Saturday, 31 August 2019

California dreaming

I have been meaning to visit California Country parkrun for a wee while, but hadn't made it for various reasons.  Today I found myself travelling to parkrun alone as Husbando is having a day off prior to a race tomorrow, the 15 year old could not be woken up (school is going to be so much fun next week) and my normal parkrun accomplice was otherwise engaged.  I've become a real wuss about meeting new people - a really good character trait in a teacher - so told myself all I needed to do was turn up, run and then come home... but if I could talk to people that would be a bonus!

I arrived in plenty of time. hoping to find out why a park in Finchampstead is called 'California Country Park'.  The website for the park hadn't helped with that one and I am still none the wiser.  It is a lovely park though, with lots of parking (charges apply) and a conveniently located cafe (with loos that are open before the parkrun).  Getting to the start was somewhat confusing - so I followed a group of people running apricot and purple t shirts and hoped for the best!  The first time briefing was excellent - although I will admit to getting a bit confused about the route and figuring that I would just follow the person in front.  I spotted a fellow With Me Now podcast listener and greeted her with a 'Dolly or Bev?' (If you listen to the podcast you'll know what I'm talking about, if you don't then you should!)

The run director's approach to the run brief was excellent.  He called us all together and then waited until everyone was quiet, commented that he would start now we were all listening and paused when some chattering threatened to get out of hand - brilliant!  I asked him if he was a teacher - he said that he had grown up in a family of teachers! One thing though - and this seems to happen at lots of parkruns - the run brief is given using a PA system, but the count down and start are so very quiet that  those of us not at the very front can only tell the run has begun because the crowd moves forward!  

The start was quite crowded, the path was narrow, and I hadn't positioned myself very well so the start was quite slow, especially though the wooded section as it was impossible to overtake here at all.  It is a pretty and varied course, partly on a lovely smooth path and partly through woods being careful to avoid the tree roots.  There was an out and back section and a repeat loop through the wooded section, all supported by marshals who kept us going in the right direction.  There was a longish downhill section on the out and back - which meant a longish uphill section too!  

As I went into the woods for the second time, probably about half a mile from the finish, I heard one of the marshals say 'That's the 5th lady,' as I ran past.  I wasn't having that!  So I put on a bit of speed and overtook a few people (jumping over branches and dodging trees) and managed to claw my way up to 3rd lady by the time we got to the finish.  

After the obligatory barcode scanning, I chatted to a few people at the finish and then decided to brave the cafe.  Jackson's cafe was lovely, and I brazenly went to sit at a table which already had runners sitting at it.  We chatted about parkrun and black pudding, amongst other things and passed a very pleasant half an hour in the sunshine.  

Thank you to all the volunteers and marshals for making me feel so welcome.  I'm not sure if I am now actively chasing down my Cowell Club membership (100 different parkruns) - but I am now on 84 different venues so I might get a bit more proactive in seeking out new ones....

Sunday, 25 August 2019

Gin and PBs!

 On a whim we booked ourselves into Gin School on Friday afternoon. Gorilla Spirits  is a distillery that is just down the road from where we live and not only do they make excellent gin (their Silverback Mountain Strength Gin gained top marks in a gin tasting I hosted a couple of years ago) they donate £1 to support gorilla conservation.  We'd been meaning to book a tour or one of their cocktail making masterclasses but decided to go for the Gin School experience as the idea of making our own gin really appealed.

We arrived at 2 o'clock on a sunny afternoon and were greeted with the first of several G&Ts which we sipped while we waited for the other four pupils to arrive.  Before long we were chatting away and ready to get started...

The process of choosing botanicals was explained, we each had a folder which described the characteristics of each botanical and suggested which other botanicals they would work well with.  We made our choices, safe in the knowledge that one of the experts would check our final recipe to make sure that it would work before we started meticulously measuring out our ingredients, recording all these measurements on our recipe sheet.  I had intended to make a 'Christmas Gin,' but got waylaid by the botanicals.  One was called 'Lady's Mantle' which is a plant that grows prolifically in our village, I liked it and decided to base my gin around it.

