Adam Bird

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Sunday, 24 July 2022

Hoblingwell parkrun - event 197

Hoblingwell parkrun

On the 23rd July 2022 I ran the Hoblingwell parkun which was the 198th event held at the venue, my 87th parkrun and 22nd different course I'd attended.

Having not run for nearly three weeks aside from an attempted run at the Warszawa-Praga event two weeks ago I was nervous about resuming running activity. Judging when your body is ready is not an easy task, particularly when your not accustomed to niggly running injuries and are generally impatient by nature.

My parkrun planner has been carefully curated to find a blended mixture between alphabet achievements, ticking events off inside the M25, completing all the parkuns in Kent and working through the list of nearest events not done yet (NENDY'S).

Ironically, after my injury the next event scheduled was Hoblingwell. An event inside the M25, third on my NENDY list and inside a little pocket of parkuns which I'd already completed and made sense for me to tick off.  Indeed, I'd also been hobbling very well recently!

I hadn't really considered looking for an alternative event, one more suited to a recuperating runner. Perhaps I should have done, but fortunately all's well that ended well as I had no ill effects in the end aside from a lack of stamina and failing to get my legs working all the way around. Although with the heat of today's run it was likely that was the bigger hindrance and not my dodgy calf.

Today's run started with temperatures in the mid 20s, but this week's warm weather had evidently taken its toll on the wider surroundings with the recreation ground upon arrival resembling the colour of straw. It also meant that the ground was baked solid making for much better running conditions than would otherwise be found in other parts of the year.

Hoblingwell Recreation Ground has a carpark and community space where there are bathroom facilities and area to socialise post-run. This space is at the centre of the recreational space with a play park and skatepark attached to it. To the west is a woodland area with more wild, lengthier grassland separating the woods and community space. To the east is a series of rugby/football pitches spread across three tiered areas. The area to the south is at the highest point of the space and each of the three tiers drops down from here. This does mean that the course, which uses all areas of the recreational space undulates as it transitions between each of the three tiers and into and out of the woodland. 

From the course map itself, it can be a little tricky to work out the exact route, but there are flyby videos on YouTube which make things a little easier to understand. During the first-timers meeting, there is a more detailed laminated map and the lady who gave us the briefing showed us as much as she could using this aid - as from the starting point you can't really see much else of the course 

The start is on the top most field at the southern end of the park where participants run, walk or jog in an anti-clockwise direction completing one lap back around to the start. Halfway around the second lap participants drop down to the middle field where there a tarmac path that runs parallel to the sports pitches which weren't marked out but are likely to be for most parts of the year.

At the end of this path participants turn right heading towards the bottom field but turn left, up a banked hill and skirt the skatepark which is on the left hand side. This is apparently a recent addition to the park and looks like good fun (must return back with the children for the Junior event and have a post-run play here one day!). The path from here then turns left again, and rises around the car park and follows the edge of the longer, more wild grass to the road that runs alongside the southern perimeter of the park.

Participants then follow the road upwards as the woods comes alongside the path which bends around to the left. On the crest of the bend is a marshall and a turning right into the woods which on a day like today was a welcome respite from the sun as the trees provided plenty of shade.

Sadly the wooded area wasn't particularly long, but it did provide a nice downward dip before coming back out again next to the skatepark where you follow the outer edge of the bottom most tier of pitches all the way to the very end. Once there, participants turn right, onto the pavement of the road that runs alongside the eastern perimeter of the park.

This road heads upwards briefly before turning right again where the route takes you in-between tiers two and three. A nice, wide (and flat) ridged path where there is a slope to your right leading down to the third tier and the second is to your left. At the end of this section is the banked area that takes you back around the skate path and into the woods once more for a second lap.

It was on my second lap that my legs began to flounder and I caught myself walking for a breather. It always frustrates me when I stop to walk, and it's normally always a psychological cause for it. There was a fair amount of heat yesterday so I was glad to catch my breath, and I also had to remind myself that I was coming back from an injury so consciously reminded myself to not feel too bad about it.

