Tooting Common parkrun and the Harry Potter escape room

On Saturday I headed to the Tooting Common parkrun in London. This meant another early morning catching the 6.39am train.

Luckily it wasn’t ridiculously cold, but it was still fairly chilly. I was in my running gear plus a jumper (which I’d wear later after the run) and a big winter jacket with a fresh travel mug of coffee to take with me. I was going to meet my friends at 11 after parkrun for some escape room fun (more on that later) so I had a big bag with me as well full of a spare set of clothes, baby wipes, deodorant etc. The best you can do when you don’t have a shower!

On the train I chilled with my iPad watching Mudbound (really good film!) and my coffee. But in the back of my mind I was feeling a little stressed. The thing is, the parkrun I’d chosen wasn’t exactly the quickest one to get to. It was about 20 or so minutes on the tube and then a mile from the tube station. And as my train didn’t get in until 8.23am I was cutting it fine. Not only this but the tube I absolutely needed to get in order to get there in time was the 8.28 one. GAH. I could have made life so much easier on myself by choosing a parkrun that was a little closer to Waterloo, but I wanted to get another letter done for my alphabet parkrun challenge. There are no easy ‘T’s around where I live so this was perfect (I say “perfect” loosely here).

As the train pulled into the station I was like a runner at the start of an Olympic race, I was ready to go go go. As soon as the doors opened I leapt out and stormed it down to the barrier and then out down to the tube. My big bag didn’t help but I had to just move quickly. I thankfully got on the right tube and then was just left catching my breath and standing around for the next sprint. It’s amazing how stressed you can get just standing around waiting and not being able to do anything. The train arrived at almost 10 to and I raced out. I had a map screenshotted on my phone and had memorised the roads I needed to know. I saw another runner running from the tube so assumed I was in good company as they headed in the same direction as me. Though it was slightly awkward as I was running just behind them like some stalker girl.I remember running past a really nice coffee/cake shop and thinking “ooh” and then “FOCUS ANNA”. I got to the Tooting Bec Commons where the parkrun would take place and saw a number of runners. I asked one girl who was running if she was heading to parkrun and she said no. This stumped me a little as I just assume anyone running near to a parkrun would do it! Luckily though I could see a crowd of people in the distance and the welcoming signs of high-vis.I arrived with a few minutes to spare, so quickly stripped off my jacket and jumper and dumped my bag on a big canvas sheet that had been laid out especially for this purpose. I’d done a little bit of research beforehand and knew the course was flat and three laps, but also that it was narrow at points so if you wanted a speedy run you needed to be near the front. This always makes me nervous as “speedy” is so subjective. But I DID want a good time (for me) so tried to position myself in a spot that was behind the clearly very speedy types (you can always recognise them) and in front of the more casual runners. It’s a hard judgement and I was sure I’d probably get overtaken but there we go, you just have to guess!

I got my music sorted (always a requirement for a fast run for me) and then we were off. Tooting Common parkrun is run mostly on tarmac and basically in a triangle. The first bit you run down a path to get onto the “triangle” that you do three laps of. This starts as a long tarmac path, which is great for getting the speed up and finding your place in the crowd. Then you make a fairly sharp turn onto a more mud/compacted trail path. This felt *very* slightly uphill but I might be imagining it. Then you turn left again and run down a nice flat straight of tarmac. The first lap felt quite comfortable (comfortably tough I hasten to add). The second lap begun and I felt the effort of maintaining the speed (around 6.40min/miles) start to become tough. I remember starting to notice more of the course on this lap as the first lap was a complete blur. Like, oh look there’s a nice pond, a children’s play area and nice trees. The marshals, as always, were really energetic and friendly in their support. I tried to thank them all verbally or give a thumbs up as I passed – even if you’re going for a time, they deserve it because they’re standing in the cold! I also feel like they gave me a lot of cheers and support as they could see my gurning face and pain train grimace.

