Next Saturday I'm hoping to run at my 20th different parkrun location so I thought I'd write about my experiences of parkrun tourism and why I think it's so great. For those that don't know the term 'parkrun tourist' was coined for those who run a parkrun which they haven't set as their 'home parkrun' when initially registering. The parkrun UK website have a 'most events' section on their website which lists all the parkrunners who have done 20 or more different events. http://www.parkrun.org.uk/results/mostevents/
I noticed this list soon after doing my first parkrun which was actually in Cardiff as a couple of us went along to see what parkrun was all about a couple of weeks before Porthcawl was due to start. Back when Porthcawl started in April 2013 there were only 5 other Welsh parkruns but I noticed there were a few on route to Kidderminster where I go a few times a year to visit my in laws. So in July 2013 we set off at 7am to get to Worcester parkrun where it turned out Darren Wood was visiting. Darren Wood holds the record for most parkruns ever and recently did his 500th parkrun. The Worcester parkrunners that day also included a 800m runner who had represented Great Britain (I forget the name). The course included a grass section to start and then 2 laps through forestry - a bit different to the tarmacked paths in Cardiff and Porthcawl. I loved my first proper parkrun tourism experience and was already hooked on the idea of making the 'most events' list.
A week later I was in London for the National Lottery 5 miler which finished in the Olympic Stadium a year after the opening games of the Olympics. A quick check of the parkrun website indicated I had a choice of 2 parkruns within a couple of miles of my hotel. I chose Valentines park which was actually within walking distance. A lovely park which a huge lake and café. This parkrun even had a volunteer who did a group warm up for anyone that wanted to join in. I was supposed to be saving myself for the 5 miler the day after but got a bit carried away on the super flat course and had my highest finish position to date with 17th.
A few weeks later we stayed at my sister-in-laws in Bristol so again I was on the parkrun website checking options and we went for Little Stoke parkrun which was sort of on the way home. The Ashton Court parkrun which was the other option had been cancelled due to an event in the park meaning Little Stoke had significantly more runners than usual. It involved 3 laps of some playing fields so another super flat one which finished with a 200m grass section. In my early parkrunning days I used to 'go for it' every week and I actually got an overall parkrun PB there. This is still the only parkrun I've done that had changing rooms for runners and someone selling tea, coffee and cakes out the back of a car.
A weekend away in Reading provided another parkrun opportunity with Woodley the preferred choice. Another multi-lap course around some playing fields but this one mostly on grass. At the time I'd done very limited off road running so this was a bit of a challenge. Pontypridd parkrun started in August 2013 and I'd pencilled in going to the inaugural event ever since it'd been announced 2-3 weeks earlier. That week I had a heavy cold but really didn't want to miss the first event so dragged myself over there to do the strange course of one small lap followed by 3 big laps. It was one of my slowest parkruns at 24:20 but weirdly there weren't many in my age category so I was officially the record holder for the 25-29 category after event 1.. it only lasted a week!
A week later I did Arrow Valley parkrun in Redditch having stayed in Kidderminster the previous night. A two lap course around a lake with a steady incline to contend with. Some slightly muddy / wet sections after rain that week and a soggy finish on grass. In November 2013 I did the inaugural Pontypool parkrun (which it turns out future member Richard Lowcock James was also at). It still ranks as one of the toughest parkruns I've done with loads of twists and turns with a reasonable incline on each of the two laps plus the fact the temperature was barely above freezing and the paths were quite icy. Was really pleased with a time of 22:00 there which I think I'd struggle to beat even now.
A visit to my aunties in Gloucester presented an opportunity to sneak another new parkrun in with Newport the location - strange that it took so long to do one of the closer ones. There were 202 runners so one of the larger parkrun fields I'd ran with and someone was presented their 100 parkrun t-shirt that morning. Only being on 20 odd at the time, this seemed amazing. The start is quite interesting at Newport as they tend to line up about 20 runners wide and I was right on the outside. I decided to go for a quick start mainly just to get on the path where I needed to be and it came as a real shock when after 200 meters or so I noticed I was up in the first dozen or so. This definitely spurred me on but I was waiting for dozens to start passing me... it didn't happen and I finished 10th! 10th out of 202 runners! OK, so maybe I didn't mention I was still beaten by someone running with a dog and actually there were a significant amount of club runners not there as there was a cross country fixture that day and Merthyr Mawr Pudding Run was a day later.. but hey, you can only run against the people who turn up.
The next two tourisms were again on the way to the Midlands with Cheltenham in January 2014 and Forest of Dean in Feb. Cheltenham was a 4 lap course around a lake on tarmac paths but was very congested as the leaders ended up lapping me, whilst I was lapping some who were just walking the course. Forest of Dean was a much quieter affair. Two laps, funnily enough in a forest. They asked in the pre run briefing if there were any tourists to which I raised my hand. The instructions were along the lines of "follow the red route first then the yellow route" - thankfully I clearly wasn't going to be leading at any point so made sure I could see someone in front to follow! Definitely the most technically challenging parkrun I've done to date and definitely the muddiest. It's the only one I've taken a tumble at meaning I was extra muddy by the time I'd finished. We were actually on our way to the athletics in Birmingham so it was lucky that there was a leisure centre across the road where I sneaked passed reception to the changing rooms for a much needed shower and change.
