An undeniable perk of the 2016 calendar as far as anyone who likes parkrunning is concerned has been the falling of Christmas and New Year celebrations on weekends. Christmas Day and New Years Day are traditional times where parkrun events can stray from their Saturday morning timeslot and hold extra runs. What this all means is therefore, you could parkrun two times in two days. Even more than that, with some New Year’s Day parkruns starting a little later, you could even manage three in the space of two days if you so wanted. And I so wanted.
I did a new year two-in-two last year, running on the 1st and 2nd January, but back then I was still relatively new as far as parkrunning goes and didn’t really appreciate what was going on. This year I decided to challenge myself by tackling three local courses for the first time- one on New Years Eve, two on New Year’s Day. All three were to be predominantly grassy courses, a change from the pathways I normally plod around at Crystal Palace parkrun.
My first stop was Beckenham Place parkrun, a fledgling event which only began in mid-November and was holding its seventh run only. As a child of Beckenham, going to a parkrun event with my hometown’s name was very exciting, even if the run’s venue of Beckenham Place Park is actually in Lewisham. The park is a huge expanse divided by a railway line, and the course of the new parkrun takes in the east side of the park which was somewhere I’d never ventured to before. Much pre-planning of travel took place, especially as the run at present doesn’t have a nearby car park or facilities. But needless to say, the four-mile journey was a breeze and I ended up parked on a quiet street a stone’s throw from the start far too early.
I lined up in a field of 149 runners and soon found stride and pace on a course which come Spring and Summer-time will be a very fast one indeed. A flat, two-lap job, with the first two-thirds of the lap on grass before a long ‘head for home’ section along paths. I was never going to go ultra-quick given the vast amounts of food and fizzy drink consumed over the Christmas week, but achieved a time of under 25 minutes which was most acceptable. Especially as en route I’d paused to pick up the barcode of someone ahead of me who had dropped it- that must be worth a time deduction, surely?
As for an event, Beckenham Place was most welcoming and it’s great to see the hard work and effort of those who have put it together coming to fruition. In some respects it is still finding its way- speaking to the Run Director Julian afterwards, we discussed how a large proportion of the runners in these early weeks have been visitors from other parkruns, coming to try out the new course (a bit like me, then)- a look at the stats reveals that in the first seven runs, only a dozen or so runners have been there on at least five occasions. It will take some time to settle down to a place where lots of people are calling this venue their ‘home’, however the base of keen runners locally is definitely there and everything is set for this run to move forward over the months ahead. Further planned developments taking place at the park- a source of local controversy but completely detached from the parkrun it must be noted- may well help to develop some of the infrastructure that will make this venue even more appealing on a Saturday morning.
Compared to the baby at Beckenham Place, my two destinations for New Years Day are comparative old-timers. Lloyd parkrun was holding its 333rd event at 9.00am, and the plan was to then be over on the other side of South Croydon by 10.10am for the 403rd event at Roundshaw Downs. I knew both venues well from my previous existence as a church football player, which saw me take in many matches at Lloyd Park, and across the road from Roundshaw Downs on the Purley Way playing fields. (Also former home, so my wife tells me, to Water Palace, a sort of child’s birthday party mecca of the 1990s if you lived in south-east London.)
Again I got drawn into overplanning and overthinking my travel. I live but a five-minute drive from Lloyd Park yet left home before 8.30am just in case I couldn’t find space in the car park, which naturally was only about a quarter full when I arrived. So I sat in the car and kept warm for a while. Upon glancing left and right, I noticed most of the other cars were occupied by people doing similar, and I felt reassured to be in the presence of my fellow risk-averse runners!
I’d been warned that Lloyd was a tough parkrun, especially if attempting in the wet and mud a mere few hours after coming home from new year revelry, and it didn’t disappoint. After the start you’re taken into a woodland trail, where it’s easy to get boxed in if you haven’t settled into the right pace yet, right through a frisbee golf course. Yes you read that right- frisbee golf. It’s a thing. And apparently Lloyd Park is the only course in London. The trail then gives way to two of the things you least want to see- namely:
(b) sections where you think you’re about to head for home as you can see runners heading that way, only to discover you’ve got a whole extra loop to do. At Lloyd, this happens twice half-way through the lap. Then when you do turn for home, you’re running downhill but across the main gradient, so you feel like you’re going to fall over sideways as you do run. And then just to cap it all off, you think you’re at the end of the lap and you have to circumnavigate a bowling green for good measure.
Needless to say, two laps of that was quite a challenge. The only course I’ve run which was in tougher circumstances was at Yeovil Montacute in the gardens of Montacute House- very like Lloyd, but instead of stray frisbee golf marker boards you have live sheep and cows. My time around Lloyd was 27:12, my third slowest ever discounting tailrunning, and I was seriously lagging.
I knew time was precious, but I stopped to admire the Lloyd administrative setup which was as good as any I’ve seen. A line of tables not only housed the scanning and results area but a plethora of drinks, cakes and even an energy ball or two for the tired runners. In the building alongside are relatively amenable toilets and a cafe. With a tram stop and car park right by the start, this definitely ticks the boxes for run facilities.
I stopped for a moment to finally say hello to Debra Bourne, author of the seminal work ‘parkrun- more than just a run in the park’ which is a must-read for any parkrun fan, and then with thirty minutes to travel the 1.8miles across town (for which, of course, I’d planned three different routes and four potential places to park), I set off to put my jelly legs through it all again. Turns out, I was part of quite a convoy! Of the 179 runners who did the Lloyd event, 69 of them including me headed straight for Roundshaw Downs for another go. A fair number of others were heading there from another local venue, Riddlesdown, and by the time the starters had assembled the vast majority of the pack were running for the second time in the day.
I had no idea that ‘doubling up’ was such a popular thing to do, and was again relieved that there are others as painfully committed as I am! Roundshaw Downs is the sixteenth-oldest parkrun venue (Debra’s book taught me that) and sees you run through an area of land which formally was Croydon airport, once the hub of all of London’s air travel. There are plenty of parking opportunities nearby, although the Bank Holiday closure of the adjacent Costco with its monstrous car park made things a bit tougher than they allegedly are normally. The course itself is similar to Lloyd in that it is grass and trail-based, heading uphill at the start of its two-lap course before a long downhill drag to the end. It wasn’t as severe as Lloyd by any means though.
On arrival at this run I found out that, shock of horrors, my phone’s battery was next to empty. There went my run tracking and music for this one. Never mind, I could enjoy the scenery (Croydon skyline and the A23) and maybe talk to some people along the way. In fact, it was quite refreshing to be going at a slightly slower pace than normal and enjoying the collaborative nature of the run, with everyone encouraging each other along the way. I struck up a friendly chat with a chap called Alex who liked my flourescent socks, and together we vowed to shuffle our aching limbs through the mud by hook or by crook.
Given I had no means of keeping track of how I was doing, it was surprising to cross the line and register a time of 27:11, a mere second different to that I’d managed at Lloyd! I’d like to claim that this is a sign of my ultra-efficient consistency of pace, but it wasn’t. As with the two other runs, I’m sure that I could be far faster than that in the right conditions- but I now have a nice new PB, I’ve got something to come back and beat!
A good running start to 2017 then. There’ll be plenty more to write about in the months to come, as I fill you in on other parkrunning exploits and even try to enter a proper race or two.