NI (and other) parkruns: Crystal Palace

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“Now just a minute”, I hear you say, “This ‘ere blog is called Dancing At Lunacy, right?  Well, there’s plenty of lunacy, most of it the youdonthavetobemadtobearunnerbutithelps, variety, but where’s all the dancing, eh? Eh?”

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Fear not, gentle reader, for this weekend there was the most wonderful, moving, and memorable dancing, courtesy of my fabulous daughter and others at The Place, celebrating choreography giant Robert Cohan’s 90th birthday.  Jemima was in a piece called “Sometimes, even now”, choreographed by James Cousins, a Matthew Bourne protege.  I was sitting next to some current Bourne guys, and we all watched in admiration as she climbed, fell, turned, span, leaped and – forgive me – emotionally connected with her audience. Times critic Donald Hutera tweeted “Jemima Brown – most watchable centrepeice of James Cousins people”.  Wow.

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Anyhoo, post show drinkies over, I was hustled into a  taxi to her flat in Crystal Palace while their celebrating continued – I did have a bit of a disturbed night’s sleep when they returned at 3 am, but had set my alarm to make sure I did not miss my Saturday morning parkrun (oh you Eeeeenglish with your 9 am starts!)



I flew into Gatwick, nearly cried at the price of fares on the Gatwick Express into town, but bus and train links to CP are very good.  The parkrun is in the huge park with its famous mast, which has a major bus depot at one end, and the railway station one one side, so it’s very easy to reach by public transport.  There are also several car parks, and plenty of loo facilities.



I was wearing my Jog Lisburn T shirt, and a guy approached me and told me he’d run Wallace a couple of weeks ago.  Turns out Mark is from Bangor originally, and was running his 150th parkrun this morning!  He’s already on that more-than-20-events hall of fame, and revealed that he’d lost 4 stone during his parkrun career.  Most impressive!  I also chatted to a runner in a Titanic Quarter Tshirt from last year, someone running their first ever parkrun, and the very friendly volunteers.  Usual crowd is about 150, with a good few slower runners.

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I entered from the top end, and admired the old weathered stone statues, as I walked down the steps.
20150328_081843]And then more steps.  20150328_081854] And even more steps. 20150328_081918 20150328_082206

Oh dear, it was very evident that elevation was a serious issue with this course!

20150328_081419 - Copy - Copy - Copy  Hills aside, it’s a really cool venue.  The paths are wide and flat, there’s an old red telephone box, a cafe, a maze, a sports stadium, a museum, a renowned lake/ amphitheatre, and a War memorial bell at the finish.

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My Garmin’s connecting lead had broken during the week, which meant that the battery was dying. It survived the run, but I’m going to have to get that sorted.  I’m glad I wore my JL T shirt – I’m still waiting for my red 50 shirt, which I’d wanted to show off on tourism jaunts, but really, the JL one is more of a talking point.

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Strangely Appropriate Song On Shuffle:

Being in Crystal Paris – has to be Walking On Broken Glass by Annie Lennox.

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OK, I’d been out quaffing champers till the wee small hours, and then didn’t have a great night’s kip, and it was hilly – I was   a bit disappointed with 29:54, but as I’m very fond of saying – there’s more to running than going fast.

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List of all the parkruns I’ve completed.

NI parkruns: Armagh

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Having experienced a rather moving partial eclipse, it seemed appropriate to visit the city which is home to Norn Irn’s world class planetarium. It’s known as the city of saints and scholars, in Ireland’s orchard county, and I have fond memories of visiting my father’s relatives here when I was a wee girl.


It’s 33 miles form Lisburn, which took me about 40 minutes. The journey is really easy, most of it on motorways, and access to Palace Demesne is via a rather impressive gateway, and past a ruined friary. There’s plenty of car park spaces, and loos are available in the courtyard.

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The start and finish points are very close, which means that keys and other valuables can be left in a biscuit tin. The route goes through a forested area first, doubles back on itself, then does a large loop round the grounds. And repeat. This entails a lot of different terrains – gravelly paths, twig-strewn woodland ways, tarmacked car park, and some rather steep hills. I found the doubling-back paths quite narrow, and had to keep Minnie on a very short lead to stay out of the way of runners coming the other direction. But the grounds are very beautiful, and I can imagine that with the changing seasons they look stunning.

There’s usually just under 100 runners, which is a nice sized crowd. They were all very friendly, and some people recognised Minnie from other parkruns we’ve done. It attracts a good range of abilities, a lovely illustration of the inclusivity of parkruns.

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Strangely Appropriate Song on Shuffle

On Super Saturday, with everything to be decided in the rugby later, I found myself humming along to “Rome wasn’t built in a day”.


I was in my falling-down-trousers – I really must replace those. Maybe now that spring is here I should get some capri length trews. There were no kilometre markings, so I was relying on my Garmin for pacing and timing.


I was 12 something at the halfway turning point, and wasn’t too unhappy with a 26:33, which put me in 3rd place in my age category.

