Pauline and Jeff in the parkrun photo frame. with Brian photobombing.
5k Special Feature

Achieving my 100th parkrun – Or, how I settled into life in a new land

I did my 100th parkrun during the long Easter weekend on Saturday 8th April 2023, and I wanted to reflect again on the impact parkrun has had on my life. This is partially a run report. But it is also about the parkrun community, and how it can help make even emigrating easy as a side effect of running around the same track again and again, 100 times, until you get dizzy  This is how I chose to spend the one life I get on this planet – running for ages just to arrive at exactly the point I started. 100 parkruns really puts that into perspective.  Especially since I found out that Gothenburg has all kinds of trams and buses! Who knew!

Pausing for the pandemic

I reached my 50th milestone at Montrose parkrun on 20th July 2019. I had assumed that I would reach my 100th before the end of 2020. But then, of course, a global pandemic happened, although I don’t think its impact on my running should be considered one of its more significant societal impacts. Parkrun in Gothenburg didn’t restart until near the end of August 2021. This was later than most parkruns in Sweden. One reason for this was because the team of Run Directors had been whittled down to 2, which was unsustainable.  And when I say whittled down I mean ‘due to life events’ rather than through the winnowing impact of covid.  Emelie, and ED Jonas, had to shoulder the full load, and due to a shortage of volunteers would generally be there volunteering most weeks when they were not Run Directors. This had been the situation for several months prior to parkrun stopping for covid, and they very sensibly decided that they would not return until they had successfully recruited another 3 Run Directors.  As such, we all got a chance to have a few more lie-ins on a Saturday.  Every cloud, and all that.

Pauline, Brian and Angela in the Skatås parkrun photo frame.
Pauline, Brian and Angela in the Skatås parkrun photo frame.

Joining the Core Team

I had thought about becoming a Run Director at Montrose, who recruited for them a couple of times when I was there. However, I always decided not to, because life was too busy to do it. At the time I volunteered here, though, I had completed the main part of my Swedish language studies, was not working, and had plenty of free time available to help out.  Although we had a lovely group of 8 or so of us doing a run every Saturday morning at Skatås, I was really keen to get parkrun back up and running. So to speak. I also thought it would be a good way to improve my Swedish, because it is an expressive language that is best spoken with vigorous leg movements. So I volunteered, alongside David and Trevor. Since then Trevor has moved away from Gothenburg and Roelof has joined us. Very shortly after signing up, I found myself working full time again, and not only as a way to have an excuse to escape the responsibilities I signed up for. I’m still glad I agreed to join the core team though. It means that almost everyone recognises me, and I always have people to talk to. Even if a few might avoid me if they know I am desperately seeking volunteers for the following week. I assume that’s why they avoid me, but it’s also possible they think, ‘Sure, we like to run but cheesy peeps this is all she ever talks about’.

Skatås parkrun

Skatås parkrun is a single loop, free, weekly, timed 5km run which happens every Saturday morning at Skatås. I know that makes it sound like it’s some kind of inexorable natural occurrence, like a small scale earthquake or an unambitious tsunami. Really, it happens because of all the work in the background.  It involves a mix of tarmac and gravel trails, and takes place in a quintessentially Swedish setting of a lake surrounded by forest. For added drama, we do not guarantee the absence of bears in the trees, which results in an average speed increase of around 6% for each runner.  Around 80% of it is in the forest, and a lot of the route circles the beautiful Härlanda tjärn, which is the only lake I have ever walked on, when it was frozen over a couple of winters ago. The route is somewhat undulating, but not the hilliest by any means. Though the short, steep hill a little past 4km is always tough if you’re aiming for a fast time.  However, if you really want to be motivated to achieve a personal best, you can ask one of us to shout ‘Aaaargh, it’s a bear!’ right behind you when we see you flagging. [1]

Start line photo at Skatås parkrun, on a sunny day
Start line photo at Skatås parkrun, on a sunny day

If you are interested in a race report, you can find one here.  If you’re interested in why you should speed up on encountering a bear, here’s Wikipedia: [1]

My 100th parkrun

I could have reached the 100th milestone in March. However, it was the Saturday that Skatås was cancelled due to another event, and I really wanted to do my 100th at my home parkrun (even though the large chocolate medals at Billdalsparken are pretty tempting! No wonder people try so hard at the Olympics if they get to peel the foil off the medal and get the chocolate). I then had volunteer duties, and a vacation in Portugal – a country in which parkrun does not operate, before returning to complete this milestone. I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to run. As Voluntäransvarig (Volunteer coordinator – the literal translation is volunteer responsible) I would usually step in if we didn’t get enough volunteers. Stepping in doesn’t count as running though, so it doesn’t make progress towards the stats. However, we were all set by Wednesday evening, so I knew this was the week. I messaged a few of my parkrun friends to make sure they would be there. One came along who might not have chosen to come otherwise, which was nice.

