40 Before 40: #1 parkrun in 40 different locations

One of my 40 before 40 challenges, listed HERE

Only 39 venues as yet, but more to be added very soon! Love the conversations this t-shirt starts…

As of 27th Saturday I’m pleased to report I have enjoyed the hospitality of 40 different parkrun venues with 40 different parkrun volunteer teams, and I learned a few things along the way…

Every parkrun is the same…you turn up, run and present your barcode. It’s as simple as that. It doesn’t matter where in the world you are, the process is universal. That simple fact means there is never any worry or doubt about approaching new parkruns, you can travel with complete confidence.

Every parkrun is different…and that’s what makes tourism such fun! Every briefing is a new experience; some brilliant, some inaudible, some full of laughs and some short and to the point. Then you start running and every course is different; I’ve run along rivers and crossed streams, across open fields and through thick woods, over logs and under bridges, on tarmac, woodchip, sand and snow. Some courses are more scenic than others but every one is special and has something about it that you’ll remember.

Sign of the tourist. Keep an eye out for anyone wearing the infamous “cow cowl”, only available to parkrunners with more than 20 venues to their name.

Touring with friends is ace…because you can enjoy the road trip and post run cake, as well as the excitement of planning your next tour.

Touring on your own is also ace…because it is very easy to make new friends on a Saturday morning. You are all there for one thing so you already have something in common, and I haven’t had anything but the warmest of welcomes at every venue I’ve been too. If you do tour alone, talk to people, it makes the whole experience ten times better.

But parkrun tourism isn’t all good, I have found two distinct downsides to heading out on the road of a Saturday morning…

Missing home… I adore Cheltenham parkrun and all involved with it and recently managed my 100th run around Pittville Park. But thanks to tourism there have been many weekends away from my home run and I have missed celebrating milestones with friends or being there to support my fellow core team members when they needed it. As much fun as tourism is sometimes I wish I wasn’t heading away from a run with 400 friends.

Finding somewhere amazing… I’ve run some beautiful courses and met some amazing people through parkrun tourism (big shout to Poolbeg in Dublin for topping the table in both categories) but I am unlikely to ever go back which is sad. If I’m in Dublin again in future there are several other venues to go explore so chances are I will never enjoy another Poolbeg parkrun and coffee with the friendliest people in the world. I know we should be happy it happened not sad it’s over, but it’s impossible to ignore that some courses are better than others and warrant a second visit…maybe when I’ve completed the other 600+ venues!

So to conclude, as I’m always asked for favourites when I reveal my travels, parkrun tourism is mostly amazing here’s just a few highlights you may wish to explore yourself…

Poolbeg – on a horrible rainy windswept morning I met the most amazing people for a dramatic run around the bay. I wish I could go back regularly.

Bushy Park – the home of parkrun, with over 1,500 runners most weeks. Everyone should go at least once to see where it all began.

Vejen, Denmark – one volunteer with a carrier bag of kit turns up at 8.55am and a parkrun happens. Highlights the brilliance of the concept and how simple it can be.

Medina, Isle of Wight – An overnight trip with ferry rides, dodgy B&B, hunting an ever-changing parkrun course followed by lunch on the seafront, amusement arcades and giant ice creams in the rain. An epic 24 hour tour with good friends, go do it soon!

The brilliant Run Director at Poolbeg on a truly foul freezing day, but still parkrun puts a smile on our faces!

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Running Around Denmark

Over the last 18 months my heart has been well and truly stolen by Denmark. I’ve been lucky enough to visit Copenhagen three times now, and on this trip I stuck around for a while to see more of the country and it is just as wonderful everywhere I went. While on my travels I was able to get four runs in, and while I could wax lyrical for days about how wonderful Denmark and the Danes are here’s just a taste of what we got up to with our trainers on…

Faelledparken parkrun

My Denmark touring squad

Unsurprisingly, at least to any regular readers or those that know me and my travelling companions, we built our flights around fitting in some parkrun tourism. First up was my second parkrun in Copenhagen (I should have run one in October last year but I got drunk and fell off a curb instead). Faelledparken was just a mile or so from our accommodation, and also the site of the following day’s Copenhagen Half start so it was an obvious choice. As with every parkrun I’ve ever visited, from the moment we saw a volunteer in hi-vis and someone in lycra we felt right at home. Chatting freely with locals about the course, how the half marathon preparations had affected the route etc it was another perfect example of how the parkrun family is a global thing and we are all a part of it. The briefing was delivered in flawless English by our Danish Run Director, and we joked about trying to do our own briefing back in Cheltenham in Danish if we ever had a tourist make the return visit. Unanimous agreement was that we had no chance!