List of all the parkruns I’ve completed.

NI parkruns: Antrim

2015-03-07 09.13.20 2015-03-07 09.17.04 Now St Andrews, I have bad news for you.  You may style yourself the world’s prettiest parkrun, but I think Antrim gives you a good run for your money!




The course starts at Lough Shore Park, which is beside the Antrim Forum, and right on the shores of Lough Neagh.  Access from Belfast via the M2 is pretty straightforward – I came over the mountains from Lisburn, covering the 20 miles in about 30 minutes.  There’s loads of car parking, and clean loos.

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When looked at on MapMyRun or Garmin, the route looks like a lollipop.  It starts and finishes beside the car park, crosses the Deerpark Bridge, and does 2 clockwise loops of the very beautiful Antrim Castle grounds.  I had to concentrate very hard on the route and not be distracted by the gorgeous surroundings – I’ll have to come back some non-parkrun day for a more leisurely stroll around.


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There is one small section between a pair of  staggered yellow gates, which was slightly more uneven underfoot, and had about the only incline on the whole course.  These gates m2015-03-07 10.12.47ight be an issue for partially sighted runners or wheelchair users.2015-03-07 10.14.012015-03-07 10.13.45



There’s usually about 100 runners – we were the only dog, and I only saw one pram.  There’s quite a few slower runners, and many people stay behind to cheer them on.  The volunteers were really helpful and friendly – I got chatting to the volunteer co-ordinator afterwards, who says I have to come back later in the year when the trees are looking even more spectacular! I didn’t see any tea and buns afterwards, but I wasn’t really looking for them.

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I was too warm!  There was a stiff breeze, which made it feel colder than the actual temperature.  While I’d wisely left my gloves at home, my long-sleeved base layer under my Jog Lisburn tee was too many layers.  I was also able to remove my headband, and use it as a brake on my phone armband holder, which had started to slide down towards my elbow.

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Strangely Appropriate Song:

DOA by the Foo Fighters, as I really pushed myself on the last 500m.

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There was a 24 minute pacer, and as my all time best is 24:42, I thought, he’s my mark.  I kept his green cap in sight for the first 3km, but he got away from me on the second loop of the lollipop, and I finished in 26:07.

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List of all the parkruns I’ve completed.

NI parkruns: Carrickfergus

I wish I waaaaaas in Carrickfergus


I nearly WASN’T in Carrickfergus this morning, as when I was making my morning cuppa there were flakes of snow falling! I sipped my tea, anxiously watching the Facebook statuses of the local parkruns, and more than one was cancelled.  However, I decided to don the old running gear and head off anyway – my husband said he’d phone me if a cancellation was posted.  But the sun shone, and even though there was still some ice around, and a definite nip in the air, it was all systems go.



The run starts and finishes beside the Amphithteatre leisure centre ( entering Carrick, take a left at the roundabout before the castle, go under the railway bridge and turn right).  There’s ample car parking, and lockers and loos in the centre itself.  The only thing I missed was a bucket or basket to put my keys and jacket in, so I had to schlep back to the car to deposit my coat, and tuck my car keys into my gloves.




It’s a 3 lap course with a bit extra at the start and finish.  The paths I found narrow, and felt a bit hemmed in on lap 1.  There’s some lovely scenery past the duck pond, and the loop of Shaftsbury Park, but there are some sharp turns and narrow tunnels under the railway-line too.  There’s only two short sharp hills, and metal parkrun signs, cones, and cheery marshals ensure that you stay on the right route.



I was delighted to meet up again with Claire and Caroline, who are running all 19 Norn Irn parkruns in 2015.carrick ladies .

They’d originally been planning to do Ecos, which was cancelled, so it was a  serendipitous meeting indeed. I was able to tell them that there’s a “hall of fame” for anyone who’s done more than 20 different events, so as they are doing one of the Dublin runs next month, they should see their names on that board by the end of the year. Minnie wasn’t the only pooch running, and we smiled kindred greetings to the other dog-runners.


Strangely Appropriate Song on Shuffle:

Given the weather conditions, it had to be Led Zeppelin “Immigrant Song” – come from the land of ice and snow….



I was trying not to look too much at my Garmin, to get more of a “feel” for pace.  I did glance at it going into lap 3 and couldn’t understand the figures it was showing – maybe I’d hit the wrong button.  Another problem – nice though it is to have – is that my trousers felt too loose, and were gradually working their way southwards!



I couldn’t get my usual fast start, and found it difficult to overtake during lap 1, but I’d soon caught up with the pink ladies.  I overtook them on lap 2, and then they zoomed past me on Lap 3.  The OCD part of me is rather satisfied that I recorded a time of bang on 26 minutes, in position 26.  Normally a 4th lady position would have pleased me, but if Clare and Caroline hadn’t been there, or if I’d managed a better finish, I might have bagged that Lady 2 spot! Oh well, I consoled myself by ordering the results by age grading, where I was 6th overall.  That’s better ;-)


List of all the parkruns I’ve completed.

