Carl Marston's parkrun tour - a visit to Ally Pally
PUBLISHED: 10:04 25 April 2019 | UPDATED: 10:04 25 April 2019
Athletics correspondent Carl Marston is travelling around the region (and beyond) running in different parkruns. This week he heads to the Ally Pally parkrun in London
Not long ago, racehorses used to thunder around what was then London's only racecourse, in front of Alexandra Palace in the Borough of Haringay.
Now, it is parkrunners rather than thoroughbreds who do loops at the bottom of the park, every Saturday morning.
The horse racing circuit, complete with grandstand, hosted races between 1868 and its closure in 1970, and was renowned as being the quirkiest course in the country.
Many Londoners loved it; others, especially a few jockeys, loathed it, mainly because of its tight and treacherous turns – Willie Carson once famously insisted that it “wanted bombing.”
The heart of the racecourse is now a cricket pitch, which is where the parkrun is centred, and which is where I spent Saturday morning in bright sunshine.
In fact, parkruns up and down the country were blessed with terrific weather last weekend, which led to no fewer than 55 of the 600-plus events celebrating attendance records.
These included Suffolk-based parkruns at Ipswich (502), Lowestoft (566) and Sizewell (247), North Essex parkruns at Harwich (212), Maldon Prom (399) and Chelmsford (861), plus such Norfolk venues as Gorleston (585) and Holkham (531).
But back to Ally Pally.
My Dad is a regular visitor to Alexandra Palace, for model boat exhibitions, but I hadn't been for decades.
The parkrun course is on the lower slopes, away from the main building – often known as 'The People's Palace' – but I did park the car close-by, next to the ice-skating rink.
If I had known the history of the building, I might have parked the car a little further away.
Opened in 1873, Ally Pally, as it is affectionately known, burnt down just 16 days later. It was completed destroyed by the fire, with three members of staff killed in the blaze, but the Victorians were not people to rest on their laurels, or stew on their misfortune, and the palace was quickly rebuilt and re-opened in 1875.
It has not burnt down since.
The Ally Pally parkrun is one of the older of the 600-plus events, having started in December, 2011, when a field of just 49 took on the 5K challenge around a two-lap circuit inside the park.
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By week three, that figure had shrunk to just SIX, although that was on a Christmas Eve, while now hundreds congregate every week, a record field of 402 taking part at Event No. 360 in January.
As happens with most London-based parkruns, the day before the London Marathon (in this case tomorrow), numbers usually swell with all the visiting marathon enthusiasts looking for a 5K warm-up 24 hours before the big day. Ally Pally is no exception.
Last Saturday's results
Michael Cockings, a member of London Heathside, led home a field of 286 in 18mins 39secs, which was just nine seconds adrift of his personal best for the course. It was his 99th parkrun.
Gabrielle Johnson, competing in the 11-14 year-old age group, was the first female in 23:13. She runs for Highgate Harriers, who are based at nearby Hampstead Heath.
Like so many of the north London parkruns I have so far visited, Paul Martelletti holds the course record at Ally Pally.
The New Zealander set the landmark time of 15:42 on his one and only visit to Alexandra Palace, last July at Event No. 336.
I can vouch for the fact that Martelletti, of Victoria Park Harriers & Tower Hamlets, also holds the parkrun course bests at the likes of the Barking, Beckton, Fimsbury Park, Hackney Marshes, Southwark and Wanstead Flats – because I have visited them all myself.
Amelia Pettitt, of Cheshire club Vale Royal, has the female best of 18:02, set in the summer of 2015.
There is never an ideal time to have a nose-bleed, especially if you are halfway into a parkrun.
That happened to me at Ally Pally, only a slight one, but enough for me to drop the pace (which wasn't that hot to start with!).
It soon stopped, so it didn't look like I had gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson; rather, that I had perhaps cut my upper lip while shaving. But at least I can now say that I have shed blood, while parkrunning – my own blood!
In summary, there is nothing to dislike about the Ally Pally parkrun. In fact, even Willie Carson would struggle to find a bad word to say about it.