The third lap I managed to overtake a girl who’d been in front of me for a while but had to stop and stretch her calf, then I was on the heels of a guy who was running the same pace. He started looking behind him and then guiding me through other people and giving me the odd encouraging comment. I could barley respond. As the songs changed to the next one on my iPhone I could hear my gasping breath. Not a fun noise it must be said. I managed to drop the last lap to 6.30min/mile and was literally counting down the 0.1s to the end. I saw a girl just ahead of me ask which way to go as we finished out last lap of the triangle and saw we turned off to the right to head to the funnel. I was glad she asked as I hadn’t a clue! As I saw the funnel ahead and made my final sprint I genuinely thought I was about to hurl. That horrible, horrible feeling of almost being sick because you’re trying so hard is awful and one of the main reasons I hate short distance running. You don’t get that in a marathon (or at least the way I run a marathon!). I crossed the finishing funnel in 20:17 (but actually 20:18 officially and second female) with the contents of my stomach still thankfully inside.It took me about five solid minutes to get myself together though. I was absolutely rinsed. I was OVER THE MOON though. My third fastest parkrun (20:06 being my PB and 20:17 from Chelmsford parkrun so many years ago). I couldn’t have given anymore. But it does give me encouragement that a sub-20 minute parkrun might be achievable before the end of the year. As long as I remain uninjured and healthy!I caught my breath and then found my stuff and put my jacket back on as I started getting cold again. As I cheerfully walked back to the tube I noticed that cake shop again (called Crepes and Cakes by Nazish Omar – very nice indeed). Well, it would be rude not to! So I popped in and bought myself a very nice looking slice of rainbow cake. A little “well done me” present. I didn’t eat it then though as I wasn’t quite ready for solids yet 😉 (Actually I haven’t eaten it yet at all because of later foods. It’s safe in my freezer though for a day in need. My parkrun rainbow cake).From there I headed to Liverpool Street on the tube (smiling like a Cheshire cat, looking a bit of a loon in my short shorts it must be said). I had a bit of time before I met my friends so I scoped around for a coffee shop where I could grab a warm drink and a loo to change in. After walking around for ages – so many places closed! – I finally found somewhere that looked ideal. I was cold and really hungry by this point and saw they did fresh porridge, I was sold! Unfortunately after I ordered a coffee and the porridge I found they didn’t have a toilet. Great. Oh well.Anyway I ate the lovely steaming porridge before meeting with the first friend who’d arrived. We found a Costa and I managed to get changed there. Suitably attired for our Harry Potter themed escape room 😉 (Terrible loo selfie there, apologies).

With two more of my friends we got to the Enigma Escape Rooms for what has to be described as the most awesome escape room we’ve done yet (this was our fourth). If you like Harry Potter and like this sort of clue-based puzzle room thing it is definitely for you! It was SO much fun. You’re not actually locked in in this one, it’s more about passing the different classes (e.g. Potions, History of Magic, etc.). God it was awesome. We had put ourselves into the different houses and were wearing our corresponding t-shirts (I’m in Griffindor).We also managed to do the escape room without any clues (these rooms can actually be quite tough and in the previous ones we’ve done we’ve had to ask for help) and finished with 11 minutes to spare. We got a special little wristband thing because we didn’t need any clues and an “Outstanding” level of achievement in our overall OWL (right, I know I sound like a loser right now but I DON’T CARE).After this we headed to the Strut and Cluck where we met the final friend for a lovely lunch. I had a pulled turkey shawarma which was just delicious. It was a little small in my usual portion sizes so I ordered some bread and pita to go with it. But for normal appetites it would be fine.
Obviously an occasion like this will always require pudding so we headed to Shoreditch, not too far away, where the Boxpark is. Apparently this is the world’s first ever pop-up mall. It was very quirky. In fact, it was full of people so hipster it made my teeth hurt. Like you know if you ever walk into Topshop and you see a lot of the clothing and think “who on earth would wear this?”, well pretty much everyone in Shoreditch. It was quite a fun place to look around. It was full of quirky vegan eateries, street-food and, yes, lots of dessert spots. We first went into the Dum Dum Donutterie.After seeing so many cool artisan doughnuts on Instagram and always being so sad they’re always in London I was chuffed to finally see some amazing looking donuts. It was tough to choose but I went for the salted caramel one – I mean, technically it was a “cronut”. It was very dense.
Then, as not everyone wanted a doughnut, we headed to Nosteagia, which is a Hong Kong themed dessert bar (not sure if this is the right term but whatever) which made “bubble waffles”. Basically waffles full of deliciousness. One friend went for a Nutella one and another friend went for a peanut butter themed one, whereas I went for a honeycomb one.Yes, I know. I just couldn’t decide between the doughnut and this. In my head I was sure I’d eat half of each. Hummm.I started with the waffle which was delicious. The waffle itself wasn’t that sweet, but the ice cream, cream, popcorn and salted caramel sauce made it the ultimate pudding. After having about half I decided to try the doughnut. I’m actually not a huge doughnut fan (I really don’t like the jam-filled ones that are predominately popular in the UK) but this was no simple doughnut. It was dense and delicious, a bit like a very dense cake. SO good. (Un)fortunately though, both puddings were far too good to not eat the entirety of. I’m just far too greedy for my own good and finished them both. I’m not even mad. Life is too short to not eat the good stuff. Memories not calories 😉

And then I headed home. It was a lovely, lovely Saturday full of my favourite things 🙂

What did you get up to at the weekend?

