Dartford parkrun

The one with the moves like Jagger. My latest parkrun adventure sees me again back on the alphabet hunt. For those that don't know alphabeteering is a thing that some parkrun tourists do to help them decide on where to go next. The idea is to complete a parkrun for every letter of the alphabet, apart from X as there currently isn't one. I've got a few left to go to complete the collection, I, J, V, X, Y and Z. Inverness is the only one booked in so far as I'm entered into the Loch Ness marathon, two birds and all that.

  • I – Inverness
  • J – Jersey
  • V – Valentines
  • X – N/A
  • Y – Yeovil Montacute
  • Z – Zary, Poland

This week it was time to collect a D, there were a couple of options available, Didcot was one, as was Dulwich, but these were put to one side in favour of Dartford.

Dartford parkrun is held in Central Park (DA1 1JP for the satnav) which is located just behind the leisure centre. There is plenty of free parking available at the park, which also houses the athletics track and clubhouse, which conveniently sells hot and cold drinks, snacks and ice creams! There are also toilets in the park that are open to the public. So Central Park ticks all the boxes for facilities, parking, toilets, cafe, running track, leisure centre, everything you need for a parkrun and more, but what's it like?

The course consists of a little loop, followed by two big loops and takes you on a little journey around the park. This gives you a bit of everything, a bit of flat tarmac path to run along, some undulating grass to navigate, a wooden bridge to cross, a muddy hill to power up, a flat playing field to traverse, sculptured gardens with a bandstand and a troll bridge to run through and more besides. You could say it's a bit of a varied course. During the summer months road shoes are fine though I'm guessing when the winter sets in and things start getting a bit damper, light or intermediate trail shoes would be a must, especially for the off road hill section.

There is a first timers brief that explains the course in more detail so nothing to worry about on that front. The course is easy enough to follow and the key turns are well marshalled. It's not a flat course with 108ft of elevation over the entirity of the 5k route, but it's not what I'd class as hilly either. As a first timer it was one of those courses where you just didn't know what was going to be next. There were buggy runners and CaniX runners too. The start is quite wide but soon squishes in but it's not overly congested, the 200 or so runners soon thin out and it's pretty easy to open up and settle in to your own pace. The off road hill is mostly single file but not really the best place on the course for overtaking, but there are plenty of other opportunities to do so.

The finish funnel is well supported and the two scanners process the finishers in short shrift. It's a nice social affair with plenty of people hanging around afterwards for coffee and a chat next to the athletics track. This is obviously recommended as it's an essential part of the parkrun experience. As is, in my humble opinion, having an ice cream, the cafe had quite possibly the smallest Cornettos I've had to date, Smarties ones. They may have been small but quite delicious and it was lovely to sit by the athletics track watching athletes warming up and training whilst eating them.

I'd also highly recommend having a wander round the park after you're done socialising as there's quite a bit more to it that the run doesn't touch on. We went for a wander afterwards and found a life size sculpture of Mick Jagger, who was born and went to school in Dartford. There was a competition at Dartford Grammar School to design the bench and statue, this is the end result. Mick striking a pose, complete with Vox amplifier.

There is also a lovely tunnel to walk through that pipes out classical music 24/7, the Princes Tunnel. This takes you through to the lake. If you have the time it is well worth exploring further, it appears to be quite popular with walkers and runners alike. In fact check out the website for more information.

I'm genuinely quite surprised about Dartford parkrun, it has a bit of everything for everyone and surpassed my expectations. After we were done wandering around we popped into the leisure centre and had a shower as well before heading off to the nearby Chislehurst Caves. It was nice not having to explore the caves 'parkrun fresh'.

Thank you to everyone at Dartford parkrun for being so welcoming, with a special thanks to local Ian Childs for being a gracious host and guide, much appreciated, thank you Ian. I had hoped to bump into fellow parkrun tourist and blogger Stephen Stockwell of blog7t, I love his blogs and they are a bit of a go to resource for parkruns I'm visiting to get the lowdown before the journey is made. Well worth checking out his site and bookmarking it for future reference.

Next week I think it might be a trip to Henley On Thames having spoken to friends who have recently visited it, sounds like a lot of fun.

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Guildford parkrun

The one with the omen! Today's a big day of running, it's not just parkrunday but also the day of the Gravel Hill 5 and the midnight marathon, there's some special folk out there who seem to think it's a good idea to do all 3 events. It's certainly going to be a long day for some. I've chosen Guildford parkrun this week to kick off this challenge. It doesn't feel like I've been touring much of late so it's nice to visit both a new course and tick off a new letter in my quest to tick off all letters in the alphabet. With a G now done that leaves me with just 6 letters left to collect.

