Reading parkrun and the Stubbington 10k

When I did the New York Marathon in November I stayed with a bunch of girls who were just lovely. It was all arranged by Charlie, from The Runner Beans, and we had a fantastic time. Happily we’ve since kept in touch.

One of the girls, Cortney, was coming over from her home in Canada to visit so I headed up to Reading to do a little meet-up with a few of the girls. parkrun, brunch and friends – Saturday goals right there! I drove up straight from work on the Friday evening.

That evening we had a lovely girlie night at Charlie’s. Emma (from Nanny on the Run) made a delicious shepherd’s pie with a sweet potato topping. Daaamn it was good.

And we followed that with the less healthy but equally tasty Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (three different kinds! Be still my beating heart. I was a fan of the B&J’s Salted Caramel topped tub but not so huge a fan of the vegan Brownie one).

We chatted, we chilled, we ate and we watched the ever good When Harry Met Sally. It was lovely to see the girls again and properly catch-up.

The next morning we headed to the Reading parkrun. I had been tempted to run when I thought we were going to a different parkrun that I hadn’t done before (Woodley parkrun)…. but as I’d done Reading before (it was my ‘R’) and my calf was still not brilliant, I thought it best to play it safe and volunteer. Charlie was also volunteering and not running due to an injury as well. So I didn’t feel like I was missing out too much.

I was also quite chuffed because I’d been assigned the role of barcode scanner. I’ve never done that job at parkrun and was keen to tick another role off my list! I was also very chuffed for Cortney because it would be her first ever parkrun. Exciting times!

We arrived and ‘signed in’ to our posts. Cortney and Emma headed off to the start and Charlie and I got into our positions.

I was a little sad to be missing out but the other parkrun volunteers were so friendly and chatty that the time flew by and suddenly I was needed to scan the barcodes. It was MANIC. There were three of us scanning and it almost felt never-ending. Lots of people were super friendly and thanked me for my time or chatted to me but some people silently handed me the barcodes or, in a couple of instances, just pointed to their shoe making zero effort. I thought that was a little rude if I’m honest.

Some people asked how they’d done… I’ve no idea! I politely told them they’d find out later in the email. And some people, despite standing in the barcode scanning queue for a lengthy period of time still arrived at me expectantly but without anything prepared. It was quite an interesting experience it must be said. Eventually the buzz died down and I was able to relax a bit. Whew!

A lovely blog reader came and introduced herself to me. It honestly made my morning to hear about her running achievements and goals and that I’d had a little influence on it. I felt very touched. Sometimes it can feel like you’re writing into a void and no one is really listening but to hear from someone I don’t know who does read my random ramblings is just the loveliest thing.

Cortney and Emma did really well and it sounded like they both enjoyed it. Then we headed off for the essential refuel. Volunteering is hard work too! We went to Cafe Yolk, which is a small but very cute little cafe in Reading.

Unsurprisingly I ordered the full English, while the other three girls ordered avocado and eggs on toast. Probably the far healthier option but I’m fairly stuck in my ways and adore a fry-up. It was a rather posh looking fry-up so at least there’s that…

Then we headed for breakfast pudding of course. We originally went to one spot but their cake selection was not up to our high standards and so we headed next door to The Flowering Teapot instead. Now let me tell you, they were fantastic!

All homemade cakes, homemade bread… the whole shabang. The guy behind the counter was so helpful and friendly. Emma asked if there were any vegan cakes and he said there was a carrot cake being finished in the back so we waited for that (the owner who was finishing it said she’d be super quick for us which was lovely). While we waited the guy cut us a bit of the millionaire shortbread to nibble on. I mean, how good is that?

I went for the millionaire shortbread in the end because it was so good. We took our cakes and had a cup of tea at Charlie’s with them. A lovely way to end a lovely meet up!

The next day was the Stubbington 10k. This race literally runs past my house. It starts about a 5 minute walk up the road, and finishes about 15 minutes walk away so it’s super local and convenient. Sadly though I continued to be sensible and decided not to run. However, Kyle was.

He’s never run an official 10k race so I was quite excited for him. I detest 10ks so realistically I wasn’t too sad to miss the race but I was sad not to be running with Kyle and experiencing it with him. Instead, I would be walking to the 9k marker with my dad and Alfie in order to help cheer him. It would also be a nice walk for the three of us.

