parkrun tourism @ mernda

I will confess – the first thing that happened when we heard that Mernda was launching its own parkrun was……to Google where Mernda was. There, I’ve said it. Mernda is not exactly a tourist mecca and wasn’t somewhere I’d ever had reason to go to before so it took a little bit of interweb assistance to figure out where it was and how to get there. As luck would have it, it’s a smidge over an hour away so not too early a morning – an absolute treat for a launch.

At the end of our drive, the parkrun location was very easy to locate and we managed to find a parking spot close by (after a quick pre-run toilet stop up the road  – note to visitors: no toilets on site). As is usual for a launch, there was quite a crowd and many of the regulars, including the dedicated Victorian statespeople, keeping up their titles.

We were welcomed by the Territory Director then given a briefing by Run Director, Amanda. Thankfully, proceedings were short as it was a typically chilly Melbourne morning and, having already ditched my jacket, I was having trouble feeling my hands.

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The start line is a short walk from the meeting point and you set off and run a lap around the lake. With so many people there for the launch, it was a little crowded but we soon spread out as we approached the first little hill near the first turnaround point. In this direction, you run along the edge of the suburban park and have views both of the lake and houses bordering the park. After the turnaround, you head back over a bridge (watch out for icy patches) then up another little hill and onto a nature trail before another turnaround amidst a housing estate. From there, you head back down…and do it all again.

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As much as I’m not a fan of multi lap courses, this one was actually enjoyable. The variety of surfaces, tracks and views were happy distractions and having out and back sections and laps meant that there were lots of friendly faces out there. For the most part, the track was wide enough to cater for all although, with so many attending the launch, I felt for those faster runners who had difficulty passing once they were lapping the rest of us as it got a bit tight in a few places. The course markings (chalk path markings and signs) were fantastic with no possibility of getting lost and the ample marshals on the course were very helpful and encouraging.

The final sprint is up a very short rise and over the finish line, perfectly situated next to the meeting point so you get lots of cheers as you cross the line.

A huge welcome to Victoria’s 50th parkrun (can you believe that?!?!) and congratulations to all the volunteers and event team at Mernda who made this one possible. Definitely a happy way to spend a Saturday morning 🙂

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Run Forrest 2017 – race recap

Every now and again, it’s good to do something that scares you a bit. To stretch yourself, revise what you believe you’re capable of and remind you that life is full of opportunities and rewards for those willing to embrace some risks. In short, being brave, not perfect (Thanks to Jade Hameister for this one – I’ve adopted it as a personal motto).

Run Forrest has been on my wishlist for a while but has always scared me. Even though this year I felt more ready to have a go than ever before, it still took me until last Thursday to sign up. I’m not exactly sure what I was scared of – hills? Trails? Not being able to finish? The unknown. As much as I love trail running, I tend to stick to familiar ones and get nervous when I strike out somewhere new, in case I come across something I can’t handle. Thus my nerves when I thought of this event.

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The morning didn’t start too well as the fog was very heavy on my drive over and just added to the nerves. I arrived safely, parked up and stopped for a toilet break then faced the next issue – how to find the event village. There had been some information on the website but I had expected perhaps some signs however couldn’t see anything obvious (I later saw arrows on the road but had obviously missed them going in). To get to the event village, you follow a little path on the edge of town and wind your way down to trail heaven. There I found a great little event village, complete with fires to warm ourselves as we waited and hay bales to rest on.

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Having managed to slot in another toilet break, I added my bag to bag drop then ambled to the start area. My nerves were still there but I just wanted to get this thing started and face whatever demons I found out on the trail.

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From the start line, we headed out, around and back past the same area before running behind the event village where we were confronted with the first hill. A significant hill. Some people around me could even be heard muttering ‘Silvan’ under their breath (refer to this blog post for that particularly gruesome hill). Having this so early in the event did make me falter a little – I’d already been nervous; was this the evidence I needed to prove that my nerves had been justified? Would it be too hard? I’m pleased to say those thoughts moved on pretty quickly – I’m not in love with hills but I’m much better friends with them than I ever used to be and I knew I just needed to put my head down and get on with it. So I powered on.

