Total Pageviews

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Northern Ireland parkrun Tour

Mon 17/6 - Sun 23/6

Mon 17/6 6.21 Miles @ 8:40/mile
Tues 18/6 6.21 Miles @ 8:14/mile
Weds 19/6 6.21 Miles @ 8:36/mile
Thurs 20/6 Antrim parkrun (Freedom) No Time
Thurs 20/6 Ecos parkrun (Freedom) No Time
Thurs 20/6 Portrush parkrun (Freedom) No Time
Thurs 20/6 Derry parkrun (Freedom) No Time
Thurs 20/6 Enniskillen parkrun (Freedom) No Time
Thurs 20/6 MUSA Cookstown parkrun (Freedom) No Time
Fri 21/6 Belfast Victoria parkrun (Freedom) No Time
Fri 21/6 Queens parkrun (Freedom) No Time
Fri 21/6 Falls parkrun (Freedom) No Time
Fri 21/6 Craigavon parkrun (Freedom) No Time
Fri 21/6 Belfast Solstice 5K NAD (5.19k) (18th) 18:03 (5K 17:23) (5:27, 5:45, 5:43)
Sat 22/6 Waterworks parkrun (Freedom) No Time
Sat 22/6 Ormeau parkrun (1st) 18:24 (5:55/mile)
Sat 22/6 Wallace parkrun (Freedom) No Time
Sun 23/6 Oldham parkrun (Freedom) No Time
Sun 23/6 Worsley Woods parkrun (Freedom) No Time
Sun 23/6 Preston parkrun (Freedom) No Time
Sun 23/6 Pennington Flash parkrun (Freedom) No Time
Sun 23/6 Wythenshawe parkrun (Freedom) No Time
Sun 23/6 Heaton Park parkrun (Freedom) No Time
Sun 23/6 Huddersfield parkrun (Freedom) 18:28 (5:56/mile)

 Total Mileage : 87.7 Miles

As mentioned last week the chances were that this week was going to turn out to be fascinating...... and it certainly turned out that way!!

Hannah and myself had decided to go and tour all the Northern Ireland parkruns in one visit, including two at Antrim and Derry which haven't yet started. It was going to be as much a tour about how safe or otherwise Northern Ireland is for English travellers these days as much as the actual running.

You simply can't travel around in Northern Ireland without getting a sense of how the political land lies in each of the areas you venture into. This is the list of venues that we were looking to visit:

1. Belfast Victoria, Victoria Park nr Belfast City Airport
2. Citypark, Citypark Park, Craigavon
3. Ecos, Ecos Park, Ballymena
4. Enniskillen, Fermanagh Lakeland Forum, Enniskillen
5. Falls, Falls Park, Falls Road, Belfast
6. MUSA Cookstown, Mid Ulster Sports Arena, Cookstown
7. Portrush, East Strand Beach, Portrush (the only beach parkrun in the world)
8. Queens, Upper Malone, Sth Belfast
9. Wallace, Wallace Park, Lisburn
10. Waterworks, Waterworks Park, North Belfast
11. Ormeau Park, South Belfast
12. Derry
13. Antrim

Thursday 20th June 2013

Our first destination, due to it's proximity to Belfast International Airport, was Antrim.

Antrim (Future parkrun)

As this parkrun course hasn't been published yet we were met at the venue by Matt Shields. Matt is Ireland parkrun Country Manager as well as being Chairman of North Belfast Harriers, current holder of the Senior Coach of The Year award presented by Belfast City Council Sports Awards and a former 2:19 marathon runner.

Admiring the scenery on the edge of Lough Neagh before we got going:

The course is one of the best with numerous areas of historical interest. The majority of the run takes place in Antrim Castle Park, which is a very attractive modern park laid around some very old ruins. In terms of more recent history the course runs right up to the boundary fence of the Massereene army barracks where the pizza delivery shootings took place in 2009. There are items of interest wherever you look.

Back at the Antrim post parkrun coffee venue, Matt advising on how not to get lost at some of the other venues on the list:

Ecos (Ballymena)

Ecos is a course running around a nature reserve area and looks pretty confusing on the course map. However, it is permanently signed in such a way that even the likes of me can't get lost.

A very enjoyable venue which seemed to be being well utilised by school groups while we were there.


Portrush claims to be the only parkrun in the world which is a beach run. I have no idea whether that is actually the case but it is certainly unique amongst the 100 or so venues that I have seen.