  • D – Didcot/Dartford
  • I – Ipswich/Inverness
  • J – Jersey
  • V – Valentines
  • Y – Yeovil Montacute
  • Z – Zary, Poland

Guildford is also my nearest event not yet done #nenyd and is only 35 miles away. It's my 43rd different parkrun course and my 85th parkrun, not long until I reach 50 different venues. Who would have thought I'd have got the bug this bad, I used to think parkrun wasn't for me and here we are a couple of years later a complete addict and parkrun tourist!

Back to business, Guildford parkrun is a pretty well established parkrun, this is their 268th event and they regularly draw in 500 people! It's an undulating course by all accounts, but nothing brutal on the hill front. It's got an overall elevation of 191ft, checking out the parkrun elevations site to see how it ranks it's the 370th flattest out of 458 that have profiles loaded. I should have really chosen a much flatter course given I've got a hilly marathon in the evening but I've never been known for wise decisions! It's really easy to get to, I'd programmed the Guildford Spectrum into the sat nav and took full advantage of the free parking there. It's only a short walk across the road from there to the start.

The start/finish area is over by Burchatt's Farm Barn, they have a small PA system and a few tables set up here for the run brief and post run scanning. There is also some hard standing where you can leave your coats/jackets, at your own risk obviously. I believe there are also toilets available here, I'd used the ones at the sports centre. This is where the first timers brief and the main run brief takes place. This was the first parkrun I've been to where they read out the volunteers names one by one for everybody to applaud, which was quite a nice touch.

It's a two lap course anti-clockwise around Stoke Park and is mainly run on grass. It's got a nice wide start before you filter down into a smaller procession. If you want a fast get away then get yourself over to one side and near the front or you will get caught up in weight of numbers. You head off across the gently undulating park in the direction of the Guildford Cathedral, which is quite nicely framed between the trees, much like Windsor Castle if you ever visit Upton Court parkrun, only difference here being that I actually noticed the cathedral! It's an imposing structure and one that many will recognise from The Omen. Fortunately for me there were no bad omens today and I had a very enjoyable run.

No less than 417 people completed Guildford parkrun, 57 of those were running there for the first time, 31 of them on their first ever parkrun. Out of the 26 tourists there were a couple there that I knew, Nikki and Dean, who were just on their way home from their overnight stint marshalling at Centurion Running's NDW100, a 100 mile race over the North Downs Way. We also got chatting with another tourist, Paul, who had driven down from Abingdon, the cow cowl once again a conversation starter.

The whole atmosphere at Guildford was fantastic from start to finish, which is impressive for a run this size. The volunteers were all so friendly and welcoming. I didn't get the chaos name but the volunteer pictured with us below was one of the loudest and most encouraging marshals I've encountered during my travels. He'd been positioned on the first uphill section and belted out support non-stop.

As we'd introduced ourselves as tourists to the team at the start we'd been warmly invited to join them after for that all important post run coffee. The team head off to the nearby bowls club and use the facilities there. One thing to note is that everyone takes their trainers off when they go in as they don't like muddy/grassy trainers being worn inside. I don't know why but this tickled me, it felt quite endearing. I had a lovely bacon and egg roll and coffee followed by a mint Cornetto. I managed to persuade a couple of others to join me in this essential post parkrun tradition #parkruncornetto

Thank you Guildford parkrun for such a lovely welcome and a nice run around the park. The park really is quite an impressive open space, it's huge with lots for the family to do including a tree top climbing zone. It's well worth a visit.

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Whiteley parkrun

The one with the ice cream shop! Whiteley parkrun has been on my to do list since it started back on the 1st April this year. It's arrival into the parkrun world meant that I had no longer done every single Hampshire parkrun, sad eh? For those that might be remotely interested in chasing this dream there are currently 18 parkrun events in Hampshire. They are Alice Holt, Andover, Basingstoke, Brockenhurst, Eastleigh, Fareham, Havant, Lee-on-the-Solent, Lymington Woodside, Medina IOW(yes, I know, it's not Hampshire but some people think it should be included in the list…), Netley Abbey, Portsmouth Lakeside, Queen Elizabeth, Rushmoor, Southampton, Southsea, Whiteley and Winchester. Clearly this was something that had to be rectified and finally on their 17th week of running I managed to make it along to become 'Hampshire Done' again. Not sure how long this will be for as there are some rumblings and rumours of a couple of new ones being proposed and discussed. It will be interesting to see where else will get a parkrun. Behold and admire my Google map of parkrun geekdom..!

Whiteley is the 42nd different location I've attended in the 84 parkruns I've completed. Just 8 more to go to reach cow status, potentially before I reach my 100 milestone run.

