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On the run: record field turns up for the Southend parkrun

PUBLISHED: 12:01 18 January 2019

The scene at Shoeburyness, just before the start of last Saturday's Southend parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTON

The scene at Shoeburyness, just before the start of last Saturday's Southend parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTON

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Athletics correspondent Carl Marston is travelling around the region (and beyond) running in different parkruns. This time he heads to the seaside at Southend

Gunners Park, the home to the weekly Southend parkrun at Shoeburyness.Gunners Park, the home to the weekly Southend parkrun at Shoeburyness.

Usually when I head for Southend, I don’t even catch a glimpse of the sea, stopping short at Roots Hall, the home of Southend United Football Club.

But last Saturday’s visit was prompted by an urge to run the Southend parkrun, not a need to report on a lower league football fixture.

And you can certainly see the sea at the Southend parkrun!

Staged at Shoeburyness, at the mouth of the Thames Estuary and about three miles east of Southend town centre, the weekly 5K jaunt is a flat three-lapper in Gunners Park, hugging the coastline.

In the shadows: a cold but sunny morning greeted a record field of 505 runners and walkers at last Saturday's Southend parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTONIn the shadows: a cold but sunny morning greeted a record field of 505 runners and walkers at last Saturday's Southend parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTON

It was not a morning for a quick dip in the North Sea, due to a chilly breeze, but I’m guessing that conditions have been far worse for this exposed route, especially when a strong wind blows off the sea, buffeting runners as they follow the sea wall.

Yes, I was lucky with the weather (even some watery sunshine), and I wasn’t the only one to make the most of it – my appearance had nothing to do with the massive turnout, naturally, but a record field of 505 ran, jogged or walked the five kilometres, eclipsing the previous best of 474 from Event No. 321, last November.

Seemingly, like everywhere else in the country, parkrunning in Southend is on the up and up.

Runners, young and old, stride out along the sea-wall during last Saturday's Southend parkrun, held from Gunners Park. Picture: CARL MARSTONRunners, young and old, stride out along the sea-wall during last Saturday's Southend parkrun, held from Gunners Park. Picture: CARL MARSTON

The run-down

Driving the last stretch along to Gunners Park, you get a real sense of the past, and of splendid isolation.

The place is named after its former military use, as are many of the roads in the vicinity (Magazine Road, Warrior Square Road and Gunners Rise).

I can imagine it being a rather dreary and soulless place, in the dead of winter with no one else around, but that was hardly the case last weekend as hundreds of runners and walkers, plus dog owners, swarmed to the start-finish area of the parkrun.

Runners progress along the sea-wall during last Saturday's Southend parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTONRunners progress along the sea-wall during last Saturday's Southend parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTON

The course is conducive to fast times, held primarily on tarmac and concrete paths, much of it between the sea-wall and the lake.

Last Saturday’s results

Very talented and enthusiastic junior runners dominated last weekend’s event, making the most of the bright and dry conditions, despite a strong breeze during the second half of each lap.

Ben Maguire, a member of ‘Flyers Southend,’ a relatively new running group based in the town, led home the 500-plus field in a swift 18mins 33secs. Maguire is in the 11-14 year-old age group, and has a personal best of 17:58.

Teenager Jack Morgan, of the more established Southend-on-Sea AC, established back in 1905, was a runner-up in 18:48, while Chelmsford AC’s Archie Dunham, another of the 11-14 year-old brigade, was third with 10:19.

Anna Locke was just 10 seconds adrift of her PB, finishing first female in 21:25. A mere 14 seconds behind was Joanne Bolter, with a PB of 21:49, followed by Elizabeth Welsh (22:22).

Records

Locally-based international runner, Adam Hickey, has the course best of 14:15, set on March 5, 2016, at Event No. 181.

Second on the all-time list is Southend AC club-mate Paul Whittaker with 14;40.

There are many runners from our region among the top 300 or so, including Framlingham Flyers’ veteran Jim Last, who is 49th on the list with 17:03.

An impressive 39 women have eclipsed the 20-minute mark, led by Alexa Joel. The Billericay Strider stopped the clock at 17:12 in June, 2013, at Event. No. 38.

In fact, the quickest female times are long-standing, because the previous record holder, Sophie Riches (Chelmsford AC), notched her 17:55 at the eighth event, at the start of December, 2012. She remains second in the rankings.

Carl’s experience

Gunners Park, in blissful isolation, couldn’t feel further from the hustle-and-bustle of Southend-on-Sea town centre, with its many shops, amusement arcades and of course the pier, the world’s longest pleasure pier at 1.34 miles. And yet it is only a short drive, run or bike ride away.

Southend is actually the seventh most densely populated area in the United Kingdom, outside of the London Boroughs, but again you wouldn’t guess it while standing in Gunners Park, looking out across the Thames Estuary, surrounded by Grade II listed former artillery structures.

The guns have long since fallen silent. Now the only ‘target practice’ is runners aiming for personal bests. For the record, I missed mine – by a country mile!


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