The quest for a letter ‘Z’ takes party of Suffolk parkrunners to Poland

The Suffolk parkrun tourists at the Zielona Gora parkrun in Poland, including chief organiser Steve

The Suffolk parkrun tourists at the Zielona Gora parkrun in Poland, including chief organiser Steve Langley (centre, yellow vest) - Credit: Archant

How far would you go to chase the letter of an alphabet, even one as obscure as the letter ‘Z?’

The field of runners for the weekly Zielona Gora parkrun in Poland congregate before the start of th

The field of runners for the weekly Zielona Gora parkrun in Poland congregate before the start of the 5K challenge - Credit: Archant

Well, a mad-keen party of runners from Suffolk, chiefly comprising members of Ipswich JAFFA, travelled over 700 miles, three weeks ago, to venture into Poland.

The aim was to tick off the elusive letter 'Z' in the alphabeteer's quest to run a parkrun for each letter of the alphabet.

And the destination was the Zielona Gora parkrun.

Alphabeteers, or alphabetourists, as they are sometimes known, target running 25 of the 26 letters in the alphabet (as yet, there is no parkrun in the world beginning with the letter 'X').

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While 24 of these 26 letters can be hunted down among the current total of 645 parkruns in the United Kingdom, you have to travel further afield to seek out a 'Z,' hence the trip from Suffolk to Poland.

I put the names of 'Ipswich' and 'Zielona Gora' in the AA route planner, out of a matter of interest, which revealed that it would take 13 hours and 20 minutes to travel the 712 miles between the two towns in the car, which included boarding the Harwich to Hook of Holland ferry to cross the North Sea.

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Not surprising, then, that the JAFFA party chose to fly.

Chief organiser, Steve Langley, takes up the story.

"We put a note on the JAFFA Facebook page, asking whether anyone wanted to get involved, and about 30 showed an interest, with 10 signing up for the July date," explained Langley, who these days runs for Eastern Masters after spells with Colchester Harriers and JAFFA.

"Zielona is the closest 'Z' to Ipswich. There are three or four in Poland, otherwise you have to go into Russia.

"We left Stansted at 8.30am for a 90-minute flight to Poznan, and then travelled to Zielona in two hire cars.

"There are lots of alphabeteers amongst the parkrun tourist community, and when we did it, there were groups from North Yorkshire, London and Northern Ireland. In fact, there are groups from England who come over most weeks.

"It's a great atmosphere, like at all parkruns. The first briefing is delivered in Polish, but then they do the same briefing in English.

"Zielona is about 300 miles from Warsaw, and just over 100 miles from Berlin, and it's about the size of Ipswich. In terms of the course terrain, it most resembles the Sizewell event of all the Suffolk parkruns, because it is very sandy underfoot.

"We spent one night in Zielona, and one night in Poznan.

"It was great fun, and a few people have now asked me to do an annual parkrun trip abroad.

"Hopefully, there will be a New Year's Day trip to parkruns in Copenhagen (Denmark) and Malmo (Sweden), a double header like they do over here at Kesgrave and Felixstowe.

"Copenhagen and Malmo are about 20 miles apart, over the bridge," added Langley.

Paul Wain, of JAFFA, was actually first home at the Zielona Gora event in a swift 18mins 57secs, followed by Langley, who was third overall and first veteran in 19:30. Langley, 58, achieved the highest ever age grade rating (80.65%) for this event, in his 55-59 class.

The results of the other members of the Suffolk party were as follows: Scott MacSephney 28:48 (at his 248th parkrun), Rob Page 26:21, Rachael Hamblyn 26:22, Sandy Phillips 26;34 (best female 55-59), Irvine Marr 27:54, Emma Attwood 26:35, Niki MacSephney 33:23 and George Baldwin 34:04.

The experienced Langley is a regular veteran winner and high-placed finisher on the local road running circuit, in addition to so far rattling up 110 parkruns, including a visit to America last year to run the Crissy Field parkrun in San Francisco.

Closer to home, he was third at the Huntingdon parkrun last weekend.

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