So, Whiteley parkrun then, it's located right next to the Whiteley Shopping Centre (PO15 7PD) and is incredibly easy to get to. There is an absolute abundance of parking with the Brucey bonus of the first 4 hours being free of charge. Ideal if you want to do a little bit of shopping after your run or grab the all essential post run coffee, you don't have to rush. There are also toilets available at the shopping centre and the leisure centre, always useful to know! As always, I got there with plenty of time to spare and grabbed a pre-run coffee in Starbucks, I was pleasantly surprised to be given a parkrun discount there. I'd not explicitely mentioned that I was doing parkrun, but I guess the apricot shirt with parkrun emblazened across the front of it might have been a bit of a telling clue. Nice!

The parkrun starts behind the Meadowside Leisure Centre round by the skate park and the five a side footy pitch. For first timers and tourists there is a separate brief to give you the low down on this three lap course. It's a mainly tarmac pavement affair, with a little bit of grassy trail to run on at the turning point. It's a road shoe course. It is also suitable for both buggies and dogs, but not dogs in buggies as that would just be a little bit weird. It's really pretty flat in the grand scheme of things, but there is a very gentle hill.

As it's a three lapper there is an etiquette that you will need to follow so as not to hinder any faster runners, there are also other park users to be aware of.

During the run participants must keep to the right of the path at all times to ensure any oncoming runners will pass on their left.

As with most parkruns the start can be a bit congested so please consider your pace when lining up to start. Yes yes I know you are entitled to start wherever you want as it's a run not a race, but really if you're in the wrong place it can be a hazard and nobody wants to do paperwork on a Saturday morning. It's really not a big deal just think about safety first and why you're there, it's about enjoyment, health, fitness, social and so much more. #loveparkrun

There's a nice focal point for the RD to stand on and deliver his run brief, as always people's respect and attention during the brief is very much appreciated. Those conversations can wait for a couple of minutes whilst the announcements are made. Once that's out of the way and the volunteers are thanked it's time to get down to business.

I've never really been a fan of 3 or more lapped parkruns but it works quite well at Whiteley. I kinda liked trying to get round and onto the 3rd lap before getting lapped by the lead runner. You can see their progress around the course due to the way it's laid out and the out and back nature of it. It's also well marshalled with volunteers positioned in all the right places. Don't forget a nice loud "thank you marshal" as you pass, they are fantastic and deserve a platitude or two. It's also quite good for pacing, once you've got the first lap out of the way you know just how far you have to run and where and when to push on.

The finish area is well supported with a lot of runners hanging around at the end to cheer others in. That's one thing that I felt at Whiteley is there's a nice community spirit there, it was very friendly. Afterwards there are so many places to chose from for some post run refreshment, Starbucks, Costa, Harvester, there's an ice cream shop too!!!!

The volunteers seem to mainly end up in Costa where the results are processed, tokens sorted and post run conversations are held with gusto. It's well worth popping along after, apres-parkrun refreshment IS all part of the parkrun experience after all.

A big thank you to everyone involved in making Whiteley parkrun happen each week. It's a great asset to the local community.

Next week I'm either going to tick off another letter on my quest to collect all letters of the alphabet (except X as there isn't one yet) or just another location. Guildford is a possibility as I haven't got a G, though Horsham would see me complete all the West Sussex parkruns.

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‘Ox 50’ by Tattoo Incorporated

On the 5th May 2017 I pushed the limits of both my physical and mental boundaries. I did something that only a small percentage of the population can stick their hands up and say “yes, I’ve done that”. I ran a distance that a lot of people consider to be a long drive. I ran a 50 mile race. Now let me tell you something, 50 miles is quite a long way, especially on foot! It’s very nearly two marathons back to back, and most people think just one of them is a long way. It took me and my friend Jenny just over 12 hours to complete the challenge laid on by White Star Running. The amazing Ox 50.

The Ox races have a Mexican theme behind them even though they are held in deepest darkest Tollard Royal in Wiltshire. The whole event has quite the party atmosphere, lots of costumes, the love station, buffet food, alcohol and completely bonkers people. You do have to be a bit special to think that running 50 miles is a good idea. White Star Running do cater for this sort of lunacy with gusto. They also create some fantastic looking medals and race merchandise. I ran not just one race, but three races that weekend totally 100km in distance and picked up a fair haul. I really love the medals and the finishers shirt is probably my most worn technical top outside of my Apricot parkrun top, check it out.