After the second lap out of the woods, around the bottom field, instead of heading up the banked hill for a third time the course bears left back along the edge of the middle tier of pitches to the tarmac path. The course turns left and follows this path back to other end in the opposite direction to the way you came at the start of the course. At the end, the course turns right, back onto the grass and up the top of the park, running clockwise around the top tier all the way to the finish which faces in the opposite direction to the start.

It was nice to be able to attempt a sprint again at the end. I don't know if it was the heat, or just my active imagination, but I was overtaken by a man who smiled at me as he passed. I was convinced it was Michael McIntyre. I was adamant that I wasn't going to finish behind him and I wanted to see if it was him or not. But despite my best efforts I couldn't quite catch up with him and so it was a double disappointment when he turned around at the end and it wasn't him at all. Apart from his hair he didn't actually look like Michael McIntyre in the slightest.  I knew I needed to sit down and take a drink at this point!

I finished in 46th place in a field of 96 participants with a time of 30:55, a result that with all things considered I could be rather proud of.

Monday, 18 July 2022

Cyclopark parkrun - event 87

Cyclopark parkrun

On the 16th July 2022 I volunteered at the Cyclopark parkun which was the 87th event held at the venue, the third time I'd volunteered at the event and my 8th and 9th volunteer credits overall.

As I'd injured my calf at Lullingstone two weeks ago and hadn't quite recovered at last week's event in Warsaw I gave myself some extended time off from running to give myself some time to heal and recuperate. I'm not a very patient person in general and have hated not sticking to the routine I'd spent a long time getting used to. I had severe blisters in the autumn last year which taught me trying to do something too soon can ultimately mean being out for longer than necessary, so this time around I'm more determined to do the right thing.

Whilst my Wednesday wellbeing run (we get an hour extra break on Wednesdays to do something for our mental health at work) is difficult to find suitable alternatives. Parkrun Saturdays are straightforward - instead of running an event you can turn up and volunteer! Parkrun can only exist with its volunteers and without them parkrun just simply cannot take place. There are a whole number of different roles, from setting up the course, marshalling, time-keeping or even being the event photographer! Today I was able to combine two different roles as a marshall and run-report writer which is credited as two distinct contributions.

The Cyclopark event is my home event and volunteering is a fantastic way of giving something back and help support those people who have supported me and all my fellow participants.

I've run the Cyclopark event on 51 previous occasions and consistently attended the event until my obsession for touristing took over. I was at the inaugural event back on the 20th of July 2019. Having an event so close to home gave me the incentive I needed to get back to parkrun after having been to the Great Lines on and off for the previous few years. It also coincided with changes in the childrens saturday clubs routine - the stars aligned perfectly and a new obsession was born!

The course, entirely comprised of tarmac paths is a fairly straightforward out and back affair, not on the Cyclopark circuit but along the path that runs adjacent to the facility itself. In fact, there was one event, the new year's event of 2020 where for a one off, they ran the course on the circuit which still stands as the biggest event in terms of numbers held in the events history. I ran the course that day and then the Shorne Country Park event straight after to complete the last ever new year's double. Due to the popularity of these double events parkrun had to cancel them on health and safety grounds.

The start is just past the back of the main entrance building complex and participants face towards the Tollgate where they head until they reach the alleyway next to the Travel Lodge hotel. This is the first turnaround point and the point that I was marshalling on today's event. From here it is a case of continuing along the path, downhill until the second turnaround at the bottom just before the road that leads out to Ifield. Runners then face a long uphill trek back to the top again before repeating the whole thing a second time. The finish line is at the top of the hill on the left hand side, slightly forward of the start behind Morrisons.

Most people's first impression of the course is 'the hill'. Having run the course so many times I have grown to love the hill of doom. At first it proved to be a continuous source of frustration. From not being able to run up it first time around to eventually completing the course under 28 minutes and recording my all time personal best 5k time. I've got myself into a bit of a rhythm now and even relish running back up second time around as this is where I think there's the most time to be made as it's my slowest split of the course!

As I've kept going and plugging away I've grown to be accustomed to regular event volunteers recognising me and recognising my improvement and offering me support along the route. There's a universal truth amongst the parkrun community and the volunteer's are always championed and recognised for their friendliness and support. But the level of support at Cyclopark does seem to be almost an extra level. Running the course you will frequently find words of encouragement written in chalk as you go 'dig deep!' or 'down-hill from here!'. It really does make a difference!

