parkrun tourism: Elusive Letter I at Inverness

Not that I take this parkrun tourism malarkay seriously or anything, you understand, but there’s an alphabet to be completed and I’m on a mission to conquer it!

IMG_1719

 

There’s no X at time of writing, and the nearest Z is in Poland.  Someone on the UK parkrun tourists Facebook page shared a link to a tracker, monitoring progress towards various targets, which includes an alphabet table, minus the X and Z.  I modified the tracker slightly by adding an admittedly amateurish outline of Ireland, and a COWELL countdown which will take me to 50 different events.  Oh and I colour coded it (well of course I did….)

IMG_1776

So.  Inverness.  I managed to be doing this one by dint of having a meeting in Edinburgh on the Monday, and travelling to Bonnie Scotland a few days early.  I’d never been in Inverness before, and I like nothing more than a new city to explore at my own pace.  I found Inverness to be utterly charming – the River Ness is big and fast flowing, and the various bridges crossing it each have their own, often wobbly, personalities.

IMG_1714It’s a small enough town to get your bearings quite quickly, and is heaving with kilt, shortbread and whisky purveyors. I was staying in an Air BnB close to the parkrun site, but even that was only a 20 minute walk from the city centre, along a glorious riverside and island hopping path.

Access:

I flew into Inverness airport, and a fairly regular bus service takes you to the city entre for £4.20 in 20 minutes.  The parkrun used to be in Bught Park, but its alternative (and probably permanent new) home is a few minutes away in Whin Park.  Easily reachable by car, and the number 2 bus passes close by as well. If you’re a tourist, the Hop On Hop Off Bus stops nearby too!

Facilities:

There’s a reasonably sized car park, and some decent loos, intriguingly financed by the delightful sounding Common Good Fund.

IMG_1712Coffee and post-run analysis talkes place in Cobbs cafe in the botanical park a few minutes away.

IMG_1739This is a really sweet cafe, but they do ask that runners remove their muddy shoes before entering.

IMG_1734  They do bacon and egg rolls, scones and snandwiches, but I was overawed by the selection of traybakes, opting eventually for a pistachio and cranberry slice.

IMG_1738

Course:

The Whin Park course starts at the playpark, and uses the duck pond as a gravitational focal point.

One lap of it, and then onto 3 larger laps, passing the plastic hippos 3 times.

IMG_1726It’s by the river, so it’s a fairly flat course, but can get a bit mucky.

Most of the pathway is gravel or trail or grass (or puddle) , so trail shoes are a good idea. Start and finish are in the same area, so you can find a tree or picnic table or bit of helter-skelter to leave your coat and keys at.

IMG_1721

Crowd:

Average attendance is a nice manageable 150 – there can be a bit of overtaking round the duckpond, but there’s no big bottleneck problems. I found the regulars really welcoming and chatty, and was quickly laughing and comparing stories with a few of them.  Billy was lovely – a pretty speedy guy, he shared the profound thought that some runners find it hard to just run, and not compete.

IMG_1732 I’ve never had this problem, I must admit, but we both agreed that the success of parkrun was dependent on it being a run, not a race.

Strangely Appropriate Song On Shuffle:

The parkrun weather fairy was having a bit of a lie-in, I think, and it was decidedly dreich as we set off, although the rain did stop after a while.  But yeah, the Dave Mathews band intoning

“These fickle fuddled words confuse me
Like will it rain today”

brought a wry smile to my face.  And then a softer heart-tugging moment when “Calum’s Road” came on, geographically apt, and I’d also been dancing to it the night before thanks to Nicol McLaren’s Band at the Dingwall Rally in Culbokie.

Gear:

Oh, my Garmin really is starting to worry me! You think you’ve located satellites, and then when lined up at the start it loses contact! My 150 shirt and tartan leggings were commented on,and I was using my arm pouch instead of my waist belt for my phone.

IMG_1729

Time:

Nope, my times are not getting any better at all, and I sauntered in around 34 minutes.  This is close to my first ever parkrun time, which makes me wonder if I’m getting any better at running at all.  But I try not to focus on those negative views.  I’m running every week.  And meeting new people.

 

IMG_1730And setting myself targets that I can acheive, and get excited about.

IMG_1722

And The Rest:

I adored Inverness, and I hope to revisit again soon.  There were lots of lovely eating places to chose from, many with menus offering 2 courses for £9.95, or even 3 courses for a tenner!

The scenery was stunning, and I took a trip on LochNess and to Urquart Castle.  And I even managed an evening’s Scottish Country Dancing with some more hospitable and charming locals. We danced till midnight, and when we left the hall it was still light outside…

All My parkruns

 

 

 

 

parkrun tails: Minnie earns her cow

IMG_1516The Facebook group UK parkrun tourists is for those seriously serial and widely travelled runners who have been to more than 20 different events.  At that point, your name appears on the “Most Events” table, and as an unofficial means of recognising each other on our many jaunts, the cow cowl is worn a visible symbol of this acheivement.

I knew Minnie had been to many of the Norn Irn parkruns with me, but it wasn’t till I actually sat down and counted, that I realised she’d been at 19!  MUSA is a no-dog event, and the distant runs at Enniskillen, Limavady, Derry and Portrush were ones I had done on various weekends away, without her.  But she’s pretty well behaved on long journies, and has been to fairly faraway runs in Omagh and Rostrevor.

I’ve long wanted to take her with me to Portrush.  We’ve done the Waggy Races twice now over the same distance on the next beach along the stunning north coast, in Portstewart, where rather conveniently my parents live. So having checked the all important tide times, I plumped for 22 April as the chosen date.

The morning dawned cloudy but dry, which to be honest is perfect running conditions.  We left at a quarter to 8 and were pulling into the car park at 9.  I’d had a bit of a niggle with my back since my last Sunday long run, but Deep Heat seemed to be working its miracles, and I didn’t feel any problems when running.  Mum and Dad were there to see me off, and Cracker posted his customary Saturday morning status update as “Cracker says: Oh Minnie you’re so fine, you’ve parkrun at 20 sites, Hey Minnie! Hey Minnie!”

IMG_1530

I chatted to a few other tourists who’d got talking to my cow cowl, and some fellow Wallace folk.  There were just under 200 runners, but even starting at the back, with a wide stretch of sand it’s easy enough to weave through, and we soon found a good spot where we weren’t in anyone’s way, and Minnie could really stretch her legs.

Portrush is a tough course, even with light winds and low tide.  Yes it’s dead flat, but you need a certain level of determination to keep on going on an out and back course, and that finish line seems like it never gets any closer!

portrush

But I knew all my previous run times here had been in the 30s, so I was reasonably confident of a PB. And indeed I crossed the line in 26:26, my best time in quite a while.  But of course I couldn’t have done it without my best running companion.

Thank you Minnine, and well done!

minnies 100th 011

100 barkruns!

IMG_1763

Matching 100s

 

city park christmas day

Citypark

10572116_797480390283399_5711504792681986448_o

Wallace

1384304_646344868730286_299587364_n

Our first run at Wallace

parkrun tourism: Tymon

Serial parkrun tourists set themselves various challenges: all the events in certain geographical location, for instance, or run times ending with each of the number of seconds 0-59.  A popular goal is to become an “alphabeteer”, to have a run a parkrun begining with each letter of the alphabet.  There’s not (at time of writing…..) an X, so St Andrews, or anything with a “Cross” in its name is acceptable.  Z is elusive, but managable (there’s one in Poland).

Even having completed all the Norn Irn events, and a few others in London, Manchester and Scotland, my alphabet collection is pretty sparse.  Currently on 36 different events, I still need 8 more letters!  Maybe I’ll be able to coincide completing the alpha-set with my half-cowell of 50 different parkruns.

Anyway, with my husband doing more work in Dublin and the south of Ireland, I’m finding the opportunity to run more of the Irish events.  “I need a G and T!” I am often heard to cry, and so I was delighted to get the chance to earn my T, at Tymon Park.

Access:

We stayed at the Louis Fitzgerald Hotel, which has handy access to the M50, the busy Dublin ring-road.  I’d travelled down by the Enterprise train, and managed to book early enough to get a return for £30.  If you don’t book at least 3 days in advance, a single fare is £34, so it pays to plan ahead.  I took the LUAS tram out to Red Cow, and a single fare is e2.90.  The tram is clean, and the service very frequent, with stops right beside Conolly station, or for a more frequent service walk round the corner to the Busaras (bus depot).  The hotel is short walk from Red Cow, though I managed to get lost!  The directions given to me were “cross the bridge and turn left”, when they should have been “cross the bridge and then take a HARD left doubling back on yourself down a wee alleyway until you are beside the main road”.  Anyhoo, I’ll know for next time.

We used sat-nav to get to the car park at Tymon, which is right beside the M50.  The start and finish are both beside the car park, on the Limekiln Road entrance.

Facilities:

There are no loos in the park, but the GAA huts sometimes open in time to allow runners to have that all important pre-run pee.

There’s no nearby cafe afterwards, but volunteers bring along flasks of hot water, tea, coffee and biscuts, and this makes for a very convivial post-run atmosphere. Car parking is free.

Crowd:

There were 117 runners on the day I visited, which is pretty close to the average attendance.

IMG_3578

My husband remarked that there seemed to be more women than men, though I think that was just cos the men all arrive at 9.29. One or two dogs, and a buggy which I slipstreamed behind at the start. There was a warm and friendly welcome from the volunteers, who were happy to pose for a photo with Cracker.

Course:

It’s a 2 lap course on flat tarmac paths, past some lovely little ponds and handsome trees.  There’s an almost imperceptible gradual rise on the first km, which my calves certainly registered on the second lap.

Gear:

I had to choose between my genuine 100 shirt, or my jokey 150 one, in the end going for an all black ensemble set off with cow leggings and cow cowl.

My Garmin has started to play up, and the screen went completely blank a few minutes before the starting whistle, so I couldn’t rely on it.

IMG_3582

When I examined my splits later my pace was extremely erratic – I’m not sure if that was me, or the watch playing silly beggars.

Time:

My running times are really poor at the minute, and I didn’t even manage to sub-30. But hey, that leaves me the possibility of re-visiting to catch a PB whenever I’m back on form.

P1890093 I’m carrying about an extra stone  (14 pounds, 5 kg) after an indulgent Christmas period, and I need to up my miles and down my calorie intake.

Strangely Appropriate Song on Shuffle:

It’s always good to listen to local boys U2, and I smiled when “Sleep Like A Baby Tonight” came on, as after my whistle-stop 24 hour trip to the city I’m sure I would be quite tired.

And the rest:

I was booked on the 15.20 train home, so after a leisurely shower, I bought a tea from the garage shop at the front of the hotel and took the LUAS back into town.

The sunshine was glorious, and I was trialling some new travel clothes from Like Mary.

I strolled along the side of the river, acheieved my goal of obtaining a bus fare refund, found the new Harley Davidson shop in Temple Bar, and had lunch in Mexico To Rome (great value at 9.95 for a starter of bruschetta, main of chicken and mushroom pasta, and a glass of wine), with a ringside view of all the shenanigans outside.

There was a free exhibition in the imposing Custom House, which I found fascinating from both a historical and architectural viewpoint.

I was especially taken by the Riverine heads of the various river gods, each decorated with motifs relevant to their location.  Apples for the Blackwater, a chain for the Foyle, and leafy vegetation for the Liffey and Shannon.

Custom house

There were plenty of seats on the train, and I had a relaxed journey finishing my Pratchett, “Monstrous Regiment”.

IMG_1430

All my parkruns

parkrun tourism: Camperdown, Dundee

img_0888-copy

I’ve attended the RSCDS AGM for a few years now:  the first year I was there, I was missing Perth’s inaugural parkrun by one week.  I found time to run it on my second visit (despite threatening floods from the River Tay), and managed a PB the following year, with the help of a pacer.

But since acquiring my “cow cowl” (an unofficial emblem of those serial tourists who’ve done at least 20 different events) I’ve been aware of the need to take any opportunity to run at new locations.  Yes, yes I was the first female to run all of Norn Irn’s parkruns, but that’s a fairly limited field. Even by adding in the odd parkrun south of the border, I was going to have to make more of an effort if I want to attain my “half cowell” (50 different parkruns.   The Cowell Club is an unofficial parkrun club for tourists who have run at 100 or more different events. Named after Chris and Linda Cowell, the first male and female parkrunners to do it.)  This would be my 33rd, worldwide.

