Wanstead Flats parkrun

This week the UK was hit by the “Beast from the East”, an outbreak of unseasonably cold weather featuring high winds at thick snow. This, sadly, put paid to my plans to visit Folkestone parkrun. I decided to go it local instead.

The parkrun cancellations came in thick and fast. Finsbury Park was one of the first to fall – apparently there was a thick wodge of ice on the steep downhill. I think I can imagine the result of trying to run on that. I surveyed the list: Valentine’s, Pymmes, Hackney, Barking, Dulwich, Bromley all deemed unsafe. I prayed there would be at least one left in the whole of London that I could go to.

parkrun cancellations.jpg
parkrun cancellations in red (correct as of Friday evening)

Then Wanstead Flats parkrun posted:

“Just a bit of snow. See you Saturday.”

I’ve never had any interest in Wanstead Flats parkrun before (too many trails, not enough hills) but I fell in love with it a bit on reading this post and decided I had to go there. I was somewhat doubtful that I would actually get there: the tone of their Facebook post went from “of course we’re on” to “well we need to have a course inspection and we can’t guarantee…” over the course of the day. On my arrival at Blackhorse Road station, the train was cancelled and I started to think my parkrun was going to fall at the last hurdle. Fortunately, the next train arrived on time and I made it to Wanstead by 8:30am, picking up another Finsbury Park refugee on the way.


As we trudged across the course, I began to wonder if this was a very good idea. I didn’t have trail shoes (it emerged that the Great Yorkshire Pieathlon had been the death of them), I had only been able to find one of my warm running socks and I had dressed for the Siberia winter to compensate. I wasn’t sure if I could do anything other than walk the course and wondered if I could freeze to death in the process. There was a rolling mist across the Flats and it all looked a bit post apocalyptic. I spotted a solitary “parkrun” flagpost in the distance and felt a bit like Scott of the Antarctic.

parkrun flag at the end of the world!

The run briefing was very brief: “Anyone new to Wanstead?” (massive cheer) “Anyone actually from Wanstead?” (smaller cheer) “Anyone new to parkrun?” (silence). And then we were off, in a flurry of snowflakes, trudging across a football pitch that you couldn’t see any more. The snow was thickest at this point but also quite powdery so not impossible to run on. There was then a section through some woods, which I imagine is usually quite a bumpy trail path, then deeper into said woods on a narrower path, which is apparently “a mud bath” on a normal winter’s day. (I think I prefer snow). According to Strava, part of this wooded section is “the hill” but this is the poorest attempt at a hill I have ever seen. Strava says that it has an incline of 3% at its steepest; Finsbury Park boasts 28%. After “the hill” it was back on to the invisible football field for a lap around the outside (apparently this normally takes place on a nearby tarmac path instead), which was where I got lapped for the first time. (One of the lappers was wearing a Dublin Marathon finishers t-shirt, just like me. I bet it didn’t take him seven hours.) I discarded my hat, scarf, gloves, etc at the halfway mark and rolled up my sleeves. Last week – not enough clothes. This week – too many clothes.

The volunteers clearing the paved area at the start. Thank you volunteers for braving the weather and bringing us our parkrun fix!

Soon I was on to the second lap, which was much like the first, except that the snow had got a bit slushier in places and hard and compacted in others due to having two hundred sets of feet plunge into it. It was probably still fine to run on but there was no point chancing it so I had a couple of short walks.

My confidence bolstered by running the vast majority of the 5km in actual snow, I even managed a feeble sprint finish, and promptly did a comedy skid in the funnel, just about managing to stay on my feet. My finish time was 40:23, which was about twenty minutes quicker than I thought it would be and not even my slowest ever parkrun. I reckon the snow probably added about four minutes to my time. I was quite pleased with this, and enjoyed the parkrun a lot more than I thought I would. Mainly because I was not defeated by the evil white flakes of doom. I’m looking forward to getting back to normal weather though.

While writing this post, I’ve realised that this weekend is the anniversary of my first parkrun! In that time I have made it to eighteen runs at eleven different venues, with a fastest time of 35:19 and a slowest of 41:12. I have volunteered four times in three different roles at two different parkruns. My next run, engineering works permitting, will be next Saturday at Barking.

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