No barcode, no result, no exceptions?

Disclaimer: I’m writing this to work through an extraordinarily strong reaction to a passing comment.  I am not suggesting that “No barcode, no result, no exceptions” is a bad thing.

One of the very few rules that parkrun HQ has is “No barcode, no result, no exceptions“.  It was introduced back in 2013* when parkrun was really taking off and the numbers of events, volunteers and parkrunners was beginning to rise exponentially**.

Before the rule was introduced, it was fairly common to see volunteers at parkrun taking down details of any runners who had forgotten their barcodes so that their results could be added in manually when the results were processed.  That additional manual processing is something which some volunteers at smaller parkruns were quite happy to do.  Adding in one or two results from time to time, for runners you probably knew personally wasn’t such a big deal.  At larger parkruns, however, it was becoming a time sink, and parkrun HQ decided, quite rightly, that they would put the onus back onto the parkrunners to bring their barcodes.  “No barcode, no result” was born.

The trouble was that parkrunners don’t only stick to their home parkrun.  They have a pesky habit of visiting other parkruns, either in passing or by design.  That meant that volunteers at parkruns who were enforcing “No barcode, no result” would be met with “but they added me at the parkrun I visited the other week” and volunteers came under pressure to make exceptions.  To support those volunteers, the message became stronger.  “No barcode, no result, no exceptions”.  Small parkruns with time-rich volunteers who were perfectly happy to add in results manually were asked to harden their hearts and fall into line.  The message went out to parkrunners in newsletters and became a regular feature of run briefings and new runner briefings and gradually the general parkrunning population moved from expecting to have their results added manually if they’d forgotten their barcode to accepting that they wouldn’t have their results added manually if they’d forgotten their barcode.

Of course, life is messy.  Some parkruns do still routinely add results manually and others will add them if asked.  An unspoken modification to the rule emerged.  “No parkrun, no result, nobody mention the exceptions”.  If you come across a rogue parkrun (or heaven forbid benefit from attending a rogue parkrun on a day when you have forgotten your barcode) you must never tell.  Exceptions must be buried under the carpet because if you can’t get everyone to comply with the rule, then pretending that everyone is complying is the next best thing.

The trouble is that not all parkrunners know about the unspoken modification.  Why would they?  They are aware of “No barcode, no result” and they (hopefully) accept that if they forget their barcode they shouldn’t badger the event team to make an exception, but if the event team seem perfectly happy to add results in manually, they see it as a kindness and want to say thank you.

Is that wrong?

If I break a rule and you publicly thank me for it thus exposing my rule breaking for all to see, should you get flak for it?  Are you the villain of the piece because you broke an unspoken rule that you may or may not have been aware of?  Am I the villain of the piece because I broke a clear and long established rule that I should definitely have been aware of?  Is my community the villain of the piece because it has decided to prioritise the satisfaction of its locals over the needs of the wider community?  Is the wider community the villain of the piece because it has assumed compliance with something without taking adequate steps to monitor and reinforce that compliance?  Is the rule itself the villain of the piece because it is “one size fits all” in a community which is far from “one size”?

I agree whole heartedly with “No barcode, no result.”  I will happily accept “No barcode, no result, no exceptions.” if that is what is needed to protect parkrun volunteers from taking flak from people who don’t want to accept “No barcode, no result”.

What I disagree with is the unspoken modification to the rule, or rather with the finger pointing that takes place when anyone transgresses it.  As someone who hates unfamiliar situations because of a paralysing fear that I will break an unspoken rule and be ostracised for it forever, and as an ex-auditor who has seen nothing but harm come from people pretending that rules are being followed when they are not, I want to erase the unspoken modification from the books.

If “No barcode, no result, no exceptions” isn’t working, we need to know about it.  We need to look at it again to decide if it’s still fit for purpose.  If it is, we need to clamp down on non-compliance at the source.  Go back to parkruns who are breaking ranks and remind them again (and again, and again) why the no exceptions element is crucial.  We should see incidents of parkrunners thanking teams for making an exception as a way of monitoring the success of our policy.  If it isn’t still fit for purpose because what is needed for Bushy parkrun is utterly ridiculous for Yakutsk Dokhsun parkrun, then we need to modify the rule.

No barcode, no result, some exceptions at the discretion of the local team*** .

It’s not catchy, I grant you.  But it may better reflect the reality of such a diverse, global phenomenon.