Handily enough, I was staying at the Station Hotel, so popping on a train to the next nearest event was made simple.  And the nearest one was Camperdown, in Dundee.  So that’s where I planned to go.

Did I say simple?  Having checked the train times and arrived in good time for my 8.15 journey, I was a little concerned to find a bus parked outside the station, which did indeed turn out to be the substitute method of travel that morning.  Nervously, I asked the ticket clerk what time it arrived in Dundee – he didn’t know, but reckoned he could drive it in 20 minutes.  So I was reasonably confident of making it in time, as we set off on a crisp clear blue-sky day, passing trees resplendent in their autumn colours, and with splendid views of the famous Tay bridges as we approached Dundee.

Access:

There were taxis waiting at the station, and I chatted to the driver about the purpose of my visit on the journey to Camperdown Country Park, which is a few miles out of the city centre. He opined that collecting new parkruns was a bit like bagging Munros, the mountains over a certain height in Scotland, an interesting comparison! The taxi was £8. I caught a bus back to the centre afterwards – there is a bus stop near the entrance to the park, and a single costs £2, which includes a scenic tour of the local housing estates and Asda.

We had a bit of a guess as to where to drop me off, and I began the anxious scout for high viz vests, milestone T-shirts and “caution runners” signs, and it wan’t too long before the familiar type crowd made their appearance. There’s plenty of parking, and it’s free.

Course:

At the pre-run brief the RD described the course as “undulating”, explaining that this means there are two ruddy great hills.

The course is one lap, skirting the edges of the park, in a sort of bow-tie shape.  It takes in many of the parkun bingo features, including a stately pile, duckpond, and rickety bridge.

Gear:

The weather was what is described in these parts as “braw”.  I was glad of my new leggings – cow print to match the cowl.  But I only had my 100 shirt, short sleeved, and therefore arm-freezy.

Thankfully the start and finish are at the same points, so I was able to keep my windproof Craghoppers jacket on as long as possible, before stashing it under a picnic table.

img_0887-copy

Crowd:

There were 152 runners the morning I was there.  They had some pacers, including a few at more than 30 minutes, and they had “expected time” plates at the start line.  The Run Director gave a cheery brief to the first timers.  There didn’t seem to be much hanging around afterwards, though I did find a few friendly souls in the cafe after I had done my photograph-grabbing lap,  which was also where the results were being processed, most efficiently.

Facilities:

Not too much near the start, but there are toilets beside Camperdown House, and also at the cafe. Which does a great bacon buttie!

Strangely Appropriate Song On Shuffle:

Beyonce crooning “Who runs the world – girls”

img_0910-copy

Time:

I found the course extremely tough, plus I hadn’t been sleeping well the previous few nights, so a slow 34 minutes it was. The parkrun UK Facebook page had the theme of “entrance boards” for their photo montage this week, so I found a few signs to selfie in front of.

All my parkruns

parkrun tourism: Southwark

In town to see Fagin’s Twist,

img_0831and I chose my accommodation based on proximity to a parkrun I had yet to do. So I ended up in a very well located Air BnB in Bermondsey right beside beautiful Southwark Park.

img_0734

I took time on the Friday to walk around the park, and I was struck by how beautiful it was.

img_0710Wide tree-lined avenues,

an old English garden,

a duckpond,

bandstand, and plenty of cheeky grey squirrels.

Access:

There are a number of gates/ entrances to the park,

img_0799and car-parking didn’t seem to be an issue.  Most people walked, so I’m guessing they live locally.  Bermondsey tube on the Jubilee line is a 10 minute stroll away, and there are a couple of bus stops near by too.  Sadly, the toilets are in the cafe,

img_0815which doesn’t open till 9, but Surrey Quays shopping centre is the closest alternative.

Course:

It’s a 3 lap course, on wide flat tarmac paths, with just a couple of sharp bends to hamper your speed.  There’s one short section where runners are going in both directions, but it’s very well marshalled at all the junctions.

There are no hills to speak of, so it’s theoretically a fast one.

Crowd:

There were over 200 runners when I visited, most of them quite young.

img_0806 I did spot my first cow cowl “in the wild”, as well as an apricot shirt from Stormont.

Gear:

The “round the tree” approach was taken to coats and belongings, but I didn’t want to leave my key there in case it got lost.

img_0810So I tucked the keys into my grey wrist band, and looped Cracker onto my watch strap.

