parkrun Alphabet Challenge

After 291 parkruns, including 154 different locations, I’ve finally cracked the Alphabet challenge. This is the Holy Grail for parkrun obsessives, especially those in the parkrun Tourist community. I’d heard about it since I started parkrun 6 years ago, but with a lot fewer events at the time it was really hard. By the time I’d done 100 different events, I’d ticked off 21 letters without any targeted Alphabet bagging. All that remained were I, J, Y and Z. As there’s no X anywhere in the world, it doesn’t count (yet).

With 4 left to go I was now on a mission. At the time there were only 2 "I" parkruns in the country: Inverness and Ipswich. I very nearly did Inverness on our LEJOG adventure but decided against a run that day as we had 105 miles to cycle. A parkrun would have added an extra 5 miles and have delayed our cycle for 2 hours. It wasn’t going to happen. By the time I was planning my trip to Ipswich, a new event called Isabel Trail popped up in Stafford and I pounced on that one.

A weekend trip to Jersey bagged me the J and I got the island’s Half Marathon in on the same weekend. If I’d waited a year I could have used the new Jersey Farm event for my J and avoided a flight. I’m glad I did it though. It gave us a great weekend away and also contributed to my Channel Islands Regionnaire. Y was a relatively easy one. I had the choice of York and Yeovil Montacute. I chose the latter as we were visiting friends in Somerset so Yeovil was a short drive from there.

Then there was Z. Scroll down for the end of the story ……

Alphabeteer Bar Chart.JPG

Events by Letter

Zamek w Malborku

This was my second attempt at completing my Alphabet at Malbork. The first try was at the end of August. My parkrun mates and I had been trying to find a mutually convenient date all year. It looked like it wasn’t going to happen but then we found a date that would work as long as we were back by Saturday night before the wives had noticed we were missing.

Shortly before the weekend came I had to make a last minute work trip to New Jersey. I had booked an overnight flight back to London to land at 10:00 on Friday morning. This would give me 3 hours before Neil would need to pick me up for our drive to Luton for the Wizz Air flight to Gdańsk.

After a nightmare trip out to New Jersey I decided that I needed a bit of extra contingency. I paid an extra £300 to get the earlier flight back which would give me another 3 hours. That was plenty of time to make the afternoon flight. What could go wrong?

Lots as it turned out. The combination of a broken plane, a storm and general ineptitude by United meant I was trapped in Newark Airport for 27 hours. I finally landed at Heathrow 23 hours late at 06:30 on Saturday morning. I’d long since missed my opportunity to get to Poland. The faint silver lining was that I didn’t have to miss parkrun altogether. I was still able to get home, get changed and get to Bedford to complete my Bedfordshire County collection.

Seeing how annoyed I was about missing my Malbork trip, Timea (wife) offered to come with me on my second attempt. This was a big deal as she has a general disinterest in running except that it gives her an extra few hours sleep on a Saturday. The following few weeks were a mixture of fighting with United for compensation and planning the return trip.

I’d lost faith in things going to plan after a Summer of flight delays and cancellations. I was checking the parkrun website every day for the 2 weeks leading up to it to make sure it wasn’t cancelled. As it happened all went to plan. The flight was on time, none of the usual nonsense from the rental car company and the hotel was just what we needed.

There were 43 parkrunners there that morning. 11 were locals and 32 were Brits like me who had flown over for the event. Any town with a park that begins with a Z (and definitely those with an X) will do very well from tourist income.

The run itself was great: a simple out and back course along the River Nogat next to the Castle. Once I was finished I popped back to the hotel to walk up the wife, have a quick shower then back to the castle for breakfast. The castle is also a UNESCO World Heritage site so it also gave me a tick on that list too.

There's a few options for a Z in Poland, and several in other countries too. Zamek w Malbork is a really great option for a relatively easy trip from the UK and plenty of other things to do for a weekend away.


Richard gowerComment