Last Saturday a group of Prestwich parkrun tourists, Adrian, Amanda, Louise and I, ran at Queen’s parkrun in Belfast. In doing so I completed my 246th parkrun and took in my 50th different parkrun venue since my barcode was first scanned on St Patrick’s Day 2012.
This year parkrun tourism has really grabbed me by the running shoelaces. Previously I’d been content to go to my home run at Heaton Park or freshen it up with another local parkrun every now and again. Away from home whether in the northeast visiting the in laws or on holiday in Australia I’d pack the barcode, seek out the most local parkrun and run it. This reached it’s most bizarre point during a friend’s stag do at the Southport Weekender in Minehead, Somerset in 2014. I hit the hay at midnight in order to do Longrun Meadow parkrun in Taunton the following morning. I emerged from my chalet at 0730 in full running clobber whilst the rest of the lads were still up in various states of dishevelment. My friend Jason later said that the sight was as stark a contrast between good health and bad health he’d ever bore witness to. Hyperbole maybe but it highlighted the importance of that Saturday 5k run to me. It just couldn’t be missed if at all humanly possible.
Our little group are by no means uber tourists but have decided to stretch it a bit this year. We’ve been up to the Lake District, to Cheshire and over to Yorkshire but the combination of affordable flights, convenient departure times, great location of arrival airport, nine parkruns within relatively short distances and 0930 starts has made Northern Ireland our destination of choice this year.
We have a clear plan. Choose a parkrun beforehand and should the flight be delayed for anything under one hour we have a failsafe option in Belfast Victoria parkrun located at the southern end of Belfast City Airport’s runway. It’s just a right turn upon leaving arrivals and a short warm up jog to the start area. If the flight is significantly delayed we head back through departures at Manchester airport and do the most local one. At the moment it’s Wilmslow and thankfully it has not yet been needed.
In March seven of us flew out at 0700, ran Stormont parkrun followed by a black taxi tour around Belfast’s political hotspots. We were back in Prestwich for the running club pub quiz that night.
In September we overnighted on Friday so that we could run the iconic all beach Portrush parkrun. A fabulous out and back course with the North Atlantic waves lapping one side and, at one point, galloping horses on the other. We then ‘visited’ the Giants Causeway and drove along the beautiful Antrim Coast followed by a political tour in West Belfast laid on by a good friend of mine.
So last Saturday Queens was our destination to bag a Q for our parkrun alphabet hunt (see below) and also for a good day out. The alarm clocks sounded at 0400, the taxi picked us up at 0500, Flybe flight BE470 departed on time at 0700 and arrived into a very wet Belfast 45 minutes later. We sought shelter for nearly an hour in the airport then got a taxi to the Queen’s University Sports Complex in South Belfast, a fifteen minute journey away.
The sports complex housed fantastic facilities as would be expected from such a prestigious institution. The welcome was customarily Irish in its friendliness and thankfully the rain had abated somewhat prior to start. The undulating run route was around the outer perimeter of the rugby, football, hockey and GAA playing fields on the Trim Trail. It was on hard standing apart from a short muddy puddley out and back section. A War/Run of the Roses broke out with some Yorkshire tourist brethren that we had met at Manchester airport and pleasingly the Lancastrians crossed the finish line victorious. Cracking refreshments were laid on after the run and I was able to make use of a shower, a parkrun venue first for me.
At 1100 we bade our farewells to the great volunteers and headed into Belfast city centre to the much talked about Cathedral Quarter. First stop was The Harp Bar for a few pints before sating our appetites with great burgers and okayish fries at Bunsen. The Christmas Markets were in full swing in front of Belfast’s City Hall and we had a mooch around. As with all festive markets they were crammed full of people perusing overpriced tat and drinking crap Glühwein. After a detour around the burnt out listed building that once housed Primark we happened upon Kelly’s Cellars, home of the world’s best doorman. The fella just could not do enough for the clientele in this traditional Irish drinking establishment. With the open fire burning, the mighty craic and great tasting Guinness and Hop House 13 it proved difficult to leave when the time arrived to head back home. Our flight departed on time again at 1755 and we were all back home before 2000.
So why do I do it? I’m not really sure. It does appear a lot of faff for what is essentially just a 5k. I suppose it’s the mix of doing one thing I love, running, combined with another, travel even if it is just a hop over the Irish Sea in narrow prop driven tube with wings. It’s the crew that I go with also. We’ve developed into a tight knit bunch that love to dream of what’s possible parkrun wise, do what’s feasible, have a good bit of craic along the way and still aim to be home before Chips @ No.8 shuts, well Prestwich M&S at least.