* Ish

** Figuratively.  Probably not literally.

*** who are under strict instructions to make no exceptions for anyone who argues

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Kettering parkrun

Alpacas, a roller coaster, a railway*, a lake, a wibbly wobbly bridge, a huge children’s playground, loos at the start, a downhill finish and a café.  It would be hard to walk away from Kettering parkrun without finding something to love.

I dispute the claim by Andrea** that it’s better than Wimbledon, but that’s because I’m rather partial to mud and windmills.

Of course, I didn’t go all the way to Kettering just to run 5k.  I didn’t even go all the way to Kettering just to run 5k with one of my all-time favourite running buddies.  I went to Kettering for a pub lunch with my mother, my aunt and my cousin***.  The parkrun was a purely incidental bonus.  Honest****.


* #choochoo

** creator of an exceptionally good first-timers’ briefing

*** of sorts

**** _hides crossed fingers behind back_

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Victoria Dock parkrun

One of the things that surprises me most about touring is the number of times I run into people I know.  This weekend’s trip to Victoria Dock parkrun was no exception.  In addition to the tourists from Ashton Court, Banstead Woods and Malden Prom parkruns, recognisable by their cow cowls, there were Kirsty, Dan and Liz from Bushy, Steven from Dartford, Simon and Lipeng from Woodbank and Scott from Falkirk, all in addition to Vanessa, my old touring buddy, who I had gone to Victoria Dock to meet.

The course is two out and back legs forming a horseshoe – so instead of only seeing those familiar faces at the start, I also saw each of them twice during the run.  It’s been a very long time since I spent so much of a parkrun saying “hi” to people – a perfect distraction from the hard effort my training plan called for.

There are also, so I’m told, a lot of sights to see on the way round: the ExCel centre, the Sunborn London Yacht Hotel, the beach*… the list goes on and on, but of course, I missed the lot.  Actually, that’s not strictly speaking true.  I did notice the imposing dockyard cranes which line the course, though probably only because the route took you right underneath them.

This is a parkrun with an unusual feel.  Rather than a run in a park, it is a run through space which is unapologetically urban.  With good public transport links, the flat and sociable horseshoe-shaped course, and free tea and coffee at the end (courtesy of I Love BV), I suspect this parkrun will go from strength to strength and develop a really strong community atmosphere.

Thank you, as ever, to the volunteers and core team who made the event possible.  I had one of the most enjoyable parkrundays since… actually, since last week when I was paced by a complete stranger, the week before that when I ran into yet more touring acquaintances, and the week before that when I stayed close to home and ran parkrun with a speed-walking friend.

* the beach.  They add sand in summer, though my niece, viewing it from above a couple of years ago, may or may not have described it as “pathetic”.




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Dear Abradysis

Dear Abradysis


More than fine, in fact.  I popped up to Scotland for three days to recce the route for the Highland Fling, was blessed with perfect running weather, neither face-planted nor sprained an ankle, and came away with nothing worse than a sore thumb.  I know, I know!  How on earth does one injure one’s thumb, running?

It was a bit of a whirlwind tour.  I caught the sleeper train from Euston Station on Sunday evening, and as my cabin-mate was a no-show had the place to myself.  By 9am on Monday morning, I was in Milngavie at the start of the West Highland Way with a mere 26 miles between me and my bed for the night.


The first 12 miles or so of the West Highland Way is largely runnable.  The hills are short, the ground is benign and the puddles were minimal.  I’d been thinking about stopping at the Beech Tree Café (around seven miles in), but ended up pausing for just long enough to take a couple of photos of the Shetland ponies.  The next natural break point was Drymen at mile 12, but as the field leading up to it was ever-so-slightly muddy and the café wasn’t directly on the route, I skipped that as well and carried straight on to Balmaha.

The section from Drymen to Balmaha features the first significant climb on the way, as you make your way up to Conic Hill (skirting around the bottom rather than going straight over the top).  Last time I came this way, I took a detour up and over Conic Hill itself to admire the views, but low cloud made that particular temptation easy to resist.


The WHW comes into Balmaha through a car park which spits you out directly opposite St Mocha’s Café.  One hot drink and incredibly rich honeycomb slice later, I was back on the trail heading for Rowardennan Lodge, and after another eight picturesque, if not particularly speedy, miles I was safe and sound in the youth hostel, hosing down my shoes, rinsing out my kit and counting down the minutes until dinner.