For whatever reason (probably entirely down to me being me) we thought the race started at 9.30am. I told Kyle he could easily leave the house at 9.15am and get to the start in enough time. My dad and I would need to leave just before 9am to walk the 2+ miles to the 9k marker, meaning we’d be there in time (9.35ish for Kyle to run past). Perfectly under control, nicely planned, we are amazing.

Except as my dad and me were 20 minutes up the road my mum rung to say the race actually started at 10am so Kyle and her were going to sit in a coffee shop for a bit to waste some time. Ah. Classic Anna.

This meant my dad and I were quite early and decided to go find our own coffee shop for a quick drink before heading to the spot. Not too bad considering – I mean, it’s not like we were late! That would have been a lot worse.

Around 10.20am the first runners started passing through and we cheered them on. I saw lots of friends, people I knew and people from my running club so it was good fun. However I do have silly panic moments where despite fully knowing these people I never seem to remember names!! Something about seeing people running just makes my mind go blank. Bit embarrassing but there we go.

Then Kyle ran past (I managed to remember his name ;-)). Then my dad and me quick marched to the finish to catch him afterwards. He’d done a fantastic time of 42:59 – just scraping under the 43 minute mark! Very jammy. And so fast! I remember for my first 10k I did 43:34. Clearly Kyle is going to be super fast in the future considering he hasn’t been running for long! He definitely has a lot more to give.

He mentioned he much prefers the shorter distances to the marathons. I can understand that (though I personally don’t have that preference, obviously). I think Kyle will do well in all distances but I think he’ll probably focus more on the shorter stuff.

Though I’m sad he doesn’t share the same marathon love I do, it does make it a little more interesting for us! I can happily support those shorter distances (I think I get the easier deal here hehe).

What distance do you prefer to race?

What parkrun volunteering role haven’t you done yet but would like to?

Do like to volunteer when you’re injured/not running?

Double parkrun – Havant and QECP

One thing I love about the festive period is the chance to rack up quite a few more parkruns than you ordinarily would be able to.

There’s the Christmas day parkrun AND the double New Year’s Day parkrun, on top of the usual Saturday ones. Three bonus ones! In total, five parkruns within two weeks. Pretty good going.

Last year I was sadly unable to do the double day on NY because I was slightly injured (or at least, I was being sensible and not aggravating a niggle). Instead I plunged myself into the sea – a horrific but weirdly fun experience. I have to say, I was glad to give it a swerve this year!

As I was staying over Kyle’s for New Year’s Eve it made sense to go to his local parkruns rather than drive over 40 minutes to get to Netley (and then proceed to Southampton for the double). Havant parkrun is literally just round the corner, and then QECP a mere 10 minute drive from there. It made sense.

New Year’s Eve itself was good fun. Kyle has a large family and we played lots of games (if you’ve never played Doble you really must, it’s brilliant) and ate lots of good food. I had a takeaway kebab and chicken wings, I was in heaven.

So after a rather late night the alarm going off at 8.20am was bad enough! But Kyle and I got ourselves together, drove to Staunton Country Park, where the Havant parkrun happens and ambled to the start.

We were somewhat shocked to find that the parkrun had already begun (by my watch, a good 2 minutes early!). Usually you can count on Havant waffling for a bit and not actually starting on time… but I guess people were keen to get to the next parkrun on time. This did mean that I had to rip my coat off and throw it to a nearby tree and we had to start running straight away. To be honest, it was all a bit of a fluster! I was only asleep less than an hour ago…what a wake up!

Havant parkrun is a tough course. Not only is it uphill most of the way (albeit gently, but it’s there) with quite a sharp and scary downhill section (there’s even a sign to warn you) but the stony ground is very uneven so it takes a lot of concentration to keep you from losing your footing or doing your ankle over.

The weather was cold, crisp and dry so this was a relief (especially as the entirely off-road QECP was next). We spent the first mile pretty much overtaking and winding as we were some of the few who started late. Then on mile two we got into a nice rhythm. I saw a few people I knew from my running club which was nice!

