I think the parkrun concept is a brilliant one, and while I am finding it is not always possible to get to my local one at St Albans, when I am away for a weekend I have now decided to be a parkrun tourist whenever I can. This led to me writing about the Forest Of Dean recently (which you can read here), and before that Derby (which you can read here).
I was staying at Lower Mullacott, near Ilfracombe, for the weekend because Debbie was meeting up with a group of bassoonists, and as I had free time on the Saturday morning I decided to go to the local parkrun at Barnstaple, at Rock Park.
I was hoping for an improvement in the weather because the two days we had spent in and around Dawlish before travelling up here had been pretty miserable. I was not in luck, and it was wet and windy as I left the farm, which was only once I had managed to manoeuvre myself past a herd of alpaca. The drive down to Barnstaple was easy with very little traffice on the roads, and the postcode provided by the parkrun website brought me right to Rock Park, where my luck changed and I found a free parking space. There are also two car parks close by, in case you are not so lucky.
The instructions said that the run starts next to the children’s play area, which I could see from the comfort of my car, and not far from that I could see people gathering, so I decided it was time to get out and face up to whatever the weather wanted to throw at me. It was a relatively small group of runners, all very friendly and welcoming, and not before long we were called together for the briefing. The briefing was clear, concise and very easy to hear. There was a little clap for all us parkrun tourists, and then for all the newbies, and we were told we would be running the winter route today because of the ground conditions, which would mean three laps of the top loop of a figure of eight, and two laps of the bottom loop. There would be marshalls all along the course to make sure we did not run off it.
The route is on tarmac paths, but even from here I could see flooding along the way. The top loop is anti-clockwise and runs up alongside the River Taw up to an iron bridge at the far end of the park where you turn left, and then take another left turn to stay on the footpath which runs alongside the road, coming back to the start and then starting the bottom loop by taking the fork to the right to go around the edge of the park, up to the war memorial, and back down alongside the River Taw again to the start. At the end of the third lap of the top loop the route continues along the start of the bottom lap, then turns left along the footpath to the finish line. There was a lot of flooding both on the tarmac and on the grass either side of it, and in places this made it very narrow, but everyone was very courteous when passing. The path is naturally narrow at the start, so if you are a faster runner you will definitely want to be at the front, regardless of any flooding. The marshalls were all very well positioned and always encouraging, even on a day like this when they were effectively just standing around in the rain.
As for my own run, it was pretty terrible. My back was aching, despite the fact I had specifically stretched it out before we got going. The part of the course coming back on the top lap was saturated, no matter whether the path or the grass was being run on, and I found that hard going, as was the point just the other side of the start line as the bottom lap begins. I finished in a time of 35 minutes 22 seconds, almost 10 minutes outside of my personal best. I went back to my car to get my barcode and was very quickly processed when I came back to the finish point.
I found this to be a very friendly and excellently organised parkrun over a flat tarmac course, which I am sure would be good for a personal best in good weather conditions, and which offers something for an OCR runner when it is flooded ! I will definitely be coming back when we are in the area again next year.