The two most common questions that I’m asked when people find out that I’m a bit of a parkrun tourist are “Which is your favourite parkrun?” and “Don’t they all blur into one?”
I have many favourite parkruns and I like to think that I remember each and every one. But to see whether I do, I decided to try to remember something about my first visit to each of the 100 different parkruns I’ve run. It has turned into a bit of an epic post, so I’ve split it into four, beginning at the beginning and working my way forward.
Part 1: Venues 1 to 25
Venue 1 – Wimbledon (UK, Greater London)
I met Sandhya Drew, the very first person I spoke to at a parkrun, who explained what to do with my barcode and reassured me that I wouldn’t come last. I didn’t come last, though I did lose a battle for 198th place, having to settle for 199th. I didn’t notice either of the two ponds on either of the two laps. I ran the whole thing and thought I was going to die. My time? Sub 34. Just.
Venue 2 – Brighton & Hove (UK, South East)
I ran with two friends who had two dogs. One dog was keen as mustard and pulling on the lead. The other was reluctant and hanging back. Running while having both arms pulled in different directions was an interesting experience, but not one I intend to repeat. Ever. Especially on a hilly course like Brighton. (NB – I’ve run Brighton twice since and have downgraded it to gently undulating).
Venue 3 – Basingstoke (UK, South East)
The memory which sticks with me of my first visit to Basingstoke is not of the course (some grass, some tarmac, some trail, some ups, some downs and a big bird cage) but of the parent with three children boasting of the running prowess of eldest child and youngest child and then adding a comment about the lack of running prowess of middle child…while the middle child was within earshot. Grrrrrr!
Venue 4 – Roundshaw Downs (UK, Greater London)
Wheeeeeeeee! I do love a downhill finish. Though my abiding memory is of overtaking a runner 20 years my senior, finding out that they cleared their throat on every breath, and being unable to pull clear. Fortunately for my sanity (if not my ego), they overtook me on the next hill, reinforcing the first rule of parkrun. You will always (unless your name is Danny Norman), be overtaken by a small child, an octogenarian and someone pushing a buggy.
Venue 5 – Finsbury Park (UK, Greater London)
Where I met Janathoners Carla (@fortnightflo) and Sharon (Shazruns) for the first time, realised the importance of establishing where the unofficial bag drop is before 8:59am and learned how much of a boost you get when someone runs back to meet you at the end and gives you an encouraging cheer.
Venue 6 – Old Deer Park (UK, Greater London)
It’s never a good sign when you turn up at a parkrun on a freezing cold day in the pouring rain and the only other people there are in super short shorts and running vests. I came last. But I also got my highest finishing position (number 17) and learned that finishing last is really nothing to worry about.
Venue 7 – Bedfont Lakes (UK, Greater London)
Where I met Not The Ron Hill and learned that one person’s slow jog is another person’s sprint. It’s a lapped course. Before the start, I chatted to Ron (also running the course for the first time) and a Bedfont Lakes regular who was about to do a slow jog round the course to put out the signs. He suggested that we come round with him and he’d point out the key features to make sure we didn’t get lost. I made it to the top of the first undulation before calling it quits and walking back to the start.
Venue 8 – Cambridge (UK, East of England)
Sub 30 for the first time despite stopping to tie my shoelace, and I threw in my first ever bit of stalking (a.k.a introducing myself to someone I knew via blogging). Beautiful course, great café, friendly people and a fabulous tale of a marathon runner who ran (I want to say) Windermere marathon in fancy dress and on overtaking a couple of runners on one of the final hills heard “I can’t believe we’ve just been overtaken by a bee!”
Venue 9 – Kingston (UK, Greater London)
I was nervous. It’s small, and memories of Old Deer Park were fresh in my mind. But I had a chirunning course at the Hawker Centre at 10am, and this was the only parkrun I could fit in beforehand, so I girded my loins and went along. They have a tail runner. I do love a parkrun with a tail runner!
Venue 10 – Richmond Park (UK, Greater London)
How had I lived in SW London for a decade and never discovered Richmond Park? It’s huge (as I found out when I parked at Roehampton Gate, miles from the start of the parkrun) and beautiful and a great big bit of countryside in the middle of the urban sprawl.
Venue 11 – Reading (UK, South East England)
“Something of a nomad” – my first honourable mention in dispatches. I arrived hideously early (the only people who arrive at parkrun before 8:30am are first timers, tourists and volunteers) and chatted to the run director. Afterwards, I was touched to find that I’d been mentioned in the run report, my first hint that the parkrun community is so strong that it will hunt down and embrace even the most dedicated tourist.
Venue 12 – Braunstone (UK, East Midlands)
I had intended to run Conkers… until I realised that it didn’t start for another two weeks, at which point opted for nearby Braunstone… complete with its uphill finishing straight. I still managed a PB though!