Now, I’ve been wanting to get a new tattoo for years but could never think of what to have done. I was never ever happy with the tattoo I had on my left arm and wanted it covered up but could never think what to have. For in the region of 13 years I wanted to do have a cover up done but could never go that step further. I wanted a bespoke tattoo that had memories and meaning behind it. Something special to me. I had thought to do something to commemorate my first marathon but was never inspired enough, likewise for my first 50k ultramarathon. This however was my first big ultramarathon, a 50 miler and the theme was perfect. As I’d been looking at getting a tattoo for ages I had already picked out a tattoo artist and studio where I was going to have it done. The Monday after the Ox weekend I hobbled in on weary legs to meet Stuart Walker of Tattoo Incorporated for the first time, discussed my ideas, showed him all the race paraphernalia and booked my appointment. Stuart’s studio is popular and the earliest appointment I could have was two months later in July. A deposit was paid and the date was set in stone.

Two months on from the first meeting an initial design had been formulated from the ideas we’d discussed. Some slight tweaks were done to the drawing above and we were ready to go. Size wise Stuart had got it right on the money, it took a couple of attempts to get it positioned where we thought best and to still cover up as much of the original tattoo as possible. Colour wise I was going ‘greyscale’ leaving it open for colouring at a later date should I so desire. I had been a bit nervous about pain management, which is silly really considering I run marathons for fun, but I have been told that I have a tendency to overthink things! Off to google it was to do a bit of research around this…

These were the 5 tattoo top tips I found for pain management

  • Have a big breakfast – your body needs fuel as you will burn through calories whilst sitting there being tattooed.
  • Get a good nights sleep – sleep is so important for everything, being well rested makes everything better.
  • Stay hydrated – just like running, it is important to stay hydrated, helps keep the skin supple.
  • Stay calm and relaxed – just relax and let it happen, tense up and it’s going to hurt more, don’t fidget!
  • Stay chatty and friendly – time passes way quicker when you’re having a laugh and a joke about life in general.

Enjoy the experience – sounds silly I know, but enjoy it, think about why you’re having it done. 

Stuart worked pretty much solidly for two and a half hours on the piece. We had very few breaks and just cracked on with it. This also helped with pain management in my opinion. Once I’d got through the first ten minutes it just became something that was going on whilst we were chatting. It was all very bearable, the odd tender spot here and there but nothing to complain about. We had a little break once the outline had been done so Stuart and I could stand up and stretch our legs for a couple of minutes.

The couple of minutes break was great to stand up and have a look at progress in the mirror, though starting back in again after with the shading was initially a bit sore and tender but soon got back into the groove.

I have to say I’m impressed with the speed in which Stuart worked. Start to finish was around two and a half hours. We talked about everything in that time from what on earth possessed me to run 50 miles to where I’m going next with it to boxing and the impending McGregor v Mayweather fight. There was also a lot of talk about food with Keely who looks after the beauty salon side of the place. The studio itself is shared with a beauty salon and is a really lovely open space, it’s not a dark damp tattoo parlour of old. It’s light and open and not in the slightest forbearing, I was comfortable from the moment I walked in. Such a pleasant and friendly experience.

So, the end result, as you can see there are some slight tweaks from the original design. We got rid of the text from the top and I decided to go for 50 in the eyes instead of my race number, 49. The medal and the skull merging nicely with some lovely detailing on the Ox.

I’m looking forward to seeing it when it’s completely healed up and settled down a bit. There’s a couple of tweaks required to finish it, there’s a rose to go in top right to finish the cover up and I want to add a question mark after the Did You Die tag line. At this point I don’t think I’m going to add any colour but will hold judgement on that until it’s healed up properly.

Would I recommend Stuart and Tattoo Incorporated to anyone looking for a tattoo? 

Most certainly yes. He worked out the design and got it spot on. He made me feel comfortable throughout the experience. So much so that I’m booked in for more work with him in September!

If you’re interested in getting a piece done you can find him on Facebook or alternatively his website http://tattoo-incorporated.com

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parkrun officially a measurement of distance

parkrun is so much more than a run in the park is the tag line, and it’s true. It has now become an official* unit of measurement. The last 5k of races, from half marathons to marathons (not just London) to ultra marathons are greeted with that often coined phrase “just a parkrun to go”. It goes further than that as well, it’s also a nice bite size chunk to mentally break your race into. For example, I ran a 50k race not long ago, mentally this was broken down into 10 parkrun’s. “One down, nine to go”, “two down, eight to go” and so on and so forth.

At Endure24 the parkrun distance measurement calculations kept my mind occupied during the night, I tried to figure out just how many parkrun’s I’d completed. “So I’ve run 55 miles, how many parkrun’s is that..”, “60 miles in, what’s that in parkrun’s..”. Admittedly, my brain had pretty much turned to mush after 18 hours of non-stop running. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have problems counting to potato, let alone trying to convert miles into kilometres and then divide that into parkrun’s, but it kept me entertained.

So there we have it, undeniable proof that a parkrun is officially** a unit of measurement!

*not officially a unit of measurement for distance

**totally not official..

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