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!

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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….)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!”

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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!

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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!

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100 barkruns!

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Matching 100s

 

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Citypark

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Wallace

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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All my parkruns

parkrun tourism: Camperdown, Dundee

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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.

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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”

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Facilities:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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All my parkruns

 

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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!)

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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.

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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!

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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.

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And how adorable is this guy!

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

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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!”

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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.

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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!

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

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

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#parkrunisgoodforyourelf, or “I Am Sprouticus!”

 

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There is traditionally a parkrun Christmas Compendium, showing which events are holding a run on Christmas and New Years Day.  I learned that one of NI’s newest, Stormont, was planning to hold it’s NYD run at 11 am, to allow runners to complete a double, and also run an earlier one, both of which would count as “official” parkruns.  An idea formed in my little brain!

 

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Now, you probably know that I’m partial to a bit of dressing up. You also know that I participate in Scottish Country Dancing.  For a dance dem, I had to have some festive headgear, and so I found a cute elf headband in poundland.  To go with this, I acquired an elfy T shirt in New Look, and started trying to source stripey tights.  The usual suspects on the high street proved useless, but I did find some black and white ones in Claires Accessories, where I also picked up a sprout necklace.  While taking a short-cut (ha!) through TK Maxx, I happened upon the cutest “Christmas jumper for your dog”, so that was Minnie’s outfit sorted!

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Cracker the squirrel is usually holding a nut, but it was fairly simple to get him holding a sprout.

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I wondered if maybe a caption would be funny, something along the “elf and safety” line, and came up with “parkrun is good for your elf”.  I made up a sign to pin on my back, and we were good to go!

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So…..6 parkruns in a fortnight? Let’s see how it went.

  1. 19 December, Queens Belfast

I was so torn on this, the last official Saturday parkrun before Christmas Day.  Sports Personality of The Year was coming from Belfast that weekend, and so there would be TV crews, Dame Mary Peters, many many mince-pies at Waterworks, NI’s oldest.  There was a Hawaiian themed run at Carrickfergus, which was tempting, and some other local runs were encouraging fancy dress.  Or should I go to Falls, the next on my list of “times I think I can beat”?

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But it was also a “dashing through the snow” type day for me and my time was a scarce resource: I had to go and visit the in-laws, and then be in Bangor for a Scottish dance dem at 2.30.  So I opted for the closest fancy-dress one at Queens, since a TV crew always means things over-run, and anyway the parking at Waterworks is terrible.  Conditions were good, a bit windy but dry.  Lots of super fancy dress costumes were in evidence, and Minnie’s jumper was much admired.  There weren’t too many photographers about, but a lovely lady called Breege (with her gorjus doggie in its tinsel collar) took an action shot of us, and came up to me afterwards to get my email address.

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Time: 25:54, annoyingly a bit off my 25:32 best time here, but still nice to sub-26, while able to chat to the “undertakers” guys in their black 100 shirts (not jealous at all, no, no) who recognized Minnie from Waggy Races.

2. 25 December, City Park

Running on Christmas Day, was I quite mad? Well, possibly.  There were a number of options available – Belfast Victoria was enticing with its 10 o’clock start time!  But I wanted to do something as a family, and bring my paparazzi husband and other dog with me.  Max is a hyper-sensitive Weimaraner, and while he has no problem with running per se, he has huge anxiety problems with crowds, noise, other people, other dogs, applause, high-fizzy vests….So we knew this would be an issue, but at least at City Park there’s plenty of escape spaces to retreat to.

 

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Since the elf headband had been a bit tricky to keep on my head while running, I turned my sprout necklace into a sort of crown, which allowed me to make plenty of “I’ve put the sprouts on!” jokes.

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The weather was murky and misty, and with the outside temperature at 2 degrees, there were even some icy patches on the course. But it is a lovely run, it was over a year since I’d been here, and I’d forgotten how beautifully flat this single lap of the lake is.

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For a large part of the run I was tailing a guy wearing a T shirt that said #alltheparkruns.  I couldn’t get close enough to read it, or to see which parkuns it meant.  I overtook him on the final stretch , and afterwards shook his hand.  When we were inside doing the scanning, I showed him my #iverunallthenornirnparkrunssoihave shirt, and Pete told me about his charitable fundraising plans to do over 300 different parkruns in the next 10 years.  Now that’s forward planning! He was going to Armagh the next day, to run with his nephew, who’d be doing his first parkrun.

