As a runner I love competing in events but I also love taking part in a weekly 5km (3.2 miles) event called Parkrun. It is not a race but an event for everybody for fast runners, slow runners, beginners, for all ages etc but it is a timed event and everyone gets a result and position. It is also a great way to meet new people, to meet up with the volunteers who take time out to assist in these events and have a coffee afterwards and a great way to keep fit. Parkrun started many moons ago in the hefty days of 2004 in Bushy, south-west London by Paul Sinton-Hewitt who is now a legend within the Parkrun circles. Since then Parkrun is now taking part in fifteen countries across five continents, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, Russia, South Africa, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Poland, Norway, Sweden, Czech Republic, France, Italy, Singapore and the United States.
I started running the Parkrun series when I first found out about them back in 2013 when I first started running and now I have just completed my 100th Parkrun and wanted to share you the courses I have completed in and why I enjoy certain places and why I hate some.
It all started in Saint Albans, Hertfordshire, UK
My first Parkrun was around the lakes in the Roman city of Saint Albans with the beautiful cathedral overlooking the course. However my first Parkrun was one of my worst. Not because of the way it was run but coming from a safety background in the railway industry, I couldn’t understand how many hundreds of runners could do a three lap course around a lake. Surely someone was going to fall in but thankfully no one has. Since then I haven’t been back for that reason but still had the feeling coming away that I completed my first ever running event in a good 22-25 (twenty-two minutes and twenty five seconds).
Course no:2 Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire, UK
I have competed in this course eight times but the most memorable had to be the first time I ran around the fields in a few inches of snow and ice. With the backdrop of Wimpole Hall, a manor house, I managed to finish the one lap course in 24-29. On other visits I have had to deal with cows and bulls on the course before the start, sheep chasing me, stuck in a bog and managed to run up the ‘steep’ hill on all occasions with ease. My quickest time here was 20-46.
Course no:3 Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, UK
This beautiful course is located north of the student city in Milton county park and it was not a good idea for me to try this in the middle of winter. After a day of rain beforehand, I was slipping and sliding all over the place whilst getting smacked by branches as I ran along the trail paths. Still very happy to come away with 22-05 and now starting to get used to cross country courses compared to my training runs on cycle tracks in my home town of Stevenage.
Course no:4 Finsbury Park, London, UK
My first one in the British capital and a stone throw’s away from Arsenal football club Emirates stadium. All I can remember from this course was coming out of Finsbury Park train station as I caught the train for this one and ran a two lap course mostly on gravel and tarmac. There was a killer hill (yes, London has hills) during the course and as I was still working out my pacing (as I was an independent runner and haven’t found a running club by this point), I came away learning a lot about my running and a time of 22-08
Course no:5 Gunpowder Parkrun near Waltham Abbey, London, UK
My second course within the London boundaries and the first time my best buddy Ollie Garbas ran a Parkrun event. With the day’s slightly warming up, I still found this two lap course on gravel paths tough going but managed to get my quickest time of that winter, 21-13. However my second attempt here I didn’t get nowhere near that time. Great car parking and toilet block here and just a few minutes drive of M25 junction 26 which made life a bit easy to navigate.
Course no.6: Bedford, Bedfordshire, UK
This is one of the fastest courses I have come across on the Parkrun circuit, two and half (or is three whole laps) around Bedford County Park in the north of the town which is completely flat and tarmac. First attempt I got 20-53, second attempt was 20-41 but my last attempt was my fastest Parkrun time in the British Isles (so far) in 19-57. I remember coming away from this course punching the air. Another memory here was appearing on Anglia Television (the local television station) as Bedford Parkrun celebrated it’s 100th Parkrun and a brief clip of me running in all green was shown. Didn’t really except that from a Parkrun.
Course no.7: Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, UK
Milton Keynes Parkrun is a great run to compete in, it has an uphill climb, lakes, scenery and wildlife.The first time I came here was on their original course and came in 22-11 but on their readjusted course I managed a 20-09 (which included the ‘zig-zag hill on both courses).
Course no.8: Southend, Essex, UK
Not quite Southend but located in Gunners Park in Shoeburyness. I still don’t know why I got up early to catch a train early in the morning and ran a three lap course located above the sea in the sodding rain. After that experience I came back in the summer months and finished the course in 20-20. I also made a lot of friends here and came across the volunteers again at the Brighton Marathon in 2014.
Course no.9: Oak Hill, Barnet, London, UK
As Stevenage Football Club supporters, Ollie and I thought it would be cheeky to wear the club kits and run the course hoping to jeer up some of the locals who maybe Barnet Football Club supporters. That never happens here and we actually got a good reception. The course is two and a bit laps and is quite fast as well (with a cheeky little uphill section to run twice before the finish line). The first time I came here I got 20-06 and on four attempts, that is still my fastest time here.
Course no.10: Eastbourne, East Sussex, UK
Early April, it was the day before my first ever marathon in Brighton and I decided to compete in a parkrun which some people say that was a bad mistake. For me it wasn’t and I just wanted to run. I loved this course, an out and back course (I think it had to be adjusted from the original course when I ran it) and managed to complete it in 20-27 coming in fifth place (was pretty chuffed with that).
Course no.11: Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, UK
Summer was coming and the drive north to Huntingdon was a pleasant one. Arrived at the beautiful park on the outskirts of town, everything was going right until I found out I left my running trainers at home, so I had to run in my everyday trainers which wasn’t great. Still recovering from a great first marathon performance down on the South coast, I managed to get a time of 22-22.
Course no:12: Gladstone Park, Brent, London, UK
Running with a view of the arch which is on top of the National Stadium (Wembley), I can’t really much about this Parkrun. I remember running around a park with twists and turns but to be honest it was a blur but managed to come away with a time of 21-11.
Course no.13: Grovelands Park, Enfield, London, UK
Another Parkrun in London ticked off and this time in North London. This course was also a bit of a blur but I do remember the beautiful lake here and lots of trees. It was nice to run in London with plenty of trees and nice scenery to look at. Came away with a time of 21-01.
Course no.14: Shorne Woods (near Gravesend), Kent, UK
At the time this was one of the newest courses so Ollie and I decided to do the journey across the Dartford Bridge and compete in this event. We couldn’t believe what happened and Ollie managed to get his first ever Parkrun win whilst I finished second in 20-53 (I am pretty sure Ollie finished a minute ahead of me and I was about thirty seconds faster than third place). It was a strange scenario to be in so we decided to celebrate by visiting the nearby village known as Thong (it had a funny name so we had to do it!).
Course no.15: Walthamstow, London, UK
Back to North London and it was time to run inside the grounds of a leisure park in Walthamstow. I remember trying to press and press but I couldn’t get a result I was pleased with (20-54) but Ollie and his younger brother, Alex was running (both finishing ahead of me) but all I remember was Alex won his fifth out of eight parkruns in a row I think at the time. The kid was unstoppable.
Course no.16: Pymmes Park, London, UK
I did this course twice in eight days as I came across another ‘fast’ one but only if the conditions and fitness was right. I managed to secure fourth on my first attempt in 20-26 and was hoping to do better in my second attempt but only managed to knock off four seconds but did finish second.
Course no.17: Highfields Park, London, UK
Another Parkrun which wasn’t too far away from Arsenal FC and just a short underground journey from Finsbury Park, this has to be one of the worst courses I came across for counting laps. FIVE of them! I hated doing all that mathematics during the run as well as working out pacing etc. However the course is nice and flat and the volunteers are totally amazing and helpful. Finished this one in 20-41.
Course no.18: Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, UK
This two lap course through Ferry Meadows Park is one with beautiful scenery and runs around two lakes. I remember at the time I was really pushing for a sub-20 minute time but it wasn’t coming and finished in 20-17.
Course no.19: Northampton, Northamptonshire, UK
I never thought I would get up early on Christmas Day and drive to a town over an hour away to run in a Parkrun! This is what I did and managed to do one of the most boring courses (sorry Northampton) in 20-40 and grabbing a top ten finish in the process. I nearly got beaten by a snowman.