It was great to be met at Portrush by Andy Deal, the Portrush parkrun ED. He had gone to the trouble of putting the parkrun flag out for us so that we would know where the start and finish points were.

If you've never tried it I can confirm that 5K on sand is tough work and with the nature of this course they never have two weeks run under the same conditions. On some weeks the difference between the 2.5K out and the 2.5K back can be as much as two and a half minutes for the faster runners.

And with that in mind, it becomes even more mind boggling that Andy (pictured below) was going to attempt to run the parkrun course continually for 24 hours starting with the official parkrun on Saturday and then running around the clock into Sunday morning.

A final tally of 82 miles in the 24 hours on that surface is beyond impressive. We thought that we'd had a busy week but Andy had completed the same mileage in just 24 hours!

Derry (Starts 29th June)

Derry parkrun starts next week so we were running it in advance of the official launch.

Again, it is difficult to visit Derry (Londonderry) without noting the connections to recent history. The photograph below is the Peace Bridge over the River Foyle, which will be run over twice in the parkrun. The border between NI and the Republic actually runs right down the middle of the river in parts of Derry which is why it is politically sensitive.

In fact this picture is actually taken from the Bogside in Derry where Bloody Sunday occurred, the incident which is widely acknowledged as the start of the main troubles in NI.

And this is the 2.5K point on the other side of the river which will be the turn around point for the parkrun course:


After Derry it was on to Enniskillen, which just a couple of days earlier had of course played host to the most powerful world leaders at the G8 shindig.

This was the river in the early evening sun looking rather picturesque:

 And again, recent history at Enniskillen is centred around the 1987 Remembrance Day parade:

MUSA Cookstown

The MUSA in the the title of this parkrun stands for Mid Ulster Sports Arena and is a very new set up which is still being constructed.

The parkrun course is on a newly laid 'trim path', a term that seems to be used for a path that runs around the edge of somewhere in NI. Thankfully it also a floodlit path since we arrived here at about 10pm.

I like the course but it doesn't seem to get much of an attendance for the actual parkrun. Hopefully in time it will gain in popularity.

Friday 21st June

Belfast Victoria

Belfast Victoria is right in the heart of Belfast, sandwiched between the Harland and Woolf Shipyard and Belfast City Airport.

If you weren't pre-warned you really would think you had gone the wrong way trying to find this park as you drive through a staunchly Loyalist housing estate and then eventually find this:

But once inside the park you discover another of those hidden gems of the parkrun world. Victoria Park is immaculately maintained and, although parkruns aren't about times per se, this has got to be the fastest parkrun course anywhere.

There is also a nice unique feature by the start of the parkun, a mosaic of individual parkrunners' photos made up into a sign saying 'VICTORIA PARKRUN'. The Belfast Council guy below was so helpful and it didn't take long before he revealed that he was also a parkrunner and was due to be volunteering at Waterworks the next morning.


Next it was on to Stormont, not a parkrun venue of course (yet ;) ) but well worth a visit.

It came as a surprise that you could just wander into the grounds and walk around at will.

Again, immaculately maintained which is very impressive considering how large the area is.


Queen's University, Belfast was next on the visiting list. As with most of the courses in NI this is another parkrun course that is permanently signed so that you can Freedom run it at any time without any fear of going astray.


Falls Park is not surprisingly at the other end of the political spectrum to where we started the day over at Victoria Park. Situated on the Falls Road this is the centre of republicanism and lies directly across the road from Milltown Cemetery, the location of most IRA funerals over the last few decades.

The park itself is very relaxing and has a backdrop of the Divis, a 1500ft mountain, that makes you feel as though you are nowhere near a city.

On it's parkrun page this course is described as 'this is a hilly one' or, as we like to term it in Yorkshire ever so slightly undulating :)

We popped down to Craigavon to run our final Freedom parkrun before getting ready for the evening's racing.

This is a one lap course around two lakes and flows really nicely. Not entirely flat but a tarmac path all the way round which plays host to several other races throughout the year.

Belfast Solstice 5K, Belfast City Hall

And so it was now time for some racing in Belfast City centre. This was the first running of the Solstice 5K, starting and finishing at Belfast City Hall.