I cycled the 5.5km to parkrun. This is one difference from in Scotland, where I drove 9 miles to my local parkrun. We have gone from a 2 car family to a car free couple in Gothenburg because there is no need to own a car here. The cycling infrastructure is fantastic, and the integrated public transport system is fairly efficient. The cycle ride was nice, but I’ve not been on the bike much this year yet due to the weather (I refuse to switch to studded tyres and am too scared to cycle on ice) so I struggled a bit on the hills. I met Brian and Angela in Skatås motioncentrum, and we wandered down to the start area shortly before 9:20am. Jeff was already there, and ready to go, and Roelof was in the middle of the first timer’s briefing. It looked like there were a fair number of tourists and new parkrunners.

Roelof gave his usual informative and entertaining pre-event briefing (he always gets a few laughs). There were a lot of things to be applauded this morning: the volunteers who make it possible, new parkrunners, tourists from Germany and Ireland, Sofia’s birthday, my 100th parkrun, the unusual spike in bear-related fatalities…[1] For some reason, the cones were missing, so Roelof and Mariska had to improvise with other Start line markers, and we only had the turning sign rather than the cone. That just made it a little easier to turn.

Pauline and Jeff in the parkrun photo frame. with Brian photobombing.
Brain photobombing Pauline and Jeff.

I’d already agreed to run with Jeff, and as neither of us has been running much recently, we were just aiming for anything under 30 minutes. As such, we let most runners go past us. By most, I mean maybe 20 or so. One thing about parkrun in Sweden is that it is much newer and less well known here. Today we had 30 runners. Those numbers will increase over spring and into summer as the weather continues to improve. But our course attendance record is 67 (achieved on 2 occasions: Skatås parkrun #1, and the last one before the covid shutdown in March 2021). On an average week, we will have around 30 runners – possibly fewer than 20 some winter mornings, and occasionally upwards of 50 in the summer. It’s a really nice core group of people, and it’s really easy to get to know who all the regulars are, because there are maybe 40 of us rather than several hundred. It would be nice to build on this though, and maybe get the kind of numbers places like Montrose and Arbroath get.  Maybe the bear warnings are an own goal, in retrospect. [1]

Back to parkrun. The first kilometre is on the gravel 8, and is quite wide. We went past a few runners, and turned right at the big stone (stora sten) to head through the forest towards Härlanda tjärn badplats and the first Marshal. The 1km marker is shortly after the turn, but my watch buzzes after it. The trees make GPS inaccurate, and my watch always measures short, whereas some others measure long. We were at 5:45 pace, which in theory could get us sub 29, but the hills between 3 and 4ish kilometres always add to that. Jeff and I were chatting about various things: his new job, the benefits of working in the city centre, balcony furniture, whether olive trees can survive Swedish winters on glazed balconies, whether that howling sound was other runners or wolves – the usual stuff. Jonas (the aforementioned RD) ran alongside us for a little while between 1 – 2km as we were getting closer to the side of Härlanda tjärn. He was incorporating parkrun as part of his long run, so he was taking it easy. Our pace was still too easy for him though, so he ran off ahead after a few hundred metres. He did wait to congratulate me at the end though, and chat with a few other folk before heading off to continue his long run.

Photo of Härlanda tjärn badplats
Härlanda tjärn badplats: the amazing view you get if you volunteer as a Marshal here.

Magnus was the marshal at Härlanda, and he shouted “Long time no see”. We thanked him for volunteering. He is a great guy. He’s a retired schoolteacher who taught modern languages, and he often points out grammatical errors I make in Swedish, in order to help me. I’m sorry that most of them don’t land and I keep making the same mistakes, but his advice is appreciated. Unfortunately, his spot is also where the hills start. They have however recently resurfaced the path which leads up a hill along the eastern edge of the lake, so it wasn’t too tough going. I think Jeff and I were discussing kitchen knives at that point in time. I forget why. To gather wolf pelts, maybe? [2]

We couldn’t see many runners in front of us by this point. This sometimes happens at certain points on the route because we get much smaller numbers of runners than you would expect for a city parkrun, and means that our signage is very important for tourists and new parkrunners.