Venue 13 – Pymmes (UK, Greater London)
My inaugural inaugural, and second meeting with Ron Hill. 3 laps, tarmac, pretty and with a burger van partway round. What’s not to like?
Venue 14 – Greenwich (UK, Greater London)
It’s a small, small world. After running into Ron Hill the week before, I turned up at Greenwich expecting to recognise no-one, but saw someone who looked very familiar. I did that very English thing of trying to look at her without her noticing, wracking my brains to work out where I knew her from (or who she was reminding me of). In the end, I gave up and just asked “Do I know you from somewhere?”. Turns out the answer was “Yes”, it was Helen (Helsbels), and we’d met at the Janathon picnic a couple of months earlier.
Venue 15 – Frimley Lodge (UK, South East London)
It was a Lucozade Orange day and very hot. The only orange thing I could lay my hands on was a large orange polo shirt. I wilted. As for the course, it’s two laps, and features a section of path along a canal which is wide enough for three people to run abreast… until it isn’t. At which point, the unwary runner nearest the canal can either stop dead, leap the gap in the bank or cool off in the water.
Venue 16 – Bradford (UK, Yorkshire and Humberside)
Like Braunstone, this features an uphill finish, but unlike Braunstone it didn’t come as a surprise. The course is far from flat, but what sticks in my mind is the welcome that a soft southerner like me received on my first foray north.
Venue 17 – Black Park (UK, South East England)
Another very hot day on which the shade from the trees was extremely welcome. Just beware of the car park ticket machine. It refused to accept any of my £1 coins and a kindly parkrunner had to come to my rescue (thank you, kindly parkrunner).
Venue 18 – Hampstead Heath (UK, Greater London)
100% uphill. I mean, it isn’t really. It can’t be, as it starts and ends in the same place, but to me it felt like it was uphill all the way. It is also one of those venues which I would have got lost at very quickly were it not for the abundance of marshals. I have yet to go back, because the journey is a pain, but I absolutely loved it.
Venue 19 – Wanstead Flats (UK, Greater London)
A Ronseal parkrun. It’s in Wanstead and it’s flat. It also illustrated the power that the front runner has over the rest of the runners. It was the inaugural, so we’d all listened intently as the run director went through the course description. Turn here, look out for that sign, take a right turn there. Unfortunately, the only person who ever needs to know the route, the runner at the front, missed one of the right turns and the rest of the field followed sheep-like, through the car park and back to the start of lap two. All bar one of the returners in week 2 clocked up a PB.
Venue 20 – Lloyd (UK, Greater London)
Another run with Ron Hill, the day before my first ever 10k. Two laps, grass and dirt trail, not as-a-pancake flat (OK, undulating, or possibly hilly, depending where you usually run). Also the parkrun where I caught my first glimpse of parkrun founder, Paul Sinton-Hewitt.
Venue 21 – Whitstable (UK, South East)
The day I knew I was obsessed. My original rule for parkrun was that I wouldn’t set my alarm before 7am. So the day that I woke early, leapt out of bed and though “As I’m up, I might as well drive to Whitstable” marked the beginning of the end. As for the venue, I remember wind, great seaside views, chatting to a first-timer who was kind enough to share her cheering squad with me and using (not for the last time) a junior to pull me round to the finish.
Venue 22 – Brockwell (UK, Greater London)
Another meet-up with an ‘athoner, this time with Vicky (@disjointedtales), who made much better work of the hills than I did. Like Finsbury, Brockwell has a split start and finish, and any clutter is kindly ferried from the start to the finish by the volunteers. Memo to self: take less clutter!
Venue 23 – Milton Keynes (UK, South East England)
More stalking, but this time in the company of Carla. A lovely jaunt around a lake, with a weird zigzag hill thrown in for good measure and a café right by the finish. Just make sure you put the parking ticket in your car, and not the receipt for the parking ticket, because the wardens are on patrol.
Venue 24 – Wormwood Scrubs (UK, Greater London)
Another day, another meet up, this time with Rachel (@fairweatherrun). A lapped jaunt overlooked by the prison – Saturday morning freedom has never felt so good… at least until I ricked my ankle on a tuft of grass. Coffee in the clubhouse afterwards for a real community feel… and a problem with the results that meant they didn’t arrive until Thursday. I was there, I promise you, I was there!
Venue 25 – Riddlesdown (UK, Greater London)
A lovely inaugural on a glorious sunny day, and despite the extremely steep hill on the way to the parkrun, the run itself was essentially flat. Spent most of the run in the company of Paul, who used me as a slow pacer to save his Achilles from coming to grief before a JOGLE relay and allowed me to pick his brains about all things running.