Monday 25 April 2016


I happened to notice that Saturday 23rd April 2016 marked exactly five years since I ran my first parkrun - Saturday 23rd April 2011. Perfect excuse for a rambling blog post - I could (and do) bang on about parkrun for days - but I'll try and keep it to just a few hours.

On that day in 2011 looked like this. There were 57 parkrun events in England, three in Scotland, two in Wales, and just one single event in Northern Ireland. Globally there were a handful of runs in Denmark, and Australia was starting up.

Nobody I spoke to knew what parkrun was or had any idea how big it would become. Similarly, I had no idea how hooked I would get!

Welcome to parkrun!

Checking through my email I see I signed up for parkrun on 26th August 2009 - I can't believe it took me over a year and a half to get round to running. I hadn't realised until checking just now it was really that long - what on Earth was I thinking?!

Mrs and I signed up at the same time - she pipped me to the post on the signup button and was assigned athlete ID 40487; I was assigned 40489. Despite signing up at the same time as each other, Mike Watson managed to squeeze in between us and claim ID 40488 - cheeky Mike!

Wimbledon Common parkrun - where it all began

Mrs attended her first event a week before me - I was away in Atlanta on business and she was recovering from an injury - she went up to our home event of Wimbledon Common and volunteered as photographer.

The first week I ran was Wimbledon Common event #224. First male finisher on that day was Chris Parr who set a new course record of 15:04 that still stands today.  He was first finisher in five of the six parkruns he's completed, including an outstanding 14:53 at Bushy Park a few weeks earlier that even today ranks as the 14th fastest ever finisher at Bushy.

Ahhh, Senior Male 35-39, I remember you well!

In the intervening years I've seen parkrun grow in scale, strength, and profile. Run by a small team of permanent staff and supported every week by thousands of volunteers, parkrun is rapidly becoming part of our national identity.

Every parkrun is based on the same principles and rules, but each develops its own personality shaped by the volunteers, environment, and community. Nature and nurture in balance.

No organisation has done more for grass-roots running and community engagement. No joining fee, no daunting club runs, very few rules and every runner applauded and encouraged - from the fastest to the slowest. Contrary to initial concerns, local running clubs have seen memberships grow as a result of increased interest in running.

When the parkrun community was smaller, a group of us used to go to inaugural events whenever we could. I started seeing the same faces regularly - Louise Ayling, Ian Giggs, Rosemary Egbe, Nicola Tarrant, Vanessa Rayner, Colin Brassington, Danny Norman, and many more.

With so many new events starting in London and around the South East it was easy to go to a new event every week. Without ever really deciding to, I had become a parkrun tourist.

Somewhere along the way I got somewhat obsessed with the most events tables. I've always had a collector/completionist mindset - and parkrun is the perfect avenue for me to be harmlessly obsessed.

Currently 11th on the UK table...

...and 15th on the global table

At one point it would have been possible to have completed every parkrun in the world, but not now - they are starting at more than the rate of one per week, and even with unlimited funds one couldn't catch up (but oh boy think of the airmiles!).

"Lon-Done" once again after celebrating Louise's 250th run at Tooting Common last week

A few notable highlights from the last five years of touring are:
  • Just about completing the once-in-a-lifetime New Year's Day triple.
  • Forgetting my shoes (Concord, Sheffield).
  • Getting up at 4am in order to drive to Marple inaugural with Danny Norman.
  • Forgetting my shoes again (Southend inaugural).
  • Forgetting my shorts (can't remember which one that was).
  • Forgetting my shoes a third time (Pegwell Bay).
Many times I've arrived at parkrun with just seconds to spare, quickly swapping cycling shoes for running shoes, and on several occasions running round in cycling kit as i had no time to get changed. 

Most importantly, I have never, ever, forgotten my bar code. Of course, this may be because I have one in my mobile phone case, one on a wrist band, and two in my wallet.

I've always made it to the parkrun I've been aiming for, and I've never been unlucky enough to find one cancelled (though I did arrive at Brockenhurst 11 minutes late once after getting stuck in traffic then going the wrong way up the motorway in Southampton... The wonderful event team let me start anyway, and I ran as hard as I could - I've never worked so hard for a recorded time of over 35 minutes!).

I've run in beautiful national parks and country parks, city parks, sea fronts and promenades. Up muddy hills, through woody forests, across fields, and on every conceivable variety of trail and path. Small but perfectly formed events with just a handful of runners to enormous established events that attract many hundreds. I've got up very early on many Saturdays, and gone to see places I'd otherwise never have been.