Do you like Harry Potter? Which house would you put yourself in?

What pudding would you have gone for?

Shrewsbury parkrun – number 20 parkrun tourism

I finished work on Thursday night and was on holiday for a week and a day, woohoo! On Friday I was driving up to Bishop’s Castle with my parents (it’s just under an hour from Shrewsbury). One of the reasons Chester Marathon worked so well for me was because my parents were going to see my grandparents for the week and stay in a holiday cottage (they had the upstairs apartment and my parents had the downstairs one) and they’d invited me to join. The locations and timings worked perfectly.

What also worked perfectly was the fact that I could do another new-to-me parkrun as well on the Saturday. Though there wasn’t one in very close proximity to Bishop’s Castle, Shrewsbury wasn’t too far away. My dad was happy to drive and support me (as always, bless him). It wasn’t too early a morning either which was nice. Up at 7am and on the road by 7.30am. We got to Shrewsbury in enough time to find a car park just across the road from Quarry Park where the parkrun was located.

In my head I assumed it would look like an actual quarry but it was actually a really beautiful park with lots of trees, grass, lovely winding paths and right next to River Severn.

shrewsbury-parkrun-1The top left picture is where we parked the car just outside the church hall

It was raining and cold. Distinctly autumnal morning. I reminded myself to warm-up and did a few loops round the park. This was mainly because I was so cold and wanted to feel human again.shrewsbury-parkrun-2The parkrun crew were setting everything up and I was getting slowly more wet. I had no time goals but I wasn’t going to hold myself back. A faster paced parkrun has helped previously the day before races so I’m happy to stretch my legs, knowing I won’t be going anywhere near those paces the next day!img_0811

The course sounded a little confusing but better than a five lapper! It was one lap of the top of the park and then an out and back along the river before doing the first lap again and then back along the river to the finishing funnel. Nice and varied I thought.

The first part of the course went down a fairly steep decline which with the wet ground was a little precarious… I was slightly worried I’d slip.shrewsbury-parkrun

Photo credit: Colin Williamson

Then it was off along the flat. I felt quite comfortable with the pace I was going though annoyingly my calf was a bit tight. It seems a recurring thing for me when it gets to high mileage that my left calf starts to grumble. But it was just a mild discomfort rather than pain so I wasn’t panicking (OK that’s a lie, I will always panic when some part of my body feels anything but perfect when I near a big race but I was confident it wasn’t serious).

Then we curved back up to go past the start again. There was a fairly nasty incline (to match the previous decline I suppose) but it wasn’t too bad. It was still raining but I was feeling warmer, though my hands weren’t.img_5517My dad cheered me on and it was back down the decline and off along the river. This was lovely and flat and I gained some speed. It was a nice pace actually. Surprisingly I didn’t feel the “Omg how much longer?” pain but rather a comfortable tolerance of the pain.

It was nice knowing exactly what I had left as I came back down the path from the out-and-back. I really enjoyed the variety of the course.img_5522I’m really pleased with how I felt during this run. Albeit a slightly niggling calf, I enjoyed the burst of speed and didn’t feel like I was dying. Always a plus!img_5425

My time was 21:41 which blew my mind as I haven’t broken 22 minutes since March. The course was good it must be said but I can’t believe how comfortable it felt. A photographer was standing at the end of the finisher’s funnel so the photo he got of me was literally just after I’d finished.photo-credit-colin-williamson

Photo credit: Colin Williamson

The finishing area next to the River Severn was so picturesque, even in the rain.img_5501Then we made quick haste to get back to the car and then to find somewhere for brunch to warm-up.img_5503We found a lovely little cafe/restaurant called The Loopy Shrew (love that name) and we both ordered a English breakfast (subbing the hasbrowns for extra tomatoes because we’re so healthy ;-)).img_5526It was honestly one of the best fry-ups I’ve ever had. I love that they separated the baked beans in a little bowl as I hate beans touching my eggs. The black pudding was to die for. And the service was fantastic. The bacon was super crispy and it wasn’t swimming in a pool of grease. Lovely.

The rest of the day was fairly relaxed. We wandered around Bishop’s Castle, despite it being rather drizzly and cold. I couldn’t believe it was forecasted to be lovely and sunny the next day!img_5529And in the evening we had a nice meal in another pub (I didn’t need lunch after my mammoth breakfast!). I had a very taste starter of sardines (random I know but nice) and a goat’s cheese and sun-dried tomato salad with a side of sweet potato fries because #carbs 😉pre-marathon-mealAnd because I needed more carbs I had a brownie with ice cream for pudding. SO good.

And then it was off to bed for an early-ish night before the marathon the next day!

What’s your favourite restaurant starter?

Do you like running in the rain?

Favourite brunch foods?