Whitley Bay parkrun 11 October 2014

“Aren’t we lucky?” said the lady who finished today’s parkrun at Whitley Bay around the same time as me as we walked away from the hubbub of the finish line. And today, under bright blue autumn skies with the sun on my face and the sound of the waves in my ears I did feel very fortunate indeed.

Here in the north east, we’re lucky enough to have a great number of parkruns from Middlesbrough through to Sunderland, Gateshead, Newcastle and right on up to the new route at Druridge Bay. My home run is actually Newcastle, although geographically, Whitley Bay is my closest. It’s close enough to allow me to run there and back, should I fancy a long run and take it steady, which is what I opted to do today.

I gave myself plenty of time to jog along to get there, so I’d had a really good warm up, before I huddled among the gathered runners ready for the start. The sun was in our eyes as we negotiated the first few twists and turns along the course and the number of runners helped make sure I kept my starting pace steady.

Once down onto the lovely flat promenade, we start to spread out and it’s easier to dodge past a few runners, or to be overtaken myself. I’m going easy today, it just feels nice to be out for a run.

At every turn or junction there’s a smiling marshal and a small chorus of thank yous from runners like me who have the breath to utter them.

Off the prom and up the small rise, I pick up my feet and use my arms to power up the incline, then cruise down the yellow stone path and over the bridge, before the second climb back up and round towards the road. I watch my feet over the cracked tarmac along the top path, heading back round towards the skate park and up another little rise to circle around the first lap.

Along the prom for the second time and the fastest runners have already crossed the finish line. How I wish I had their speed! But I’m feeling good, just enjoying being out in the fresh air today, and I start to catch a few runners in front of me. Reeling them in, slowly, one by one takes my mind off my legs which are starting to ache now and as I increase my pace, my breathing gets heavier and louder.

Still here I am again, about to climb the small set of rises and head back round to the road. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a lady running with a bright red buggy. That must be hard work up that hill!

By the time I’ve made it down onto the promenade for the final stretch, she’s caught and overtaken me, inspiring me to put a bit of a spurt on in the last few hundred metres and finish with a sprint.

Out of breath, I collect my token and walk over to get my barcode scanned. Hazel who takes my token from me, says “I like your blog”, which is a really nice surprise and makes me smile.

I’m very lucky that I found running as a means to keep fit back in 2008, and that parkrun has helped me maintain and build on that fitness. I’ve used the regular weekly run as part of my training for races like the Great North Run or the triathlons I do through the summer.

But more importantly, parkrun has introduced me to volunteering and to new friends. I do enjoy running, and am currently chasing down my 100th parkrun, but I really enjoy volunteering too. It’s fun to see parkrun from the other side, to appreciate how it works and to see all the runners from the fastest to the slowest, the old to the young all taking part.

My time today wasn’t my fastest, but parkrun isn’t always about being speedy. It really is for everyone and I think you see that as a volunteer.

So, yes, I do feel lucky to have a free, weekly, timed 5k run as a motivation to get up and out and get moving all year round. Lucky to be able to run along some of the finest north east coastline. And lucky to have the incredible support of the volunteers who make parkrun happen week in, week out all over the UK and beyond.

Wild foraging in Dumfries and Galloway

A couple of weeks ago, we had a short break in Dumfries and Galloway. The highlight of our trip was a day spent foraging for wild foods around the hedgerows, forest and seashore of Galloway with Mark of Galloway Wild Foods.

Foraged foods from Galloway
Some of the edible items we found on our foraging trip

Mark  was incredibly knowledgable and enthusiastic about all things foraging. The day started with us meeting over tea and cake made from hogweed seeds and tasting something like ginger parkin as Mark asked about how we’d like to plan our day. I think he liked the fact that we were interested in our food too and were keen to learn as much as we could.

We started in the garden, finding sorrel and sea beet, then ventured onto the hedgerows to taste and pick cress with a real mustard bite and discover some of the many uses of common hogweed, as well as spotting sweet cicely and cow parsley. Mark was great at sharing his knowledge and tempting our tastebuds with a range of flavours, all just plucked from the verges. This is a man who will never go hungry!

We took a short drive towards the seashore, donned wellies and ventured out onto the muddy flats where we collected marsh samphire, sea plantain and sea aster, which would fill our seashore sushi later in the day. With Mark’s help, we were soon looking at our surroundings with new eyes.

Down by a rocky foreshore, we found sea radish and three different types of edible seaweed including the incredible pepper dulce, or truffle of the sea. This rather unprepossessing looking brown growth on the side of the rocks has the most amazing truffle-like taste. We only half joked that we’d be licking the rocks back here in the North East. I really hope I find some locally.

Mushrooms in a frying pan
Mark cooked up a feast after our walk in the woods

All through the day, Mark kept bringing out things from his collecting bag for us to try. He’d brought along a selection of syrups, fruit leathers and alcoholic tipples that he’d created from stuff he’d collected, and so we grazed and drank our way through the day.

Our last stop was in a community forest for a mushroom hunt. Obviously something to do with an expert, but actually it’s not so daunting as you think to start identifying some common types. We did find a lot of not very tasty, and ‘really you don’t want to eat that’ specimens, including the fly agaric, which is your classic fairy-tale red and white topped version. But we also found some lovely edible ones, including a couple of chanterelles, the common hedgehog mushroom, and the very pretty tiny purple deceiver mushroom, which Mark cooked up for us at the end of the trip. One of my favourite things was the wood sorrel, which tastes like apple peel and could be found almost everywhere we walked.

It was a brilliant and eye-opening experience. I don’t think I’ll look at a hedgerow in quite the same way again. I’ve been spotting hogweed on my drive into work, and am keen to go exploring on some traffic free areas to see what I can spot. If you’re interested in food for free, or like to mix your own drinks and flavours, then I’d highly recommend it.