At the top of the hill, we moved onto a narrow trail through the beautiful bush with undulations but nothing unrunnable. I instantly felt better, stronger and happier – I could do this. Of course I could. I also noticed I wasn’t alone, with a fair bunch of runners both in front and behind me which made me feel better as well.

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The scenery we were running through was, simply, stunning. The Otway Ranges have long been a favourite place of mine, even before I took up running. I couldn’t help but feel very lucky to get to run through this today, in the most perfect running weather you could wish for (especially in a place well known for rain). As well as getting to run along narrow trails, there was also a tiny bit of road as we headed up to the West Barwon Reservoir, adding to the impressive views. A woman running nearby and I were chatting about our ludicrously large smiles which seemed permanently etched to our faces – despite the sore and hard parts of running, this was one of those runs that just made us smile.

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We headed back onto the trails, past the drink station and up through the turnaround loop for the 10km. This was definitely my sort of running – gentle ups and downs, soft (and slightly slippery) paths and blissful serenity all around. The faint sounds of the event village could be heard through the trees but not close enough to worry about the run being over yet – I was happy for this one to keep going for a while.

As we continued to weave through, we hit more of the technical mountain bike trails with banked corners and a sticky clay surface – both a bit of a hazard but easily dealt with by my fabulous trail shoes. Not sure I would have coped in road shoes for this event. I could have run on this stuff forever – I felt strong and more like a mountain goat than I have before on the trail, ably picking my way around tree roots. But it wasn’t to be as we emerged out of the trees and back on the final stretch before the finish.

I actually think I managed to take a bit of a wrong turn in the last section as I followed runners ahead but then found others converging with us on the path further up. This might have contributed to me pulling up a bit short on distance although I think that’s probably more to do with the general difficulties of measuring trail runs – very hard to work out the line when you’re dodging all sorts of natural obstacles.

There was one last uphill then a downhill jaunt through magical tree ferns – a perfect prelude to the finish line. As always, the finish chute seemed to go on for a long time although I wasn’t as ‘done’ as I normally am and ran it fairly strong. To see the run for yourself, check out my link on ‘Relive‘.

This event really is a one of a kind in many ways. The location, the scenery, the trail, the diversity of runners it attracts, the vibe of the event village – it all builds to a very special package.

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2017 Great Ocean Road half marathon – race recap

The Great Ocean Road running festival feels like the kind of event you only get to do once in a lifetime so I felt very, very lucky to be heading down on Friday night to complete my second event. As always, I wasn’t undertaking this alone but was part of the usual running crew, ensuring a fun weekend ahead.

My friends and I had booked a house in Skenes Creek which was a great place to relax and get ourselves mentally prepared for the task. On Saturday, we slept in (beyond parkrun time – eeeek!) and chatted before popping into Apollo Bay to shop for GOR merchandise, wander the event village and grab some lunch which we took back to eat on our balcony with amazing views of the ocean.

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Our balcony view – just gorgeous

We spent the afternoon with more relaxing and then headed into the Apollo Bay Brewhouse for dinner. They had put on a pasta selection for those running people requiring such things and I was grateful for it – running long distances is hard enough without messing with routines and, stereotypical as it is, eating pasta the night before is one of my rituals.

Back to our holiday home and time to get all our things ready for our early start in the morning then a relatively early night. My 5am wake up call wasn’t too harsh although I’m not sure I slept that well. I wasn’t exactly nervous – I knew the course and what to expect but, as always, felt pressure from within to do ‘well’, whatever that means. I’m always my harshest critic and the one most likely to inflict judgement.

This year, we were lucky enough to skip the buses as one of our fabulous support crew drove us to Kennett River which saved me from having to stave off travel sickness in the back of a bus driving through the dark on the Great Ocean Road. We arrived before the crowds and headed to the beach to savour the sunrise – definitely a highlight of this event. Today’s sunrise didn’t disappoint although the photos don’t do it justice.

