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Parkrun


As I ran to the train station this morning for the first part of my RunCommute I thought about all the damage I was doing to the grass verges and pavements I ran on. Those same verges and pavements I run on every day, the ones that are run on by lots of my local community every day, the ones that help keep me and my local community fit and my thought led me to wonder what the hell Stoke Gifford Parish Council are on about.

I’m sure you know by now that Stoke Gifford Parish Council want to ‘tax’ runners for running at Little Stoke Parkrun – yep that’s right – we might already pay for the upkeep of our roads, parks, etc by the taxes we pay but this parish council think we should dig deep once again to take part in a community, volunteer led initiative.

I don’t want to lambast the council too much because that’s not going to help but I thought I’d tell you about my Parkrun experience and why I believe it’s important that it remains free.

Sadly I don’t Parkrun every week because of the amount of racing I do but I do it a reasonable amount, especially with my daughter, who loves the early morning get together and seeing people congregate around a love of community running.


She has no siblings so Parkrun is a great way for her to meet other babies while I get to do some running with her. I’m trying to encourage both her participation with and her understanding of people and the diversity and the positive energy that emanates from Parkrun is an easy win. I don’t go to Parkrun to annoy other park users, I don’t go to get a PB, I don’t even go on the off chance there’s a bit of cake or chocolate floating round as a reward for running 5km, I go because it’s good and I go because it’s free running with new and interesting people.

Is Parkrun free?
Parkrun isn’t really free – to the individual there’s the cost of transport, possibly accommodation, the cost of running kit, the cost of tea and cake afterwards – all worthwhile though. On my last visit to a Bristol based Parkrun I stayed in the city for the weekend and ate out, went to the zoo, did touristy things, perhaps I should have saved my money and put it elsewhere? I’m not the only one who does this – just look at Parkrunner and ultrarunner extraordinaire @abradypus who has racked up this weekend 250 Parkruns – I’m sure she’s kept the entire British economy going on her outlay!

Benefits
There are so many benefits to doing and having a free Parkrun, these are some of my favourites;

  • Parkrun helps brings to life (sometimes underused) green spaces
  • Parkrun is a community event drawing on people from all ages and backgrounds – important when as a country we need to build bridges in community not divisions
  • Parkrun gets people who might not normally exercise, exercising
  • Parkrun allows you to run with your child (something very important to a buggy running parent like myself)
  • Parkrun draws in tourism and these people can and do contribute to the local economy
  • Parkrun is good PR for any council
  • Parkrun will perhaps be the lasting legacy of the Olympics, I wonder how many of our greatest athletes have started here, will start here or have been to Parkrun – imagine if Kelly Holmes had rolled up to Little Stoke – would you have charged her to run?
  • Parkrun as an initiative does more to help the nation remain healthy both physically and mentally than any other

So if there’s so many benefits what the heck are the council on about? Let’s look at the response from Stoke Gifford Parish Council.

Why should Parkrun UK contribute towards Little Stoke Park Maintenance? 

  1. Parkrun are an organised group with paid directors and staff and attract over 300 runners using the park & facilities each week.
  2. There is no limit to the number of runners that use the park.
  3. They are sponsored by national companies.
  4. They monopolise the park paths and car park between 0830 & 1030 each Saturday and Sunday.
  5. They use the parks toilets and washing facilities.
  6. They use Council storage space.
  7. A large number of runners are from outside the Parish of Stoke Gifford and come from all across South Gloucestershire, Bristol and further afield to use the facilities in this area 
(which are financed by Stoke Gifford Council tax payers).
  8. Little Stoke car park is too small for their parking use.
  9. Complaints have been received from local residents relating to pavement & grass verge 
parking, park users and hall hirers regarding a number of incidents involving runners over the last three years.