It’s two and a bit laps so it does go fairly quickly (mentally at least) and on the final stretch we pushed the pace and had a tasty sprint finish. Whew! Our times were identical at 25:16, (though my watch time was 24:55). One down, one to go.

There was no great rush to zoom over to QECP as the 2nd parkrun didn’t start until 10.30am and the journey was super short. However there was a long queue to get into the car park. We parked and got ourselves together and had a far more leisurely start than Havant, chatting to people I knew and trying to keep warm. Usually QECP attracts around 100 or so runners, but today it was over 400 and it was practically buzzing!

Though Kyle and I had run together at Havant we decided to do our own thing for this parkrun. And being so busy it would be tricky to run easily together. The first section of the course is a bit mental: you run straight uphill which is an absolute GRIND. Then you turn the corner and run immediately downhill at rather breakneck speed. The course is pretty much entirely on grassy tracks and a good chunk you’re either running uphill or downhill. It’s not for the faint of heart.

I found my legs were far more into running at this point than they were for Havant. I’ve been trying hard to let myself go a bit more during the downhills – basically allow gravity to do a bit more of the work rather than working against it and breaking as I go down. I found myself flying past the more cautious runners and used the momentum to carry me along the flatter and then uphill sections.

I embraced the horrendous uphill on the second lap once again and kept pushing. I was shocked to see a 5.30min/mile as I rocketed downhill – which obviously quickly disappeared as soon as I got to flatter sections. But hey, it was cool to briefly see! Finally I got to the long, slightly inclined, finally straight and pushed to a 23:03 finish. Hurrah!

Kyle finished just behind at 24:33. I found it somewhat amusing that a young girl almost overtook him at the finish-line because compared to Kyle’s 6ft3 she looked positively miniature 😉

We were both very chuffed to have gotten the double parkrun done and felt immensely satisfied at starting 2019 in such a positive way. This year I hope to get more parkrun tourism completed, but also continue to go to Netley as well. I feel I’ve neglected it a bit recently and I do miss it when I don’t go for a while – mainly the people of course, not necessarily those hills on the winter course!

Did you do the double NY parkrun?

Do you like to do more parkrun tourism or stick to your home one?

How did you celebrate New Year’s Eve?

Christmas parkrun and all the trimmings

I think Christmas is probably my favourite time of year. I don’t care that it’s usually cold, dark and miserable.

I just love the festive cheer, the music, the happiness and of course the food. As if I need anymore of an excuse to eat silly amounts of chocolate, cake and roast dinners. It’s all part and parcel of the good times.

I also love doing parkrun on Christmas day. It’s kind of a non-negotiable thing for me (unless I’m injured and feeling thoroughly bitter and sad about not being able to run). To me there is nothing better than starting the festive fun with going to parkrun, seeing my friends and having a 5k bimble. Who cares about paces or PB’s, it’s all about the fun and the people (arguably, this is all parkrun should ever be about really).

I got there early to help set the course up. I’ve recently been slacking in this department. I would say “unfortunately” but realistically life has gotten in the way – and in a very good way. Sometimes parkrun has to take a backseat! I love to wear a bit of a fancy dress for the Christmas parkrun and having used my elf outfit last year and my “sort of Santa” outfit a couple of years, I needed to spruce things up.Anyone who knows me knows I’m very bad at arts and crafts and I’m not that creative, so when I came up with my tinsel outfit and actually made it myself I was SO proud. I got so many compliments as well! It cost me NOTHING as well as we had the tinsel and safety pins already (I knew there was a reason I was saving all those pins from races!).As I’d only run the marathon a couple of days before, and my legs were really tired and achy (all that slipping and sliding and a faster pace than anticipated) I wasn’t expecting anything more than a proper slog.Happily my friend Mike offered to run with me which was nice. We could just plod around and chat. I also saw my super fast and amazing doctor friend, Jo, beforehand which was lovely. We seem to only catch each other very occasionally (she’s a doctor up North while her parents are down South) so it’s always lovely to see her, though we keep in touch through the wonders of social media.My legs felt like bricks. And actually I felt very unfit in general. My breathing was struggling and it was just felt very hardwork. I was grateful for Mike taking pity on me and staying with me. It’s amazing how one day you can be flying and the next you can feel like you can barely run.