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All the usual rituals then ensued – portaloo queuing (not too long actually), photo taking and, soon enough, heading to our starting positions. It seemed a lot busier this year than last and saw us start further back and amid thicker crowds. Neither of these things were a problem – it’s a large road with plenty of room and I knew we’d spread out easily after the start.

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The fabulous running trio about to start

So we started. I figured 23km was far enough to run so I walked until I got the start line then began my run. I hadn’t really decided on a game plan other than to a) try to beat my time from last year and b) enjoy myself. Run when I felt like it, walk when I felt like it, instead of sticking to set intervals. From the start line, you head very quickly uphill and, having fresh legs, I felt ok to run a bit. In fact, I felt great. I had my Garmin on the lap screen so just tracked my pace for that kilometre and ran enough to keep it below the pace I needed. This was a pretty easy strategy for the first couple of kilometres as there were plentiful downhills to bank some time.

Somewhere around the 5km mark I had a couple of things that ate into my time – koala spotting and the large hill taking you up to Cape Patton. I still managed a respectable pace, just inevitably a bit slower, especially as the view demanded some snapshots before moving on. If you’re running too fast to enjoy the scenery in this event, then you really are missing the best part.

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The view from Cape Patton

After Cape Patton, the hills are smaller and you begin to spend some time inland, running alongside farmland. You still have undulations along the course but nothing too draining and I was able to keep my pace within my target. My biggest challenge was that, while I had trained for this, much of my training was on trails which are much softer on the feet than road. The constant pounding was starting to take a toll – on the soles of my feet, on my joints and on my knees.

I was lucky enough to be running close to one of my friends – we kept catching each other up and it helped keep me motivated and happily distracted from the task. We were also pleasantly surprised by how many other runners were around us throughout – no doubt partly a result of record numbers but also related to us being quicker than last year. The runners around us were a great bunch and definitely added to the fun atmosphere – no one taking it too seriously but also clearly pushing themselves to achieve their own goals.

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As we ran through Skenes Creek, my friend showed her consistency and determination as she went on ahead while I was finding it hard to keep up the pace. So I put my head down and power walked it out. And when I say power walked, I mean power walked. I couldn’t slow down – the finish line was edging closer and I needed to get there.

This event is an ‘ultra half marathon’ (ie, a bit longer than a half marathon) so you actually cross over timing mats for an official half marathon distance 2km before the actual event finish. I crossed the half marathon mats having knocked 18 minutes off my time from 2016. I was elated. However it did nothing to make my body feel better which was telling me in no uncertain terms that it had had enough. That I managed to keep moving still astounds me – all I wanted to do was stop and sit. By now, there were crowds starting to gather along the route which was wonderful as it gave me motivation and encouragement.

Amidst the general ‘go’ and ‘you’re doing great’ there was one gentleman who could learn the art of what to say to someone who looks like they’re struggling. He decided advise was the best thing and told me ‘You’re doing well. Push up to a shuffle so you can finish strong.’ Had I been capable of speech at that point, I would have told him that this was finishing strong, because the act of finishing at all showed my strength in that moment.

The cow cheer squad were there again this year and were just as lovely – I don’t remember what one lady said but I appreciated it and thanked her, telling her I was doing my best. She put her hand on my shoulder and said ‘I know you are. You’re amazing’ which brought on the tears that I then had to work hard to hold back.

I continued my power walk until I finally saw the finish line as I knew it was the longest finish shute in history and would take everything I had. And possibly then some. According to Strava, it was about 300metres and I ran it proudly and as quick as I could. The finish shute is lined with people, many of which were cheering for me thanks to my name on my bib and the absence of other runners at that moment. Every step I wondered if I was capable of taking another and it was an extra strain as I was fighting back the tears. I’m normally pretty emotional when I run but this was another level – a combination of pain, exhaustion and elation. I crossed the line having knocked exactly 19 minutes off my time from last year.

