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 ;-)


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

comber age cetegory20150131_090341[1]

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”


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.


5:2 recipes – Red Veg

It’s January, and I’m back on the fast train.  I also have some leftover Christmas veg to use up, so I decided to make a rich red thick soup.  There was about 1/3 of a red cabbage, some aging carrots, and half a bag of wilting spinach.  I used a red onion to keep the colour theme, and for a bit of added protein and texture added a handful of earthy brown lentils.

2015-01-07 09.46.18


1 large red onion (170g)

2 stalks celery (100g)

1/3 red cabbage (220g)

2 carrots (100g)

100g spinach

500g passata or a tin of tomatoes

50g lentils

1 tablespoon oil


black pepper

smoked paprika

Lea and Perrins

Start by sautéing the chopped veg in 1 tablespoon oil and a splash of water.  I use rice bran oil as it has a fairly neutral flavour, but any would do. Put the onion and garlic in first, then the cabbage, the carrots and celery.  Stir well after each ingredient is added so that everything gets nicely covered in the oil.

2015-01-07 10.03.10

Add a good grind of black pepper, and a teaspoon of smoked paprika to intensify the warm winter flavours.

Add liquid – 1 pint stock.  I used lamb as I happened to have it, and thought the richness would work, but again, substitute for a stock cube of your choice.  Add 1 500g pack of passata, or a tin of tomatoes.  Stir everything well and let it simmer.  At this stage it should be rich glossy texture.  You could leave it at that, but I felt the need for some additional protein.

2015-01-07 10.12.21

I’d been looking for a reason to use these reddish brown lentils that I’d bought a while back, but they are high in calories.  So I carefully measured out 50g.  Over 4 portions this shouldn’t add too much to the calorie total, but if you left the lentils out the calorie amount will be lower.

2015-01-07 10.20.18

2015-01-07 10.10.52

Add a dash of Lea and Perrins.

Let simmer for 30 minutes while you have a  cup of tea and a slice of Christmas cake, since we’re clearing the festive leftovers.

Check that the veg and lentils are soft, and stir in the spinach.  Let it wilt for a few minutes.

Serve with a sprinkle of some green parsley, snipped chives or coriander.

Makes 4 portions at 190 calories each (150 without the lentils).  Non fasters can have a slice of crusty bread to dunk in the rich juices! 2015-01-07 11.27.08

NI parkruns: Wallace

20141025_101240Wallace Park in Lisburn is my home course.  My first ever parkrun was Wallace’s 2nd event, which I ran in a time of 34:31.  The following week I took my Weimaraner, Max, with me, as he is a super companion on my long runs.  However, drama-raners are very emotionally sensitive creatures, and all the adrenalin and hi-viz gear really unsettled Max, and he strained at the leash, howled and yelped the whole way round the course.  All that stress added a few extra seconds to my time.  It was only when I started bringing along my younger dog, Mini the cocker spaniel, that my times started to improve, and she has been my faithful companion for over 50 parkruns now.



Wallace Park is near Lisburn city centre, and the back gate to the park is beside the railway station.  Car park spaces can be limited, especially if there’s a football match going on.  It’s a beautiful park with some stunning old trees, but the paths can sometimes be slippy especially in winter.



Briefing and post-run chat takes place at the bandstand.  The course is one small inner lap, followed by 3 large outer laps.  These encompass the notorious car park hill, which is a real toughie the third time round. At the top of the hill there’s a nice flat stretch before reaching the duckpond, from where it’s a fast downhill section past the back gate and its little gate house, along the side of the railway embankment where there’s an ever so slight incline, and round the outside of the football pitch.  There is a metal start and finish sign, and wooden markers at each kilometre.



When I started out I had the dogs on an ordinary short lead, but one of my favourite bits of kit is the waistband hands-free leash.  Being able to use your arms is important for running well.  After cursing at MapMyRun on my phone too many times, I invested in a Garmin watch, and treated myself to some bluetooth cordless headphones.  But the best bits of kit are those which keep me warm on freezing cold days – light gloves, a headband, and my sweat/wristband which has a handy pocket for keys, money, poo-bag etc, and which I use to wipe either my nose or my sweaty brow, depending on the time of year!