The path takes you above and then away from Härlanda tjärn and further into the forest. Shortly after 3km, you reach the 4-way crossroads, where the second Marshal is located. Today that was Lillemor, who gave us a cheery smile and directed us up a steep hill to the left. At this point the two guys behind us (who were doing their first parkrun) overtook us and continued to slowly widen the gap as Jeff and I struggled a little with the ascent. The 2nd kilometre had been slightly faster than the first, but our 3rd kilometre was a slower 6:18 and the 4th kilometre an even slower 6:30. There are some nice downhills in there though. We distracted ourselves from this by discussing emergency funds, dental bills (I haven’t been to a dentist since I moved here, and really need to book an appointment), and the cost per use metric for identifying what items offer best value for money.

The final hill just past 4km was as tough as expected, but after that it is a nice downhill to the finish. My watch was at 26:11 when we started picking up the pace towards the cottages, and I was trying to work out if we could get sub 29 or not. It seemed unlikely. With about 400 metres to go, Jeff seemed to have found a second wind and was pushing a little harder than I thought was personally sustainable. I asked if he was planning to run off and leave me, and pointed out that it wouldn’t read well in the blog post if he did that. Nothing like a bit of blackmail to keep someone from achieving their goals. We rounded the corner to circle the frisbee golf course with Jeff a couple of steps behind me, and Brian (I think it was Brian) shouted from the other side of the course “Come on Jeff, you can beat her!” I retorted with “He’s not allowed to.” Usually Jeff will go for a sprint finish to beat me at the line (even though I could have ditched him on an earlier hill), but this week he was kind enough not to, and we both crossed the line in 29:29.

Pauline, Johan and Peter in the Skatås parkrun photo frame.
Three milestones in one day.

The after-parkrun chats and fika

One of the nice things about parkrun is how friendly everyone is. Some people do leave, of course, but a large proportion of us stick around until everyone has finished. Roelof and Mariska had brought Easter goodies (marshmallow type treats) and I spoke to various people, switching between Swedish and English depending on who was involved in the conversation. It’s one of the things I really like about parkrun. I even spoke a little bit (around 5 words) of German until people asked me to stop. Magnus returned from marshalling excited to hear that there were German tourists as he was hoping to speak German with them. After my disasterous attempt at speaking German with him, I decided I had best stick with English when they crossed the line. When talking to Johan, Peter, Henrik and Andrew (a visiting parkrun tourist from Belfast) we were discussing milestones and the t-shirts. It turned out that both Johan and Peter had completed their 25th parkrun this morning! Roelof had only asked about 50, 100 and 250, because 25 has only recently been included as a parkrun running milestone. They were pleased to discover it was now “a thing” and we got some photos taken in the parkrun frame. When I got a photo taken with Jeff, Brian decided to photobomb it, which just made it a better photo.

At the fika afterwards, I counted 19 people, including myself. There were, I think, 35 of us who participated this morning, including volunteers. That means that the majority of participants stayed for fika. You could never get 50% of people to stay for coffee at a parkrun with several hundred attendees, and is testament to how friendly our parkrun is.

Photo of the delicious pancakes with jam and cream that I get most weeks after parkrun,
The obligatory post-run fika. Pancakes ftw.

Emigrating is fine, as long as you move to a place that has a parkrun

I knew that moving to Gothenburg would be a big step, and we did give up a lot that we miss. However, having done parkrun here when we visited for Michael’s interview, I knew that it would be fairly easy to settle in. I turned up at parkrun 8 days after moving to Gothenburg (we got in really late the previous Friday, after 11 hours of travelling, so I didn’t manage to get there on my 2nd day as a Swedish resident), went for fika afterwards, and immediately made friends with a few people who are still friends to this day. Within the few months before the hiatus due to covid, that number had increased fairly rapidly, and is still increasing. There are many other ways to meet people, of course, such as SFI (state-provided Swedish language courses), and various other clubs and meetups involving board gaming, book groups, or just pub meetups with other Brits in Gothenburg. And, of course, through work. All of those are great, but there is something special about the kind of community that parkrun creates which really makes it a great place to find your feet in a new land. If you’re thinking of emigrating somewhere, try to choose a town or city that has a parkrun. It’ll make the move so much easier.


[1] There are an estimated 3,000 brown bears in Sweden. However, they are found in central and northern Sweden. There are no known sightings of any bears in southern Sweden.

[2] There are a few hundred wolves in Sweden, and there have been sightings even further south than Gothenburg, though they mostly live in central Sweden. I have never encountered any.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *