Thursday, 19 May 2016

Fun in the sun: The Striders (or was it the Minions?) weekend away in the New Forest

On a Friday afternoon at the start of May, an intrepid (have you ever tackled the M25 on a Friday afternoon?) bunch of 38 Striders left the comfort of suburban Hertfordshire for the New Forest for our now annual weekend away, buoyed  by the news that temperatures were set to rocket and be higher than in Spain.

Our humble abode in Beaulieu
Home for the group (not sure what the collective noun is for a bunch of Striders – a Farah maybe?) for the next two nights was a school field centre located at Beaulieu in the heart of the New Forest. Initial impressions were that our temporary home was comfy, clean, and cosy i.e. small, especially the child-size bunk beds, although what else would you expect at a school field centre.
After an initial visit to the local pub, the first job was to unload the contents of Cathal’s TARDIS van, which despite its small appearance on the outside, contained at least 17 bikes, and copious boxes of food and drink. Dinner consisted of a delicious pasta bake, pizza, (necessary carbs for the following morning's parkrun) salad, fruit and cake – let's face it no Striders occasion would be complete without cake.
Keeping hydrated ahead of the morning runs
Friday night entertainment consisted of a further visit to the pub and then drinking/socialising in the hostel swapping stories of running glories, making new friends and future plans. Thankfully the games cupboard at the hostel only had children's games, snakes and ladders, monopoly...and, luckily, not Twister.

On Saturday morning, we awoke to the sight of some rather tired and weary looking Striders - due to the small beds, or possibly the effects of the previous night’s alcohol - and over breakfast we played the game of trying to recognise people in their pyjamas rather than running kit.
We then set off to the local parkrun at Brockenhurst with an advance party on bikes, followed by the majority in a convoy of cars, guided by a mixture of map/GPS/local knowledge (local knowledge proving to be superior). The 15-minute journey was punctured by stops, firstly to allow the wild ponies and even cows to meander across the road - quite a sight for us townies - and then secondly stopping for in-car selfies with said ponies and cows (not sure where that is covered in the Highway Code).

The local runners of Brockenhurst were pleased to see us and very welcoming - as is usually the case with parkrun. The course turned out to be four laps of the local college playing field, not the most inspiring, but maybe a reminder of how lucky we are at St Albans. 
The 'Minions' at Brockenhurst parkrun
A good performance by Striders (dubbed the Minions by one local wag) filled seven of the top ten places with Cathal our first finisher in 2nd place (but then parkrun isn't a race), and at least one PB. Most impressive performances came from Ben and Amy, who remembered to run, rather than be Race Directors, and most definitely from Charlotte who completed an exceptional jog/walk whilst heavily pregnant. 

We then moved en masse to the local coffee shop, which proved to be rather traumatic for the woman in charge, as it was the one day when her boss thought they would be quiet, so had taken the day off, and left her in sole charge. But she coped admirably and we were in no hurry!

Some hardy souls then departed for a bike ride or for a further run, which included having to cross a raging torrential river (well that’s what they told me) and having that agonising moment that every runner dreads of seeing their brand new trainers get dirty.
A group run in the sun
Saturday afternoon was spent on smaller group activities, the Striders Facebook page keeping us informed of each other's activities with regular updates and photos. The activities included mountain biking, a trip to the beach to see expensive yachts, Mike’s walking expedition which included the unexpected log challenge, the Aqua park group (surely a classic example of Hobson’s choice), and a further bike ride for some, which proved to be longer than expect due to some dubious map reading.
Once back in the hostel and showered, we journeyed into the neighbouring town with heightened appetites from our excursions. As per the rest of the trip, the logistics of managing 38 Striders into a series of taxi/mini buses/restaurant/meal choices was excellently marshalled by Jen, with help from Stu. A delightful meal, with interesting and varied conversation.
Further drinks were then consumed - well, we had to clear the fridge of the various bottles of alcohol before Sunday’s departure.
A Saturday afternoon bike ride for some, while others hit the beach
The final activity for the weekend on Sunday morning was a gentle run to the nearby harbour of Buckler's Hard (insert your own gag here), with several people appearing to be sweating pure Prosecco, and being met on our return by Tina's cooked breakfast – surely the perfect way to start a Sunday morning.

The rest of the morning was spent clearing the hostel, the cleaning team making the Wombles (70's children TV characters who were OCD on cleanliness) look like a bunch of work-shy students, so much so, that we actually left the place (once the last bike group had returned) in a cleaner state than we had found it!
As the sun had now materialised the majority of us stopped back in Brockenhurst, for a well-deserved beer garden/sun bathing/recovery session and to begin planning next year's trip.

A fantastic weekend away, spent with some wonderful people. Superbly organised by Jen.

Already looking forward to next year.

Andy Normile

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