Course no.20: Harrow Lodge, Hornchurch, Essex, UK
For some reason in the middle of winter and before the turn of New Year (2014), I decided to take the long underground journey to the eastern side of London and do a cross country course around Harrow Lodge. I really did find this tough going but again loved the scenery around here for an urban area and came home in 22-43.
Course no.21: Eastleigh, Hampshire, UK
Traveled all the way to deepest Hampshire in the middle of winter, under the flight path of Southampton Airport (which is next door to the course) and found out I was running on the standby course due to recent bad weather. No biggies as I used this for training and came in 23-32.
Course no.22: Ashford, Kent, UK
Another long journey in the spring (2014) saw me take the high speed train from London to Ashford (which isn’t too far from France and it’s Channel Tunnel connections). Another course I can’t really remember but I remember running around a big water fountain in the middle of Victoria Park. Finished in 20-33.
Course no.23: Newark, Nottinghamshire, UK
A road trip to Scotland from my home town in Stevenage saw me stopped off at Newark, a couple of hours into the trip to compete in their Parkrun. Lovely two lap course on a muggy and warmish summer day and finished in 21-43. Maybe this was a bad mistake to do as I drove all the way to Perth in Scotland smelling of sweat.
Course no.24: Panshanger Park, Hertford, Hertfordshire, UK
A new Parkrun came to my area in the autumn of 2014 and I managed to get to this course on several occasions including a Christmas Day run for the second year running. This is one of my favourite cross-country courses so far on the Parkrun circuit as its one lap, has hills, has a lot of downhills, a lot of grave and sometimes a lot of mud. So far my quickest time here is 20-35.
Course no.25: Harlow, Essex, UK
A very technical course with a lot of twists and turns on mostly tarmac but there was a very boggy field to run across. I done this course twice now but my fastest time here is still 20-55
Course no.26: Valentines Park, Ilford, London, UK
This was a special day in the Parkrun circuit in 2014. The date was 14th February 2014 and it was Valentine’s Day so where better to do a Parkrun than Valentines Park. With the press involved as well, a huge crowd of runners came along but I managed to get 15th place in 20-18.
Course no.27: Beckton, London, UK
I was still pushing for the sub-20 minute time back in 2014 but came up six seconds short as I finished third on my first attempt on this two lap course beside the River Thames, underneath the flight path of London City airport. I came back a couple of years later but was nowhere near that time.
Course 28: Malahide, Ireland
The first overseas trip for a Parkrun took me and a few others over the Irish Sea to the town of Malahide, north of Dublin. Taking a very early morning flight with Ryanair from London Stansted to Dublin then jumping in a taxi for the 09.30 start, I managed to get my Parkrun personal best time of 19-25 (which still stands) and managed to scrape in a top ten finish. We celebrated with a good pint of Guinness before heading back to Stansted that evening.
Course 29: Hatfield Forest, Essex, UK
I was fortunate to check out the new course located near Stansted Airport for their very first event (March 2015). On National Trust land, the run took in the scenic forest and is a very enjoyable run. Despite the course being all off-road, I managed to get a 11th place finish in 20-37. However as I write this, the course hosted its last event in September 2017 before heading to its new location in Bishop’s Stortford.
Course 30: Luton Wardown, Luton, Bedfordshire, UK
Another new course which started up locally was across the county border in Bedfordshire, in the town of Luton. I am not a big fan of the town (even the airport needs to be sorted out) but the Parkrun here wasn’t too bad. Three laps of the course on tarmac, twists and turns, up and down hills and bridges with a lake to see.
Course 31: Hackney Marshes, London, UK
One of the fastest courses on the Parkrun circuit, the Hackney Marshes Parkrun route is located right next to the famous fields with about twenty football pitches on them. If anyone is looking for a Parkrun 5km Personal Best time, then come here. It’s an out and there back course, all tarmac and flat as hell. However, it didn’t work out for me and I finished in 20-14.
Course 32: Barclay, Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, UK
For a good workout then Barclay Parkrun provided that in Hoddesdon and managed to complete this course a few times. Some of the course is on tarmac but there is an off-road section where it can be tough especially after a night’s rain. My highest position here was 2nd place but the fastest time was 21-42.