Tuesday was a day of rest.  I was staying in Rowardennan Lodge again that night so had the luxury of being as active, or inactive, as I liked.  I’d pencilled in a hike up Ben Lomond, but although the weather was mild and dry, it was also really rather windy up high, so instead of going all the way to the top, I went partway up the tourist trail, turned round, came down and then explored the Ardness Hidden History Trail and the lower section of the Ptarmigan Trail before calling it a day and heading back to the hostel.

On Wednesday morning at 9am, I had a slump on.  I was packed up and ready to go…

…but failing miserably to get up off the comfy sofa in the hostel’s common room.  Had there been a hostel cat, I might still be there, but instead, with a little prompting from a friend, I hauled my carcass out of the hostel and set off towards Tyndrum.

Day three was definitely a hike with little bits of running thrown in rather than a run with the odd bit of hiking.  There isn’t a vast amount of elevation between Rowardennan and Inversnaid, but there are twists, turns, tree roots and rocky steps, so it’s very much a case of run a bit, walk a bit, run a bit, walk a bit, and from Inversnaid to Beinglas it’s pretty much all walking, scrambling and trying not to be outfaced by ladders appearing out of nowhere.

Fourteen miles down, thirteen still to go.  I did the sums, decided I had time in hand and stopped for lunch at the Beinglas campsite.  Coleslaw has rarely tasted so good.

Beinglas to Tyndrum was tough.  Sections of it are extremely runnable, but bits of it are bleak (though the honesty box with the deckchairs raised a smile), bits of it are full on unpleasant and a fair amount of it is uphill.  I picked my way prissily around cow-shit infused puddles trying to work out whether I’d be prepared to run straight through them on race day, climbed up the muddy slope to avoid the herd of cows camped out on the path and grumbled my way  along stony paths weighing up the pros and cons of trying to run (speed vs certain toe-stubbing and face-planting).  By Crianlarich Crossroads I was yearning for a teleport button, but alas there was none to be had.  I hiked up the last huge hill, enjoyed the forest trail path as it wound down through the trees and spent the last four or so miles practising my walk-run transitions (I have run-walk transitions down pat).

I finally reached Tyndrum at 6pm.  I changed into dry kit, picked up a couple of souvenirs from the gift shop, and then settled down in the café to kill time until my train home.

I think that’s about it.

Lots of love


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Cabbage Patch 4 (ish)

At 8am this morning, I didn’t know this race existed.  By noon, it had been entered on my list of races to repeat.  Its distance may only be approximate, but it was small*, local**, low key***, cheap**** and absolutely teeming with familiar faces.

Thank you, King Danny, for the (inadvertent) heads up.

* Around 100 runners

** Organised by the Stragglers Running Club and based at the Cabbage Patch Pub in Twickenham

*** Manual registration and timing, marshals at key intersections, white arrows on the ground to mark the way and race numbers co-opted from the Claygate Country Five*****

**** The entry fee was either a Secret Santa gift (in exchange for a gift at the end) or £5 for the race with no gift.

***** Now on my list of races to try

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Did you just tag the trig point?

After the wash out that was 2016, I started 2017 wondering whether I was still an ultra-runner.  Ridgeway 86 proved that I could still complete the distance, but mentally it sucked.  I needed a pick-me-up, something simple but fun, something to remind me why I run long, and what better something could there be than Wendover Woods 50?

The Wendover Woods course is fantastic.  It’s varied underfoot, has a mixture of steep and shallow climbs, some gloriously runnable downs, a smattering of playful, tree rooty descents and it breaks down into easily manageable chunks.  As a 10 mile run, it’s hard to beat but as a 50 mile run it was superb.

After a disgusting o’clock alarm call, I gathered my kit together, ran through the mandatory kit list one more time to make sure that I had everything, double checked that I’d put my running shoes and back up running shoes into the car and set off.  I arrived at the field nice and early and walked over to the registration tent to recce the layout.  I spotted the coffee van and my heart sank.  I had packed all my mandatory kit but left the house without a single, solitary bank note or credit card.  Coffee I could live without, but I was pretty sure I didn’t have enough fuel to get back home.  Damn*.  I kicked myself, walked into the tent, bumped straight into three people I knew, blurted out “I forgot to bring any money” and immediately had three people offering me a sub.

For me, that’s what makes Centurion events so special.  Having run a few and volunteered at even more, I know that I’m never more than an aid station away from a personalised pick-me-up, so I spend the bulk of the race thinking about the next positive rather than obsessing about my pace and doing bad maths in my head.  There were too many pick-me-ups to remember.  A hug from Stu at about mile 1 followed by him popping up pretty much everywhere, Kate and Graham at the Hale Lane aid station, James teasing me about tagging the trig point at the end of each lap and lying very convincingly about how strong I was looking, Jo’s amazing drop-bag service, spotting Natasha at the end of lap 3 and scoring a hug from her at the end of lap 4, and bumping into Chris and Drew at the lowest point of my race**.