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Finish line in sight, I just try to get it over with quickly

This event is nothing short of epic. Epic in the way it takes over Apollo Bay for the weekend, epic in the logistics which ensure smooth running and movement of 7000 athletes and epic in the views along the way. There really is something truly magical about getting to run on this road with no interruptions or distractions, surrounded by a diverse mix of athletes and supported by a township of locals and visitors. If you haven’t done it, add it to your list and make it a priority. It will hurt but is definitely an event you won’t regret.

 

parkrun tourism @ timboon

When I first heard that Timboon was getting a parkrun, my first reaction was ‘Yay!’ followed very quickly by ‘ice cream!!!!!’. It should come as no secret that Timboon is famous for its delicious chilly foodstuff and, even if the scenery hadn’t been a big enough drawcard, the ice cream would have got us there.

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The start/finish line

After a couple of hours drive, we arrived to a very chilly Timboon but an incredibly warm welcome from the parkrun volunteers, locals and tourists gathered for the launch. It was great to see how much this event is clearly supported by and part of the community with the Lions Club cranking up a bacon and egg breakfast, councillors in attendance and local businesses coming on board to participate then open up early to cater for those who’d come along to the launch. We were all welcomed by the Event and Territory Directors with a show of many, many hands demonstrating how big a boost the visitors had made to the local population for the day. Our Run Director then gave us a synopsis of the course, sticking to the positive – an out and back course which is downhill all the way to the turn around point.

And, with that, we were off.

The course is simply stunning. From the start line, you head out on the rail trail and down the blissfully promised gentle downhill run on a soft trail, lightly dusted with leaves to cushion your feet even further. While it was certainly cold, rays of sunlight were streaming between the trees and making everything look like it belonged in a fairytale. The trail is wide enough to easily pass, even when runners started to come back the other way.

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The beautiful rail trail

I was running intervals and feeling strong and speedy, despite not being able to feel my fingers thanks to the morning chill. The marshals at the turnaround point were all smiles and full of encouragement which it turned out I needed as the return journey is, obviously, uphill and took a little bit of getting used to. It’s not a terrible hill, more of a vague incline and I adjusted soon enough with the finish line sneaking up pretty quickly. It was wonderful to see people of all speeds out there on the course with a great collection of parkwalkers smiling and chatting as they completed their 5km.

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Views from the trail

Your choices for post parkrun sustenance are plentiful – the Timboon railway shed is right there and was where we chose to start. Walking in is an aromatic delight – the whisky distilled on site smells delicious then, walking further in, we were greeted with freshly baked smells of scones and muffins. After our coffee and muffins (still warm from the oven), we headed off for our dessert (or second breakfast) – Timboon ice cream. I’m usually a fan of the white chocolate and raspberry but opted today for whisky cream and maple and cinnamon – both absolutely delicious.

I am aware that my next statement is a pretty big call, particularly having visited 39 different courses but this course is definitely my favourite so far. Timboon has the perfect mix – a stunning trail, good facilities and wonderful post-parkrun options. My only regret? That we couldn’t stay longer today. However it’s only a small regret – just another reason to make sure we come back.

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parkrun tourism @ westerfolds

In my quest to complete all Victorian parkruns, I will admit that I have been cherry picking. And Westerfolds was not near the top of my list. Before the Westerfoldians attack me, let me explain. I had heard wonderful things about the scenery (gorgeous and full of trees and wildlife) and the people (friendly and welcoming) but I’d also heard about another aspect of the Westerfolds course which made me a little nervous – the hills. I hadn’t given them too much thought until I stumbled into discussions with people after completing Wilson Botanic course about which was harder – Wilson Botanic or Westerfolds. From then, it moved a little further down the list.