Each of us had our own still.  They all had individual names and were very cute!  While we waited for all the class to be at the same stage we enjoyed another G&T before being taken on a tour of the distillery.  This is a much smaller operation than Bombay Sapphire.  I think they said they had a staff of 9, everyone mucks in and does all the rolls that are needed, from monitoring the still to labelling the bottles.  After our tour we went back to the stills to work out the ABV of our distillate and therefore how much water we would need to add turn it into something that was a) drinkable and b) would satisfy HMRC's rules on alcohol content.  We had been asked to 'name' our gins - and these were printed onto labels.  The 'extra' gin that wouldn't fit in the bottle was used to make yet another G&T!  I have to say that Husbando's gin was very nice, but mine was delicious.  (I had to drink most of his drinks because he was driving).

All in all, this was a brilliant way to spend an afternoon and I can't recommend it highly enough!  We came home with out two bottles of gin, a bottle of the Gorilla Spirits Old Tom Gin and a bottle of their Raspberry Gin.  We got a 10% discount on our purchases and these two aren't as easily available as the original Mountain Strength gin.

I came home and went to bed.

On Saturday morning I woke up with a slightly sore head, but Saturday is parkrun day and we had made plans to meet a friend at Upton Court parkrun.  From there Husbando and I were heading into London.  I felt ghastly, almost as green as my 250 top.  Still it was only 5k, I've run parkrun with a hangover before, all I had to do was get around.  We lined up at the start and were soon under starter's orders!  Husbando hared off into the distance, I assumed JB had done the same.  I couldn't be bothered to look at my watch, it was hot, my head hurt and I felt a bit queasy so I just ran.  The course is one long then one short loop of Upton Court Park, it is mainly on grass, with a couple of sections on tarmac.  At one point during the first lap I got to a point where I couldn't see anyone ahead and it wasn't immediately clear where I should go, I stopped - very briefly - for another runner to catch me up so I knew where to go.

On the second lap JB caught up with me and we ran the rest of the course together.  It was really hot now and he wasn't going to let me slow down!  We passed a marshal who told up we had 600m to go - we thought he was a little optimistic - but as I looked at my watch (for only the second time in the run) I realised that I could be on for a PB!  Coming around the last corner two other runners came up behind us.  I wasn't prepared to let them overtake me, but wasn't exactly sure where the finish line was so just had to run as fast as I could and hope that I could hold on...urns out I could.  And I got an 8 second parkrun PB into the bargain!  Husbando also got a parkrun PB, but we both ran slower than JB's fastest marathon pace!

Such are the benefits of a flat parkrun!  There must have been some uphill as there was definitely a downhill slope, but I can't remember it!  The volunteers were friendly and helpful and we were very glad to grab some cold drinks from the rugby club house after our run!  There were also lovely loos in the club house that were available before the run and there is plenty of free parking nearby.  A great parkrun which didn't involve getting up too early!  Thank you to all the volunteers!

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Milton Keynes

The last time I went to Milton Keynes was for an interview for a place on the Open University's PGCE course.  I was so nervous on the way there and so relieved on the way home that I could have been anywhere!  Today I was travelling to Milton Keynes as it was a convenient, almost halfway point, between our house and my mother's house and as such a useful meeting point at which to hand over a small person who wants to spend a week with her grandmother and aunts.  I was also aware that it gave me options in terms of parkrun locations so that I wasn't just driving for hours and hours on a Saturday morning!  I gave my mum the details of several parkruns and she chose Milton Keynes.  This was fine by me - it looked really easy to get to from the M1, had a cafe, loos and lots of parking nearby.  It was also a non lapped parkrun... I'd say a single lap, but it isn't even a complete loop, the finish point being about a quarter of a mile away from the start.  Given the size of lots of city parks and open spaces non lapped parkruns are quite rare  - I think I've only run two or three such courses.  It also looked fairly flat.  
Smallest one scanning barcodes