The response from Parkrun is well worth a read but I’ve got some responses, not as fact and figure filled but still …

The the bit from the council that gets me the most is the ‘runners from outside the area’. I’ve run at Little Stoke and Ashton Gate in Bristol but I live in Kent and I’m from Liverpool – I travel a reasonable amount and where I lay my hat, well that’s my home. So which Parkrun should I go to? Come on Stoke Gifford Parish Council perhaps you can advise me? Am I supposed to stay at home and not go to events all over the country? Hmm.

I was amused by ‘they use the toilets’ – well yes I do and I’ll be honest you don’t want me leaving my case of GI distress all over your park do you Stoke Gifford Parish Council?

As for complaints I’m curious about this – as a runner I’ve been subject to unwarranted verbal abuse, being pushed into the road and other unpleasantness. However, I’ve never bothered to complain in any meaningful way – maybe some people are complainers and some of us just get on with life.

Then there’s monopoly – there were about 250 people in my train carriage today – we monopolised that, however, stood on the small concourse area we didn’t. I’m not sure 300 runners have the volume to monopolise an entire park.

The council are overreacting and blowing a half hour run out of all proportion. 

However…

…it’s true runners use the park, it’s true it’s an organised event, your car park probably is too small but maybe rather than complain about the car park size you could promote car pooling, cycling and running to the event itself more vigorously. I’m not convinced that your arguments are good enough to warrant discrimination against this free running event.

The Bigger Picture
Then there’s the bigger picture and this is what it’s all about really. Parkrun gets people up and about – inspires them to fitness, keeps them off NHS waiting lists, make them feel good, therefore keeping them out of the shrinks office and off the happy pills. If it disappears it’s sad to say but people will suffer.

I met an older retired lady at Ashton Gate Parkrun last year who told she had met many wonderful people since she joined Parkrun after her husband passed away. That she looked forward to her Saturday morning jaunt and catch up with people she would not have met in her normal day to day life. I wonder – will any of the six councillors go round to this lady and keep her company when her council too decides that they’d rather runners paid?

The funny thing is I’ve met lots of people like this – with stories to tell – about how Parkrun, a free, community event made life better.

Don’t ruin this for the people of your Parish and ultimately anywhere a Parkrun runs.

I’ll be writing to the individual councillors over the next few days if only to ensure that my voice is heard and to express my dismay at this act of vandalism to the health and wellbeing of the people you claim you want to support.

You have an opportunity to back down, to consider the corner you’ve backed yourself into and realise you’re wrong. Stoke Gifford Parish Council do something positive today and reverse this decision.

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FB Post Christmas Day 2015: Jesus was Jewish really .. wouldn’t be a big leap for us to have gotten his name wrong – so happy birthday Jewsus #FictionalCharacters

The more I think about it the more I’m convinced that we’ve been getting this fictional characters name wrong.

However, to celebrate his big booze up and waking in a cave three days later most of us will have eaten chocolate eggs because that’s what Jewsus would have craved when he awoke from his weekend booze bender.

Anyway this a long winded opening to get to the point of asking, ‘what awesome activities did you get up to this fine Easter weekend?’

I had an unusual weekend that was full of activity but no racing. That’s unusual because I love racing and it was an Easter weekend when racing normally happens but life’s been a bit hectic recently and so it seemed like a good opportunity to sit back a little and enjoy a quieter time.

UltraBaby, the GingaNinja and I committed to activities that took us cycling up bloody big Kentish hills, running in 45mph winds, bit of healthy Parkrun and swimming with the noodle (not a phrase I ever thought I’d use non-euphemistically). 

     

I suppose it proved conclusively that you can enjoy yourself even if you don’t race (though don’t let the GingaNjnja hear me say that).

 
*Thanks to Dartford Parkrun for the final picture in this blog post

Finding races that you can take a buggy to are, it seems, becoming harder. I’ve now been turned down entry to half a dozen 10kms from the start of 2016 through to the end of February. I also came across a message board (http://www.runnersworld.co.uk/forum/general-running/baby/buggy-friendly-races/251971.html) that was a little hostile to a parent looking for buggy friendly races. What gives?