Deciding to embrace hills may not be the best strategy as I get back to form after time off with a calf tear but no one has ever accused me of being sensible when it comes to running. And so it was that hubby and I headed off to Westerfolds this morning to see exactly how bad this hill was.20170325_075202.jpg

We knew we were in the right spot not only due to the parkrun flags but due to the sunglass-requiring fluorescent wear sported by the Westerfoldians – definitely a bunch who like to stand out. Run Director Rachel gave a fabulous briefing – full of all the necessary bits but delivered in a fun way which seems to sum up the spirit of this popular parkun. Milestones were celebrated, visitors and first timers welcomed and then it was time to begin.

I found the first kilometre really hard and was racking my brain to figure out why. Tired? Possibly. Dehydrated? Most likely. Or just that I was actually running faster than I had for quite some time? Definitely! With the mystery solved, I settled into it and felt pretty good. Calf was behaving itself and the ‘undulations’ were not at all terrible. Yet.

The scenery is certainly gorgeous and I was lucky enough to spot a couple of kangaroos bounding away from the mad runners, off into the bush. The path is wide enough that I didn’t encounter any bottlenecks and there was plenty of room to move around people where needed.

Another really pleasing thing to see is the number of parents and children at this parkrun, adding to the friendly, non-competitive and inclusive vibe. There was a little boy ahead of me in his parkrun 50 shirt and it made me smile the whole way around, thinking what a great thing it was that his parents had done for him, encouraging his involvement in this at such a young age.

However all these pleasant thoughts and slightly manic smiles at the scenery didn’t last as the hill I had clearly not been looking forward to revealed itself. The fact that it doesn’t reveal itself at once but just keeps stretching and stretching tells you what sort of hill it is – not huge and not that steep but long enough to give you a good kicking. I put my head down and power walked up it.

The positive is that the downhill run towards the finish was much needed as I put my legs into automatic and cruised down the hill at a lovely pace. One final push up another incline and I crossed the finish, quite pleased to have made it under 40 minutes – slowly getting back some speed and not completely wrecked on a hilly course. I clearly was still feeling ok as I headed off to do a 2km cool down on some of the trails in the park – a great place to explore and one I’ll be coming back to.

So is it harder than Wilson Botanic? Hmmmm, not sure on that one. I feel like it’s a much smaller hill which goes on for longer. However the sting in the Wilson Botanic hill is not only that it’s very sharp but that you know it’s a 2 lap course so you’re going to have to do it all over again. Based on that, I think I’m giving the title to Wilson Botanic….for the moment. It is also entirely possible that I’m a bit fitter than I was when I ran that one – perhaps it’s time to go back and do it again?!

Welcome to 2017 – doing the double @ Pakenham & Berwick Springs

If you’re a person who likes partying to bring in the New Year, you probably want to stop reading now. This is not that sort of blog. Instead, I was in bed early on New Year’s Eve as my alarm was set for 5am on New Year’s Day. Yes, 5am. At this bright and early hour, I set off with some friends for the other side of Melbourne to ‘do the double’ – two parkruns in a day. This feat is only possible on New Year’s Day in certain locations which have decided to run events, are close enough together and who agree to stagger their start times to allow for running and travelling in between. Our chosen 2 were Pakenham and Berwick Springs as they were both new courses for me.

We arrived at Pakenham and knew we were in the right spot due to the big crowd that had already gathered at 7.30am. The run director was very upbeat and happy to have blitzed their previous attendance record with lots of people keen to start their New Year with a double parkrun. Apparently they have a mantra at Pakenham – ‘It’s not a race, it’s a run so let’s get going and have some fun’. He did modify it a little for the occasion, suggesting we might like to get going a bit quicker than normal to ensure we all made it to Berwick Springs for part II.

The course at Pakenham is very easy to follow – an out and back starting from the meeting area and going along the concrete and gravel path. It’s quite pretty for a suburban course with some shady spots and enough scenery to keep you interested. It’s also wide enough not to be too crowded or bumping into other path users. And, being an out and back, it is perfect for high-five opportunities which were not in short supply on Sunday with everyone feeling very encouraging.