Small person and I got up stupidly early - 5.30am in the school holidays is not nice and were packed up and on our way by 6.15am which meant we arrived at Willen's Lake at about ten past eight.  Willen's Lake is an amazing venue in the midst of a series of parks and green spaces.  At the lake you can take place in all sorts of water sports and other activities - it looked amazing!  When we arrived there were very few other people there, but the loos were open (thankfully!) and we soon found the volunteer co-ordinator who had been so helpful the previous evening when I'd asked about the small one helping with barcode scanning (to keep her occupied while I ran).  

Run director Ros gave an informative run briefing, welcoming many guests including a large number of runners from Kingfisher Harriers all sporting bright orange t-shirts with kingfishers on them.  As we assembled at the start runners appeared from everywhere!  There were over 600 this morning on what is quite a narrow start (a gravel path between two trees).  The first few hundred metres are slightly uphill followed by a section along the edge of the canal.  The route is entirely on gravel and tarmac paths, it isn't a hilly course but there is a zig-zag section through a wooded area which concentrates the mind somewhat!  Being quite open, the wind could be a problem - in fact I was blown sideways as we ran under a bridge that was doing a very good impression of a wind tunnel!

I haven't run at such a large parkrun for quite a while and I was struck by the fact that there was very little thinning out (at least where I was running).  I was always surrounded by runners.  The marshals were enthusiastic in their support.  Back in the days when there were far fewer parkruns, if I visited a new parkrun I would just 'plod' around, knowing that there was a good chance I'd be back and that it would be nice, if slightly artificial, to get a course PB!  Now we are spoilt for choice and I can't really justify doing that anymore but, having sat in the car for hours and knowing that they journey home would probably take even longer, I didn't feel as though I really wanted to push it, so I decided not to look at my watch, not to push it and just run at a pace that felt comfortable and where I could chat with those around me and have enough breath to thank all the marshals.  I was pleased with my result - I always run a bit faster at parkrun than I run the rest of the week.

After having my barcode scanned (by my own daughter) we went to the cafe near the finish, One4six.  The cafe is quite large with loads of picnic tables outside, the drinks weren't cheap - £10 for a can of pop, two coffees and a tea - but at least there were reasonably large cups!  I am still trying to persuade my mother and sister to take part in their local parkrun but they keep saying that they can't because they are not runners - I hope that sitting watching the walkers finish might just make them think that they can take part - they could even take the dog!

As I headed back to the car and paid for parking it started to rain - the parkrun weather fairies had given us an hour and a half of sunny weather to enjoy our run and coffees!  My result text popped up on the screen as I sat in a traffic jam on the M1 - very efficient - and thanks to me having eventually mastered the voice activated technology in the car I could get my result read out to me!  

Huge thanks to all the volunteers, it was a pleasure to run with you today.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Two half marathons and a parkrun.

Uh oh!  Phoenix have a new venue.... Double uh oh!  The venue is at a vineyard... triple and quadruple uh oh!  I get to add a second medal to my LOTR 'one ring' collection and it starts late enough to allow me to run Mole Valley parkrun  first.  And then one final 'uh oh' - there is also a race on Sunday which would add a third ring medal....

So you know what I did don't you?  I signed up for both races and decided to run the parkrun too.  A yellow weather warning didn't put paid to the plans so Husbando and I set off bright and early, or at least early, on Saturday.

Mole Valley parkrun is held at Denbies Wine Estate near Dorking.  As such it has excellent parking, very luxurious toilets, a huge cafe and a gift shop.  It also, being a vineyard, has undulations!  Still, we met up with friends, debated what to wear (hats or sunglasses/rain jackets or not) as the weather was very unpredictable.  The course is one lap, mostly up hill during the first half and down hill for the second.  I ran with a friend and we chatted all the way around so that I wasn't too tempted to run too fast.  I knew that certain bits of the parkrun course were the same as the route we would be running later, so I mentally noted which bits I would walk!  Huge thanks to all the volunteers and marshals!