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Pete is also videoing the runs he completes, and here’s a great speeded up canter around City Park (watch out for I am Sprouticus!)

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Time: 25:37 yay, a PB! Despite the black and white tights falling down….

 

3. 26 December, Ormeau

 

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Boxing Day dawned, without TOO bad a hangover. We’d put our names down to join the Santa Dash taking place at Belfast’s Ormeau Park –  I think I was last here for the half-marathon in September!  I toyed with the idea of putting Minnie in her snow-trimmed red and white  50 cloak, but in the end, went for the jumper – which got mentioned in the pre-run brief!  The sprouty headgear was also a talking point, the running went well, despite flooded parts ( I just ran through them on elfin tiptoe).  The crowd was very friendly and chatty,  and the borrowed gazebo was useful for the focal point of post-run-tea-and-buns. I swapped the too-small black-and-white tights for a pair in red.

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I have to say a huge thank you to Mark Ramsey, who took a staggering  1,000+ photos of the day itself, and it’s wonderful to have access to action shots like these.

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Time:  26:06,  a PB, though only 3rd in my age-category!

 

4. 1 January Comber

Christmas out of the way, it was time for New Year celebrations, and lots of champagne!

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There was a yellow warning of snow and ice, and I took it easy on the winding cross-country road to Comber, which is a flat course consisting of 4 figure-of-eight loops.  I’d gone for a Hogmanay theme, and was wearing a tartan sash, and carrying a giant champagne bottle and a plastic glass.

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I have 2 sashes: one is in a “weathered Ulster” pattern, which is quite a dark brown.  I didn’t feel it would show up very well in pictures.  So instead I took the “Titanic” tartan one off my dancing dem white dress.  My husband wore a kilt in this tartan for our wedding at Gretna Green, and it was designed by local historian Clifford Smyth. I attached a tartan bow to Minnie’s collar.  It was a very cold morning – I was glad I’d put on a long sleeved layer under my Jog Lisburn top, and some leggings under my skort.  The paths were pretty icy at points – if I’d been RD I might have considered cancelling.champagne comberBut it was runnable with care. I did start off with the champagne bottle and glass, but cast them aside after the first lap.  Given the slippery surfaces, the added obstacle of carrying props, and the fact that I’d stayed up till after midnight to see in the New Year, I shouldn’t have been surprised that I didn’t quite manage a PB, though a time of just over 27 was satisfying enough. A quick glass of water and a chocolate in the hospitality centre, and it was time to head to number 2.  Lots of people were doing the same, in fact I think there was a mini-bus which went from Comber-Stormont.  I was glad I’d picked Comber, as the other early alternative at Waterworks WAS cancelled due to ice – a very tough decision for the RD to make.

5. 1 January Stormont

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As we arrived by the familiar gates and long drive, the heavens opened and it absolutely poured.  I parked by the hotel across the road, and stayed in the car as long as I could, but I knew I wanted to take some photos with the other Jog Lisburn crew, so we made our way to the briefing point.  I was greeting lots of friends form parkruns near and far – Ronan, who I’d met in Derry, and Des, a fellow member of the “IverunallthenornirnparkrunssoIhave” club (and co-incidentally, another member of the dog-called-Minnie club).  One of my blog readers told me excitedly that he only has 2 more events to attend before he’s done all the NI parkruns, and we waved to waggy pals Alfie and Dudley.

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We managed a quick Jog Lisburn group photo, though the champers bottle is a bit obscured.  I later learned that some of the other JL ladies did indeed come to Stormont, but on seeing the rain they didn’t get out of their car!  The turnout was huge, rain or no rain, and it was quite a sight to see the start line half way up the famous Prince of Wales Avenue.  I struggled a bit to get my Garmin reset in time, and Minnie was being a bit noisy, but once we were underway the run itself was fun, though VERY muddy!  I was tired and hungry, and even Minnie wasn’t attacking the hills with her usual gusto.  I felt my pace just draining away, and we crossed the line in just under 30 minutes.

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There were queues for the finish tokens to be given out, where it’s important to stay in order.  Once those were safely acquired though, there were shorter queues for the scanners, though with only 2 being used this was causing a backlog.  When the official results came out, it appeared that an even 500 runners had been processed.  I suspect there were actually more than this, but that the stopwatch and finish tokens had proved limiting factors.  Anyway, it was a record breaking attendance for a NI parkrun, and the atmosphere was very cheery and upbeat.

