Finally a parkrun tourist – road trip to Newbury parkrun’s 1st event

As a parkrunner, I’ve only ever run at one parkrun; Eastleigh parkrun. It’s easy to think it’s the best parkrun in the country particularly when you’ve not visited any other!! However, today, I became a parkrun tourist!!

Late in 2011, Rachael Elliott announced that a new parkrun was going to start in Newbury and that she was going to be Event Director. Rachael had been instrumental in the set up of Eastleigh parkrun and was a core team member for the first 6-8 months of the event. Rach has also been actively involved with several other parkruns in the South (including Basingstoke and Andover) as well as having visited parkruns across the UK and Poland. If anyone knows how a parkrun should work, it’s Rach!!

Newbury parkrun is held at Greenham Common. The common is located about 2 miles away from Thatcham in Berkshire and has had an interesting history including being the site of American Cruise missiles. Fortunately, those missiles are no longer and the common was returned to the public in 2000.

Neil, John, Sam and I took a road trip this morning. It was an early start and also the coldest night of the year. As we left Lakeside where we met, Neil’s car outside temperature gauge read about -5 deg C. By the time we’d reached Thatcham near Newbury, the gauge was reading -10 deg C!

When we arrived at the Greenham Business Park, we saw Rach in her car and she expressed her concern about the snow and that she was worried and wanted runners to take it easy. In reality, I think that she’d have been worried if the sun was out and the weather glorious! There really was no need to be worried!

In honesty, due to the very chilly weather, we didn’t rush out of the car!! The conditions at the common were very different to Southampton with a 2 – 3 cm of snow covering the ground. Running fast, which I’d not be doing, was unlikely given the conditions! It was possible to find areas of the path (mainly gravel) where it wasn’t icy but a car had followed the course and compacted quite a lot of the snow and made some areas a little slippy.

Having taken the relatively short walk from the car park to the start area, we saw Colin and Elaine who also have a good number of parkruns under their belts! Experienced volunteers, both Colin and Elaine would form a key part of Newbury parkrun’s first volunteer team.

With Neil injured and volunteering at the event, that meant that John, Sam and I were the ones that were running. Neil was joined by a few other regulars from Eastleigh parkrun who were also volunteering. These included Tim and his heavily pregnant partner, May. As we waited for the start, a few other Eastleigh regulars including John Mc and Henry arrived.

With 10 minutes before the start, there looked to be about 150 runners milling around the start area. Given the weather, this wasn’t surprising but as Rach had hoped that Newbury would beat the ‘first event’ attendance record set by York parkrun a couple of weeks previously, it must have been disappointing. The start was delayed to give time for those arriving late to get to the start.  By the time Rach started the pre-run briefing, there looked to be about 200 runners assembled.

With the number of runners, it was quite difficult to hear Rach’s briefing. This wasn’t made any easier by those that were a little further away announcing to themselves that they couldn’t hear so deciding to chat instead. This just made it more difficult for the rest of us that wanted to hear the briefing. Note to all, please don’t chat during the pre-run briefings. It’s unnecessary, impolite and puts off the person speaking. If you want to chat, move a considerable distance away from the briefing area or save chat until you’ve completed your run. [climbs off of soapbox].

I had hoped to complete the 5km course in 25:XX but given the conditions, this seemed unlikely. I was wearing normal road running shoes and regretted not owning some trail shoes. Fortunately, John and Sam were planning on jogging around in a similar kind of time.

John, Sam and I at Newbury parkrun

For the first 2.0 – 2.5km, we all stuck together. The pace was challenging for me due to a lack of fitness following injuries late in 2011 but I managed to keep up. At about 2km, John announced he was going to push on. There was no hope that I’d be following closely behind him! Fortunately, Sam held back. Our pace for the first couple of km hovered around 5:07 minutes per km. When John left us and between 3-4km will a gradual incline (only about 10m over the km) to contend with, our pace dropped a little to about 5:18 mins/km (). With the last km, we push the pace again and sped up. With about 0.5km to go, Sam upped the pace again and extended the gap between us. I could possibly have kept up with him but I wasn’t confident I’d have made it to the finish line if I had. A few words of encouragement at about 4.5km from David Blackman made me push a bit harder as I saw the finish area (I’d say finish funnel but there wasn’t one!)

I finished in 26:00 in position 140. Not quite on target but given the snow underfoot, I was happy. I was in 140th position and as I took my position token, it was clear there were a large number of finishers behind me. Again, we estimated about 60 or 70 to give a total attendance of 200-220.

As we stood chatting, more and people crossed the finish line. We were amazed to discover that there were in fact 317 runners who finished. That totally smashed York’s first event attendance by 101 runners!!!

I’m sure that the event teams of inaugural parkrun events would not sleep for weeks if they knew that they’d have 300+ runners at their first event. In fact, many events that have been running for months or even years don’t get that many runners (Eastleigh’s highest attendance is 290 runners!) However, Rachael’s goal was to get as many participants as they could and the team (Rach, Colin, Elaine, Neil, Tim, May and others) did a great job of making the event run smoothly. Great work all!

So, are there any negatives? Well, each negative can easily be viewed as a positive!

The course is pretty flat which is a positive. However, there’s no shade at all on the course. I suspect that could cause some challenges in poor conditions (rain, wind) as well as give no shelter from the sun during the height of the summer.

Also, the course is one lap (also a positive particularly for runners that find multi-lap courses mentally challenging). This means that the volunteers see the runners leave the start area and then don’t see them again until they finish. At course comprising several laps (such as Eastleigh), the volunteer team see (and can encourage) runners several times.

There were only 1 or 2 marshals needed out on the course as the course was so straightforward. However, this didn’t give the kind of atmosphere we are used to at Eastleigh where we place marshals at several places along the course and they offer words of encouragement to runners as they go by.

The last possible negative was more of a personal one and most likely an issue that won’t affect future events where attendance is a little lower in that we couldn’t enjoy the complete parkrun experience as the cafe was heaving when we arrived. As we all had things to do in the afternoon, we decided to skip our cafe visit and head back to Lakeside instead for a coffee and some cake!

Overall, a great first event and one that shows that Newbury parkrun has a great future ahead of it. Very well done to Rachael for getting the parkrun started and for making the first event go so well. As a parkrunner, the number of hours, days and weeks of preparation to get a parkrun started are often overlooked. Each event needs a venue, agreement from the local authorities, risk assessments completed, a core ‘event management’ team established, a course designed and measured, volunteers encouraged, etc, etc, etc. And that’s before the first event has even taken place. Each week, more hours go into building up the volunteer rota, dealing with issues as and when they arise, liaising with parkrunners via email, Facebook and Twitter. We get to see the end product of all this hard work week-in, week-out, come rain, shine and snow.

Many thanks to Neil for driving up to Newbury and for John and Sam for their company around the course.

One (of the many) great thing about parkrun is that once you’ve been to one, you find that other events are very similar and that means that other than finding out the course and any local ‘health and safety’ type issues, as soon as you arrive with your barcode, you’re ‘good to go’ (that’s no excuse for chatting through the pre-run briefing though!!)

Welcome to the parkrun family Newbury!!

Garmin stats – http://connect.garmin.com/activity/148663914

PS I still believe Eastleigh parkrun is the best in the country! 🙂

Photos from Tim Poultney

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