100 parkruns mean a trip to Bushy Park
Where better to bring up your 100th parkrun than the birthplace of the event, Bushy Park. This was where I headed to tackle the course where the first-ever parkrun took place in 2004.
The debut parkrun saw founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt among 13 people at the start. Sixteen years on and it’s fair to say the idea kinda snowballed.
Christmas Day 2019 saw a world-record turnout of 2,545. It’s the reason us adults get up early and excitedly on the big day, now the innocent joy over presents has disappeared.
Bushy Park is one of the eight Royal Parks dotted in and around London. Driving in through the sweeping grounds leading into the park, I was hoping to catch sight of Harry and Meghan warming up for a swift 5k before heading off on their ‘next chapter‘ (yawn).
Alas, I must’ve missed them in a hefty field of 1,620 runners. But I did catch sight of Dom from kids’ TV’s Dick & Dom in da Bungalow fame. A worthy consolation prize if ever there was one.
It also served as a reminder of the random celebrity facial recognition knowledge I seem to have acquired through years working in media.
With regular attendances of well over 1,000 people, getting to the park early is advisable if driving. My arrival was shortly before 8am and there is plenty of parking available.
Afterwards, the drive out can be long, windy and a bit slow due simply to the fact that cars are heading back out into a built-up area.
Getting set for the run
So, on with the business. At Bushy Park, the first-timer briefing provides a nice potted history of the birth of parkrun. Runners are indeed on hallowed ground. The briefing mentions the very first event starting in the car park; nowadays the first steps are a bit grander on the grass.
I didn’t plan to start on the frontline but re-tying my shoelaces for the umpteenth time of the morning meant when I looked up, around 1,000 more people had trotted past me. Impressively for an event with such a high turnout of people, it started just three minutes past its 9am target. It trounced the 9.15am of one I attended that only had around 200 runners.
Very often it’s the little things you notice and this is true of the Bushy Park event. A quirky example comes at the start, where there is a lady in red (or pink hi-vis) on a bike.
She’s sitting there, looking over her shoulder, waiting for everyone to come running towards her. From the start line it looks like she’ll surely get trampled by the herd. But no, this is Bushy parkrun. A royal park wouldn’t let this happen.
No sooner than the Race Director has issued a surprisingly short ‘On your marks – GO!’ to send us on our way, the lady is pedalling like the clappers – heroically guiding the way for newbies like me. It reminded me of watching cycling events being paced by a derny bike.
As I eventually worked my way onto the correct path I’ve no idea where she went. She was gone, like a cycling version of Florence Nightingale disappearing into the low mist of Bushy Park on a crisp, frosty morning.
The Bushy Park course
All parkrun courses provide a good fitness challenge. Bushy Park is reasonably fast and flat but still testing in places, particularly depending on weather conditions. This freezing January morning, some parts had icy stretches while others that were benefitting from the early morning sunshine were thawing and becoming a boggy mud-fest underfoot.
The route (shown above) is one lap of the park. Across the 100 I’ve now done, this is relatively rare. It’s an example of the size of Bushy Park and its capability to handle the best attended parkrun in the world.
There’s a small bridge to go over as you head for the finish, a useful marker for anyone with any gas left in the tank.
Such are the numbers, Bushy operates a double finish funnel. This in itself seems a work of achievement. It’s manned gamely by volunteers charged with getting people moving when all they really want to do is stop, crumple into a heap and recover.
Champers and shy wildlife
I saw plenty of signs in Bushy Park telling me not to feed the deer. But where were the deer to test this warning?
To be honest I sympathise. I’d think better of it if I saw 1,600 runners traipsing around my backyard too. It’s easy to see why they may be a little reclusive early doors on a Saturday morning.
There are two cafes, although the one nearest the car park looks pretty compact. The bigger one is Pheasantry Cafe, around a 5-10 minute stroll from the finish line.
Having it away from the end forces you to get into the community spirit of parkrun if you’re the mingling kind. While queuing, I saw a big table of people celebrating somebody else’s 100th run. They were drinking what looked suspiciously like champagne – at 9.45 IN THE MORNING! Still, I enjoyed my coffee and a cookie to mark mine.
I’ve posted previously about hitting the 50 mark and it’s certainly felt a longer slog but an ultimately more rewarding achievement to clock up the ton now.
The milestone t-shirt is on its way and it’s a way off until I can claim the next one. Roll on the 250.