Carl Marston’s parkrun tour: trip to Basildon before a Naked Bike Ride

The sun is out as runners congregate for the start of last Saturday's Basildon parkrun, Picture: CAR

The sun is out as runners congregate for the start of last Saturday's Basildon parkrun, Picture: CARL MARSTON - Credit: Archant

Athletics correspondent Carl Marston is travelling around the region (and beyond) running in different parkruns. This week he heads to the Basildon parkrun in Essex

Northlands Park, the home of the Basildon parkrun

Northlands Park, the home of the Basildon parkrun - Credit: Archant

Last Saturday's two main activities, one as a participant and one as a spectator, will live long in the memory.

Well, the second of this pair will not be forgotten for a while!

I was on familiar territory with the first - my weekly fix of parkrun, which last weekend took me back to Essex for the Basildon parkrun, and will naturally be the main subject of this week's column.

The second, later in the day, was not so familiar - a 'Naked Bike Ride,' part of the World Naked Bike Ride movement, which swept into Cambridge.

Runners approach the finish to last Saturday's Basildon parkrun, beside the fishing lake in Northlan

Runners approach the finish to last Saturday's Basildon parkrun, beside the fishing lake in Northlands Park. Picture: CARL MARSTON - Credit: Archant

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I hasten to add that I was a mere spectator of the second event, having nipped over to Cambridge to see (or rather not see, averting the eyes instead) my eldest step-son, Jack, embrace the moment and join the fifth anniversary of this eye-catching annual event.

As far as I could tell, there were about 70 participants in this leg of the Naked Bike Ride, the vast majority of them being men, of advancing years. I think Jack, at 22, was the youngest in the field, perhaps by as much as 30 years.

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These worldwide events are held to raise awareness of the vulnerability of cyclists, and other environmental issues, with a dress code motto that reads as follows - 'bare as you dare.'

As far as I could tell, most of the Cambridge procession dared to go all the way. It will certainly be a while before I manage to erase those images from my memory.

Fortunately, parkrun does not have a suggestive 'bare as you dare' dress code, and so there was no full nudity on show as, a few hours before my Naked Bike ride experience, I rolled into Northlands Park, Basildon, to take part in the 275th Basildon parkrun.

The parkrun phenomenon is all about promoting healthy pursuits, by encouraging runners, joggers and walkers of all ages, abilities and walks-of-life, to join in a weekly 5K.

And I must confess, I felt more at home among these partially-clothed parkrunners (vest and shorts) than I did watching those well-intentioned but rather exposed cyclists swing by, next to the River Cam.

The run-down

The Basildon parkrun, established in April, 2014, boasts a fast course held over three laps of Northlands Park, a relatively new park of 70 acres established in the 1970s on the former Felmore Farm.

The terrain is a mixture of tarmac paths, footpaths and grass, with a small uphill section on each lap, and a loop around the lake. The start and finish is near the cafe, always a big plus.

A record field of 281 was set just two weeks before my visit, on June 1 at Event No. 273, eclipsing the previous best of 265 from two years ago.

Last Saturday's results

Toby Draper, of Thurrock Harriers, led home a field of 231 in 18mins 40secs. The over-45 veteran has a personal best of 18:00 for the Basildon course.

Libby Marchant, of 26.2 RRC, was the first female finisher in 21:38. It was her first visit to Basildon, but her 228th parkrun.


Shaftsbury Barnet's Matthew Armstrong posted a landmark 15:40 in August, 2014, the only runner to so far duck under 16 minutes.

Gemma Holloway, of Lincoln Wellington, is the only female to have beaten 19 minutes, following her 18:34 from November, 2014.

Carl's experience

I have now visited most parkruns in Essex, with the exception of Highwoods (Colchester), Brentwood and Hadleigh, all of whom offer a hilly challenge.

Still nursing the remnants of a chesty cough (training is still on hold), I therefore opted for the flatter option at Basildon, one of eight 'New Towns' to appear in the South-East of England following the New Towns Act of 1946.

I had previously visited the town to see my youngest step-son, Harry (the one who doesn't do Naked Bike Rides) compete in the sprints at an athletics meeting at Gloucester Park, and had also reported on Basildon United FC at Gardiners Close. But this was the first time I had ever run there.

I ran conservatively, within-myself, sensibly, sedately - as befits a man of poor-health - to just nip under 22 minutes.

It was then time to nip over to Cambridge to watch the 'Naked Bike Ride,' where' fortunately, there was no nip in the air.

I might return to the Basildon parkrun one day, for a better crack at the 5K, but I think I'll give the Naked Bike Ride a wider berth in future.

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