Carl Marston's On the Run parkrun tour: a very windy Thurrock parkrun
PUBLISHED: 16:32 22 March 2019 | UPDATED: 16:32 22 March 2019
Athletics correspondent Carl Marston is travelling around the region (and beyond) running in different parkruns. Here he heads to the Thurrock parkrun, Orsett Heath
There is more to Thurrock than the Lakeside Shopping Centre.
I have been in this neck of the woods many times, sometimes covering football matches at Thurrock FC (now defunct) and Aveley FC (new stadium from 2017), and occasionally at athletics events.
I competed at Thurrock 22 years ago, when turning out for Saint Edmund Pacers at the South of England 12-Stage Relays in April, 1997.
I remember that day, because not only did I run my leg quicker than I had expected, but I also ran faster than the next-leg runner had anticipated.
Hence, when I reached the changeover point, my team-mate was not waiting for me to take the baton. Instead, he was still in the changing room!
Needless-to-say, it was not the smoothest of changeovers, perhaps one of the slowest ever recorded at this event.
In more recent times, I have been back in Thurrock – it is not an actual town, but a unitary authority area with borough status – to watch my step-son Harry compete over 100 metres and 200 metres at the home of Thurrock Harriers, at Blackshots Stadium in Grays.
Again, I remember one visit clearly, not only because I had to ask several ‘locals’ for directions to the stadium (none of them knew the way), but also because the athletics meeting coincided with Germany thumping England 4-1 in the 2010 World Cup. Some things you find hard to forget.
This brings me to the present, and a return trip to Thurrock to take part in last Saturday’s ‘Thurrock parkrun, Orsett Heath.’
Fortunately, there were no relay team-mates involved, and I had no need to ask for directions. I just headed in the direction of the Thames Gateway.
The Thames Gateway, to the east of London, includes 18 miles of waterfront, and is a home to oil refineries, a container port, warehouses, industrial sites and of course Lakeside Shopping Centre.
Thurrock parkrun takes place at the Pyramid Centre, in Chadwell St Mary, a parish perched on higher ground overlooking former Thames marshland.
Towns such as Tilbury and Grays are nearby.
The course is all on grass – proper cross country, though without any hills – and comprises two laps across open grassland, around a recreation ground and football pitches, and with a bumpy stretch beside some scrubland.
On the right day – dry underfoot and in still conditions – this would be a very fast course.
Last Saturday’s results
Toby Draper, of local club Thurrock Harriers, led home a field of 123 runners and walkers in 19mins 40secs.
His personal best for the course is 17:41, which perhaps gives an indication of how difficult the windy conditions were last weekend.
Young Sophie Pasztor was the first female finisher in 24:05.
A total of 113 ran the inaugural event, on October 10, 2015, but it wasn’t until a year-and-a-half later that three figures were reached again – April 29, 2017.
However, the Thurrock parkrun has been gaining momentum in recent weeks, in line with most others in the country (there are now 609 parkruns in the UK).
In fact, 100-plus fields have graced the event at 11 of the last 12 weekends, including a record 154 on January 12.
Thurrock Harriers’ Alex Finch has the course best of 15:29, while Billericay Striders’ Crispian Bloomfield is second on the list (16:11). Only five women have beaten 20 minutes, led by Torbay AC’s Charlie Arnell (18:38).
Some days, you just have to put your head down and run.
I was hoping for sweeping views of the River Thames while surging around the weekly 5K at the Thurrock parkrun, with the sun glistening off the river as I smash my personal best with an effortless run.
It didn’t quite work out like that.
There were no panoramic views of the estuary, and a strong, gusting wind ensured that for a good section of each of the two laps it was an achievement to just stay on course.
I put my head down, followed the red cones, and in truth thoroughly enjoyed the battle with the elements over a welcome grassy cushion underfoot.
For the record, I ducked under 22 minutes; and, before you ask – ‘no, I didn’t stop-for-a-shop at Lakeside on the way home!’