It was very muddy and the finishing straight was somewhat precarious – no sprint finishing unless you wanted to go head over heels! My time was 24:39, which considering how I felt and the state of my legs I will happily take!Then it was a case of quickly clearing up the course and getting home to start the Christmas celebration with my family.

Christmas with my family is usually quite chaotic and, well, manic. I have a small family but it still manages to be very busy, loud and crazy. We’re not particularly organised so when Christmas dinner cooking happens it can be quite stressful. I usually help my dad and my mum sorts out table settings and things like that (it’s best for everyone she doesn’t get involved in the cooking ;-)).

Anyway, due to some good forward thinking the day before and writing a list of all the different things we needed to cook with their timings, we were fully on the ball. We’d vaguely said 1pm sounded like a good time to eat and I kid you not, two minutes to 1pm saw us all sitting down to eat! WHAT.For the starter, my dad made these delicious roasted cabbage, goat’s cheese and bacon things… so good!Then for main we had the turkey and full trimmings. One of my favourite meals of the year!Yes I realise broad beans are a weird addition but it’s a fun family tradition to include them (hilarious I know… *cough*). I’m not a potato fan, but there were roast potatoes on offer I assure you 😉 I’m very much a stuffing, parsnip and pigs in blankets fan though!

The rest of Christmas was spent playing games with my family, walking (I love a Christmas Day walk!) and then heading to Kyle’s to do much the same. I’m very pleased that I have the stomach capacity to do round two of ALL THE FOOD 😉Kyle’s mum did an AMAZING buffet spread (bless her, she’d done buffalo chicken wings especially for me). The above plate was plate one of many! I also had some cake pops made by Kyle’s lovely sister Lucy followed by silly amounts of chocolate lebkuchen.I got so many lovely presents from Kyle’s family, and of course Kyle. I was OVER THE MOON to have received a Nintendo Switch from Kyle, which I’m now fully addicted to (Crash Bandicoot, how I’ve missed you). We also played a Friends Trivia game which was ridiculously difficult – I mean, we thought we knew Friends but clearly not well enough (who even remembers what WENUS stands for??).

On Boxing Day we headed to Kyle’s dad for even more food.Gammon, beef, pork, turkey… I was in heaven.

Christmas is definitely my favourite time of year. Spending quality time with your family, playing games, watching films and eating silly amounts of food. It’s just the best time of year. Spending it with Kyle as well was really lovely. I’m very glad that we both get on so well with each other’s families – something that is very important to the both of us.

Here’s to many more fun Christmases ahead!

How did you spend Christmas?

What#s your favourite Christmas food?

Did you do a Christmas parkrun?

What I’m loving lately – November

Things lately have been really good. Life in general is going well – I’m happy and enjoying life. Work is going well. And running is still going well.

Running: This year has been so good for my running. Whatever I’ve been doing has clearly been working because not only have I been consistently running but I’ve been running strong. I feel in a very positive place – I can only hope this lasts!

Last week I ran another fast 10k (42 mins flat – my official PB is 42:50) on a random lunchtime run.The colder weather definitely helps me to run faster and the 10k route I take is super flat so this helps. I should probably do a 10k race and give it some welly to make it official (as I’ve now beaten my official PB twice on a training run). But at the same time, I don’t want to enter a 10k race this side of Christmas before my next marathon… aaaaand I hate 10ks. Though I do have Stubbington 10k mid-January. Not really a goal in my head though if I’m honest. I’m just happy to know I’m a bit faster.

