually READS this blog with the intention of parkrun touristing, then I’d like to describe the route they’d be running!

On the morning I chose, I was very lucky to have my personal paparazzi in the shape of my husband with me, so you’ve him to thank for the many photos of MEEEEE that appear in this one.



The park is located just off the Antrim Road. There’s pedestrian access beside the children’s play-park, but I didn’t see any car-park. So if arriving by car, find a safe place to park your vehicle on the road. There are basic loos in the shed/ hut beside where everyone gathers.


I was told to ask for Matt, who’s the brother of Wallace’s event director, and has done a staggering 31 different events, at the time of my run! He and his wife bade me a warm welcome, and I fell into an easy conversation with another runner who was admiring my shiny new red 50 shirt, and wanted to know about the sizing. There weren’t too many dogs or buggies running, but there’s every range of ability represented, and everyone is enthusiastically cheered over the finish line.



Lying in the shadow of Cavehill, and with views over Belfast, round a couple of duckponds full of swans, geese, and other waterfowl, this is a really attractive course. It’s on tarmac paths the whole way, there’s one sharp steep hill, but it’s over quickly, and you only have to do it twice!


The start is quite narrow, especially with so many participants, so it helps to take it easy and adopt a rolling start approach. The path widens out as you pass what will be the finish zone, so there’s a good opportunity to overtake at that point. My biggest issue was trying to stop Minnie chasing all those birds!



Oh, I’m still enjoying showing off my new 50 Tshirt! There’s a special glance and nod exchanged between anyone wearing the Tribesports tops, we’ve waiting a loooong time for this moment, and we’re damn well going to enjoy it. My Adidas shoes with the yellow/white socks were a good combination, and my Garmin and music all worked perfickly.

Strangely Appropriate Song On Shuffle:

I thought I was well on track to get round all 20 of the NI parkruns before I do my 100th. And now I hear there’s going to be another one starting at Stormont next month. Ah well, the more the merrier. As MJ reassured me, “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough”.



I was reasonably happy with 26 something. In position 102 I made it into the top half, though they’ve got a lot of fit 50 year old females in that part of town, and I was 4th in my age category! One of those was the 1st female, though, and I was more than content with being 14th female.

List of all the parkruns I’ve completed.