Strangely Appropriate Song:

Kate Bush’s “Keep Running Up That Hill” is one that makes me smile here, as does Daft Punk’s “Harder, Faster, Stronger”.  It has been consistently running Wallace that has made me a better runner, and I try to go faster and harder each time.



There are regularly just over 100 runners, which is just a nice size of a group.  I’ve made some fantastic friends amongst the runners and volunteers, and there’s always some good banter over a cuppa afterwards.  And someone usually provides biscuits to celebrate 50 or 100 runs!



My times have gradually got better.  This is the result of many factors, including losing some weight, persistence in going along each Saturday, doing other training during the week including core work. But sometimes a good run just happens.  One morning I wasn’t particularly prepared for a fast run, but I wanted to go along as I knew some friends from Waggy Races would be there, including Zola, their gorgeous Samoyed.  We set off – I tend to go off fast and out to the right, keeping out of the way of the front runners, until we can find a good space to slot into.  Zola overtook us, and Mini clicked into chase mode and kept up the pace.  Zola stopped to inspect something near the back gate and we raced ahead.  They overtook us again, and we tried to catch up.  This was repeated on each of the 3 laps, and made for a very exciting neck-and-neck, paw-and-paw race, and managed to cross the finish line in under 25 minutes, a fantastic PB (at time of writing…..), and an age graded percentage of over 70.


And finally….

I’ve had many stand-out moments at Wallace, and was inspired by 2 groups who have run it as part of a tour of all the NI parkruns.  I’ve also been lucky enough to have my husband photograph some of the runs, so I was able to put together my favourite pictures into a video montage.

NI parkruns: Valley

At the time of writing, Valley is the newest addition to the NI parkrun family, and I joined them on a clear crisp November morning for their 16th event.



The Valley leisure centre was always known to my little darlings as “the froggy pool” after one of the water slides in the swimming pool.  It sits under the towering mass of Cavehill, and has lovely views down to Belfast Lough and the shipyard cranes.  It’s very easy to find, near the Abbeycentre, and there’s plenty of parking.  The start of the run is behind the main building, and signs point the way.  There are toilets in the main building as well as in the smaller centre at the back, where the final scanning is done.  Fancy that, being able to scan in the warm and dry!



The course is 2 laps (always nice, you know when you’re halfway there).  It’s on a slope (the clue’s in the name), but not a very pronounced one.  It’s on gravel paths all the way round, though they are included to get muddy and puddley.  But the scenery is lovely, and there’s a pretty duck pond to skip round.


I discovered when I tried to put my car keys in the zippy pocket of my long sleeved shirt, that I’d put it on inside out!  Oh, well, that’s lucky isn’t it?  I was a little slow pressing go on my Garmin, but all my other equipment was faultless.

Strangely appropriate song

The playlist I was using was one called “Scotland” rather than my specific “jogging” one, and as my feet flew over those puddles, I almost felt I was flying to “Lift Me Up”, by a Luxembourgian group, ODC. But my biggest smile came when I was finished and driving off in my car to the strains of Jupiter, the bringer of Joy.



There were 60 runners that day.  I like these smaller crowds, it’s easier to find some uncluttered space to run with Mini on her hands-free leash, and people seem to be a bit chattier and friendlier.  And there was a lovely treat of a box of gummy sweeties at the end – I do think I should ask Haribo to sponsor me!



The all important time.  I’d been very good all week – I’d had a long run, a hill training session, and a speed run.  I’d worked on my core by doing 2 lots of 20 push ups and squats every day, as well as some hula-hooping.  I hadn’t had any alcohol on the Friday night, and I’d had a light breakfast of Greek yoghurt and buckwheat muesli.  Did this all work?  You betcha!  I romped home as 3rd lady (best gender position), in position 24 (best actual position), at an age grading of 69.20% (best ever), and a PB time of 25:10.

valley parkrun age category

Valley has pacers, which I’ve never seen before at a parkrun, and I want to say thank you to the 25 minute runner, whose heels I was clipping on the final 100m.  A great morning.20141122_100229


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 209 other followers