The one with the Cow Marshals. This mornings parkrun adventure started early, there were a fair few miles to cover, 85 of them to be precise, to get to my destination for today, Tring parkrun. Once I’d got myself ready, having scrambled round the house attempting to locate the usual items, barcode, cow cowl, tourist top, trail shoes, watch, glasses, etc… it was time to warm up and de-ice the car. It was reading a balmy -6 this morning whilst I was stood there in shorts and a Tshirt scraping ice off the windows, the neighbours must think I’m mad, I know the family do!
I had originally planned on going to Tilgate parkrun this morning but they’d cancelled the week before due to ice, given that it had been freezing overnight I thought I’d better be safe than sorry and change the venue. I still needed to ‘collect’ a T so the other options available were Tooting Common and Tring. Tring was slightly further to get to but looked an easier journey and I’d met the ED, Andy Evans in Havant previously and had talked about a visit, so today would be that day. Tring certainly sounds more up my street, a single loop trail run with a couple of hundred attendees, I had heard that it’s got a bit of a hill or two, as well as a fair amount of mud (when it isn’t frozen solid!). Perfect!
Parking is free, there is a carpark there, but today it was closed, fortunately as I’d got there early I could park up on the side of the road with no issue. As I was really early I had plenty of time to change into my trail shoes and wander round looking lost until I happened on some other parkrunners who guided me to the start/finish area where I was greeted with an amazing view across the grounds and a warm welcome from the volunteers there preparing the course.
As I was there slightly early I had a chance to have a bit of a wander around beforehand and admire the semi-permanent signs in place highlighting a typical Saturday morning usage. The KM markers are there throughout the week, not just Saturday’s. There are some cows milling around in the lower slopes. This is the first parkrun I’ve been to where they have dedicated cow marshals, I’ve been reliably informed that during the winter months they are more docile so should be too interested in what we are doing. The spring/summer months is another thing entirely where the marshals really have to earn their money (no money is involved). They can get into everything including runners bags at the start/finish area, the cows that is, not the marshals! There was even talk of them wanting to get involved and cross the finish line alongside the runners, again I’m talking about the cows here!
As 9am approaches the volunteers are busy marking out the rest of the course, unlocking gates, setting up the start finish area, including a table with a PB bell to ring (nice) and generally trying to keep warm as the sun crests the treeline that I will be running along later. I don’t think I have the vocabulary to describe the area and do it justice. This really is a stunning area, I believe that it’s a course for all seasons too so I’m going to have to go pay a visit at other times of the year. I can only imagine the colours in autumn.
I came very close to missing the first timers brief due to mooching about soaking up the scenery. As mentioned earlier, it’s a single loop trail run, the finer details of the course are laid out to us and the trickier bits highlighted so that no one comes a cropper. The mud has all frozen so presents a slightly different challenge to normal. There are a few other tourists there as well as a nice dosing of first timers. It’s a great turnout especially given that it’s a bit chilly today, you really have to admire first timers on days like this, for some it could be their first ever 5k and getting out the door when it’s below zero deserves some recognition!
There were 214 runners there today at event #123 (that’s a great number!), 16 first timers and 14 tourists. 12 people obviously wanted to get out of the cold as quick as possible setting personal bests and ringing that bell, I love the PB bell and was tempted to ring it myself as in theory my time could be counted as a PB for that course, but I’ll save that for my next visit. The run director got everyone gathered at the start just before 9am and ran through thanking the wonderful volunteers braving the elements so we could run, the safety brief and the milestones.
The run starts up a nice avenue of trees gently sloping up towards the crest before you then drop down into a dip before starting the hard slog up to the gates to the wooded area. By the time I reached that gate my lungs were working hard and my legs telling me to calm down, they weren’t happy! Through the gate and the climb continues as it winds up to the ridge in a bit of a zigzag manner, this takes the wind out of my sails completely, you can tell it’s usually muddy here too so nice and technical.
Once at the top there’s a lovely ridge to run along with gaps in the trees that afford you an amazing view over the grounds and towards the mansion house, it is beautiful and makes up for the hard climb up there. It’s not a flat ridge but is nicely undulating befor we drop down out of the trees and into the open expanse where the cows are grazing, obviously not forgetting to thank the marshals as we pass the gate. Now you might think that the hard part is over at this point as we head of in a procession across the field towards the road, well you’d be wrong. There’s another small climb as you head up towards the start/finish area, once you top this you’re not done, oh no, you’re pointed off and away down another hill and what goes down must come back up (that’s not how the saying goes!).
So you loop back round and up this hill pictured above, I’m the idiot in the Apricot Tshirt and shorts on the right struggling up the sting in the tail of this tough but beautiful course, you can see the ridge we ran along in the background. This picture captured by one of the lead runners who finished his run, grabbed his camera and headed back out onto the course to take some amazing pictures. He also took this one below a few moments later as I got closer to him (it felt like about 5 minutes!!). How cool is that.
Once up this little heartbreaker of a hill it’s back down the avenue to the finish funnel. Once my breathing and legs had recovered and stopped screaming at me I managed to get a turn of pace and build up a head of speed to get to the finish funnel. I managed to drag myself across the line in 89th place and was the 72nd male and 10th in my age category, this took me 27:38. Even though that’s a good couple of minutes slower than my usual 5k pace I’m really happy with that, it gives me a nice target to beat next time.
Once everyone is finished and the course is packed away a healthy contingent of the runners and volunteers head down to The Akeman for some apres-parkrun breakfast, conversation and coffee and perhaps to warm up a little too. It’s a very welcoming environment and people are keen to chat and find out what I’m up to, which is lovely, it’s nice to share parkrun stories and adventures, compare course notes and share experiences with other likeminded people.
Tring parkrun is held in a Woodland Trust park and is well worth a visit. I will be definitely be going back for a repeat visit. The atmosphere and welcome from the team there is second to none and the course is challenging but stunning. As a rule I don’t answer when questioned about favourites, but if I did have a favourites list this would certainly be on there.
Thank you to everyone at Tring for making me so very welcome, it was lovely to see Andy Evans again and to chat with Ken Douglas who I’m sure I’ve met before but just can’t place. Top marks to everyone involved.
Next week Tilgate!