A finish was never in doubt.  Nici had told me so in no uncertain terms***.  What I was slightly stunned by was how much fun I had on the way to claiming my reward****.

* or words to that effect.

** just after a lap 5 runner had encouraged me with “not far now” as I stumbled up the last climb of my lap 4

*** “You WILL finish.  I shall allow no other result”

**** My finish line hug from Nici.  Obviously.


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The Ridgeway Challenge


That face is to smiling what this blog will be to coherent, chronological report.

I was driven to the start by the ever-lovely Vanessa, chatted to a fair few familiar faces at the start, made my way from Ivinghoe Beacon to Avebury and then caught the train home.  It was a great weekend, and I remember pretty much nothing about it.  Except this…


I ran with Leah for quite a lot of the way from Ivinghoe to Wendover, played leapfrog with her from Wendover to Whiteleaf, tried not to let her catch me from Whiteleaf to Lewknor and then saw her for the last time at Goring.  Unfortunately, I found out later that she dropped at Bury Down.


I caught up with Mark just before Lewknor, overtook him at the checkpoint, was caught by him just before Nuffield, overtook him at the checkpoint, was dropped by him just outside Nuffield, overtook him at Goring checkpoint, was beasted by him just outside Goring, overtook him at Bury Downs checkpoint and then spent the rest of the race looking over my shoulder as I waited for him to sail past again.

Spirit Andy

As I came into Nuffield, the spirit of Andy was there (complete with flat cap) to buoy me up and send me on my way. I saw him again at North Stoke, after a dreadful section down through the trees (how many tree roots can I trip on FGS?), where he gave me a pep talk, told me I looked strong (the liar) and packed me off to Goring. At Goring, he reminded me what I needed to do, told me to get a wriggle on because I was getting so cold I was shaking, made me put on my jacket and said he’d check on me at the end of the road before the hill. Sure enough, he was there letting me know that the other runners were only a little way ahead, and that I could catch them before Bury Downs. In fact, I only caught them at Bury Downs (how long do people spend in Aid Stations?), where I waved goodbye to Spirit Andy and plodded on.

Top Tip

If you’re going to take advantage of the darkness for a sneaky pee in a field, be prepared to spend the next 10 miles picking straw out of your skort. It took me a ridiculous length of time to realise that the odd prickling was not chafing but a short and spiky piece of vegetation, and even once I’d dealt with that, my brain fog was such that each new piece came as a surprise.

Somewhere on the Ridgeway

“Do you know where we are?”
“About 4 miles from Foxhill”
“But where, exactly, on the map?”
“I don’t know, but we’re definitely still on the Ridgeway because my arrow is still on my black line”
“Are you sure?”
“Where are we on the map?”
“Sort of there-ish. Look, that’s probably this farm here”
“Probably. So you aren’t completely sure we’re on the Ridgeway.”
“Yes. I am sure we’re still on the Ridgeway. I just don’t know (or frankly care) exactly where.”
“Look. A Ridgeway sign. We. Are. On. The. Ridgeway.”

Fortunately for my sanity, we parted ways at the next checkpoint. I hope he didn’t get lost.

Run, you idiots! Run!

I passed them just after Sparsholt Firs. The Ridgeway was flat, wide and smooth. I had been doing bad maths for the last gazillion hours, and was convinced that a sub-24 finish had slipped away. The only hope was to run every runnable bit from here to the end, and from memory, there wasn’t a lot of runnable after Foxhill. Flat, wide and smooth was about as good as it was going to get. Didn’t they know? Didn’t they care? Why weren’t they running? Run, you idiots! Run!

The running duo

They lolloped past me just before Sparsholt Firs and again just after. As I arrived at Foxhill they were just leaving, and they quickly vanished into the distance. At Barbury Castle they were picking their way down what I knew was probably the very last section soft enough for my feet to run, so I sprinted (ahem) past them, maintained my lead for about three minutes, and was then overhauled by them up the long flinty drag. As they passed, they dropped into conversation that they were Swindon based, and would finish a mere taxi ride from home. As I watched them vanish into the distance, never to be seen again, I contemplated my race-shuttle, train, tube, bus, walk home and stuck mental pins into virtual voodoo dolls.