parkrun Alphabet Challenge: After completing the challenge, Kyle surprised me with a very lovely present. He had a hoodie made with all the corresponding parkruns typed out and the date which I’d first done that parkrun (as for some I’d done multiple times). He even put a heart on Netley because it was my home parkrun. And he made sure to choose parkruns that were meaningful to me where I had multiple choices for the letters.I also liked the front. It was a very thoughtful and lovely gift. I wore it with pride at Netley parkrun the week after I got back from Zary. Everyone was impressed 🙂 It’s a niche challenge, I grant you, but I’m so proud of myself and it’s so nice to have something to commemorate it.Compression socks: I was recently sent some compression socks from Rymora Socks. I’m a big fan of compression socks.I wear them for the majority of my long runs and have worn them for every single marathon. There’s some science to support that wearing compression socks after running can help speed up recovery (increase the blood flow and reduce stiffness) but in terms of during the run, the jury is out.However, I personally like to wear them during long runs as I find it reduces cramp and I feel more supported. This might all be a placebo but I like to wear them. I think it helps.Anyway, the compression socks from Rymora are good. They’re tight and provide decent support to my calves. However, they are not as tight or give as much compression as my favourite pair from CEP. I think the cost reflects this (CEP are upwards of £30 whereas Rymora are around £10). That said, some people prefer less compression. They’re also A LOT easier to get off after the run – which with my CEP socks can be an absolute nightmare.The Rymora socks are a little long for me as well. They come just over my knees. But nothing that a bit of rolling down doesn’t solve. All in all, a very affordable option for a “milder” pair of compression socks.

Metal straw: I’m not the best at avoiding plastic, I will admit that now. I buy a lot of squash and fizzy drinks throughout the month. It’s hard to reduce something like squash that I really enjoy because asides from just having plain water, there’s not much else I can do to jazz it up that doesn’t involve plastic. Yes I could use bits of fruit but it really isn’t the same for me. I could get those little squirty things for flavour enhancing but they’re not as good either and I go through them quite quickly.

But I have bought myself a metal straw. Kyle and I go to the cinema a lot and we always buy a drink from their fountain machine thing. So we bring our straws with us. Yes this is SUCH a small thing, but it helps in a very small way. We also use them at work if we buy a Subway drink. It is a tricky thing to clean though!

I used to use straws in my morning coffee as well. I always have a coffee on the way to the gym (I make at home) and a straw helped me drink it while I was driving without having to avert my gaze from the road (I would use one straw for as long as possible FYI – I didn’t use a new one every day!). Now I use my metal straw. Though I’ve burnt my lips a few times!I know I need to get better and I annoy myself for what I’m like. I do like to think I’m good in other ways though. I don’t use baby wipes, I don’t wear make-up, I use the “hard” shampoo from Lush, I buy loose fruit and vegetables where I can and try not to buy too many fizzy drinks in small bottles. I know I have a long way to go but at least I’m conscious of my actions. I just wish society also made things easier as well. Excuses, excuses I know.

Are you doing anything to reduce the plastic you use?

Do you wear compression socks?

Have you ever received a running-related gift?

**Full disclaimer: I was sent the Rymora socks in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own honest ones.**

Zary parkrun

When I first decided to fully embrace the parkrun Alphabet Challenge I quickly realised it would not be an easy thing to accomplish. Well, easy in terms of it’s just a series of 5k runs you complete over a period of time, no closer together than a week. But logistically it’s a lot more tricky.

The only letter I had left was the infamous Z. I mean technically I still have X left, but so does everyone else. A parkrun beginning with the letter X does not exist… YET. So for the moment, I just had Z. And the easiest and most cost-effective location to achieve this was Poland (otherwise it’s New Zealand or South Africa). So hence why I found myself in Zary, Poland.Saturday morning Kyle and I woke up at the not too early time of 8am. Happily our hotel (ApartHotel) was located just ten minutes away from the parkrun. We decided to give ourselves a decent window though in case something happened (likely another Anna-related incident of some sort). But I’d Google Earthed the location, I knew exactly how to get there and I was feeling confident.So at 8.30am we headed out and 8.40am we had arrived in the correct car park staring at the parkrun flag. WE HAD MADE IT.It was quite chilly, though thankfully not raining, so we decided to stay in the warm car for a little longer as there weren’t that many people there yet.By absolute amazing chance we happened to be there the weekend Poland was celebrating their 100th anniversary of independence, and to celebrate (we had to translate their Facebook page to find this out) they had encouraged people to come dressed in white and red.As we only found this out the evening before we were a bit stuck with what we had packed and neither of us had anything white or red so sadly we could only observe the celebrations rather than fully join in. We saw people arrived, and pretty much all of them wearing something red and/or white and with hats and flags. It was fantastic!They had music going (basically a loop of the Star Wars bar scene) and a very festive and friendly atmosphere. It quickly became apparently though that we were the least dressed in our t-shirts and shorts. Everyone else was wearing leggings. A girl looked at me, sort of laughed (in a nice way), pointing to my legs and said something in Polish. I assume she said something like, “why on earth are you wearing shorts? Aren’t you cold, you weirdo!”.We had a big group photo which was nice to be involved in (photo above from their Facebook page). It felt a little bit awkward being there and not being able to speak Polish – a bit like outsiders coming in to a community! But we didn’t feel unwelcome, just a bit bewildered.