So on Saturday I went to Holkham parkrun on the North coast of Norfolk to join the team for their 20th event. The grounds of Holkahm Hall were stunning - a beautifully maintained park and a glorious estate.

Saturday marked the 185th time in the last five years that I've got up and found my way to a park for a free timed 5km run, and it's the 167th different park I've visited. I've covered 925 parkrun kilometres, and it's taken 4 days, 10 hours, 6 minutes, and 14 seconds.

#loveparkrun #DFYB

Thank you for the last five years, parkrun. I'm really looking forward to the next five, and ten, and twenty...

Friday 15 April 2016

The Capital Ring (5 of 5)

I've run the Capital Ring in sections over the last few of weeks. This is part 5 of 5.

Part 1, Grove Park to Wimbledon
Part 2, Wimbledon to Preston Road
Part 3, Preston Road to Stratford
Part 4, Stratford to Charlton
Part 5, Charlton to Grove Park

Just a short section left for today, the South Eastern segment. I'd intended to run the ring in quarters, but my injury-avoidance technique had seen that one off.

Today all was fine, so after a few days not running I headed back to Charlton ready to head on back to Grove Park, where I'd started.

It was a grey day with rain scheduled from mid-morning onwards, I had my lightweight waterproof but no matter how good they are there's always a bit of a "boil in the bag" effect if you're running in it so I'd prefer not to use it.

These stairs are very steep

I'm going to get this rant over and done with - what the hell is it with the ugly, aggressive, and discriminatory anti-cyclist constructions in our parks? Not only are they built from box-section steel and poles capable of withstanding the apocalypse, but they must be impossible to navigate for anyone who is remotely less able or encumbered in some way.

Even I could only just fit through this, it's a really tight squeeze

Got shopping? Sod off, you're not welcome.
Got kids and a buggy? Sod off you're not welcome.
Less able, overweight, or rely on a wheelchair or mobility aid? Forget it!

We're sure you understand; cyclists are the epitome of evil and must be defeated at any cost.

No entry

Now that's off my chest...

Today's run was up for the first third, then drifting back down for the remainder. Setting off from Charlton the climb started immediately through Mayor Wilson Park, Charlton Park, and Hornfair Park. I was surprised to find a city zoo where it was feeding time.


My right calf that was causing me a bit of trouble last week was twitching a bit, but nothing serious - I was confident I'd get through today's distance with no issues.

My eyes have been open by how easy it is to find parks and paths that look like they could be in the middle of the countryside, despite being near central London. Today was no exception and the first few parks were lovely and quiet.

Underfoot there was a mix of pavement, tarmac, trail, and grass. Despite the rain it wasn't too muddy, and the cool freshness was perfect for jogging.

Severndroog Castle

Come off Shooters Hill and into another park I was greeted by a castle, Severndroog Castle (Wikipedia entry) was built in 1783. Seven counties are visible from the top.

The Castle int he Woods

Heading down now, through various roads and housing estates (there are some big houses round here) - but not before one last view out across to the South.

Great view, the last big panoramic sweep of my Capital Ring circuit

Before long I realised I was near the end. I'd only been trundling, but the day was a short one so still passed quickly.

The end of my circuit

So, back down the side of the school where I started a couple of weeks ago. It's been a really interesting run through many parts of London I'd never been to before, and offering a different angle to some parts I knew (or thought I knew) well.

Pleasing stats - last km in 07:07, and 13.07 total distance in 01:37:00

Up for 4km, peaking at Shooters Hill, then downhill all the way - stable pace throughout

Just a little over 13km in South East London for the final leg

My distance for the Capital Ring over the five legs was 126.5km (78.6 miles) and it took me a relaxing 15 hours 34 minutes and 26 seconds.

(Disclaimer: I've subtracted taken 0.3km and 2 minutes to account for the little extra bit I did from the School on day one as I was following the London Ultra course rather than the Capital Ring).

My reward!

I'm already wondering if one day I could try the whole lot in one go... After all, plenty of people run 100-mile races over far more arduous terrain... Got a long way to go before I can take that on though!

Thursday 14 April 2016

The Capital Ring (4 of 5)

I've run the Capital Ring in sections over the last few of weeks. This is part 4 of 5.

