Saturday 22 November 2014

The parkrun Cowell club

I've hardly been subtle about my parkrun obsession, I'm not sure there's been a post on this blog that hasn't mentioned it somewhere. All parkruns are fun, I honestly don't think there's one I've not enjoyed in some way, but every now and then there's a really good one - and today was one.

Like most close-knit groups parkrun has grown a language of its own. First there were the clubs for running 50, 100, or 250 events (with a special one for kids when they get to 10). These clubs feature a t-shirt at each level. Junior parkrunners (a parallel series of 2km events) get wristbands when their cumulative total distance run is a half marathon, marathon, or ultra-marathon - this is a great idea, very motivating for the kids.

Then there was the most events table, a ranking across all of parkrun-world of those who have run the most events, the most different courses, the most inaugurals. The entry criteria are having completed 20 different events or 5 inaugural events. It's a hotly contested table!

The top of the table has some very dedicated people on it - 207 different events, humbling

The parkrun Show podcast soon supercharged parkrun lexicon and introduced all sorts of terms - "passionistas" for those who have run hundreds of times at just one place, "über-tourists" (like me) who enjoy travelling around to different events and keeping an eye on the tables, "panic jogs" for when you get to an event but are really worried about missing the start and need to deploy a little panicked run/jog, and so on, and so on. The list isn't endless, but it is fairly long these days.

All this time and enthusiasm spent on what is in essence still exactly the same as it was when it started a little over ten years ago - a free, timed, weekly, 5km run anywhere we want one.

My parkrun obsession waxes and wanes, I had six months off in 2013 when I injured my knee. I had a couple of months earlier this year when I didn't run much either - but there's always been a target in the back of my mind - that of 100 different events, an exclusive and fairly rarified group called the Cowell club (so named after Chris Cowell who, I assume, was the first to get there though has long since been overtaken on the most events table).

My 118 parkruns, from 23rd April 2011 to today with 5-run rolling average time

Today, on my 118th run, I got there! Mrs and I headed out at about 7am to pick up Louise and head up to Tring parkrun for their 4th event. I really hoped that some of my favourite parkrunners would be able to join me on this occasion so I picked somewhere none of us had done (with thanks to Louise's spreadsheet skills for identifying suitable locations).

We got there a bit early, about 8:15am. Kat and Jools had already arrived and were hiding in their car. It was chilly, and a bit damp, but not the downpour that had been forecast when I checked last night. Kat popped over to give me some cheese biscuits (made with 100% cheese, nothing else) - they lasted about 10 seconds between me and Mrs, lovely, thanks Kat!

These crisps are 100% cheese and they're wonderful!

Other tourists arrived, Mike, Vanessa, and Andy, and we headed over to the start. The car park is the other side of the A41 to the route, so we filed over a narrow footbridge. In the run briefing it turned out another person, who I later found out was Neil Chapman, was also running his 100th event. I was going to say hello afterwards, but he vanished as soon as he'd finished.

Welcome to Tring Park (Caution runners!)

The run briefing advised us to be careful of cows. The approximate location of the herd is shown on the route map - apparently at 8am they were all milling about on the start line!

This is the best route map ever (cow not to scale)

The course was lovely. A grassy runway to start followed by a steep climb up through some woods. Levelled off for a kilometre, past a view spot (I'm sure it's a great view when it isn't supremely foggy!) and then a lovely long series of downhills.

Wide grassy start - no pinch-points here (until the muddy gate)

The final 2km are on grass and are fairly undulating. It's not an easy course, but it's interesting and fun.

Looks almost flat from above - I assure you it isn't!

I ran all the way round with Mrs, we chatted on and off and managed to avoid running through cow pats. My overall time was 29:29, not very quick, but then it's not a very quick course and I wasn't going for speed, I wanted to enjoy it.

Kilometre splits tell ta tale of "up, level, down, bumpy, bumpy"

L to R: Mike, Kat, Jools, me, Mrs, Andy, Vanessa, Louise

We all went back to the local coffee shop afterwards for a cuppa and some celebratory cake. I don't often indulge in the post-run coffee hang out so this made a nice change. Special thanks to Louise who made me a Cowell club card with an actual (picture of a) cow in it (thanks!) and Mike who bought my cake (thanks!). You guys rock!

Card-cow (looks like a Cow Clicker cow, remember that?)

Cake! Looked like coffee - tasted like banana!

I have to mention just quietly here that Louise, despite being a mighty 7th on the most events table, managed to walk off with her position token. It can happen to anyone, kids, always remember to give your token in!

Speaking of which, I had to resort to my emergency barcode that lives in my wallet which has *never* been used before as I could find any of my little plastic ones! Need to buy a wristband immediately and never take it off. DFYB. (More parkrun speak, Don't Forget Your Barcode)...

My emergency bar code came out today - first time

Whilst we're being open about cock-ups, I also ran the car down to zero miles tank range on the way home and had to do a panic-refuel. It's a 60 litre tank, it accepted a 59.6 litre top-up...

So with 500 parkrun kilometres completed, I wonder what's next? Another parkrun term is "LonDone" to mean all the parkruns in London (defined as "within the M25" for ease). I have 9 more events to reach this, so that'll take a few months (given I like to go to inaugural events too, and there may be new London ones to tick off).

The next official club tee is the "250 club", which I'm not even half way to. That'll take another 2.5 years (if I never miss a Saturday). I'm in parkrun no-man's land, parkrun limbo! Help!

I'm pretty sure I'll get over it in time for next Saturday - not sure where I'm going yet - and that's just another of the many things I love about being a parkrun über-tourist.

My new position on the most events table, joint 22nd


  1. Great blog Norm, thanks for giving me the opportunity to be part of you special day!

    1. Great to see you, it's been a while since we were synchronised!

  2. Chris and Linda Cowell were the first male and female parkrunners respectively to run at 100 different events.