Bushy parkrun Pilgrimage – June 2019

15th June marked my 90th parkrun, and it was a special one! Probably the number-one must-visit destination for all parkrun tourists is the place where it all began; Bushy parkrun. Way back in October 2004, 13 intrepid runners, led by Paul Sinton-Hewitt, met to take place in a timed 5k run, an event that would ultimately become known as parkrun. How unimaginable it must have seemed back then that parkrun would not only continue over the years, but thrive, and grow astronomically in the manner that it has. For example, this Saturday saw 246,627 parkrunners run at 1476 venues in 20 countries worldwide, and the total number of registered parkrunners has now exceeded 5 million! With this in mind, a trip to Bushy seems more like a pilgrimage, a special journey to pay our respects to the origins of this incredible organisation which is changing so many lives for the better.

Five of us made the journey together from Walthamstow, East London. We arrived nice and early, driving through the ornate park gates to be greeted by the beautiful Diana fountain and the sprawling grassy avenues with wild deer roaming around among the oak trees. Quiet at first, by half past eight more and more parkrunners started flooding in by the minute, and it became clear this would be no ordinary parkrun. The majority of runners were decked out in official parkrun gear, whether that was an apricot top or a milestone t-shirt. We are lucky to see green 250 t-shirts Every now and then at Walthamstow, but here there were plenty, and quite a handful of blue 500 t-shirts too! There were plenty of regulars, but also huge numbers of tourists, in little groups visiting from their respective home venues.

The start line took up the whole width of one of the tree-lined avenues, with runners standing a hundred wide. The Run Director needed a step ladder and a PA system to make sure he could be heard! At the start, all 1400 of us set off thundering down the avenue towards the first path. I was quite worried about congestion, but we had just enough time to thin out the crowds before we all funneled onto the first stony pathway around the perimeter of the park. The course is one zig-zagging lap of the park, mainly on paths with some flat trails thrown in too. I even managed to spot the local legend Elisabeth marshalling on her corner! Elisabeth is a 90yr old lady who lives in the care home opposite one of the park gates, and comes out every Saturday to wave and cheer on the runners. I recommend having a read of this blog if you are interested in learning why she is so special. I found the course pretty flat and fast, being spurred on by so many runners around me, and made it my aim to overtake and stay ahead of the 28 minute pacer, which I managed to do around the 3km mark.

After a little skirting around a very pretty lake, I could see the finish line fast approaching. With so many runners to handle, Bushy have implemented a rather impressive ‘double funnel’ finish system, with runners being ushered into alternating queues with military precision. I’m not sure what kind of timer they were using, but it also looked rather more high tech than our simple stopwatches, presumably to cope with the peak times where multiple runners are crossing the finish line per second. With all credit to Bushy, everything ran absolutely perfectly. We were scanned in in no time, leaving us free to enjoy the cake and champagne brought along by people celebrating their 500th run!

The results came through on the drive home, and I had finished in 779th place (!) out of a staggering 1421 runners, in a really decent time for me of 27:41. We all really loved our visit to Bushy parkrun, a truly special place which managed to keep such a friendly and welcoming atmosphere despite its huge size. Bushy is the 15th different parkrun that I have visited, and I have a few more special trips planned over the summer!

You can read all about my parkrun adventures here!

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