Part 1, Grove Park to Wimbledon
Part 2, Wimbledon to Preston Road
Part 3, Preston Road to Stratford
Part 4, Stratford to Charlton
Part 5, Charlton to Grove Park

As I was walking to the station in the morning to head back to Stratford I complained to Mrs, on her way to work, that my right Achilles/calf was a bit twingy. I decided to run anyway because I wanted to get to the end (no prizes for guessing the end of this story). 

I was blessed with the weather for these days

Back in Stratford and I had a 10 minute stroll across the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to pick up the River Lea towpath again. I took time to bounce a bit and do some dynamic stretches to warm up my calf.

Near to the river in quite a desolate corner of the park I was stopped by a tourist with a very pronounced Welsh accent - he asked me where "Trafalgar Square and that kind of thing" was. I pointed at the silhouette of the Gherkin (or as it was christened, 30 St Mary Axe) off in the far distance, and told him it was beyond that. I suggested he walk in the other direction, where I'd come from, and get the tube. He agreed. Weird. I wonder how he ended up there, or where he started from?

Tree with a slipped halo

Quite quickly I was faced with a closed footpath - this was to become a theme for the day. I was re-routed, after a few false starts, round some Thames Water building works - but was treated with a tree with a silver band hanging round it. The threads were fine and the band looked like it was just hanging there magically - it certainly drew a double-take.

Apparently it's a history tree (expand the section lower down the page) and there are ten of them around the border of the park - the bands weight as much as 500kg! Over time the tree and the band will intertwine and become one. The interior of the bands are engraved - I hadn't noticed that but I can see from the photo there's something there.

"Stand on top of the world in the UK's tallest sculpture" - the Orbit tower

The plus side of being re-routed around the place was I got some great views. I've been really lucky with the weather this few days. The Orbit tower was very impressive. I hadn't been this close since my trip to the Olympics four years ago.

The Olympic Stadium

More closed pathway

I navigated myself round only to find more closure - this time I couldn't get up onto the famous raised greenway heading South out from Stratford toward Beckton - Thames Water to blame again, but to their credit once I'd worked out what was going on their signage was clear and helpful.

Very helpful signage

Full explanation of the closure

It hadn't been the start to the day I was looking for - plus it was baking hot - but I was on track now and had the long stretch of the greenway ahead of me.

The Greenway

The Greenway runs for several miles and is straight, flat, and fast. It would make a great point-to-point parkrun, but you'd have a hell of a walk back to pick up your bag.

Dropping down off the Greenway I headed into Beckton, and across Beckton park - home of Beckton parkrun, my current PB course (21:13, thanks for asking)! I remember running the inaugural here and chatting to the event director from Valentines parkrun (which I hadn't run at the time).

One of the many foot bridges over major roads

One of the interesting things about this route has been crossing over and through areas I've known well from the past and seeing them from a different angle. The picture above is the A13, I commuted by motorbike under it hundreds of times when I lived in Southend and worked in Docklands, and I've driven under it dozens of times. It's the first time I've ever crossed it on this bridge though.

I'd been mentally ticking off as I go round - the A24, M4, M1, A1, and now A13. All roads I know well but from different perspectives.

Looking out across to the runway of London City Airport

After the A13 I headed under the Docklands Light Railway through Cyprus station, and through the University of East London - which was utterly deserted. The next few miles were dockside, as I ran out round the University grounds and then dropped onto the Thames as the route starts to head West.

"Footpath closed" - I can handle that, but where should I run instead?

My calf was starting to play up now and running was unpleasant.  Running up any kind of incline was starting to get painful. I was hoping to run the ring in four units of approximately 30km. I'd covered about 13km so far, I didn't think I'd get to 30 today.

Look at the size of the pneumatic ram that operates this lock

I ran round the locks and followed the river. The going was hard now, and there was no need to injury myself (I'm not racing anyone or anything after all) so decided it would be a good plan to stop at the foot tunnel.

The North entrance to the Woolwich Foot Tunnel

The Woolwich Foot Tunnel was a welcome sight.  It runs underneath the route of the Woolwich Ferry - I'm not sure I've ever seen the ferry before, I generally only hear about it when it's reported as not running every time there's some wind, or it's raining, or it's a day with a "y" in it... It was running today, however, and was providing sterling service, fully loaded with lorries and cars.

Underneath the Thames!

