Mensola parkrun, Italy, 24th September 2022

We have been regular visitors to Florence since our son moved there a few years ago, but somehow had never managed to do the local parkrun. We had either been travelling over the weekend, unwell or there had been no event due to Covid restrictions. Post-pandemic Firenze parkrun had ceased to exist, but instead had sprung up at the Parco del Mensola. So we were determined to get there on this visit (well, I was determined, Gill less so), despite being tired from the early flight, lunchtime wine and evening aperol spritz!

We had discovered the park when out walking on our last visit, so had a rough idea of how to get there, but left in plenty of time as we had a jog/walk of about a mile to pick up the bus and wanted to make sure we could find the start line in good time. On arrival we were met by a small group of runners, mostly British with an Australian couple and a lass from Hamburg, and the very friendly Italian volunteer team. We weren’t the only representatives from the North East either, as another runner came trotting along the path in a Wallsend Harriers vest!

The Run Director was a very chirpy British lady, a Londoner who has lived in Florence for 30 years, and she conducted the pre-run briefing. This included telling us that the start might be slightly delayed as the Italian runners always arrived at the very last minute!

Mensola is a lovely park on the eastern outskirts of the city, surrounded by the Tuscan hills and the Arno valley. So you have lovely views all the way around. The course was 3 laps in the shape of a figure of 8, mainly on gravel paths. It was mostly flat with the odd undulation and some uneven ground in a couple of spots. Once the locals had duly arrived, the massive field of 33 runners set off. I wanted to start steadily for the first lap, but there were no real fasties and so I was just behind the leader. He was an English lad who turned around and said “I don’t want to be in front!” to which I replied “Nor do I, mate”. However I did find myself in the lead before the end of the first lap – a very strange experience! Despite the lack of marshals, the route was easy to follow with lots of arrows to keep you right. There was a bridge over a small river in the middle of the course, and on this section runners were going in both directions – thankfully not a problem with such a small field.

I spent the second lap exchanging the lead with another British runner and we began to pull clear of 3rd place. At the start of the final lap, I knew that my competitor would pull away as I was sure he had more in the tank (and I completely lack any sort of sprint finish), and that is exactly what happened. So I equalled my best ever parkrun finish of 2nd place. Gill came home in a very respectable 25th place, and we are both now age category record holders!

As there is no cafe nearby, the volunteer team provide their own snacks – water, fruit and home-made Bounty bars. This was all very welcome and made for a very convivial time where we could chat with the other finishers. It was there that we discovered one of the Italian runners was actually a lecturer at Durham University – mostly working from home in Florence! It really is a small world.

All in all, a very nice parkrun in a scenic location, with friendly volunteers and free snacks – what’s not to love!

Tom Tinsley -