After the run we had a cup of tea and a chat before getting ourselves to the start line for a second time.  Husbando and I ran the first half of the first lap together, but I wanted to take it easy so we sort of went our separate ways.  The route was fabulous, but during the first lap, I really wasn't having fun.  The wind, alternating rain and hot sunshine, did not make for a good time as far as I was concerned.  I was considering quitting after one lap and sitting in the cafe to wait for Husbando, but when I got to the aid station I thought that I might as well carry on for at least one more lap.

The aid station was well stocked, the team there had done sterling work filling up our water cups in our numbered cup holders.  Husbando was a few places ahead of me but I don't think he realised I was so close behind him.  I don't normally help myself to goodies from the aid station - preferring to eat my own - but today I really like the look of some lovely, glossy pretzels.  So I grabbed some, popped one in my mouth and immediately my lips and tongue reacted.  Peanut butter pretzels!  Who knew they were a thing?  Certainly not this nut allergy sufferer!  I spat the pretzel out instantly (apologies to anyone standing near me), grabbed my water to rinse my mouth out, ran to the car to get a handful of antihistamines and inhaled them.  My eyes were itchy - but my breathing felt OK(ish).  I was a bit shaken up - it is a very long time since I have made such a stupid mistake.  The RD checked that I was OK - I assured him I was, and that I wanted to go on.  I grabbed my epi pen and told him that he should feel free to stab me if he felt the need!  By the time I got to the first marshal point the marshal there (who is Mr White Star Running!) was aware of the situation and planning a marathon in my memory - I think we decided it should be called The Corpseathon and feature tombstone medals!

I spent the next 3 laps alternating between looking at the scenery and checking to see if I was getting any more blotchy.  The scenery was amazing, even if the weather was less than ideal and soon I was on my last lap.  Laps seem to pass much more quickly than out and backs!  A half marathon done in 2hrs 20mins is one of my slower runs, but not too bad considering the hills, the weather and the nuts! And the medal is great!

After a quick gin purchase in the gift shop (rude not to really) we drove on up to London to meet my youngest from the train and to check into a hotel as Husbando had a book fair on the Sunday.  We had afternoon tea in the executive lounge of the hotel.  I tried to remember that running 16+ miles doesn't mean I can eat endless scones with jam and clotted cream - but may have had more than one.....

We had an early night, and then got up early (Husbando likes to be at the fair before 7am and I had a train to catch.  I walked to Waterloo Station and then from Walton On Thames station to the Exel Leisure centre (about 3 miles in total) wondering how on Earth I would be able to run when walking seemed to be a bit of a chore.  I grabbed a coffee and chatted while we waited for the start only slightly disheartened to learn that we were running the dreaded 'blue bridge of doom' route!

I needn't have worried about being able to run. Today was one of those days when everything just worked!  I had hoped that I would be able to keep my pace below 10min/mile - but actually ran 8.39min/mile and could happily have carried on running for the entire 6 hours.  As it was I knew I'd have to stop after 4 laps (half marathon) as I needed to get back to the hotel and shower before we had to check out, so I just settled for enjoying the sunshine, ignoring the rather blustery wind and chatting with people.  I didn't eat any of the peanut based snacks....

As I got to the end of my 4 laps Rik was handing out ice lollies and promoting an 'ice lolly selfie' competition.  As I got the medal at the same time as the ice lolly my photo had to combine the two.  Oh, and I finished today's half marathon 25 minutes faster than yesterday's!  1:54:07!

Thank you to Rik and his band of happy marshals, thanks again to the whole Mole Valley parkrun team - it has been a great weekend!

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Happy 5th birthday Chichester parkrun!

