On the run: tackling the Stevenage parkrun at Fairlands Valley Park
- Credit: Archant
Athletics correspondent Carl Marston is travelling around the region (and beyond!), running in different parkruns. This time he heads to Stevenage
I have a confession to make – I seem to have developed a strange fascination for the county of Hertfordshire.
Having visited Stevenage Football Club to report on Colchester United’s exploits, last Saturday week, and then returned to Hertfordshire to follow the fortunes of Heybridge Swift at Cheshunt FC in midweek, I felt the urge to make another journey into Herts last Saturday.
But this time I swapped my lap-top for bar-code, my boots for trainers, and my heavy coat for a running vest.
In short, the Stevenage parkrun beckoned.
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Stevenage was designated the UK’s first New Town, under the New Towns Act, on August 1, 1946.
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The plans were not popular with everyone at the time, with protests at the local town hall meeting, but Stevenage has grown into a very desirable place to live.
In addition to the occasional visit for football matches, I have also accompanied my youngest step-son, Harry, to East Anglian League athletics meetings at local athletics stadium (Ridlins track).
And not far away, Fairlands Valley Park, once voted as one of UK’s leading “free visitor attractions,” has hosted the weekly parkrun since May, 2016.
Situated in the heart of Stevenage, over an area of 120 acres and with a large sailing lake, the park is popular with anglers, sailors and canoeists, although on Saturday mornings it is largely the preserve of runners, joggers and walkers.
The 5K route takes in two clockwise loops of the park, starting between two lakes, and follows tarmac paths for all bar a 150-metre stretch on a dirt path between rows of trees.
A field of 247 turned up last Saturday, for the 94th staging of the Stevenage event, despite the promise of rain (and it did rain!)
Chris Jones, an over-40 veteran from Garden City Runners, was first home in 18mins 18secs, just five seconds off his personal best.
Eva McCabe, who runs in the 11-14 year-old age group, was the first female finisher in 22:13. She is a member of North Herts RRC, based at nearby Letchworth.
Ian Kimpton holds the course record, of 15mins 07secs, posted at the 15th staging of the event in September, 2016.
Natalie Lawrence, of Fairlands Valley Spartans, has the women’s course best of 18:47, the only female to so far beat 19 minutes and one of only five to duck under 20-minutes. Lawrence set her landmark time at the every first event, on May 28, 2016, and it has not really been threatened since.
I was one of the first to arrive at Fairlands Valley Park, a rarity for these parkrun extravaganzas when I usually roll up just a few minutes before the start, busy taking off layers of clothing while trying to find event HQ.
The organisers and volunteers had already placed the familiar orange cones on the course, and were erecting the finish area.
I decided on a warm-up, a rare treat, but that ended up being a wet-down, thanks to a heavy drizzle. By the time I got back to the car, I was drenched.
Still, the event itself was a success. The short stretch along the tree-line path was slippery, but otherwise this is a fast course, regardless of the weather.
I was back in the 20-minute bracket (20:47), thanks to an improving Abductor and perhaps that short, soggy warm-up.
It seems that every weekend, a flurry of new parkruns are born.
In recent weeks, new events have popped up at such venues as Mole Valley (Surrey), Victoria Dock (Central London), Haverhill, Hazelwood (Sunbury-on Thames), The Wammy (Newcastle Under Lyme) and Clapham Common.
Last weekend’s intended inaugural New Earswick parkrun (near York) was postponed because of a waterlogged course, although there were no such problems at Northwich, in Cheshire, which successfully held its first event last Saturday.
Tomorrow sees the first-ever Fort William parkrun, not far from Ben Nevis. Ironically, my oldest step-son, Jack, will be scaling Ben Nevis tomorrow as part of a Three Peaks Challenge, but he has politely refused my suggestion that he should run the parkrun and report back to me.
Closer to home, the inaugural Felixstowe parkrun will also be held tomorrow.
And in response to the recent April Fool’s Day, one entertaining web entry revealed that a ‘Trumpton parkrun’ was to be held for the first time, organised by ‘Chigley AC.’. There was of mention of Camberwick Green.