The next two visits also rank amongst the more challenging parkruns with Pomphrey Hill parkrun near Bristol and Llyn Llech Owain near Llanelli. The Pomphrey Hill parkrun was one of the smaller ones I'd done to date with just 80 runners so I thought maybe another top 10 finish might be on the cards. I sprinted off like it was a 1K race not a 5K and found myself in 2nd place for the first 400 meters. What the regulars knew that I didn't was that there's a rather steep hill on each of the three laps. I'd probably say the steepest hill in any parkrun I've done - and it was off road! After lap one I'd slipped down to 6th, lap two down to 10th and eventually finished in 13th. The next one near Llanelli was mostly gravel or bigger loose stone paths and undulating throughout. A runner who must have been about 8 years old was in front of me for the first lap - in these situations I always kid myself with the excuse that these fast kids must be future Olympians or something and that's why they are in front of me!
The birth of the twins meant a mini break from parkrun tourism... well, 4 months anyway. They came along to the second Hereford parkrun in October 2014 on the way up to Kidderminster. A chance for a high position finish with just 60 runners. A slightly undulating out and back course along a cycle path with a slightly muddy grass section in the middle. I finished in 14th which I was pleased with.
Newent was the next venue. Almost entirely off road and on mostly on grass with a few short sharp inclines putting it amongst the more challenging courses. It was also the last parkrun before Christmas so some of the regulars had provided tea and a variety of cakes and mince pies for next to nothing. The pre race briefing was basically 'Go' which came as a bit of a surprise given the course layout is far from obvious. Again - I wasn't likely to be leading but needed someone in front of me to make sure I went the right way. I ended up with another 14th place finish.
Coming into 2015 I had just 4 more to go to get to the 'most events' page minimum requirement of 20. A weekend away with the in laws in West Wales provided the perfect opportunity to do Colby parkrun and three of my brother in-laws joined me. The pressure was on a bit being the most regular runner of the group so I wanted to 'go for it'. In the end I finished in my highest position of 9th place.
After mentioning that maybe CORC's regular parkrunners should all try a new parkrun once a month, we finally set a date with Barry Island the venue. Only 3 of us went. I was supposed to be saving myself for the clubs 5 miler the next day but after realising I was in 14th half ways through the first of two out and backs, I was determined to get another top 10 finish and eventually finished in 10th place with my fastest parkrun tourism time.
For our second monthly parkrun tourism, I chose Bryn Bach. Mileage-wise it's the 4th closest parkrun to my house but as it wasn't really on the way to Kidderminster and seemed a bit 'out of the way', I hadn't done it. We did get 4 club members plus a couple of supporters for this one. I'd hoped for another top 10 finish given a small field and a flat two and half lap course but ended up finishing 14th. Funnily enough my highest finish at Porthcawl is 14th as well so I've finished in that position at 4 different parkruns.
On Saturday 27th June I'll hopefully be running my 20th different parkrun at Parke parkrun! Again, this is part of a weekend away. There are currently 1088 parkrunners on the 'most events' list - an incredible amount of parkrun tourists. However, when you consider there are over 1.3 million registered parkrunners - that's just 0.08% or one in every 1195 parkrunners who chose to visit 20 or more locations.
Of course, I'll be at the bottom of that list with the minimum total of 20 and looking at the top of the list is where the really bonkers world of parkrun tourism. Paul Fielding has run at 235 DIFFERENT parkruns. He literally travels hundreds of miles each Saturday to go and do a new parkrun, sometimes even leaving on a Friday afternoon and booking accommodation, He's done Porthcawl if you were wondering. Not far behind him is Paul Freyne with 223 and there's actually 42 parkrunners who've done 100 or more different events. I would like to point out this is actually a lot easier if you live in London where there are about 50 parkruns in a 20 mile radius whereas as detailed above, I've had to travel quite far and take opportunities wherever I can just to get to 20. However, parkrun tourism isn't just limited to the UK and some of these tourists have even been known to fly to other countries just to do a parkrun and return the same day.
I'm not the only CORC parkrun tourist. I may have done the most events but you could argue Richard Lowcock James is our most regular tourist with his regular visits back to his 'old home' parkrun of Newport and is on 12 different events in total. My main challenger could be Chris Pratt who although 'only' on 11 at the moment, is targeting doing all the remaining Welsh parkruns he hasn't run which would get him to the 20+ mark as well. He regularly does parkruns on visits to family in Southampton and Huddersfield. Chris Roberts is actually our number on tourist in 2015. He's done 8 different locations just this year. Kelly might have the most impressive parkrun tourism venue though - after doing her first 49 parkruns at Porthcawl, she finally tried a different one for her 50th... in Florida! This actually isn't the furthest parkrun tourism for the club though as Matthew Jones ran the Sydney parkrun in January whilst out there on holidays. With several other members doing the odd parkrun whilst away, CORC members have visited 45 different venues in total.
So what's next. Well the UK parkrun website lists those who've done 20 different parkrun venues, but the worldwide parkrun website only lists those who've done 30 - so obviously that's the next target. I had actually exhausted all my options 'on the way' to Kidderminster after doing Hereford but now Evesham, Gloucester and Tewksbury have all set up parkruns. Caerphilly, a second Cardiff parkrun, Swansea and Neath are all due to start this year and all within a 40 minute drive. A couple more to tick off around Bristol if I happen to be that way and actually I could hit 30 within the next year? According to a recent parkrun newsletter there are currently 381 UK parkruns... by next year they think that total with be 500... in 5 years they predict there will be over 1000... amazing.
Every parkrun is different and I'd highly recommend trying a different one if you've only stuck to your 'home' one to date. Turn up with your barcode and off you go - it's as simple as that.