2017-01-01_pakenham_parkrun1The halfway point appeared quite quickly although that could have been because I was running with my friend which always seems to make the kilometres fly by. Either way, we were soon on our way back along the path and finished in a reasonable time. We were the last of our bunch of friends, therefore had the whole crowd there as a cheer squad at the finish – always a bonus! Parkrun #1, done!

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We headed off fairly swiftly towards Berwick Springs, stopping for a toilet break as neither of these 2 parkruns has toilets near their start. We still arrived in plenty of time at Berwick Springs and found ourselves a park not too far away. If we had thought Pakenham was popular, this was even more so with a constant stream of people right up until briefing time.

Again, the briefing was particularly uplifting with some milestones being celebrated, special members of the parkrun team being acknowledged and first timers and visitors all heartily welcomed. More importantly, the run director struck a chord with his comment that parkrun is more than just a run, it’s a community – absolutely true and something very much in evidence here.

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Took a while to get us all the start line – there were a lot of eager New Year’s Day parkrunners!

Soon enough, off we were for event #2. Berwick Springs course is 2 laps around a lake – again, quite picturesque and pretty much flat. There were lots of familiar faces from the Pakenham event and many were taking it easy, having already put in their big effort for the morning. I ran as much as my feet allowed but they were feeling a bit sore which is unusual – probably expecting a bit much from my new shoes so early in their breaking in period.

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Two lap courses always sting a little, especially as I generally get overtaken and this was no exception. However I felt better on my second lap, heading for the finish line. With a lot of runners participating, Berwick Springs has its process well worked out and I was scanned and hanging with my friends in no time.

We were a little limited after the run for breakfast options as many of the usual haunts were closed for New Year’s Day but we found something to sustain us for the long drive home. What an adventure! It was only when I arrived home that I realised how tired I was – an early start, a long return journey and a 10km run all taking their toll.

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parkrun tourism @ Cohuna

Launches of new parkrun events are celebration enough but there’s something even more special about adding a road trip and a night away. This weekend, we travelled up to Cohuna for their parkrun launch – a 3 1/2 hour drive and a night of camping made it feel like an adventure.

Cohuna parkrun is pretty special for a couple of reasons – for me personally, it’s very close to where I grew up and I loved being able to come back to help them launch. In addition, it’s a very small community (population of a bit over 2000) who have done an incredible job to get this off the ground.

We stayed at the Cohuna Waterfront caravan park with a location that is simply beautiful – surrounded by the gentle waters of Gunbower Creek. It was a view that it was hard to tear ourselves away from although the birds and then the frogs kept us company into the night, reminding us where we were.

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The view from our campsite on the Gunbower Creek

From there, the startline for parkrun was a 10 minute walk and we arrived and chatted to some of the other tourists we knew who had made the trek. It was also great to see a good contingent of locals and quite a few families ready for their 5km.

The official welcome and briefing were delivered and the course explained….mostly. Due to the difficulties of having to find a 5km track that doesn’t cross roads, they’ve had to be imaginative at Cohuna and have created a 2 1/2 lap loop. It sounded quite confusing but was easy enough to follow once you were out there with lots of marshals and great signage to remind you where to go.

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With another event on Sunday and a slightly dodgy leg, I had decided to walk this one and it was a great opportunity to enjoy the scenery and the spectacular weather as well as chat to some of the locals. The course is a great meander along the water and through the trees with the loops making it all go quite quickly. Doing laps and the out and back section also mean that you pass people lots of times, adding to the friendly atmosphere.

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finish line 🙂

We followed up our parkrun with a breakfast worthy of the drive to get there – the fluffiest pancakes you could imagine and great coffee over the road at the pub, all while sitting outside enjoying the sunshine. Perfect.

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Lots of bridges to cross on this parkrun course 🙂

Overall, another fabulous parkrun and definitely one to add to your list. A huge well done to the team for getting it off the ground – great location, friendly atmosphere and an ideal excuse for a weekend away.

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fellow parkrun adventurers….and a fish 🙂 photo by Gary Light