I was a bit chilly but it wasn’t nearly *that* bad. I was actually fine in my shorts! What was cool was on the map for the park area we were going to be running through the parkrun course was written up and (I assume) explained in more detail on a proper board that remained there all the time.After more people had arrived a woman led a warm-up. There were lots of squats, lunges and things like that. Everyone got involved – including us of course.I spotted a little Westie running around the place and I tried to make friends but it was too busy dashing around. It was very cute (he/she who knows!).And then we made our way to the start. I’d already got an idea of what the course would be like from my parkrun friend Paul Jeffrey’s blog so I knew it would be completely off-road, slightly undulating and tricky underfoot. No PB attempts today 😉We headed off to the start. There weren’t a huge number of people (80 in total) so I shuffled near the front. And then we were off!The course was beautiful. As you can see in the pictures it was very misty and eerie looking which made it even more pretty as it contrasted with the colours of the trees and the leaves on the ground.I found myself quite near the front as we spread out. I was about fourth and hanging on nicely to the chaps in front of me. The lead runner was miles ahead though never to be seen again (he did 17:24!). There were no marshals on the route but the route was marked clearly with the long tape and signs on the trees.I just followed the guys in front. I wanted to push myself that morning and try and go for a faster time but it was tough work on the uneven ground and the slightly undulating course. I was enjoying myself though. The course was basically all through the wooded area on a rough trail. It was lovely.I managed to overtake one guy just ahead before the finish and snag myself into 3rd place (never been so high in positioning before!). There was a final little hill and then a nice decline back the way we’d come (the whole course was one loop which is always a nice change) and then went past the timekeeper who handed me my token – no finish funnel as such. My time was 21:40 – not too shabby! Kyle came in in 9th in 23:16. He took it a bit more leisurely and stopped to take some photos (he’s still being very cautious about his previous shin injury – though it does seem to be fine now thankfully).At the end we were given a bag of those really yummy soft gingerbread biscuits, Polish flags and mugs. It was lovely! I tried to tell the Run Director that we’d come from England and we had really enjoyed it and while she didn’t seem to fully understand (likewise me to her Polish!) she smiled and nodded.The man I’d overtaken at the end came up to me and shook my hand. We managed to bumble through swapping names and ages (using our hands!). He was 65 and looked very happy that he was just behind a 30 year old, bless him.

Then we headed off back to the hotel. I was so chuffed to have done the parkrun. SO chuffed. Finally complete, woohoo! We showered, checked-out and then headed to a nearby little restaurant for breakfast (basically I Googled restaurants that would do Polish breakfast and handily there was a quaint one a short walk away). It was a lovely restaurant, buy very quiet.We ordered a set breakfast and then you could add on an item to it from a list. Kyle chose pancakes whereas I chose sausages.We got bread, jam, honey, butter, pate, cheese and salad bits. It was delicious. My sausages were so good as well (they had a bit of a smokey taste to them).Kyle said his pancakes, which were very much more European style pancakes than American ones, were overly sweet but nice. Just a bit too sweet for first thing!Then we headed outside to wander around Zary a bit more before we needed to drive back to Berlin to catch our flight.There wasn’t a great amount to see, as Zary was a small quiet town but there were flags everywhere celebrating the 100 years of independence.We had a lovely coffee in a little cafe and then headed back on the road. Zary was lovely and I am beyond pleased to have compelted the parkrun Alphabet Challenge. I had so much fun going to different parkruns all over the place, exploring new areas, seeing friends and just having a great time. I will definitely be continuing my tourism, but I need to think of a new challenge!

Are you doing the Alphabet Challenge?

Do you like to do challenges like this?