Which is why it was such a pleasure to volunteer and be able to give something back. I think where possible any regular parkrunner should look to volunteer on occasion. It's not mandatory, but I would gently encourage anyone to put their hands up and don a high-viz jacket on the odd occasion. There was a real risk of having to cancel the New Year's Day event this year and so I put my name forward for duties then. I'd much rather not run and help the event go ahead than the event not take place at all.

Monday, 11 July 2022

Warszawa-Praga parkrun - event 408

Warszawa-Praga parkrun

On the 9th July 2022 I ran the Warszawa-Praga parkun which was the 408th event held at the venue, my 86th parkrun and 21st different course I'd attended.

Being a parkrun obsessive means looking at any opportunity to fit in an event when there's a possibility to do so. In fact, having a parkrun event can be the difference between either going somewhere or not. In this case, we were fortunate because we had a choice between a number of cities who all had parkruns nearby.

Stephanie and I for a number of years have wanted to see Coldplay, who are one of my all time favourite bands. Absolutely everyone I know who has seen them have all said that they are supremely special live. So when tickets went on sale for their Music of the Spheres World Tour we jumped at the chance of securing our tickets.

The problem was, the tickets for Wembley were really expensive. By way of an experiment I compared prices for some of the other European cities on the tour and found that the prices were much more affordable. The idea of a cheeky weekend away was born!

Ultimately it came down to a choice between Berlin, Frankfurt or Warsaw. I was quite tempted by Frankfurt as I'd never been there and Steph hasn't visited Germany yet, but we decided upon Warsaw because we'd previously been to a wedding in Poznan and had such an amazing time we wanted to go back to Poland. It was the nostalgic choice that won through and that's how we found ourselves in Warsaw with another decision to make.

Warsaw has a number of parkrun events in the city with four that seemed to be reasonably accessible from the centre. We were staying at the Radisson Collection Hotel which was right in the town centre and so we had the pick of all four. I chose the Warszawa-Praga event in the end, purely because it was next to the national stadium where we were due to watch Coldplay the night before, and I figured that we would already be familiar with that area by that point - so wanted to make things as straightforward as possible for us on the morning after the night before.

As newbie's arriving into the city early on Friday morning we hadn't had an opportunity to navigate our way via public transport so we walked to the PGE Narodowy stadium via a couple of bars to stop off for drinks and rest our tired limbs. It took us a while to get to the stadium and after the concert getting out was the predictable manic throng of thousands of people making their way out and back into the city centre. We ended up walking all the way back to the hotel which took us over an hour. By the time we'd got back to the hotel at the other side of midnight and our step counts into the 30 thousands we flopped on our beds with parkrun the last things on our minds.

A quick note at this point about Coldplay. Wow! Everything everyone has ever said about them live in concert is true. What a stunning experience and one that Stephanie and I will will remember forever. The highlights for me were many, but the live performance of The Scientist was a bucket list moment that will live long in the memory. Stephanie was reduced to tears on a number of occasions, for different reasons. Nostalgia and music is a powerful combination. If Coldplay tour again we will most certainly be looking to go again!

Waking up on the Saturday morning, I nearly floundered. Stephanie was fast asleep and I could quite easily of rolled over and rejoined her. But the obsessive overruled once again and so it was, we made our way back past the PGE Narodowy to the Skaryszewski Park by taxi. The driver dropping us off right at the far end of the park so that by the time we got there we had a slightly anxious paced walk back around the park in an attempt to find the start.

Once there, in the nick of time - we joined a group of locals who were readying themselves to begin promptly at 9am. A man recognised that I was a tourist and introduced himself and I had my own personal first timers briefing where he showed me the outline of the course and where the starting point was.

The route was a two and a half anti-clockwise loops of the park, with the final part being a straight 400m path that bisects the route in half. If you think of a clock, the run starts at where the 7 would be. Two loops around the reverse of the clock, until you get to the 12 for the 3rd time. You then travel down the clock face straight to the 6. The route isn't a perfect circle, although it's not far off. My Strava recording made it look like a kidney bean.

