Itchen Valley Country parkrun mudfest

In recent months, I’ve been running 2 or 3 times a week and although I decided to start parkrunning again towards the end of 2019, I couldn’t find the motivation to get up on a Saturday morning and travel to Southampton Common or Fleming Park. I much preferred a lie in and the opportunity for a run later in the day.

However, it was with great interest that I found out a couple of months ago that there was going to be a new event in the local country park, Itchen Valley Country Park. This came as quite a surprise as when I was looking for venues to replace the parkun at Lakeside in Eastleigh several years ago, Eastleigh Borough Council were not keen on opening an event at IVCP due to poor ground conditions during the winter. Instead, they offered Royal Victoria Country Park as a venue and I founded that event and then Southampton parkrun.

I contacted Sergio, the Event Director, for more information about the event and a route map and he kindly gave me more info. The route looked complicated!

Shortly after the announcement about the event opening at IVCP, there was a message on the park’s Facebook to say that the event was being delayed. In the meantime, we were regularly dog walking in the park and witnessing the very wet and muddy conditions.

Since the announcement, we’ve witnessed more rain and poor conditions and the park conditions were far from perfect for running. However, the inaugural event took place last weekend. I had wanted to go but heavy rain the day before meant that I made the decision to not attend. As many running friends posted about their attendance on Facebook, I was beginning to regret my decision to not attend. It looked like I’d missed out on some muddy fun. This led to the decision to make sure I attended the 2nd event.

In honesty, during the week leading up to the event, I started to find excuses to not attend. The main one was not wanting to run through lots of mud. It was on Friday evening that I made the decision to get up and make sure I made it to the event.

The park is a mile from home and it’s mostly a gradual downhill to get there. I decided to run/walk there to save energy for the energy-sapping mudfest. As I got to the entrance of the park, a car stopped and an Eastleigh parkrunner, Keith Whitaker, who I’ve known for years offered me a lift. I declined as I wanted to run/walk. It was very kind of him to offer. As I headed to the start area, I spotted the Run Director for the event, Luis, who I’ve also known for several years and chatted with him. It wasn’t long ‘til Carl Iszatt came over to say hello. Carl was one of the Run Directors at Southampton junior parkrun when I was Event Director there. It was great to catch up with Carl. I also say Mel Holloway (from Eastleigh Running Club) and Pat Rogers.

Over a period of about 15 minutes, a stream of people I have known from parkrun and local running clubs came over to say hello. It was lovely to see Emily and her mum, Wendy, there as well as several members of Southampton Running Sisters. Claire and Aaron who were regulars at my Saturday morning coaching sessions and my Tuesday evening S&C sessions for Lordshill Road Runners were there so I chatted briefly to them too.

As the first timer briefing started, I spotted parkrun royalty, Danny Norman, across the field. I’ve known Danny for several years and we’ve seen each other at many events over those years.

The first timer briefing was delivered by Helen Rees and it was brilliant. Very amusing and expertly delivered. Having volunteered at over 250 parkrun events, I can wholeheartedly state that it was one of the best FTB I’ve heard. Well done Helen!

Once the briefing was over, it was time for Luis to do the pre-run briefing. Again, very amusing, especially his remarks about International Womens Day!

Before we knew it, it was time to start our parkrun! I’ll not try and describe the course. Any description would simply get confusing after the first couple of directions. Just follow the person in front. Even the first straight involved several muddy puddles. I could feel them trying to suck my trail shoes off at every opportunity. The course takes you around the perimeter of all of the fields in the park as well as through several trail sections. The trail sections are certainly much nicer than some of the mud baths you have to negotiate during the run. There are a few tight turns and several opportunities to slip over. There was one fellow runner who slipped over more than once! Trail shoes are a must in these conditions. Tightly laced!

I’ll admit to walking some sections of the course. I can normally run 3, 4 or 5 miles without running. However, the mud was energy sapping and I needed a couple of walk breaks.

Before I knew it, the finish funnel was in sight. I spotted Danny Norman holding position tokens and said hello and shook his hand. It wasn’t until a couple of minutes after exiting the finish funnel that I realised I’d not collected a position token! I have no excuse! I managed to go back and collect my token that had been pocketed by Helen’s son who was handing them out.

I took the opportunity to speak with Emily and Wendy again and then made the decision to run/walk home as I had to get back home by 10am due to other commitments. My legs and trail shoes were covered in mud. Thankfully, the warm water tap in the garden and hose meant I could clean myself off before going inside.

In summary, IVCP parkrun is going to be brilliant. If you like mud, make the most of it over the next couple of months. The venue is going to be lovely when the ground conditions improve. Until then, it’s going to be a challenging event. Well worth a visit though. I’ll be back next Saturday to see if I can improve my finish time.

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