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6. 2 January Volunteer

My intention had been to finish the fortnight with a trip to Falls, hopefully to get a new PB. But a Facebook appeal for volunteers could not go unheeded, and I decided to do my duty and go along to Wallace, for their first run of the year.

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New Years resolutions were clearly taking effect as there were over 20 newly registered runners that week, and on scanning duty I had to deal with more than a few people who hadn’t yet registered, or who hadn’t printed out their barcode. As well as another clump of runners whose barcodes were too soggy and wouldn’t scan.  I’d knitted some cosies to keep the scanners warm, as they don’t like cold or rainy conditions.

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Well, overall the Christmas and New Year runs were a lot of fun, but now I have to go and wash and iron my tartan sash, and re-attach it to my dancing dress!

parkruns: Halloween hijinx!

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Hallowe’en, and I’m a huge fan of dressing up! So as Saturday was actually 31st October, I was determined to go to a parkrun that was embracing the season.

But which one?

My home base at Wallace Park had been hosting firework celebrations for the previous 2 nights, and I was a bit concerned that there would be a few obstacles around on the Saturday morning. Also, I didn’t see any specific fancy dress requests, so I thought I’d re-visit one of the other nearby events.

Yeah yeah, those who know me (Jemima, if you’re reading!) will know how much I love a good spreadsheet, so I listed the 6 or so nearby runs which had declared they were a costume-friendly zone, had a look at what my PB currently was there, how many runners they had last week, and from memory, did they have an indoor area. This was important because I wanted to bring along Cracker, my lucky parkrun mascot, in his friendly ghost costume, and he’d be much happier away from the wind and rain.

Armagh was tempting, promising apple pies, and a charity collection. Victoria was calling, but they have a big crowd, and are still having upgrade-carpark problems, and I’d been there recently. Valley was first to announce their intentions, and I was tempted, but didn’t think I could match the 25 minute time I’d managed there last time. Although, part of me was reasoning that in costume, I wasn’t going to PB anyway! Larne is a bit far away, and I’m planning to go next month for their birthday. So that left Queens – they have a lovely indoor area, do good buns, the crowd is young and enthusiastic…..and there might be pwizes! (Ok I specifically arsked this question. No shame. )

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Costume wise, I had an idea what I wanted. I’d really enjoyed the kids movie “Book of Life”, which was visually stylistically very influenced by the Mexican Dios de la Muertos (Day of the dead) celebrations. I whooped when Tesco had a suitable dress and head-veil, and I started searching for a skeleton costume for Minnie. Amazon had them for £25, but I called into Lisburn’s Diva Dogs salon, and they had a perfect simple slip on for £12. Minnie is fairly used to wearing a T shirt – she has an Addidog one I got her at last year’s Christmas market, which does keep the muck level down! I did snip up the seams of the back legs, and add a bit of elastic instead, to make it a bit less constricting. And we did a trial run on the Wednesday ( to much amused looks from passing drivers. Good job it wasn’t at night – the costume is glow-in-the-dark.)

Costumes sorted, it was onto make-up. I fancied doing the sugar-skull style look which would be in keeping, and used Pinterest to get some inspiration for a simple version.

I found face paints in Lidl, and went to Boots armed with some money-off vouchers, which I used to acquire black liquid eyeliner, and industrial strength eye make-up remover.

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Crowd:

The Queens crowd were excellent, lots of age ranges, and speed ranges, and many many brilliant costumes.

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Course:

I really enjoyed my run! My veil wasn’t the easiest thing to run in as it kept slipping off, and I’d also been feeding Minnie biscuits to keep her quiet during the brief, so at one point I was running with a veil in one hand, and half a dog-biscuit in the other.

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Post run:

Cracker the friendly parkrun ghost had been left in charge of the post-run goodies, and what a marvellous selection there was!

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Strangely Appropriate Song on Shuffle:

Ah, how I grinned when “Calling All the Heroes” came on – the costumes were brilliant, and included many super heroes ( and villains).

Gear:

I’d altered Minnie’s costume to allow for more freedom of movement, and my own costume was pretty comfortable. I was wearing a black sport top underneath, which made the outfit safe-for-work, but also looked quite unobtrusive. I did think the lime green phone holder wouldn’t blend in, so I kept my phone and other bits and bobs in a black waist belt pouch.