  
From the organisers perspective I can understand it, insurance, liabilities, accidents and the like but the attitude of some of the runners has given me some concerns about the general attitude towards parent and baby/buggy runners.

Issues were raised such as: Baby will be bored; You’re a danger to other runners; this is a race not a nursery. I always believed that running was the most inclusive sport around, some of the things I’ve read recently lead me think otherwise. 

As a parent who runs a lot and runs a reasonable amount with UltraBaby I want her to experience race days, the outdoors, the wind, warmth and rain. I want her to collect medals and be part of something that I enjoy. It’s not the only activity we do together, we paint, walk the dog, build duplo, read, dance, sing, hike and all the other good things that you should do with a child. But I’d also like to race with her. Does that seem to much to ask running community? As my daughter ran around the registration area of Country to Capital this weekend she was fascinated by the huge collection of runners, colours of clothing and insane footwear – we kept her mainly under control but this kind of experience will hopefully leave a positive impression on her for the rest of her life. She didn’t race obviously which is why we look for shorter stuff so she can be a participant.

There was/is a buggy/parent run held at Bluewater in Kent and if it returns I may well enter it – but in truth I don’t want to be segregated – I’d like to be part of normal races. I take my hat off to the Movember organisers who welcomed my daughter and I to the start line with open arms. SVN events should also be applauded for their child and parent friendly attitude. They have always made great strides to accommodate my desire to run with UltraBaby. I’ll concede that there are races out there for those of who want to do something like this but I’d like some choice.

I’ve been lucky I’ve been quite lucky to race with my daughter five or six times since she was born on September of 2014 and we always start at the tail end of a race, we don’t overtake until the race is suitably spread out and we always take the more challenging path round people. I’ve had lovely feedback from other runners while I have been racing, we’ve never caused an accident involving another runner (I have clipped a few curbs with the buggy) and we always finish in a respectable time (5km 21-25mins, 10km 48-56mins, Half 1:50-2:10hrs). Let us in! Damn you!

   

 A dollop of realism? I’m enough of a realist though to know that ‘league’ events or tough muddy events probably aren’t the right environment for parent and baby runners but all the events I’ve been refused entry to have been on paths, parks and the like. I suppose it saddens me a little bit to be excluded. I don’t want to have a go at events that won’t allow ‘UltraTeam’ in, it’s their loss as far as I’m concerned but I’d like more races to consider parents starting out, for whom racing remains part of their daily routine. It’s also worth remembering that these races are often in public spaces where I’d be a much bigger danger out for a gentle run going against the flow of race traffic than in the race itself.

  

Go to a Parkrun I hear you cry! I do. and UltraBaby and I usually run somewhere between 21 and 25 minutes (course dependent) and I’ve yet to take anyone’s legs, nor clip anyone’s heels. The problem is with Parkrun that a) there’s no medal and b) it’s only 5km … and yes I could extend the run out but I don’t really fancy the #GingaNinja using her home craft skills to make me a papier-mâché medal.

Anyway I’ll keep looking but I wonder if anyone else has had similar problems finding running events that you and your young child can share.

Ultra running and parenting are two things that require a genuine level of dedication where you must give your all if you are to get the rewards you desire. Now despite my best efforts I’m feeling the strain of that dedication at the moment – it didn’t go unnoticed in my dismantling of my failure at the CCC that it was not helped by the fact that the two weeks prior to the race had seen the baby more restless than normal and my (already limited) sleeping pattern further hindered.
UltraBaby is a genuinely good child when it comes to letting us rest and catch up but with teething now in full swing I’m starting to understand the struggles that runners have when young children are involved.

The Before Pre-UltraBaby it was easy to get home from work, change into running kit, kiss GingaNinja goodbye and then go running for several hours. Pre-UltraBaby it was easy to say ‘I’ll run home from work tonight – all 40odd kilometres.

The Now Now I spend most of my time wondering if I’ll get back in time to collect her from the childminders or get home in time to put her to bed so that gran doesn’t have to. By the time this is done, baby and work prep for the next day and well you don’t always feel like going and banging out 20km or more.

