Last weekend, I joined Vanessa at Wormwood Scrubs parkrun. To be honest, I wasn’t that keen. I knew that the company would be great, and there was a certain amount of appeal to a local-ish parkrun and a bit of a lie-in, but I’d filed Wormwood Scrubs away under “unremarkable” and hadn’t been tempted to return to it in the three and half years since I was last there.
I may need to review my filing system. Wormwood Scrubs has developed into a quintessential parkrun which oozes parkrun spirit. It remains small enough that regulars can spot and welcome newcomers as they loiter nervously at the edges, grasping their newly printed barcodes in their hands and wondering just what happens next. It embraces the back of the pack with gusto, with faster runners hanging around at the finish to encourage slower runners as they cross the line. And it has turned the post-run coffee into an art form, sweeping regulars, first-timers and tourists alike into the clubhouse for great flapjack and better chat.
This weekend, I headed East to Dartford’s newish parkrun. As a long-time reader of Steven Stockwell’s blog, I pretty much knew what to expect course-wise (though being an unobservant soul, I still managed to add Mick Jagger to my ever expanding collection of “unmissable features that I’ve managed to miss” where it joins the Manchester Ship Canal from Warrington parkrun and the dinosaurs from Crystal Palace). I was keen to visit Dartford for a number of reasons, not least that it re-completes my set of London parkruns (M25 rules), returning me to the hallowed state of Londone. It also gave me the perfect excuse to meet up with Helen, a Janathoner who was running marathons when even the thought of running as far as 10km brought me out in a cold sweat.
We arrived just as the parkrun weather fairies succeeded in moving the rain clouds out the way, and had it not been for a rather unfortunate choice of parking space (sorry, Helen, for parking in a massive great puddle), would have remained dry. We chatted to Steven (who has taken a sabbatical from touring to help get this parkrun off the ground), bemoaned the fact that neither of us had remembered our Garmins, listened to a beautifully succinct run briefing and were off.
The course itself is lovely. It’s run on a mixture of tarmac paths, trail paths and grass which were perfectly navigable in road shoes but might lend themselves more to trail shoes in winter. The first lap includes a short excursion to see Mick Jagger (or so I’m told), the hill is steep enough to notice but gentle enough to run, the turnings are either marshalled or clearly signed (unless you’re too busy chatting to notice large neon arrows) and the second lap is marginally shorter than the first, reducing your chances of being lapped (or having to dodge a gazillion slower runners).
The finish is right next door to the clubhouse, where tea, coffee and hot chocolate are available for the bargain price of £1 a throw. It doesn’t yet have the buzz of the post-parkrun Wormwood Scrubs clubhouse but I suspect it won’t be long before that builds up.
Especially if the clubhouse powers-that-be can discover who makes the Wormwood Scrubs flapjacks and beg, borrow or steal the recipe.