The run itself was three laps of the park on hard packed trail, pretty enough but nothing much of note other than the site traffic and buzz of a race village being built. The support each time we passed the finish was fabulous and the welcome when we finished was lovely. As a group we had the first and last finisher, a feat we’ve been trying to achieve on our travels for a while so well done Si and Claire!

When you find the people that bring you balance play with them often!

Copenhagen Half Marathon

Look at those happy faces at the sunny start!

A half of two halves! (does that make it quarters?) The race started in glorious sunshine and although the race village was a little muddy the day promised to be perfect for running. The organisation was great, which we’ve come to expect from Copenhagen races. Everything from entering online, collecting numbers (and shopping!) at the expo and bag drop off and finding our start pens was incredibly smooth. I’d put myself well back in the pens, struggling with what I now know to be plantar fasciitis I hadn’t been able to train for any kind of fast running so it was a slow social run around the closed streets of the city for me. I planned a run/walk strategy (run 1 mile, walk .1 of a mile) from the start which would mean swapping positions with Claire throughout the race, so she insisted we trade insults every time we pass. I can’t possibly share any of them here but the first 6 or 7 miles went by in blur of profanities and smiles with awesome support from the sides of the course.

A photo from the finish line after the worst of the storm had blown through

Then, somewhere around 7 miles, the apocalypse started. It is difficult to explain how extreme the weather was but it was certainly the most unexpected and fierce storm I’ve ever witnessed. In the space of a few minutes we went from spots of rain to flash floods, the water falling more powerfully than my shower! Hail stones the size of marbles (or maltesers or minstrels or peanut M&Ms, we initially measured them in chocolate) were pelting the exposed flesh of runners and we ran for cover rather than towards the finish. I moved behind a tree, then behind a thicker tree and eventually huddled at the foot of a concrete pillar seeking protection from the onslaught. I’m glad I left the tree cover as moments later the most thunderous crack and bright sky heralded the arrival of fork lightening. The storm raged for a few minutes before passing as quickly as it arrived, but it had left its mark on the course. The last 6 miles were blighted by icy surfaces, flooding across the course, washed out water stations and a sudden lack of enthusiastic cheering from the crowd! What was peculiar is that as the course wove its way through the city there were obviously areas that had avoided the downpour completely as spectators in t-shirts stood on dry pavements, but all too soon we would be back in ankle deep freezing water again a few streets later.

Claire risks instant death by lightening strike to demonstrate the race village swimming pool!

As I approached the finish line, considering breaststroke rather than a sprint finish, I heard an announcement that the race had been abandoned! The timing mats had been washed away and the storm we had run through had passed straight through the race village leaving it under several inches of water. I later learned that several people had been hit by lightening and the organisers were understandably concerned about the storm returning and the effect of a lightening strike on the newly formed lake with thousands of runners stood in it! Luckily the back up timing system still recorded an official time (2:24)but it was never about the time I just wanted it recorded that I survived and persevered! I also chased down a woman with a bundle of medals. Yes, I risked my life for race bling! We didn’t hang around in the icy water, and headed back to the hostel cold, wet, excited and satisfied. I’d definitely run another Copenhagen race, they’re great!

Kolding Night Trail

I look better in the dark!

The main reason for extending our trip this time was an invite from our friend Kristina, Danish National Trail Champion and ultrarunning bad ass, to the event she was hosting in her home town in the middle of Denmark. The Night Trail offered 6 and 12km courses, or for the chosen few there were 20 marathon places up for grabs. As the name suggests, it didn’t start until after dark so we found ourselves stood in a field at 9pm listening to a race briefing in Danish this time, with no idea what we’d let ourselves in for! I was signed on for 12km, which with my injury probably wasn’t the wisest move, but Kristina asked if I’d mind being tail runner for the race so I had an excuse to take it easy!

Making friends is what running should be about.

We were warned about the mud and treacherous terrain, but to be honest it was no worse than a Wednesday club run in Cranham! Running by head torch is always exciting though, every time I do it I pledge to do more and I never do. I had a great time making friends with runners at the back of the pack, learning Danish (some you’d say in polite company and some you definitely wouldn’t!) and enjoying the terrain. At times it was frustrating being stuck at the back, there were plenty of bits of the course that just screamed out to be run fast, so I think I’ll have to go back and have another go some time! We left the park about 11.30pm as the organisers settled in to a long night of supporting the marathon runners, the last of which didn’t finish until 4:30am!