The Commute None of this is helped by (on average) my 2 hour commute (each way) from my Central London job to home in sunny Kent and it’s further compounded by my partners regular late finishes which simply make me feel like I’ve got to get home. Weekends are equally prone to fracture with the GingaNinjas work and a lack of family network close by that we can draw on for support – therefore running is now challenging.

I do as many of the right things as possible. I run pre and/or post work most days. I’ll parkrun, I’ll buggy run and I’ll race regularly so I’m still achieving bigger distances even when training isn’t going well. But there’s only so long you can keep going like this before the lack of coherent training, sleep and even eating cause some mischief.

I’m Lucky Really I shouldn’t complain, I have it relatively easy, I have a supportive partner, a baby that isn’t too demonic and a dedication to the medals – I just want my cake and to eat it too – and I mean the whole cake, not a slice! Running is my primary hobby but UltraBaby is my responsibility and so I need to learn a greater degree of balance to ensure that I can continue to successfully parent but without too much compromise in ultra running!

What about you? I’m curious to hear how other running mothers and fathers manage to get the ‘time on their feet’ in and what ‘little tricks’ they’ve developed to make running, especially ultra running possible in the face of full time work, children, commuting and the plethora of other things that seem to get priority over running!

    ‘I don’t feel well UltraBoy’ came the whine from UltraBaby, ‘look I’ve got big horrible spots everywhere, I’ve been crying all night, I’m full of snot and I look like a B movie monster on a reduced budget’.

She did look unwell, she sounded unwell and she moaned miserably, it’s fair to say that Friday had been a rough night on both the GingaNinja and I. At 5.30am we decided it wasn’t worth fight in her anymore and we all got up. Breakfast happened, puking happened and bath time happened. At 7.30am I said to the GingaNinja, ‘I’m going to take her to Parkrun, let you get some sleep and hopefully so will baby’.

Then it was race on – I hurled out the UltraMobile (or the Mountain Buggy Terrain to you), inflated it’s tyres, relocated the changing bag to the Salomon 14+3 vest, chucked in a bottle for her and a bottle for me and we bounded out of the house like a pair of runners possessed. I hadn’t decided which Parkrun we would be attending but I’d enjoyed Dartford a few weeks earlier and so we trundled along to the start line with just moments to spare.

  UltraBaby was wide awake in the MB Terrain and as we started out we made our away from the back of the pack to sit quite comfortably in the middle, we even made a few sprints round people, taking in larger than needed cornering to let the ‘real runners’ through but by the time we had hit the end if the first lap we were fully into our stride and decided that we had the edge and would not be so generous in letting people past.

‘MeMeep’ I called out several times as we swerved round runners who had started to flag a little and ‘woohoo’ as we tried to stay ahead of the ladies who UltraBaby had decided were pacing us – Danielle (we left her at about 3.5km) and Jo (almost had us at 4km but we put a bit of a spurt on to finish just ahead of her).

UltraBaby crossed the line a little ahead of me as I pushed the MB Terrain forward a bit and we finished in a time of 27:28mins, not bad when you consider I’ve been ill for two weeks, she’s ill, my feet still aren’t recovered from TP100 and the MB Terrain as good as it is, is still a challenge to push.

Anyway we did post run chat with some of the runners, including the lovely @thayer who came to witness our inaugural Superhero Parkrun teamup. 

So lots of fun had at Parkrun and despite being unwell UltraBaby felt like she had definitely been funning.

Saturday night though brought more and more tears, angst and spot related pain that would culminate in us attending hospital the very next morning. Thankfully a big dose of antibiotics and creams are hopefully going to help but once again the GingaNinja and I were pretty exhausted and with the baby in the house never of us could really rest. Then UltraBaby piped up

‘How about a trail 10km UltraBoy?’

