On the run: visiting the Harlow parkrun, 29 years after running the Harlow Marathon
PUBLISHED: 16:54 30 November 2018
Athletics correspondent Carl Marston is travelling around the region (and beyond) running in different parkruns. This week he heads south to Harlow, in west Essex
I had not run at Harlow for 29 years, ever since taking part in the Harlow Marathon in 1989, so it was about time I returned to this part of West Essex.
Back in the late 1980s, I was reasonably fit, certainly in better shape than I am now.
Having dipped under the three-hour barrier for the first time, as a 23-year-old at the Ipswich Marathon on September 2, 1989, by a mere seven seconds (2:59:53), I rather rashly chose to run the Harlow Marathon just eight weeks later.
Rather predictably, I was the wrong side of three hours (3:04:27) over the same 26.2-mile distance at Harlow, though I do seem to recall that it was quite cold, and windy.
The Harlow Marathon, as far as I can gather, lasted from 1965 to 1992.
For the purposes of this column, my return to this ‘Mark One New Town,’ as it was billed when built after World War II (following the ‘New Towns Act’ of 1946), was to run the popular Harlow parkrun, a more modest 5K in the big urban park – Harlow Town Park – last weekend.
I like Harlow – it’s easy to get to, off the M11, and has stretches of parkland and wide open spaces that give it a healthy, ‘breath-in-the-air’ feel to it.
And that’s not a bad achievement, when considered that it’s only 17 miles south of Stansted airport, and 17 miles north of the outskirts of London.
The parkrun takes place very close to the town centre and the railway station, in the green expanse of Harlow Town Park.
It’s one of the largest urban parks in the country, at 164 acres, although the parkrun is squeezed into a two-lap undulating challenge, mainly along wide cycle paths.
The start is near a pub car park – The Greyhound – and each of the laps features a short but stiff grassy climb on a disused pitch and putt field, hence the term ‘undulating’ in the description.
I used to relish the thought of an ‘undulating’ course, back in the days when I was tackling such events as the Harlow Marathon, but I’ve gone off them these days!
Last Saturday’s results
Liam Waldron, a teenager from Woodford Green & Essex Ladies, led home a field of 184 at the 214th event on a mild Saturday morning, a little adrift of his 18:15 PB for the course.
Martin Westley, of local club Harlow RC, was a runner-up in a PB of 18:48, while club-mate Catherine Ridge was the first female with another PB of 21:52.
First held on November 8, 2014, when 154 runners, joggers and walkers congregated in Harlow Town Park, the record field currently stands at 252.
Ironically, that has been achieved not once but twice – 252 turned up for the 133rd event on April 29, 2017, six days after the London Marathon, and the same number took part in the landmark 200th event in August of this year.
Afewerk Rossom, a member of Herts Phoenix, holds the course best of 15:49, which he set in July. In fact, he has finished first at 26 of his 31 appearances at Harlow.
Looking down the list, the Springfield Striders duo of Gary Chandler (18:14) and Mark Newton (18:19) are 20th and 23rd respectively in the rankings, while Haverhill RC’s Tony Bacon (18:19) and Braintree & District’s Greg Tye (18:36) are other East Anglian-based runners to feature highly.
Chelmsford AC’s Megan Evans has posted the quickest time for a female at Harlow, thanks to her 19:27 posting just before Christmas, 2014, at event No. 7.
The Harlow parkrun boasts a course which has the knack of finding you out, if you are short of fitness – as I discovered last Saturday.
Having vowed to take a break from parkruns, and so this column, a fortnight ago, I couldn’t resist another 5K jaunt, despite the lack of training.
Back in 1989, it seems as though I was over-doing the mileage, or at least getting carried away with the marathon boom, when I rolled up at Harlow.
No danger of that now.
I was overtaken by the two leading female runners, during the extra mini-lap at the end of the two main laps, but I comfortably stayed ahead of any participating dogs or jet-propelled pushchairs.
A quick calculation has since revealed that I ran last weekend’s 5K at a slightly slower pace than I did the Harlow Marathon of 29 years ago. I find that a bit depressing!