On the run: the rapid rise and occasional fall of parkrun
- Credit: Archant
Athletics correspondent Carl Marston is travelling around the region (and beyond) running in different parkruns. This week he heads to Heartwood Forest
While the total number of parkruns in the UK continues to rise, virtually every week, very occasionally there is the odd event that falls by the wayside.
Last Saturday, Suffolk welcomed the arrival of a 10th parkrun within its county boundaries, with the birth of the Sizewell parkrun.
An impressive field of 214 runners, joggers and walkers turned up for the inaugural event.
Likewise, there were two further new parkruns staging their first-events last weekend, 102 turning up for the Lancing Beach Green event in Sussex, and 99 gracing the inaugural Nant y Pandy parkrun on Anglesey.
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I hasten to add that I was at neither Sizewell, nor Lancing, nor on Anglesey, last weekend.
Instead, I chose to attend one of those very few parkruns, which I was alluding to above, that is destined for the chop, to put it crudely, or about to come to an end, to put it kindly.
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The Heartwood Forest parkrun, situated just outside the quaint village of Sandridge, near St Albans, is a little gem that is, alas, not long for this world.
The final event is set for five weeks time, on October 6, bringing the curtain down on a popular parkrun which has regularly attracted three-figure fields throughout its 13 months of existence.
So why is the Heartwood Forest parkrun, which held its 43rd event last Saturday, with me among the field, about to end?
The short answer is that the location is not suitable for the long-term viability of the event.
As event organisers reveal on their website: ‘to guarantee the long-term future of our event, we have taken the difficult decision to permanently relocate the Heartwood Forest parkrun.’
Of course, that’s a shame.
I am only aware of two other parkruns, from a current total of 560, biting the dust.
The first to close gained coverage in the national media, because the local parish council effectively led to the demise of the Little Stoke parkrun, in South Gloucestershire.
Stoke Gifford Parish Council insisted that parkrun should pay for the use of Little Stoke Park, for wear-and-tear on the park, so threatening the very ethos of ‘parkrun,’ which is free to all participants.
The Little Stoke parkrun, therefore, ceased to be on May 7, 2016, after four years.
The second to fall by the wayside was the Hatfield Forest parkrun, which was forced to close due to its own popularity, which put a strain on car parking and often a very muddy route on National Trust property.
The last Hatfield Forest parkrun was on September 23, 2017, although the event was up-and-running again the following weekend at the new venue of nearby Bishop’s Stortford (Castle Park parkrun).
But deceased parkruns are few and far between. New ones are far more common, as Sizewell confirmed last weekend.
Heartwood Forest has a very short history, the Woodland Trust establishing a large new forest of British native trees, spanning 860 acres, in 2008.
The 5K parkrun has very few facilities on site, with the exception of a bicycle rack. This was not much use to me, having journeyed by car – I parked in the village of Sandridge and, like most participants, wandered along the high street before veering through a farmyard and stables onto a bridleway which leads to the forest.
The course is a cracker. Two laps, with a very tough uphill start and a super-quick downhill finish, all on grass and gravel pathways.
Jordan Lister, a member of nearby St Albans Striders, led home a field of 130 in 18mins 20secs, four seconds adrift of his personal best. Club-mate Stacey Harris was the first female finisher in 21:57.
Only two runners have ducked under 17 minutes at the Heartwood Forest parkrun – it is not a lightning-quick course.
Thomas Kearns tops the charts with his 16:23 posting from the 26th event, last April, while Victoria Pritchard, of Shaftebury Barnet, is the fastest of only four women to beat the 20-minute barrier.
A proper parkrun – like-minded souls meeting in a quiet corner of rural England, for a 5K jaunt, starting near a park bench and ending in a temporary finish funnel. Heartwood Forest parkrun will be missed.