Strangely Appropriate Song on Shuffle:

img_0716

It was a glorious bright autumn morning, with the sun glinting off the pyramid roof of Canary Wharf on the skyline, and I was singing along to Nicky Byrne’s “Sunlight”.

Time:

img_0814

I didn’t quite manage to sub 30 minutes, but I was first in my new age-category!

All my parkruns

Harley Goes To Marley

Having done all the (at time of writing)22 Norn Irn parkruns, I need to venture further afield these days to try new ones.  I do take advantage of any travelling plans I have, and it’s usually possible to tag on a parkrun during a weekend away.  And, since this is a blog with “dancing” in the title, it’ll come as no surprise that this time it was a dancing weekend.  Not just any old dancing weekend either, it was to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Dublin Scottish Dance Club.

Accommodation in Dublin proved difficult to find – not only was there a big football match on, but somebody called The Boss was playing at Croke Park.  I decided to try out an Air BnB, and found one close to the main dance event in Taney Parish Centre.  There are around 10 parkruns in the greater Dublin area, and with one called Marlay (sometimes spelled Marley) close to my lodgings, my itinerary was complete.

marlay 014

I drove down on the Friday night, having only the briefest of disagreements with the sat nav.  But that’s a compulsory element of travelling these days. I was soon being welcomed by Barbara, and introduced to the other house guests for the weekend, including a mother and daughter from Texas who were fascinated by my jigging and jogging plans.

marlay 010

The house has a lovely garden patio area at the back, and I was able to introduce Barbara to the joys of watching the space station sail overhead.

Access:

On Saturday morning I donned my tartan leggings, and let the sat nav take me to Marlay Park.

marlay 013However, it took me to the front entrance, by the big house, and I knew that the parkrun started at the back.  So I had to do a little bit of driving around in circles, another compulsory manoeuvre for today’s traveller.   But I got there in good time, parked up, had a bit of a wander around to get my bearings, and joined in the warm-up session.

marlay 024

Facilities:

marlay 021

The start and finish are beside the children’s playground, where there a few shabby toilets.  There are nicer ones in a block down the lane, and more by the big house.

marlay 032There’s plenty of parking – there needs to be as this has regularly over 500 runners.

marlay 016So a good funnelling system is in place.

Music is played to add to the atmosphere.

Afterwards, many go to the stalls set up by the big house, offering coffees, wheatgrass juice, paella, and buns galore.

Course:

It’s basically one lap of the park with a few legs added.

It does go down as far as the house, and the start and finish are at the same place.  There’s an uphill section during the first k, which does serve to thin the runners out a bit.  Though some of the narrow sections still get a little bottle-necked.

The park itself is just beautiful, with lots of lovely features including a walled garden, little bridges, and a miniature railway which operates on Saturday afternoons.

marlay 052

Crowd:

It seemed to be a fairly young crowd, and indeed I got chatting in the scanning line to Adam, who had just done his first parkrun.

marlay 029Well done, young man!

Strangely Appropriate Song On Shuffle:

I’m still listening to Eurovision songs, and I enjoyed “Time is Like Thunder”, the Belarus entry from 2015, with the lady playing the violin in a giant egg-timer.

 

Time:

My own time was an OK-ish 29 something.  I do try to aim for sub-30 when visiting a run for the first time, especially when I don’t have my canine pulling pal.

marlay 030 I did find a friendly black dog to chase, which reminded me of how helpful running can be in dealing with dark thoughts.

And the rest:

The weather was glorious – blue skies and sunshine.  I caught a bus into town to meet my fellow dancers for a tour of the Mansion House, admiring all the coats of arms in the oak room.

I’d enjoyed the most delicious brunch at Eden, consisting of a courgette and potato cake, served with asparagus, poached eggs, hollandaise, and a very tasty balsamic roasted tomato, which I must try to recreate. Eden was worth visiting even just for the loos, with limericks painted on the doors and walls.

From there I’d wandered through the Powerscourt Townhouse, and was tempted by some beautiful pieces in Jean Cronin ‘s lovely vintage wear, settling in the end for a green swirly Clements Ribiero dress, before further tempation in the shape of Ruby, in the Hibernia Arcade, where I was seduced by a duck egg blue Orla Kiely.

