I was in Chepstow for the weekend for the annual Summer’s End Progressive Rock Festival, staying at the excellent Beeches Farm campsite, and as I had free time on the Saturday morning I decided to go to the local parkrun at the Forest of Dean, at Coverham Enclosure Five Acres.
I was really looking forward to it because the weather on the Friday evening had been absolutely delightful. However, that had completely changed by the Saturday morning, and now the area was engulfed with a light mist through to a thick fog. I had not been to this parkrun before so I hoped the driving route to it was going to be straightforward in these weather conditions, not that I would have been able to drive any faster if the weather conditions had been better because I found myself behind a tractor from the farm. The results from my very old and out of date satnav did not exactly match up with what I remembered of the address, but I had left the details in my tent and did not want to go back to get them, so pressed on and hoped that once I got there something would prompt my memory, and sure enough it did. I saw Lakers School and Coleford Leisure Centre, and was able to pull in to the parking area there, and found an available and free parking space. Someone else who parked up at the same time looked likely to be going to parkrun so I checked with her and she confirmed I could park there, and that the start was just across the road, in the woods.
Everyone was very friendly and welcoming, and there was even a tin for the safekeeping of barcodes, which is a brilliant idea, even if my shorts do come with a front pocket which suits that purpose perfectly. Groups of people were heading off for short warm up runs, and this appeared to be quite an experienced parkrun group – there were certainly more than a few 100 parkrun tops, and possibly a few more than you might expect in a group of this size – but there was absolutely no sense of anyone being ‘elite’, as everyone mixed in together. Of course, those of you who are reading this and know me will know that I was wearing my own 100 top – The 100 Peaks Challenge shirt, which is getting a lot of use ! I had also come prepared for a woodland course in my Merrell All Out Rush trail shoes. They called in all the new runners, so I joined them as a parkrun tourist, and they went through what would be happening very clearly and in detail, and with decent amplification so that everyone who needed to hear could hear. The course was explained and we were reassured that it was very well marked out and marshalled. Then we all lined up and were ready to go.
The course is run on forest paths and much of it appears to follow permanently marked trails. It is two laps, an outer one to start with, and then an inner one which at times follows parts of the outer one, and which draws a star pattern that looks great on Strava. The ground is exactly what you would expect in a forest, and I imagine in the winter months it could become slippery and very muddy, but the trails are mostly flat, and there are no natural obstacles other than some exposed stones and tree roots. For me it made a nice change to running in a park, and if you are into Obstacle Course Racing then it is an ideal training ground for the running aspects of that. There were very encouraging marshalls in all the right places, so there was never any worry that I was going to find myself off course, and the signage which was not permanent was obvious and easy to follow.
As for my own run, the first mile felt fine and I was very much enjoying the sensation of running through a wood, the second mile was not so great, and by the end of it my digestive system had once more taken control and I was feeling so bloated that I had to finish the third mile with a mixture of running and speed marching. The final stretch is uphill to the start line and I was able to put in such a burst there that I could feel just how much I still had in the tank if only my body would allow me to use it. I finished in a time of 34 minutes 18 seconds, still almost 9 minutes outside of my personal best for the distance.
Looking at the news from the run, they had 167 runners, their best yet, and, as I had thought, there was a great mixture of runners with groups doing the C25K programme as well as two guys running their 100th parkrun. This is a very friendly and excellently organised parkrun over a fun course, and when I am next in the area on a Saturday morning I will definitely be going back again.