My main difficulties were – not smiling, as it would spoil the look (you don’t know how hard this was for me!), not getting facepaint smears on my Garmin, and not wiping the sweat off my face.

Time:

Notwithstanding the props, I knew I was hitting a good pace, probably sub-25. At the 3km marker I was 14 and a bit, and at the 4km corner I was 19 something. I was trying to remember what my previous best time here was, in the 26s?
I didn’t feel too hemmed in, though there was a fair bit of manoeuvring and overtaking going on.

The finish stretch is all uphill, and I replaced my veil for any finish photos. Crossed the line in 25.32, which was a good bit off my previous time here. Yay!

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And another thing….

I got chatting to lost of different people, and stayed to cheer on the final runners across the finish line before leaving. I did hear later, via Facebook, that we were the costume prize winners, but we’d gone! So they gave it to the 118 guys (who looked fab!) No matter, I’m happy to take the glory, if not the chocolates. There was a super photographer taking shots during the run, so maybe one of those will appear on the parkrun Uk Facebook showcase, eh?

List of all the parkruns I’ve completed.

Parkruns: South Manchester

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Off on me travels, to see my beautiful daughter in her first professional tour as a dancer, and surprisingly I’d never been to Manchester before! She laughed out loud when I caught up with her and showed the scribbled spreadsheet where I’d matched up her tour dates with air plane prices, day of the week the show was, and whether there was a nearby parkrun.  The show was in the Royal Northern College of Music, on a Saturday, I could fly to Mancs at a reasonable price, stay in a budget hotel on Curry Mile and be in walking distance of South Manchester parkrun, which takes place in Platt Fields park.

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OK, so catching up over cocktails was done on the Friday, and after getting back to my hotel area I’d checked out where the park was, and managed to fall into a pub on the way home, which was having live music by Crazy Horse.  I ended up chatting to a couple who insisted on buying me a whiskey, and I bought a CD off Crazy Horse.  By this stage I’d decided that everyone in the city was slightly nuts, but in a rather endearing way.

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However, my Saturday morning hangover was of epic proportions.  No matter, Cracker and I made our way to the park, which was looking glorious in its autumn colours, and even saw some grey cousins en route.

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Access:
It’s on Curry Mile, extremely well served by buses.  I was especially impressed by the “magic bus” which took me to the city centre for £1, and was of course the Number 42.  I don’t actually know if there is a car park nearby.

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Crowd:
There are usually 300+ runners here, and I found them all very chatty and friendly.

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It’s near University area, so its popular with students, but there was a huge age range and diverse bunch running.  I got chatting to a guy who was taking his dog, Maddie, for her first parkrun.

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I was also most impressed by a woman who had her barcode pinned into her hairdo – though as you can see I failed miserably to take a picture of this.

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Course:

The course is dead flat – it does a few figure of 8-ish loops around the lovely lake and starts and finishes at a centre where there are loos. It really is a beautiful park.

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Post run:

Having left Cracker at the volunteer’s table, I was soon christened “the squirrel lady”.  Everyone was really welcoming, and I wish I’d had the foresight to stick a few quid in my back pocket to buy a coffee at the cute little stand which plys its trade right beside the scanning zone.

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Strangely Appropriate Song on Shuffle:

I was escaping the city the next day, to meet an old school friend and explore the Treacle Market at Macclesfiled.  It was a good day to do this, given the City/ United derby football match taking place, so “I Predict a Riot” by the almost local boys Kaiser Chiefs was rather apt.

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Gear:

I’d travelled in my Asics trainers, which got quite a bit of wear over the damp weekend!  In fact, all my gear was the same as last week, and the  50 T shirt is always a conversation starter. I was using my Garmin as my watch for the weekend, and it coped brilliantly with the clock change on the Saturday night.

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Time:

Ooooh, least said about this the better!  I did stop a few times to take photos, which didn’t help me get anywhere near 30 mins.

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And another thing….

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Ah, the dancing!  I cannot begin to describe how proud I was to see Jemima dance, to watch other people read her biog in the programme, to have the couple I was chatting to before the show come up to me afterwards and tell me how amazing she was, or to see her take hands with Dame Evelyn Glennie for their bows on stage.  Do please follow and like them on Twitter and facebook etc!

https://www.facebook.com/jossarnott.dance?fref=ts

https://twitter.com/jossarnottdance

List of all the parkruns I’ve completed.