The South entrance

The South entrance was hidden behind a new development. I was looking for a convenient "out" by now, but there wasn't anywhere obvious to stop for a coffee. I decided to run down the Capital Ring a little further, it was coincident with the Thames Path for a while, and I got a good look at the Thames Barrier with the Canary Wharf estate and Isle of Dogs behind it. Very shiny. I also ran past an enormous canon.

Convenient light-weight side arm

Thames Barrier and Canary Wharf (honest, try squinting)

Eventually I found a convenient break point - the path took a sharp left off the main road into a park, and just a short distance ahead was Charlton Station, so let's call it a day. It's another 17km in the bag, and only 14km left for the last leg. I think I need a few days for my calf to recover - no point getting injured for no reason.

Today's run - the Greenway is very obvious from around 5-8km

Today's run was 17.9km, in a very slow 2:30:56 - I put that down to multiple closed footpaths, crap redirections, and a very slow final few km as I tried not to hurt my calf and Achilles any further. One section left, around 14km by my reckoning. I'll give it a few days before returning to Charlton for the last leg back to Grove Park.

Wednesday 13 April 2016

The Capital Ring (3 of 5)

I've run the Capital Ring in sections over the last few of weeks. This is part 3 of 5.

Part 1, Grove Park to Wimbledon
Part 2, Wimbledon to Preston Road
Part 3, Preston Road to Stratford
Part 4, Stratford to Charlton
Part 5, Charlton to Grove Park

Back to Preston Park tube station for the start of day 3, and after a few minutes it became mud central. The guide to the Capital Ring says this section is the most rural, and it's not wrong.

Significant quantities of mud

Within a few minutes I'd given up trying to tip-toe around the mud and just ran straight through it. My poor shoes were getting ruined, but who cares - that's running!

The views up here really were tremendous - day 2 had some great views from Harrow across to the City, but from here you can see right out beyond the suburbs and out into non-London-land (whatever that's called).

This, believe it or not, is London

Aim for the post, post says turn left, so turn left - easy really

Finally out of the rural bit where the going was annoyingly slow and boggy and back into built up areas. The going was very familiar now as I went through Brent Cross, down the side of Brent Reservoir, across the M1 to Hendon and on to Finchley, then East Finchley. I lived near here for quite a few years so it was interesting to see some parts I hadn't seen before.

Continuing across North London toward Crouch End and Highgate I found other areas I dimly remembered from childhood - I spent many years as a child living in Crouch End and I remember the old railway line that we used to walk down. One day I'll have a go at finding the flat I used to live in - assuming it hasn't been redeveloped.

This is what access to a public park looks like in 2016

Through on to Highgate Park and I was faced with quite literally the least accessible gating system I've ever seen - god help you if you're disabled, but at least it'll keep the damn bicycles out, never mind anyone else cyclists are clearly the greatest of evils.

The coffee shop in Finsbury Park - taken over by a crazy man with a guitar and a brace of Mums!

I decided to take a break around 20km in and thought I'd pop into the coffee shop in Finsbury Park. It's a while since I've been here, last time must have been Finsbury parkrun back in July 2013. I remember it well, it was a ridiculously hot day! I'd only recently started running again after about a six month break, so I just jogged round gently in 30:01.

The coffee shop was full of Mums (and some Dads) and little babies and toddlers. There was a very energetic little American chap singing a bizarre mix of songs - from a round of Old MacDonald through to Champagne Supernova. I decided to get a cup of tea and sit outside in the sun.

The River Lea

Heading off through Stoke Newington (so that's where Stoke Newington is! The black hole of the London Underground)  and continuing East to pick up the inventively named New River. This was a beautiful run, with clearly a lot of investment in the area.

Mole, appropriately locate on the river bank

Toad, resplendent in his coat, cap, and gloves

They were looking at each other across a large trunk

The Capital Ring runs through an enormous and very well established graveyard!

The River Lea

The final leg of today's run took me down the River Lea, a colourful barge-filled river that heads straight toward the Olympic Park, and the regeneration of Stratford.

The Olympic Stadium with the Orbit to the left

I hadn't decided where I was going to break for the day, but as I passed 30km and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park came into sight I decided it was time to break. I stopped parallel to the park and walked across to Stratford Station, and the Jubilee line towards the West End where I'd arranged to take a late lunch with Mrs (in all my smelly post-run fug!).

Today's route, with the Thames shown for continuing consistency and context

Today's run was 32.2km and took me a luxurious 3:53:09.