Course 33: Ellensbrook Fields, Hatfield, Hertfordshire, UK
This course had a mixture of grass with an interesting last 500m or so with running down a former runway strip used by light aircraft many moons ago. Was here for the very first run and I remember I couldn’t get my body out of first gear, finishing in a time of around 22-42.
Course 34: Stevenage, Hertfordshire, UK
It happened! A Parkrun came to my home town and despite missing the first few runs, this course remains to be the most I have ran on. I haven’t done anything impressive with this course which is a mixture of paths, cycle tracks and grassy land through a row of trees but I managed to complete this course a few times with a buggy and my daughter, Amelie to which we have now been dubbed ‘Team Kiddo’. The guys who run Stevenage Parkrun are amazing and do an excellent job making sure the event runs every Saturday. I am so proud to call this my ‘home’ Parkrun.
Course 35, Osterley, London, UK
A nice two lap off-road course in West London, directly under the flightpath of Heathrow airport so it was great to see planes on the approach to the runway as I ran the course. Loved the lakes here but for the running it was a disappointing 22-46.
Course 36: Romford, Essex, UK
A beautiful course inside one of London’s borough council’s at Raphael. A nice two and half course on tarmac passing a lake with many birds and greenland as well as a little section going around the tennis courts (which is also near the cafe). Done this course quite a few times, one of them as part of ‘Team Kiddo’ and also with Claire where we walked around the course.
Course 37: Wanstead Flats, London, UK
On Christmas Day 2016, it was time to do Wanstead Flats in East London. The Parkrun community here were fantastic and made me feel very welcome. I did enjoy doing the two lap course which goes around a sports field and then into woodland. A great off-road course which is overlooked by two horrible apartment blocks which needs to be bombed. Sorry.
Course 38: Mersea Island, Essex, UK
It was time to leave the mainland and go to Mersea Island, just off the eastern coast of England for the first run of 2017. Nice little two lap off road course next to the sea and not a bad drive either to get here. Managed to get 25th place in 24-01
Course 39: Highlands Parkrun, Victoria, Australia
This will remain one of the highlights of my Parkrun’s completed. Two and half hours before our (Claire and I) flight to Malaysia from Melbourne airport departed, I took on the Highlands Parkrun in Craigieburn, which is just north of the city. Thankfully beforehand one of the guys who looks after Highlands Parkrun said he will pick us from the nearby train station and as soon as I crossed the finish line, take us straight to the airport which was over a twenty minute drive on a clear road. His name was Gary and will remain a true friend for doing this, despite the fact we only met in person for about ninety minutes. The course itself wasn’t bad, two laps around some lakes but their was no kangaroo’s getting in the way. The weather was a bit nippy and dull before the start but as soon as I started running, the temperature shot up and I was sweating like a pig. I managed to finish 18th but in a time of 24-18 as I was recovering from injury. On the way back we did see Kangaroo’s near the roadside and we just made our flight. Not because of Gary’s car being stuck in traffic but stupid Air Asia not having enough staff at check in! Didn’t have time to have a wash down before the departure gate and got on board smelling of sweat. Good job I had loads of wet wipes to use all over whilst in the toilet!
Course 40: Roding Valley, London, UK
It was back down to earth the following weekend. From a nice hot Australian summer to a bitterly cold English winter, it was time to do a two lap course around a set of football pitches in North East London. The weather must have suited me, I knocked off quite a bit of time from seven days previous (23-32).
Course 41: Thurrock Parkrun, Orsett Heath, Essex, UK
Still in winter 2017, it was time to head to Orsett Heath, which isn’t too far from the Lakeside Shopping Complex. Not a bad course this, again, running around football pitches on a off-road course. However the highlight was seeing light snow and I decided to run in vest and shorts. No improvement on time as I return from injury and finished in 23-38.
Course 42: Basildon, Essex, UK
I struggled on this course located in the northern suburbs of Basildon on a mixture of off-road and concrete paths. I remember struggling up the small hill but otherwise all I remember was the fantastic car parking near the start/finish line.