The park itself was incredibly dense with an abundance of trees. I'd imagine as the seasons change there'd be some spectacular evolutions of colour. For the now, it was bright green hues and bright, sun-kissed branches.  I am convinced that in each of the trees lived a red squirrel because I lost count of the number I saw. As I ran by one in particular he was clinging to the tree upside down, eating something, completely oblivious to it's surroundings.

The paths were wide, and made of tarmac and it was virtually pancake flat. On another day the course would have masses of PB potential. With no elevation gain and a 400 meter sprint finish it could have been the fastest 5k I'd ever recorded. Sadly for me however, I was still feeling the effects of last week's calf injury at Lullingstone parkrun and so I'd made the choice before I'd started to take it easy. The exploits from the day/night before had also taken its toll, so I was far from my optimal condition. Naively I thought I'd be able to make it around the full 5k taking it slowly, but once I'd hit the 2k mark I'd felt my calf twinge and so I slowed to a walk. After another kilometre I tried to run again but the twinge nagged me again and so I walked almost the rest of the way.

As you go around the bottom of the course at the point on the clock where the 6 would be, you pass the finish area where Stephanie was waiting to cheer me on. There are no Marshall's on the course itself but at the finish there were a number of volunteers all cheering participants on. Each of them were clapping with tambourines in their hands or ringing cowbells which gave off a wonderful atmosphere and made me feel slightly bashful as I walked by on the final pass. It also made me think that a tambourine would make an essential piece of kit for any aspiring volunteer!

I managed to slowly jog the final kilometre including the last 400m straight where I wished I was going full beans in search of that elusive personal best time. But it wasn't to be. I finished 70th out of a field of 78 parkrunners in a time of 36:40.

After the event Stephanie and I got talking to some of the locals, including the chap who had given me my first timer briefing. Apparently I'd missed another runner from the UK. A lady had also been there from Scotland, she had also been to see Coldplay the night before. In fact, by the time we made our way back to the UK at the end of the weekend there were plenty of people who had made similar plans to our own.

As we left the park, heading towards the tram home, Stephanie said to me that whenever she's been to a parkrun event she always feels like there's this amazing sense of community. She couldn't have put it any better. It's exactly what parkrun is and why us obsessives keep going back for more, whichever country it might be, the language it's in, the recipe is all the same.

Sunday, 3 July 2022

Lullingstone parkrun - event 305

Lullingstone parkrun

On the 2nd July 2022 I ran the Lullingstone parkun which was the 305th event held at the venue, my 85th parkrun and 20th different course I'd attended.

When researching different parkrun events for tourism purposes there's a sublist of events that sit under the term 'must visit'. Whilst each event is unique in its own right there are certain events that have a special characteristic that make them stand out from the rest. In the case of Lullingstone it's the events reputation as one of the UKs toughest courses that make people travel from all over the country in order to conquer it's proven challenge.

For me, it was the lure of the challenge, but also the fact that I needed an 'L' as part of the alphabet challenge, it's also a Kentish run I'd not completed and it was number two on my NENDY list (Nearest Event Not Done Yet). It was also a course that my Dad had previously run and so I had a subconscious goal of wanting to beat his time - which sadly as events transpired was something I failed to do.

As I thought I knew majority of the way to Lullingstone by car,  I had setup Google Maps on my phone to follow in the event I got lost. I didn't pay it too much attention and so failed to heed it's warnings when it tried to direct me any other way than the M25. I carried on the way I knew and hit traffic as soon as I pulled onto London's greatest carpark. I always leave in plenty of time, so at first I wasn't too concerned, but as the traffic crawled forever slower I started to let the anxious mind nearly talk me into a last minute plan B. Convinced that I wasnt going to make it I tried to visualise the courses I could get to from my current location and very nearly made a beeline for Malling as I'd be able to scoot down the M20 where the traffic situation was much more fluid. Instead, I stuck it out and was rewarded shortly after the M20 turnoff when the traffic started to flow again and I could continue on my way. Even so, instead of arriving at the planned 8:30 time, I arrived at 8:50 which didn't give me much time to scout the course and have a pre-event warmup.