‘Saddle up pard’ner’  

  

 Out came the MB Terrain again, we loaded up, added in some sun cream as it was bloody hot and then started running with explicit instruction to the GingaNinja to get some rest. We flew, fast down the hills, fast up the hills, bounced along the technical bits and thundered through the narrow paths cutting a swathe through the undergrowth. The kilometres fell and so did UltraBaby (but thankfully just asleep).

Interestingly on a weekend of outstanding results at Dukeries, the NDW50 and lots of other great races I found myself being grateful that I wasn’t racing and simply fun running with my daughter in the Kentish sunshine.

There really is something to be said for funning. Happy running guys and thanks to Dartford Parkrun for some lovely running pictures.

   

   

In 2014 I ran more than 20 races and an additional 15 virtual races, that’s getting to be an expensive hobby. So I’m monitoring costs of running in 2015 and it’s already mounting up. Why am I doing this? Well firstly because of a blog post by ahealthiermoo which looked at the cost of running and secondly because I’ve become very aware that I spend way too much money on running.

Below is a breakdown of money spent in 2015

Races Vigo 10 £20, Darent Valley 10km £16, Ranscombe Challenege Day 1 and 2 £35 each day, CCC (+ map booklet, bus, etc) €150, Saintelyon €80, Hugin Challenege £35, Tolkien Run £35, Virtual Run March £6, Virtual Run June £10, Beachy Head £35 Kent Roadrunner £38 TP100 £125 SDW50 £65 NDW100 Free


Kit
Salomon 14+3 running vest £94 Hoka Challenger ATR £99 Inov8 Race Ultra 270 £99 Salomon soft flask 150ml £12 Compressport Trail shorts £65 Compressport trail top £50 Altra Lone Peak 2.0 £103.50 Runderwear Briefs £16 Drymax socks £25 Medical certificate £10 Gel Toe Caps £10 Compeed £20 Harvey’s Thames Path Map £12 Inov8 Roclite 295 £65 Montane Neo Further Faster Waterproof Jacket £215 Like the Wind £9

Travel Flights (London – Geneva) £380 Car hire £300 Eurostar (London – Lyon) £200 Lyon accomodation £300 UltraBaby passport £48

Race Day Costs Food, Gels, etc £40 (approx) Petrol Variable

Physiotherapy and sports massage £300

There are lots of things I’m not considering in these costs such as the actual petrol, souvenirs of the bigger events, return postage for online running purchases, races purchased pre2015, the free accommodation I’ll be getting during the CCC and the fact i’ll probably buy more race entries, more kit and more extras because running is my hobby.

The total approximate running cost, for the first 4 months of 2015, is £3073.

This to me seems like a lot – and I know I’ve got some big races coming up this year with specific mandatory kit and certain kit I particularly want to use – but the cost of running seems to be spiralling. I’m fortunate to be in a position where I can afford to race the races I want to but not everyone is so fortunate and is it possible that running and especially racing regularly might well become something of an elitist thing where only those that can afford to do it, do it. I wonder if I’d still run as much as I do if I couldn’t afford to run ultras or earn medals and enter epically fun events? Would I run as much if the only events I entered where free ones like Sweatshop Running Community or Parkrun? The answer is actually ‘probably not’

Rather a sad thought I think.

IMG_4908
The Night Before
‘Burrito please’ I said as the lady behind the counter inquired as to the nature of my order. It had been a pretty lousy week for running and exercise in general – just 13.1 cruddy miles and I was now off to Bristol which I had assumed would offer no real running fun. So, on Friday evening before I set off for Bristol I chowed down on a big fat dirty Burrito.

Bristol
I arrived in Bristol to be greeted by the lovely Lynne and her partner in crime Anna – met up with my own partner The GingaNinga and of course UltraBaby. Despite the lateness of the hour I had mentioned to Lynne that there was an event called ‘ParkRun’ that she could join, with some trepidation she agreed to join me and between us we figured out which was the closest and most accessible of the runs – it turned out to be Ashton Court.

