I have driven up and down the A316 many, many times, but I had never noticed Crane Park Island before. What an utter treat it was to discover this wonderful nature reserve virtually under the shadow of Twickenham Stadium and in the middle of South West London's urban sprawl. This park is the site of a former gunpowder mill, but is now home to kingfishers, water voles and Crane parkrun!
Thanks to some help via the Facebook page I found my way to the park. Thanks to the most unhelpful dog walker ever, I was merrily heading off in totally the wrong direction. "Oh yes, this is the way they come from every Saturday, just after 9am!" she said as I wondered if I was going in the right direction, under a bridge on a very narrow path by the river. Luckily I bumped into a runner I met at the Abingdon marathon, I knew he looked familiar, but I am useless with names and faces so was very relieved when he called out 'MrsBridgewater!' as I approached. At the start I met another runner I knew from Frimley Lodge parkrun - the running world is very small!
At the start I put my favourite Gore running jacket in a stranger's back pack. As you do. The start is some distance from the finish so the lovely volunteers act as sherpas between the two points. After the run briefing I tried to decide where to stand in the mass of runners. I plonked myself towards the back of the middle, if that makes sense. This was not a great place to start, the path is fairly narrow, and I got a bit blocked in for the first couple of hundred metres. I was running naked - i.e. without my Garmin. Not through choice, but because it was away for repair. Running without my Garmin at my own parkrun, where I could use other runners I know to gauge my pace, is one thing, running without it with a totally unknown group of people is a different matter! I was also recovering from a nasty tummy bug, so had not idea how this was going to turn out.
The course is mainly on paths through the park (both compact gravel and tarmac) and is made up of one a three quarter laps. You leave the park briefly three times - to run along the pavement of two roads. This seems to be quite a novelty in parkrun terms. I plodded along, not really sure of my pace, but loving the park! Loads of bird song, and no traffic noise in the depths of the park - and sculptures, I want to go back and walk around so I can have a proper look. There are no km markers, and that, along with no Garmin, meant I really did have no idea how I was getting on. I chatted with a few people as I ran, determined to enjoy myself. The finish hadn't been set up when I passed it the first time, so I didn't even know where I was aiming for! I asked one runner I passed how long it was to the finish. "You just go up that hill, round a couple of corners then up a bit and it is on your left." Which was exactly what I had to do, but what I really needed to know was roughly how many metres! You don't get much visual warning either - as it is just around a bend, but for the last few metres you can see the coffee van ahead, which must spur a lot of runners on a bit!
The coffee van being 'right there' at the end meant that a lot of runners stayed to drink coffee, chat and cheer on those who finished after them. The coffee was very good too! I met up with runners I knew 'virtually' from the FetchEveryone website, had a bit of a chat, drank my HUGE cup of coffee in the sunshine, before dashing back into London so that I could use the shower in my hotel room before I had to check out! I've done a lot of inaugural parkruns recently, and they always have a bit of a party atmosphere, same faces, different venue, but turning up to an established parkrun on my own is a different animal. I get quite nervous about it to be honest, so a huge thank you to everyone who made me feel so welcome. I'll be back, and may bring small children with me!
In other news
Garmin must be praised for their excellent customer service! Posted my watch to them on Wednesday, and a replacement was sent to me so that it arrived on Saturday. This is for a watch that is out of guarantee - but only by a week! That has saved me a few pennies!
As I was in London I decided to pay a visit to Sweatshop's self styled 'ultimate destination' for runners. I can only say that I was distinctly underwhelmed. I have shopped at the Sweatshop concession in Harrods for years (and get lovely Harrods points when I do so), but I expected the flagship store to be bigger, better and have a huge range of lovely things for me to buy. They didn't. In fact there had been a greater choice in Harrods. The service was good and friendly, but it lacked the 'wow factor' I'd been led to expect.
We didn't know where to stay on Saturday night. So we went to to lastminute.com to have a look around. We discovered their 'top secret hotels' - basically you book a certain star rating of hotel in a specified area, but you don't find out where you are going until after you book. We ended up at W London - somewhere we would never have considered, but which we absolutely loved. It feels as though we were living in a bond movie, very stylish and luxurious!