We were somewhat surprised  to find news reports on the NIrunning site the following day that had been naming Hannah as 'pre-race favourite'. On the basis that we thought that we were anonymously running around Northern Ireland it came as a puzzle to see our names had been linked with both this event and the inaugural Ormeau parkrun the following morning. Fame, eh? :p

This was the scene outside City Hall as the preparations took place:

It was going to be interesting to see how the legs would hold up over 5K after having completed 18.6 miles of parkruns the previous day and 12.4 miles earlier on the same day.

The course was a fast flat 2 lap course although just before the start the rain started so some of the corners were a bit slippy.

Nonetheless the legs seemed to be in great nick and went through 5K in 17:23, which if it had been an official time would have been the fastest 5K for 20+ years. However, it appears that for the convenience of having the start and finish in the same place outside City Hall the course was around 200m long and has therefore been given a 'NAD' classification on Po10. The time for the 5.2K was 18:03, which was very pleasing indeed.

Likewise, Hannah also found that the series of parkruns had done nothing but tee the legs up for a big performance and she went through 5K in 17:53, her fastest ever, and 18:33 for the full race.

3rd place resulted in a prize presentation with Miss Ireland in front of City Hall and snapped by Belfast's finest papparazzi:

Of course it was now time for a post race pint of Guinness so off we went to try to find an appropriate hostelry.

What we hadn't realised was that around 8pm, the same time that we were racing around the city centre, there had been an incident involving a police land rover and Gerry Kelly, the Sinn Fein councillor. Because it was also the start of the marching season in Belfast our route out of the city through the Shankhill Road area was lined with countless armoured police landrovers.

It all seemed rather tense so the post race Guinness was postponed a little while.........

Saturday 22nd June

As a warm up before the inaugural Ormeau parkrun we popped into Waterworks on the way. This is a really nice course with smooth paths all the way and again permanently marked out.

As we completed the first lap the park was pretty much empty except a couple of dog walkers but by the end of the second lap the parkrun finishing funnel had appeared ready for the morning's event. As we were completing the second lap though we heard a voice shouting 'oi you two, aren't you supposed to be across town at Ormeau?'

Once more we looked at each other puzzled at how our whereabouts had become common knowledge until we realised that it was the lovely Mrs Shields, Matt's wife, setting up for Waterworks.


And so after a short trip across town to Ormeau Park it was time for the official parkrun, the inaugural running of Ormeau parkrun. The Lord Mayor of Belfast, Sinn Fein's Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, turned up to start and then run this event. He made a point of having a chat about our travels around the province and welcomed us to Belfast. Just 5 days earlier he had welcomed some other, slightly better known, guests to Belfast:

After the Solstice run 12 hours earlier this could have been quite a slog but happily the legs were in fine form and seemed to relish the two lap undulating course to register 18:24. Not bad at all. :)

And a nice mention in the run report:

The post run venue at the Ozone in Ormeau Park:

And then it was back across town to join the Waterworks team for breakfast:

Before literally nipping round the corner (about 200m) to have a look at Alexandra Park, the park that was mentioned by President Obama in his speech last Monday as being the only park to have a dividing wall built across the middle of it to separate two communities, the wall was built in 1995:


Wallace parkrun in Lisburn was the final Freedom run of our visit to complete the set of 11 existing + 2 future parkruns in Northern Ireland.

I would put this down as one of the tougher parkruns, simply because there is a stiff, lengthy hill to tackle three times. It is a great setting though.

So after seeing what Northern Ireland parkrunning has to offer we wouldn't hesitate in recommending others to get over there and try them out.

A diverse collection of interesting courses, very friendly people and an enthusiasm for parkrunning every bit as strong as back home. What's not to like :)

Sunday 23rd June

Longest Sunday - Yorkshire/Lancashire

This will be blogged separately when all the data from the two loops have been collected together.


  1. A Carlsberg come true week!
    Loved the blog, brilliant editing and photos to keep it concise and interesting.
    Of course we now expect a superb blog like this every week! ��

  2. I just read your blog on NI parkruns. I'm please you enjoyed them - interesting comments too. There's 17 parkruns here now and I can more towns getting them. BTW, I'm 2nd right in "The post run venue at the Ozone in Ormeau Park".

    The Victoria parkrun has been closed for a few months while a new track/path has been put in - it opens again on 19th April 2014 and should be even faster. In the meantime, the parkrun has been held at the Tommy Patton Memorial Park nearby, which is a tough run as it's across rugby fields.