The sleepwalker

Half asleep coming into Barbury Castle, and a welcome voice of sanity three miles later on when the flinty section refused to end, the sleepwalker gave me a target to hold onto, and when she woke up enough to run down the last rutted descent, the question “would you care if she went sub-23 and you didn’t?” was answered by, if not a run then at least some sort of run/walk hybrid shuffle.

The recce runner and his mate

As I sat, dazed and confused in the hall at the end, I realised the runner sitting next to me looked familiar. It turned out that we’d crossed paths very briefly on an earlier recce run on a hill a few miles on from Foxhill. He was being supported by a mate (turn around next year when his mate will be running), who very patiently picked things up for me when my race-addled brain told my hands to let go of things before they were anywhere near the table.

The route

I am officially done with the Ridgeway. After Race to the Stones, Winter 100, Autumn 100, Tring parkrun, recce runs and the Ridgeway Challenge, I am done. It has some truly beautiful sections and some gloriously sweeping views, but until I find a narrow-fitting running shoe which is made by sandwiching an industrial rock plate between giant fairy cushions, I am not setting foot on it again. Ever.

The organisation

Fabulous.  Simply fabulous.  Thank you Tim.  You and your team rocked.


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Richmond Olympic parkrun

If you’re not sure where River Road and Cambie Road meet, head for the shiny sculpture. It’s where the out and back route should start and finish, but there is currently a diversion in place at the far end of the route, and the alternative course starts a hop, skip and a jump South of there. 

The alternative course consists of a North-South out and back past the shiny sculpture, a South-North out and back as far as the path currently allows and then finishes with a second North-South out and back, so you pass the start / finish at 1km and 4km.  It makes for a social course, as you see runners two or three times on your way to finish line glory.

It’s a plane spotter’s dream. The run brief is punctuated by fly bys and there’s a sea plane terminus on the river, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to see at least one sea plane take off or land. 

After the run, more than a few people (both local and visiting) headed along to the nearby Tim Hortons for coffee and a chat, but if you’re after a few more miles and a few rather nice views, you could do worse than follow the parkrun course back out towards the sea.  After the diversion (which is short but features a few road crossings) you pick up a well groomed and essentially flat trail path which runs all the way down to Garry Point Park.

Near the start

Diversion bunnies

The end of the trail

View of Vancouver from Garry Park

A splash of colour

Fisherman’s Memorial Needle

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Not the Kamloops half marathon 

This morning, I did not run the Kamloops half marathon.

I suspect that making the call to cancel was difficult and only done after much thought, but also that it was one of those decisions which, once made, feels completely and utterly right.  We were given three options: rolling our entry over to next year; claiming a full refund; or donating our entry fee to United for BC Wildfire Recovery, and the pancake breakfast which would have been served to the runners was instead hosted for evacuees and those supporting them.

As it turned out, not going to Kamloops, though disappointing, did come with a silver lining or four.  It meant we were able to visit a quilt show in Summerland, saved me from a disgusting o’clock alarm call, allowed me to get away with a 10k pootle instead of a 21k hard effort*, and gave me the chance to make friends with one of the local moggies.


* I haven’t yet broken this news to my coach.

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Okanagan parkrun

Okanagan parkrun started just under a year ago (today was their 49th run), kicked off parkrun in Canada and resulted in my favourite guest blog courtesy of Abradysis. The original course ran alongside Mission Creek, but picturesque though that route was it didn’t withstand its first Canadian winter so the ED, Bill Justus, put his thinking cap on and found an alternative venue.

The new course is not-quite-flat, not-quite-out-and-back and tarmac*.  It starts with a clockwise loop inside the Parkinson Recreation Center** which runs around the pickleball courts*** …

What do you mean you’ve never heard of pickleball?

… and over a small stream.  You then turn left onto the rails with trails**** path for a slightly undulating out and back, run the clockwise loop for a second time and finish with a mercifully flat sprint through the car park*****.

Flatter than Nose Hill’s sprint finish

The course itself may be as different from Nose Hill’s as chalk is from cheese but the welcomes at both were fantastic…

Bill Justus

… and if my strava feed is to be believed, today’s RD, Jacqui Allison, stole the prompt start segment with a perfect 9:00.

* I registered tarmac. The course description says hard packed trail. Did I leave the gas on?

** sic

*** you what now?

**** this will eventually run all the way from Kelowna up to Vernon and will no doubt make an awesome point to point ultra

**** which is coned off during the parkrun

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