Vejen parkrun

Our final run of the week, another spot of parkrun tourism and a classic example of how different two parkruns can be. At home in Cheltenham we arrive at 8am with an army of 20+ volunteers and a trolley of kit plus two big bags and more. In Vejen a guy turned up at 8:50am with a carrier bag and did the whole parkrun himself! Of course we are usually catering for over 400 runners, whereas our visit boosted Vejen’s numbers to 14! There was a little confusion about the course as they had changed it the week before and weren’t sure whether to keep the new route or not, but we were assured it would be impossible to get lost so swiftly set about showing them how wrong they were! A few hundred metres of tarmac led us in to a wood, which we knew we would be running around three times. Ahead of us the path continued alongside a ploughed field, so logically the turning to the right leading in to the trees had to be the correct choice. By this point myself and Malc were happily bringing up the rear with no one else in sight but we set about the journey through the woods full of gusto and confidence. Another few hundred metres and we spotted the leaders, coming the other way, looking at us with much the same confused expressions we must have been wearing! A quick about turn and we soon learned that just beyond the turning we’d taken was a second turning, or as it should more accurately be known “the right turning”. We were taking it very easy anyway, but the addition of nearly an extra kilometre meant we were out there a little while. I still think it was a touch unnecessary to send out a search party after us, but it was nice to have some company and chat to the locals over the last kilometre.

And so ended 9 days and 4 runs in Denmark. I’m already planning my next trip, there are four more parkruns to visit and a new one starting just over the water in Malmo which is a simple day trip from Copenhagen. Lucky that, as I’ll take any excuse I can to go back to the city I love.

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Race Report: Trail de Queribus

It’s been a while since I’ve done a race review…that’s because it’s been a while since I’ve done a race! It’s safe to say running and I weren’t on the best of terms for a while, I know why, but that’s a post for another day.

Cucugnan, France.

This one is to tell you about one of the most exhilarating, challenging, beautiful and demanding races I’ve ever done. The Trail de Queribus in Cucugnan, France.

First, an explanation. I only came across this race because I have a friend with a house in Cucugnan who informed me there was a trail running festival in May each year and he planned to be out there for it. This friend is the race whisperer; he has the ability to mumble something in passing and an hour later I’ve booked flights and accommodation for another foreign marathon. Long may it continue! When he mentioned the 21km race and an extended break in the continental sun I was sold, I didn’t even look at the race details, just paid my money and booked my flights. Perhaps if I’d looked at the web page a little closer I may have hesitated a moment longer…

Look at that course profile!

It turns out the race I had signed up for was a 21km mountain run, with 1,200+ metres of ascent to the top of two mountains flanking the town of Cucugnan, which included sections where they’d simply forgotten to put a path…probably because it seemed like too much hard work given the jagged rocks and treacherous terrain!

Had I paid a bit more attention I would likely have paid a bit more respect. There may even have been some training involved, I think it’s a course that deserves it. As it was I flew to France with a few hill runs and not much more in my legs since Milan marathon. There followed a few wonderfully relaxed days touring the area, taking in the sites of the Gorge de Galamus and a local swimming hole. We’d also popped to Girona for the day and collected Kristina, the Danish national trail running champion…another reason I probably should have done some training! It was fantastic to spend a few days with a running pro though and talk about how she got there, the races she’d done and what her plans were for the future. I’m certain she’ll feature in this blog many more times in the years to come. You can read Kristina’s version of events HERE, but you may want to translate the page…

All smiles at the pasta party…despite not getting in to the free booze!

Sunday was race day, after a wonderful evening of communal pasta and live music in the marquees erected for the event. There was also free booze but I only had a very small glass of local wine, so maybe I was taking it seriously after all? The race started at 9am in the streets of Cucugnan, with lots of excited shouting and cheering in French that you didn’t need to understand to enjoy. A quick lap of the town with the cheers of the crowd to spur you on and we were out in to the countryside and the first climb of the day. This immediately stretched out the pack, the racing snakes at the front disappeared in to the distance while I very quickly settled in to a fast march along with many other runners. The climbs in this race were brutal, I don’t remember any gentle ascents just lots of lung-busting, leg-shredding climbing.

The first climb…I didn’t stick with these crowds for long.

