Parkrun, and urban walking

Posted on: 17 Sep 2016

What a weekend that was in Realbuzz land! - it was great following and reading about all the amazing things being done, though my own contribution was very meagre in comparison. After that, it seems a bit ridiculous still to be documenting my summer holidays, so I'll try to move it on a bit.

Back in Sheffield, there was work to be done: demolition of a garden shed (my very important role in this being that of tea maker and general dogsbody.) That done, the walking could continue, sometimes in combination with other projects. The first of these 'urban walks' was actually before the trip to Wales, when J. and I walked from home all the way to Meadowhall Shopping Centre (popularly known as 'Meadowhell') in the quest for J's outdoor jacket, having failed to find one he liked at a price he was willing to pay in Switzerland. The rather uninspiring walk into the city centre, then the 'Five Weirs Walk' along the River Don. On paper, this looked like a good idea. We'd done a section of it before, a couple of years ago, to visit a running shop at Attercliffe, and remembered it as a rather pleasant green corridor through the semi-derelict heavy industrial landscape around it. This time, though, it looked run-down and litter-strewn; and the section after Attercliffe had no real riverside path, involving diversions along unattractive roads, including a very busy dual carriageway. Approaching Meadowhall, a whole section was blocked off completely, with no indication of any alternative, leaving us to navigate at random across an industrial wasteland until the distinctive turquoise roof of the shopping centre finally appeared and we knew where we were. The canal walk there is better, we agreed - at least there is a path all the way along it.

The next, the Tuesday after we got back from Wales, was in Chesterfield. Having spent a day in the Local History Library there the previous summer, working on the family history, I was back there to look for the cemetery where many of them are buried. I didn't find any of them (I need to get hold of the plot plan - a project for next summer), but walking there and back from the town centre and rambling round the extensive forest of Victorian headstones notched up a few kms. It sounds a bit morbid, but was sunny and peaceful and somehow really nice. I left J. sitting on a bench, reading, while I searched.

The next walk, less urban in character, though still within the Sheffield city boundaries, was along the Rivelin Valley. An old favourite, this one - I generally get there at least once every summer, either walking or running. After visiting the nearby garden centre to buy compost, we left S. to take it home in the car, and headed down a path towards the valley. It was seriously overgrown with nettles and brambles - not the best of starts. But we fought our way out into a field, along Long Lane, and down to a bridge over the river. Turning right, we walked on past the various ponds and the Round Dam, crossed the road, and continued along the other side. Past the 'rusty chair' sculpture in the middle of the river, past the paddling pools and the cafe, to the end of the nature trail where it meets the road at Malin Bridge. Back to the cafe for a snack to keep us going: tea and a caramel slice for me, and a bowl of salad for J. (That sounds about right!) He liked the salad so much, he went back and bought a second bowl! - I'm convinced he must have been a rabbit in former life. Then back along the whole length of the valley to the packhorse bridge at the other end of the trail. When I was here with S. the previous summer, we had seen a heron on a fallen tree above one of the ponds. One year later, it was there again! In exactly the same place - must be its favourite perch.


Across the bridge, up the field to Manchester Road, and across to the track that climbs diagonally up the opposite slope, to the top of the old quarry above the garden centre; and from there, home along various suburban roads. 14 kms in all. And despite the ominous weather pictogram on the Garmin map, it was sunny!

And then it was Saturday.......... and that means parkrun! I almost didn't go, after J. woke me up at 3.30, tripping over something in the dark, and then a neighbour's dog kept me awake for the rest of the night with its barking. I finally succeeded in dozing off, waking again to find it was now almost too late. Weary and not in the mood, I was about ready to cancel............ but knew I would regret it if I did. So got up, high speed breakfast (1 coffee, 1 slice of toast, no time for more), running kit on, and off we went. Run/walk down to Endcliffe Park, where we found it was the anniversary run, which is traditionally run in the reverse direction, and with participants in fancy dress. Apropos of the Euros, the official theme was football, but there was quite a variety of costumes on offer. I was hoping I might encounter Lucy, runner and blogger (''More Hobbit than Hare'')
whose posts I had been following for the past year or so, and suspected she might be accompanied by her equine companion Roger. Sure enough, I spotted her, and introduced myself.