NI parkruns: summary list


I’ve just discovered that there’s a parkrun league table for all those Saturday morning tourists who’ve been to 20 or more events.  Since I’m working my way round all the NI ones, plus ticking off a few Scottish and London ones while I visit those places, I’m creating this page as a handy summary with links to all those I’ve done.  I know the parkrun tag should help to navigate around the blog, but it’s nice to see them all in one convenient list.

NI parkruns: Comber

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In my continuing journey around all of Norn Irn’s parkruns, I’m trying to tick off the closest ones first.  Comber seems like it’s far away, but really, it’s only 12 miles from Lisburn, a pleasant 20 minute journey.


I’ll be honest – it’s not the most attractive of courses. The little bridge over the river is quite pretty, which is just as well as you cross it 8 times during the 4 figure-of-eight laps.  It has the big advantage of being very flat, though being quite open the force of the wind can be strong.



Mini’s Addidog vest was much admired, and I was very glad of my thin gloves.  And a big thank you to the marshall at the finish line who spotted that I’d dropped one of my gloves and returned it to me.



I’d gone off fast with the big boys.  This was really in an effort to stop me being hemmed in at the back.  I kept the first lady in my sights for most of the run, but as usual I faded badly during the final km, and several people overtook me on the sprint to the finish (despite Minnie’s best attempts to trip them up…..)

10974731_630521480409623_2052883722705677799_o I was fairly content with 26:02, given the wind factor and the amount of wine I’d consumed on Friday night!  And it did put me top of the leaderboard in my age category. 4th lady – and 2nd and 3rd were only 10 seconds ahead of me.



I visited on its 37th event, so it’s still just getting going.  Indeed, the woman doing the scanning hadn’t come across a keyring plastic barcode before.  Average attendance is 60, which gives it a friendly feel.  There was plenty of clapping and cheering for the slower runners.  Scanning and tea-drinking takes place inside Comber Rec, which is a bit dark, but has seats and tables, and there was a great buzz about it.  The after-run goodies included jammy scones and home-made coffee cake, which was very impressive.


Strangely Appropriate Song:

I’d been having a row with my computer which refused to talk to my phone, so the playlist I had wasn’t what I’d wanted.  But I did love hearing Utah Saints “Something Good”


List of all the parkruns I’ve completed.

Simply Crispy


“Are you for real?”

“Has the world gone mad?”

“Whatever will they think of next!”

These were just a few of the comments that greeted the opening of the world’s first crisp sandwich shop in Belfast.


The idea itself had started as a spoof on the Ulster Fry website, but a pop-up cafe on Bedford Street decided that this was daft enough to work, and set about making it a reality.  It helps to remember that a valid reason for doing anything in Norn Irn is “for the crack”.


When I arrived on Friday lunchtime, the queue was out the door. Granted, not as bad as it was on Monday’s opening day, and the wait was not unreasonable, about 10 minutes. To pass the time we looked at the photos decorating the walls. There was one of a teacher from Grange Hill, under Cliff Richard. There was one from Roy Walker saying “Your food’s good, but it’s nat right!”. And there were 3 clocks showing the time in Belfast, Derry, and Londonderry.


First, choose your bread: a Belfast bap is the most popular choice, but it is a mahoosive sized roll with a crusty top. The dials on my internal carb-counter were already spinning out of control, so I applied the “less is more” mantra and rejected the extra thick softee white bread in favour of a Knutty Crust. From the available 20 or so varieties, I opted for by far the most popular crisps, local heroes Tayto Cheese’n’onion. These are a crisp of legendary significance, the banners greeting you as you arrive at Belfast’s George Best City Airport are decorated in its signature colours, with safety advice dispensed from Mr Tayto himself. Ex-pats weep at the memory of those yellow bags.


I added a slice of ham, just as a nod to the need for some protein. The meal deal additions of chips (fries) and soup brought it to £4, with an extra 50p for the ham. A slice of cheese can be added instead.


A bag of crisps is tipped onto the buttered bread.  The squishing action is all important when producing the resultant sandwich, I imagine the staff have to go through a rigorous training procedure in order to get the amount of force just right.



Places at tables were at a premium, but we did manage to elbow the photographers and journos out of the way to secure some space and settle down to enjoy the experience. That first bite, soft bread gently caressing crunchy crisps, the overpowering flavours of the latter matched by the blandness of the former – it really is a winning combination. I could say something about “mouthfeel” but you’d only accuse me of being all poncey.


The chips were not really necessary,and the soup wasn’t that exciting. So next time (and there WILL be a next time) I’ll just have the sandwich.

I also enjoyed  the Led Zeppelin playing in the background, which helped with the nostalgic feel, and memories of school packed lunches….
Has the world gone mad? Quite possibly. But maybe what the world needs is a bit more madness like this. It’s impossible to have lunch here without a smile on your face.



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