Suitably shopped out, I went back to the house and changed for the evening into my purple/ green tartan skirt, which I wore with a purple shirt and choker.

ball2016-14

The dancing was great fun, and included some dances which had been written by or for the club’s instructors. The Elephant’s Stampede was tricky, but had us all laughing, while Rosalie’s Birthday Reel is one we had practiced beforehand.

 

There was a lovely supper provided, and a very convivial atmosphere all evening.  But my eyes were closing, and I slipped away at 11, where I was glad my sat nav remembered how to get me back to the BnB.  And I was home in time to see the space station fly over yet again – a perfect way to round off a weekend full of smiles.

ball2016-08

 

 

All my parkruns

 

Happy 2nd Birthday Carrick parkrun, or “How to be a Dick”

12651366_479671418906684_6792210443609765701_n

Ah, another dressing-up opportunity! Carrickfergus parkrun’s 2nd birthday was encouraging runners to come dressed in the theme of “pairs”, and for my trusty canine companion and I there was a pretty obvious choice – Dick Dastardly and Muttley!

20160206_082222

I started as always with eBay.  DD items acquired included a driving licence, and a pair of pin badges.

Now here there was a dichotomy – sometimes Dick was wearing a red flying helmet, in other pictures his hat was red and purple stripes.  I did a bit of trawling through the vintage emporia of Belfast, and in Octopus’s Garden found a purple peaked hat.  I visited my favourite little haberdashery shop, the Sew and Knit place at the back of M&S for some red ribbon to make the stripes.

20160206_114405While I was there I managed to lose the just acquired driving licence, which I’d picked up from the collect-at-Argos service that very morning!  But the staff were delightful, and having given them my mobile number they called me later that day to say they’d found it down the sliding doors of their display cabinet. Big thankings to them!

Being a motorcyclist has many advantages (as well as cool points), one of which is owning my own goggles.

20160206_114417

The gloves and red scarf were, as they say, “model’s own”, and the red bandana for Minnie was a cotton scarf I’d bought on a diving trip to Sharm-el-Sheikh, turned inside out.

20160206_114333

Blue trench coat was found in Primark’s sale (and to be honest I’ve worn it so many times already it owes me nowt!)

24824484146_fb6baff61e_o

I’ve learned from running in various fancy dress outfits with Min that simple is best, and the bandana, with just the Muttley pin badge, was perfect. The mustache was done with eyeliner.

20160206_091447 (1)

The morning of the run was a bit dreich, and I was congratulating myself on chosing an outift that consisted of hat gloves and coat.  It was a wee bit warm for actual running, mind!

24851183095_0dec0d185d_o

There was a great turnout of pairs: Alice and the White Rabbit, SuperMario brothers, Mr and Mrs Potato Head, and how did these 2 blobs manage to overtake me?

There were 3 or 4 doggies present.  Waggy Races champ Gary is a Carrick regular, and he and Buddy led from the off.

24824980446_0670263368_o

And how adorable is this guy!

24224047903_4362800614_o

Massive appreciation to Neill Harpur who took some fantastic action shots, AND managed to do the run with his own gorjus doggy.

24224323033_92b293977c_o

Getting in character was brilliant fun – I shouted “Muttley! Do Something!” every time we passed a marshall, shook my fist at all the photographers, and spat “Curses, foiled again”  when someone overtook me. Minnie, who is quite a vocal dog, easily managed the “Sassin fashin rashin Rick Rastardley!”

24222851194_5be7816863_o

On my last visit here, I’d run it in exactly 26 minutes in position 26, a feat you couldn’t do if you tried.  I did manage to better that time, and also jumped up 2 places in the Age Category records.

24224163483_f918795c67_o

But best of all…we won the fancy dress prize!!!!  I am totally loving my cozy pair of pink spotty thermal socks. The after run goodies were delicious – I don’t know who made the sushi, but what a great post run treat, thank you!

24757730651_e254f1ca2b_o

I did proffer my driving licence at the scanning station, but it wouldn’t scan.  Drat! Drat! And double-drat!

12698380_479835508890275_1551197262691712962_o (1)

Poor Cracker felt a bit left out, but did you know that “Carrickfergus parkrun” is an anagram of Is Cracker Fur Rug Prank??

20160206_081956