The first 6km climbed to the high point of the race. Not the high point in terms of altitude, there was still over 100 metres of that to gain, but for views and drama it’s hard to beat running through a medieval castle. For me the challenge was the terrain not the clock, so I took a few moments to enjoy the incredible scenes laid out below me and gaze across the Pyrenees and beyond. I’d love to return one day when I wasn’t running for a proper look around.

The French consider THIS a “trail”.

From the castle it was a further climb over broken rock, sometimes turning from running in to speed scrambling, and at other times practically crawling from jagged rock to jagged rock. The course markings were brilliant, route finding was no problem, but there was definitely nothing you’d call a trail in this section of the trail run!

Things ticked along nicely through the kilometres, although there was very little opportunity to relax and open the legs, the course demanded attention practically every step of the way. Even the downhills were challenging in their steepness and ground conditions, alternating between slippy dust and broken rocks, but the sun and views and novelty of running through the mountains made every step enjoyable.

My Spanish friend!

I made a friend on the way, in fact I made several. I must admit my shame that the only French I managed during the race was to apologise for being English and not speaking French, but everyone then immediately switched to their best broken English to point out a particular view, tell me it was hot or welcome me to France. One particularly large chap informed me he was going to run “like a boat”, slowly but ever forwarded. It reminded me of my own “be a shark” motto that came in handy later on. I also met a Spaniard who spoke French but no English. What followed was several kilometres of sweaty charades as we communicated as best we could without sharing a common language. Then disaster struck…

My Spanish friend was insistent I should look at something over the valley, despite being on a technical downhill section. I resisted for a while, but curiosity got the better of me and I risked a glance. That’s when I planted my foot on a loose rock and went over on the historically weak ankle, as I tend to do when I go running in mountains! To add insult to injury it turns out the Spaniard was just distracting me while he stopped for a pee!

So the last 8km of the run were more of a stumble, limp and hobble. I pushed on whenever I thought I could trust my ankle but on any broken ground I was reduced to a very cautious trot. It did give me a chance to take in the beauty of the region, stop for a while in the village of Padern for refreshments and chat with other runners as they passed me. I was determined to see the finish line though, there’s no DNF in my DNA – plus I didn’t know the French for “can you take me home please?”

The course had been challenging but fun, in the last few kilometres it just got challenging. The final climb was the steepest I have ever taken on in a run; there were parts where you could reach out and touch the path in front of you without bending over, it felt like running up a wall. Coming over the crest of that climb and seeing the village below, that final descent should have been a delight. Unfortunately I couldn’t even enjoy the downhill by this stage as the uneven ground and dodgy ankle made even that a steady shuffle rather than a flying downhill sprint.

Running – It’s about making friends and memories.

And so, 5 hours after starting and at least an hour later than I’d hoped I reached the line. The finish was at the same marquee where the post-race party was to be held and I was greeted by friends and tables full of drink and food. I learned that Kristina had managed 4th place despite running 1.5km extra after getting lost, which is an incredible effort and by my calculations means she would have been in a race with the first lady if she’d stayed on course! Our other runner, Rachel, ran a very respectable time just over 4 hours, so was also there to greet me at the end and celebrate a job done and a fantastic trip.

I’m already thinking about going back if invited, and taking the course a little more seriously and training accordingly. I also think I’ll avoid any Spaniards and maybe leave that glass of wine until after the race, it can only help!

The runners all home and happy…with random French lady for authenticity!

Thanks to Just A Little Bit for organising the trip. They don’t actually do tours, but they do do brilliant t-shirts so go take a look!

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Resolutions, Dreams & Goals: The Difference

“Training is having a goal, being intentional in your actions, your effort has purpose and your energy has focus” – James Clay, to every athlete he has ever and will ever coach.

Firstly, fuck resolutions.

Image result for no resolutions


There, I said it. All this “new year, new me” bullshit, I can’t stand it. I didn’t want to say anything before, I wanted you to have an idea of the changes you were going to make and the first day of the year does serve a purpose in prompting people to have a look at their lives and highlight the things they want to see differently in twelve months time. However, if you waited for a specific day in the calendar before making that change for no other reason than the date, well that tells me a lot about how much those changes mean to you. If they were important, if they burned in your soul and you were wholly committed to them, you’d have given up chocolate on December 28th or gone for a run on December 31st. Don’t confuse a resolution with anything other than a vague wish to do something for a while and be different at the end of it.