The carpark was busier than I thought it was going to be, but still had plenty of room. You can pay for parking with cash, or on your mobile phone which I had already prepared by downloading yet another parking app on my phone the day before. £1.90 allows visitors use of the carpark for the whole day which is great value in anyone's book. From the car park itself you can't really see too much as there is a line of trees and bushes hiding the course from view.

Once you've navigated through one of the pathways that lead from the carpark to the country park itself you soon see that the reputation for being a hilly course is pretty accurate. Ahead of you lies an imposing view across a field that continues to go up and up.

I wasn't quite sure where the start was, but there was a steady stream of people making their way up the hill via a footpath on the left hand side of the field. Footpath might be overdressing it slightly, it was merely a flattened down route of long grass that gave people easier access to the rest of the field.

No sooner had I arrived at the start, a short way up - the first timer briefing was called. There were a healthy number of first timers and we listened intently as the guy doing the talking started off with 'thank you for coming to Lullingstone which as you can see is one of Kent's flattest courses', or words to that effect. We laughed ironically, yeah right! Things did eventually get back onto more a more serious tone with the general advice being to take your time and don't worry about the clock.

That was already my plan to begin with. I wanted to run as far as I could and push myself to keep going. I'd ran two tough courses at Uckfield and Queen Elizabeth and had regretted after both events that I had walked when I should have carried on going. I knew it was going to be inevitable here, but wanted to postpone it for as long as possible.

From the start we ran slightly uphill but across the field with the carpark downhill to the right. We were aiming for the treeline ahead where we turned left and uphill following the trees around and climbing the whole way.

I took it nice and steady, the further up we went the harder it was on the legs, but I still had plenty in the tank. Once we'd got to the top of the treeline we took a left turn, again taking us upward towards the woods in the distance. I felt good at this point, gaining confidence the further up we went. Afterall the closer to the top we got the closer to the downhill parts we were!

Once we'd made it to the woods, the course turned right into the trees. I was expecting it to flatten out at this point and was rudely awakened as the trail path steepened up and began to climb up even more. I did stop briefly at this point, through surprise or frustration but it was a fleeting moment and I started running again almost straight away. Further up again we went until the welcome sight of a purple hi-vis jacket of a volunteer appeared ahead.

We were told beforehand that the Marshall in the woods signalled the top of the hill and that things were downhill for the rest of the way. Indeed, there were echoes of Queen Elizabeth as the trail path took a sudden downward turn and the fun of running downhill began.

The path reached the end of the trees and took us left, bringing us back out onto the path we'd left to enter the woods. As I turned left and started bounding down the hill I felt a pop in the calf of my left foot. I'd had a similar issue at the end of last year and knew that it wouldn't be going away anytime soon but I was okay for the time being. It was sore, but I felt I could keep running for the time being.

Running downhill, a golf course in view to my left, the views across the valley to my right were beautiful. The course meanders for a little before taking another dip downhill via an out and back section. It was the run back up the hill where I felt something else pull in my calf and forced me to stop running and slow down to a walk. I ended up walking the whole return leg of the out and back section which ended with a short burst through a leafy, green tunnel/alleyway type section that comes out opposite the start and at the bottom of the line of trees that returns you back up the hill for the start of the second lap.

My run was over at that point but I didn't want to quit without registering a visit. I had to make it to the end whatever I did and whatever it took. It wasn't about time, as nice as it is to see a shiny new PB, whether you walk, run out jog parkrun is inclusive to all irrespective of ability.

So my second lap consisted of an awkward limp/hobble/walk back around the course admiring the views and taking photos along the route.

One of the main reasons I chose to run this event when I did was to coincide with the lavender season. Next door to the country park is a lavender farm which blooms at certain times of year. According to the lavender farm website late June - to late July is the perfect time and so I tried to tailor my schedule according. From the course you could see the adjacent fields in the near distance, vibrant and awash with violet. I suspect that I was a couple of weeks premature from seeing it at its most perfect but it was still well worth timing my visit for.

I finished 71st out of a field of 78 parkrunners with a time of 44:41. It was my slowest recorded parkrun time which I was disappointed with obviously but these things cannot be helped. As I said above, if I was concerned about the time I could have left the course unfinished and returned again another day when my injury has healed. But I'll definitely be back to beat the course that broke me to set a more reflective time - all being well!

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