Those present at the first event, plus the Mayor, at the 5th
anniversary.  Photo by Geoff Summer
Back in the distant past turning up at inaugural parkruns was a thing.  Huge groups of tourists used to seek out the newest parkruns and descend on them to swell the numbers and bag a place on a table listing the number of inaugural parkruns attended by touring parkrunners.  This practice is now discouraged in an attempt to stop new events being overwhelmed by a huge influx of runners which could give the volunteers and landowners a totally unrealistic idea of what would be expected over the following months.  I also think it gives new local parkrunners a warped view of the parkrun community.  This community grows organically week to week as word spreads about 'this 5k run thing in the park on a Saturday... it is free... come along!'

Anyway, five years ago pitching up at a new parkrun was perfectly acceptable and so, when I found myself roughly in the area of the new Chichester parkrun I decided to pop along.  You can read about that visit and my ropey grasp of geography in this blog post.  I enjoyed it - managed to ditch the Fredster with my friend who was tailwalking so I could actually run.  It takes about 45 minutes to get there from home so was never going to be a contender for frequent visits but I was surprised to realise I had never been back since that first visit.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago.  An email arrived saying that the 5th birthday was fast approaching and wouldn't it be nice to try to get as many people who had run at the inaugural back to celebrate the 5th birthday.  I did a double take.  It couldn't be five years, it only felt like 2 or 3 at most!  I managed to persuade the Fredster to come along and Husbando was keen to add another parkrun to his tourist tally.

The attendance record was smashed today (360 compared to the previous record of 310), and the run director had to work hard to be heard by all the runners.  As a teacher I find it quite distressing when people behave so disrespectfully and talk throughout the run brief.  There were two men I noticed who were standing very near the front, one in a 100 and the other in a 50 t-shirt, who talked incessantly - just rude behaviour!  Not every run director enjoys public speaking but they all deserve to be listened to!  Today the run director (and new event director) paid tribute to the former event directors, celebrated milestones, and remembered two parkrunners who were at the inaugural but have passed away since then.  I apologise for having to use my 'teacher voice!'  Apparently Husbando was watching me get more and more fed up with the talking and counting down how long it would be before I couldn't keep quiet any longer... The local mayor said a few words, including making an excuse about not being able to run because of the bling (he obviously hasn't seen the medals given out at Phoenix and White Star events!  He also started us off on our run.

My memory of the course was sketchy, to say the least, I did remember a long up hill section that was run three times, but my sketchy memory didn't really matter as the course is totally different now!  I recall starting by the rugby club and running clockwise around Oaklands Park.  Today we started at the bottom of the park, near Chichester Festival Theatre (I still haven't been back to see any of the many excellent productions they put on) and ran anticlockwise up the park.   It was a twisty, turny, zig-zag route up the slope of the park on grass, followed by a lovely long downhill on a tarmac path, for three complete laps.  I wasn't feeling much like running if I'm honest.  I'd been at a BBQ the night before and am fast coming to the conclusion that eating red meat makes me feel absolutely awful the next day, but it was parkrun day so run I must!  I ignored my Garmin and set off - my only aim as that I didn't want to be lapped by the fast runners, co-incidently the Fredster's aim was not to be lapped by me or Husbando.  I wasn't lapped and neither of us managed to catch Fredster!

I am delighted that he is parkrunning again!  He has done 175+ parkruns, but none for a very long time.  It isn't worth pushing children or teenagers if they aren't enjoying it, but I always hoped that he would come back to parkrun one day.  It seems that volunteering at parkrun as part of his Duke of Edinburgh bronze has rekindled his interest, and now he is doing running as his physical activity for his silver award and will use parkrun as a bench mark to show progress.

Sadly we had to dash off after the run, which was a shame as there were cakes and balloons, as Husbando needs to work on a Saturday, but the start/finish area had a really nice party feel as we walked back to the carpark - I hope everyone had a great time and here's to the next 5 years!