She was acting as unofficial photographer, as the regular one wasn't there today. We were both really pleased to meet at last; but there wasn't time for long conversation as the run briefing, presentation of awards etc. began, and then everyone headed for the start, which on this occasion was in the middle of the grass rather than on the path. I slotted myself in about 3/4 of the way back (which on reflection wasn't very wise, given the size of the field - almost 600; halfway might have been more realistic), deduced from the slow forwards shuffle ahead of me when we had started, and pressed the Garmin. J, still troubled by his achilles, proposed to walk round, and had opted to start right at the back. The slow shuffle continued for some seconds, gradually morphing into a marginally brisker shuffle; I ever-so-slightly cut a corner to get past some of the people, and was almost trotting by the time I reached the path. It all came to a sudden halt again at the narrow bit before the bridge (sorry, but the run really doesn't WORK this way round!), we were back to walking again, with a little gentle jostling and elbowing, until we popped out at the other end of the bridge like a cork from a bottle ('bottleneck' is a very apt description) and there was finally room to run. Even then, overcrowding made for a slow run, particularly on the narrow pavement up Rustlings Road, with runners, walkers, dogs, and baby buggies all jockeying for limited space, lots of getting stuck in queues, waiting for an opportunity to squeeze through uncomfortably small gaps. I really don't like the route this way round - apart from anything else, this gradual but long uphill is hard work! But anyway........... made it to the top gate, and back into the park, and the reward of some nice downhill sections on spacious paths. Past the two ponds and the cafe, and off we set on round 2. The Garmin weather pictogram shows the same black cloud and multiple raindrops, and this time it was right. During the first lap, it had begun to drizzle, and by the second, it had become a heavy downpour. Soon I was soaked to the skin, but luckily it wasn't particularly cold. I made better time now, but the damage was done, and the motivation wavering accordingly. I was a little miffed, though, at being emphatically overtaken by a baby buggy (even if it was a fit-looking young man pushing it); and when a dog also overtook me, my pride was piqued into a response. Had this parkrun account been a stand-alone post, its title would have been 'Beat the dog'. No, not as in 'maltreat the dog in a way the RSPCA would seriously disapprove of', but as in 'I refuse to be outrun by this mutt!' I gave chase. I now had a Quest. I passed said mutt's owner, on the other end of the lead; I drew level with the galloping beast; I inched ahead........... YESSSSSS!............. But what is this? - it's streaking past me again! How can this be? Then I see that it is no longer attached to the lead - back in the safety of the park, and nearly at the finish, its owner has let it off to run in by itself. So no, I am sorry to say I did NOT beat the dog! But at least the attempt earned me a few seconds, that and a sprint finish just saving me from going over the 30 minute mark. (A PW by some margin.) After getting scanned, I retrieved my soggy rucksack, put on my jacket (not that it helped much now), and was glad I had had the foresight to bring an umbrella (not that THAT actually helped much now, either!) Then I made my way back to the finish to wait for J. I had missed him, however; he had abandoned the 'walk it' plan partway through, having found that slow running was actually less painful than fast walking, and he and Lucy had finished together. I eventually caught up with them rather optimistically 'sheltering' under a tree near the scanners, and more photos were taken.


By now it WAS feeling a bit chilly, and hot tea seemed like a good idea. I thought the cafe might be crowded, but no, it seemed that most people had headed home to dry out. So hot tea it was (for me; hot milk for J - his drink of choice), plus one of the cafe's legendary scones (still warm!) with jam and cream. Lucy called in to say goodbye, and tell me I had to export parkrun to Switzerland; she was sorry she couldn't stay, but she was too wet and cold. Lovely to meet her, however.

Some rather distant photos of our respective finishes, from a girl Lucy delegated photography duty to while she was running...........




This is her, standing by the finish (you can see how wet it was!)

And a soggy doggy........ (not the one that beat me)

Just the 2km uphill trudge home; S. was nice enough to go out and buy our traditional fish'n'chips while we enjoyed a hot shower; and by then the results were in. 29:47 for me, 370 of 586 (98 of 203 women) 3rd (of 8) in age category; J. in 524, with 34:40.

The next day, we were spectating rather than running: a 10k race in Graves Park. (The one I did a few years ago, where my brother, caught out by my sprint finish, took a rather good picture of my elbow!) Bus to the lower gate of the park (shocked by the state of the inner city away from the centre, shabby and semi-derelict - it looked like somewhere everyone had given up on), then a walk up through the woods in search of the race HQ at the pavilion, finding our way there just in time to say hello to people before they had to go and line up. It was one of the Smiley Paces championship races, and they were there in force. J had his camera, so took photos of them all as they went through on the first round, and again as they finished, which I later put on their Facebook page. Remembering my own crack at this race, at the time I was a bit disappointed with my time (57:02), but saw now that it was actually pretty good, for such a hilly course - there were many comments about its toughness. I also remembered my 30 mile sponsored walk here at the age of 16 (12 times round the park, at night, from 10 at night till 8 in the morning) - to this day, that's still the longest I've ever walked or run. After we all went our separate ways, J and I went exploring the park, and found our way to the farm (pigs, sheep, goats, alpacas, donkeys........... but mostly hens), and then - how could it be otherwise?! - to the Rose Garden cafe. A quiche & salad later, back across the park to the top entrance, and another 'urban walk' back to the city centre. This took us via Meersbrook Park again, and as luck would have it, the Bishops' House museum was open (weekends only, till 4), so we took the opportunity to go in - well worth it.

Down through the park; past some impressive inner city art,

and then we discovered Heeley Millenium Park, a new(ish) park created on a site formerly occupied by row upon row of little terraced houses. I never even knew this existed, so it was an interesting find, with its mountain bike trails, artificial rocks for climbing, and network of paths. It rained heavily a couple of times during the walk, but never for too long, and all in all, it was an interesting new take on a side of my home city I didn't really know.

Time to send this instalment on its way - next one to follow very soon (I promise!)

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