ParkRun
Now the name Ashton Court had me imagining some large council owned tower block out of Only Fools and Horses so when we pulled up about a kilometre from the start I was rather surprised to see that there was nothing but lush greenery and hills.

Vilma
Behind us another car pulled in and out stepped what you might describe as a senior lady, ‘are you going to the ParkRun?’ she inquired.

We all headed up together and Vilma turned out to be a little treasure trove of information about this ParkRun and bit about her own story. I got the felling that Vilma was a bit of a character at this event. She described this as quite a small event, about 300 runners (small I thought???). Anyway Vilma helped us find a loo, we chatted some more and then we lost her but Lynne and I mingled and introduced ourselves to lots of runners – it was an incredibly friendly atmosphere.

We went along for the newbies chat, Lynne as a first timer and me as a tourist. Our run leader was a very pleasant gentleman and kept the party mood going with a bit of banter.

Being a nice, cool and crisp morning meant it was ideal conditions for running and I’d be listening to tales of a 2.5km hill and then a 2.5km hill down, in ideal conditions this could be fun.

‘What’s your normal 5km time?’ I asked
’34, 35 minutes… came the reply’
I said I’d pace to make sure that’s what we ran but in all honesty I knew that Lynne would benefit from a PB on a potentially tough course with a fast finish.

The crowd gathered and Lynne turned and said ‘we should have started at the back…’
‘People will go round us, concentrate on yourself,’ was my reply and one that was reinforced politely by a lady who turned and smiled at us.

Run
I’d never seen Lynne run so she could have been really crap but actually she had great form and a steady pace. I ran a few metres ahead offering gentle words of encouragement as we pushed up the hill. Because we weren’t going near my normal 5km pace I decided I’d make a few jokes and had a few laughs with some of the runners we were passing.

IMG_4831

Then a tight left turn and onto the final ascent, here I insisted we start targeting runners. ‘Girl, green top, blonde hair, ridiculous leggings – let’s have her’ we started passing people.

Downhill
We reached the halfway point at the top of the hill and I asked how Lynne was going

‘Fine’

And then I put my plan into action. I had 30 minutes in my head and I pressed a bit harder, targeting runners, not letting Lynne lose sight of me. We briefly saw the lovely Vilma again and (the previously unmentioned but awesome) Craig (we waved).

Then it was race time ‘Breathe deeply, stay in control, don’t let your body just flip down the hill – push’ I said, ‘see that woman she’s our next target…’

Sprinting
Then a young girl sprinted past me, I laughed, turned to Lynne and gave her the thumbs up – she was on fire. The young lady however, needed teaching a lesson, and I was in a giving mood!

‘You’re quick!’ I shouted as I sprinted past her
‘My second ParkRun!’ She hurled at me as she thundered past.
‘You’re doing great, but I can’t let you beat me…’ and with that I hit the afterburner ‘…c’mon Lynne – faster’

250metres to go – woman in blue, going to a sub30 finish – she had maybe 80metres to go – uphill. I apologised as I blasted past her but I was feeling fun.

Awesomundo
I crossed the line, feeling better than I have in ages and then waited for Lynne. Each second felt a lifetime and then I saw her and she had stepped infront of the sprinting teenager. Holy shit she’s going to make it!!! Mere inches separated them but she had done it and in a very respectable time too.

Lynne collapsed to the floor, I think moaning about the level of energy she had just expended but she was ecstatic.

Cup of tea was now in order. Yum

So…
What can I say to make you attend this run? Well…

1. What a course, amazing – one of the best 5km routes I’ve ever done
2. Super friendly
3. Great facilities
4. Great views of Bristol
5. Well attended
6. Outstanding volunteers

As a final note I’d like to say thank you to Vilma for the note she left us on the car (if you know her and see her this week please pass on my best wishes). It’s that level of friendliness that makes me want to go back to this run or perhaps more importantly – try another one 🙂

IMG_4767

Thanks to Rich Kenington for the second of this posts photographs!

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