Course 43: Dartford, Kent, UK
I did a lifelong dream and ran in Central Park. Shame it wasn’t the one in New York City but in Dartford, Kent (which is on the outskirts of London). A great two and half lap course, again a mixture of running on concrete which passes water fountains and off roading with some hills (again) around a football pitch. The return of injury saw me not improve my time from the previous week and finished here in 24-48.
Course 44: Bexley, London, UK
Not far from Dartford, the following week I ventured to Bexley. Another beautiful park on the outskirts of London which saw two laps going round a lake, a few small hills and a beautiful long straight finish on concrete. Ample parking and lots of trees as well, I remember that. Just didn’t like that hill after passing the eastern side of the lake.
Course 45: Lullingstone, Kent, UK
Next to the castle in Lullingstone, this was a proper cross-country course. It had everything. Two laps, lots of grass, tough woodland, mud, the only thing was missing was a lake to run through. Was very tired afterwards but managed to finish in 26-21.
Course 46: Fontainebleau, France
Another overseas Parkrun was ticked off, this time in the beautiful grounds of the castle at Fontainebleau, a hour train journey from Paris Gare du Lyon. Unfortunately on that hot summer’s day we had to use a backup course which was two laps around a canal as there was a music festival nearby taking up some of the route. I found this tough going and managed to get a time of 24-06.
Course 47: Southsea, Hampshire, UK
Now this has to be one of the flattest courses I have ever done. Along the English Channel coastline, this flat course was an out and back course. I remember looking around at the start line looking at some of the navy boys who decided to turn up and as soon as we started, they left everyone for dead. I found the first half of this course easy but running back I was hit by a headwind which slowed me up. Finished in 24-16
Course 48: Westmill, Ware, Hertfordshire, UK
This one was brutal for me and I am still wondering why. It was off-road, there were more uphills than downhills, twists and turns and my body couldnt get going. I even remember feeling sick here. However, I did love the views over the lakes and this was a part of Hertfordshire I never explored so I was glad to tick this place off. I crashed out at the finish line in 25-59
Course 49: Burnham-on-Crouch, Essex, UK
It was back to the Eastern coastline and this time the small beautiful town of Burnham-on-Crouch was ticked off. Starting and finishing in Riverside Park, the two lap course on a mixture of gravel, concrete and grass (mostly grass) took on beautiful views of the river which comes in from the North Sea which also had some marinas to take in. The course was tough going and again I couldn’t get out of first gear, so I only managed a time of 24-57.
Course 50: Bere Island, Ireland
Returning to Ireland for my second Parkrun in the country and this one is one of the highlights. I had a ninety minute journey with Claire and her aunt in the 4×4 before having to reverse onto a small ferry at Castletown-Bearhaven to the actual island (which is about a ten minute crossing). Then we had to drive down this very small country lanes to the small settlement of Rerrin. I also found out on the day there is a minibus organised for runners coming from the mainland which meets the ferry and takes them to and from the course (contact the organisers for more details).
After a fantastic warm welcome on a very windy day (yes, this course is next to the Atlantic Ocean), I managed to get a good lead for the first 2.5km up a mountain (but the locals call it a hill) but by the time I reached the top, I was so battered by the weather and with the lack of race fitness, I lost my positioning and couldn’t catch up with the leaders on the long downhill stretch. Crossing the finishing line, I treated myself to a shower in the changing room before heading to the coffee shop in the settlement for a well deserved cup of tea. I finished the course in 26-24 and in 5th place.
Course 51: Newcastle West, Ireland
A week later I was in Co. Limerick and for my 100th parkrun (on Parkrun’s 13th birthday), I decided to head out to a little town called Newcastle West, a forty minute drive from Limerick. I wanted to a nice quiet course out in the countryside instead of dealing with hundreds of runners in a city. This proved to be an excellent choice as the course is very flat, scenic and if there was a wind, the bushes proved to be great covered. Once again was made very welcome by the locals and had lots of conversations before and afterwards.
The actual course is one big lap and two smaller laps of a park just north of the town centre and to be honest, after a night out having a huge three course meal and a few pints of beer, I wasn’t exactly willing to do a fast pace. So I decided to do a gentle jog around the course and eventually finished 6th out of 32 runners in 26:45. 100th parkrun completed…..here is to the next 100!