It’s quite possible your resolutions tie in to your dreams. Dreams are wonderful, magical things…you can do anything in dreams, be anyone, achieve the impossible. It’s no coincidence that “dreams” means both those vague hopes you have for the future and the often crazy sub-conscious musings of the brain when you’re asleep. Both are intangible, uncontrollable and most times nonsense.

Here’s some examples of dreams:

  • I won the lottery and was given the cheque by a leprechaun who turned in to Terry Wogan but I woke up just before he signed it
  • I want to get fitter
  • I’m driving in my car and the brakes don’t work and I realise I don’t know how to drive and I’m going to die
  • I want to lose weight
  • I can fly, but it turns out I’ve gone to work without putting my trousers on again.
  • I want to eat more healthily

Dreams. Vague thoughts and ideas with no basis in reality.

So that leaves us with goals. I LOVE goals. Goals don’t need a calendar to determine a start date. Goals aren’t vague or imaginary. Goals can start right now, are real and will get you to were you want to be.

Goals need to be S.M.A.R.T. That’s right folks, it’s acronym time!

smart-goals(There are other versions of this acronym, but my blog my rules!)

Let’s take another look at some of those dreams turned in to goals:

  • I want to get fitter = I want to complete a half marathon in 4 months time/I want to take three minutes off my parkrun in my 50th run/I want to be able to cycle to work every day when the clocks change
  • I want to lose weight = I want to lose 14lbs in 8 weeks/I want to be under 90kg before my birthday/I want to be a size 12 for that wedding in June (it’s worth mentioning here that I have an issue with weight and scales, but that’s a post for another day!)
  • I want to eat more healthily = I will eat 5 portions of fruit and veg for 5 days out of every week/I will commit to “no meat Monday” for a year/I will only eat Cadbury’s Mini Eggs 5 times this easter

With one simple exercise on paper we’ve defined what we want to achieve to create the future we desire. With clearly defined goals we can start to break down the steps needed to get us there (more on that in a blog post coming your way soon…)

So, I ask you dear reader, now the dust has settled on a few weeks of bank holidays and endless prosecco and we are back to something approaching normality, now you’ve made some vague resolutions and tried them on for size, what are your goals?

Image result for goals

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What Does A Running Coach Do?

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” – Benjamin Franklin, 1789.

I’d like to add something to that list please Ben, if you don’t mind. The other cast iron definite, an unwavering truth, a rare guarantee in a world of uncertainty is this, when you tell people you are a running coach they will respond with “Ooh, can you write me a training plan?”.

In fact, the conversation invariably goes a little something like this:

Runner: “Oooh, can you write me a training plan?”

Coach: “Of course! When do you want to get together for an hour to discuss your running history, current activity, future commitments. I’ll need you to think about what sacrifices you are willing to make to fit in the training you need, and things you just can’t compromise on. I want to now what support you have from partners/family/friends. We need to work out your target pace so bring some race times. Then we can plan how often we’ll get together for sessions, I’ve got my diary ready, when are you free?”


I’m going to let you in to a secret; if you just want a training plan with no consideration given to you as an athlete then you don’t want a coach, you want a copy of Runner’s World. In fact, here you go, trusty Hal Higdon training plans as used by runners the world over who have completed races. But if you want to compete not just complete, if you want to reach your potential, then you need a coach.

So, what do coaches do?

If they aren’t there to churn out training plan after training plan to runners who want nothing more than to be told what miles to run, then what are coaches good for? Well here’s a very brief list of some of the things a decent running coach should do… (I will probably expand on some of these points in future posts)

  • Help you set realistic goals and interim targets
  • Monitor and record your progress
  • Keep you consistent and motivated in your training
  • Warm you up and cool you down (because none of us do it when we’re on our own)
  • Help you prevent injury
  • Work on your technique for improved efficiency and speed
  • Work on your strength and conditioning (again, something you don’t do on your own)
  • Give you all the instruction you need to get the best from your speed sessions and hill reps
  • Advise on fueling and nutrition
  • Help determine a race strategy
  • Keep you accountable on the days you are training alone
  • Signpost to other professionals for massage, physio etc
  • Link all of the above back to your goals and make adjustments when needed
  • And yes, they can help you create a training plan that is bespoke to you and built around that weekly swimming lesson you can’t miss and the fact you won’t want to do a long run on your birthday

Image result for running coachSo there you have it, next time you meet a running coach have a think about all the benefits they can bring you and your running and find some way of tapping in to it, whether it’s one-on-one coaching, group sessions or just a chat. They will have qualified because they want to work with athletes and make them better runners, and not because they want to spend their evenings writing training plans!

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