On the run: Warm-up for the Great East Run with a trip to Westmill parkrun

Westmill Farm, the home of the weekly Westmill parkrun

Westmill Farm, the home of the weekly Westmill parkrun - Credit: Archant

Athletics correspondent Carl Marston is travelling around the region (and beyond) running in different parkruns. This week he targets Westmill parkrun, near Ware

A Saturday morning stroll at the Westmill parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTON

A Saturday morning stroll at the Westmill parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTON - Credit: Archant

I couldn’t have asked for more in the way of extremes, than the two running events I attended last weekend.

On Sunday, the Simplyhealth Great East Run in Ipswich, a half-marathon extravaganza, attracted an entry of more than 3,000, with 2,500-plus finishers.

Many of the roads in and around Ipswich were closed all morning, as spectators lined the route to watch runners of all shapes and sizes toil around a 13.1-mile route around the town centre, up through Holywells Park, along the Waterfront and docks, alongside the River Orwell on Wherstead Road and The Strand, before gradually climbing up to the village of Freston …... and back again.

There were drinks station every three miles or so, timing chips attached to every runner’s race number, medals and goody bags at the finish, and masseurs ready to soothe aching limbs.

A lonely runner enjoys the two-lap Westmill parkrun course, which is small on numbers but big on vie

A lonely runner enjoys the two-lap Westmill parkrun course, which is small on numbers but big on views. Picture: CARL MARSTON - Credit: Archant


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Runners came from all over East Anglia, and beyond, to take part in one of the 13 Great Run Series events, which attract a total of 230,000 runners each year.

I enjoyed the occasion, and the chance to struggle around my first road half-marathon of 15 years.

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But 24 hours earlier, I sampled the other side of running – of the more low-key variety.

The pleasant setting of the Westmill parkrun, in Hertfordshire. Picture: CARL MARSTON

The pleasant setting of the Westmill parkrun, in Hertfordshire. Picture: CARL MARSTON - Credit: Archant

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There were no medals, masseurs, drinks stations, race numbers, chip timing devises or finisher’s T-shirts at the Westmill parkrun. Furthermore, there were hardly any runners!

In the words of Monty Python’s 1971 sketch comedy film – ‘And Now For Something Completely Different.’

The low-key start area for the Westmill parkrun, which staged its 60th event last Saturday. Picture:

The low-key start area for the Westmill parkrun, which staged its 60th event last Saturday. Picture: CARL MARSTON - Credit: Archant

The Westmill parkrun takes place at the Three Lakes Campsite, which you approach from the A602, veering off down a rough track through Westmill Farm and Top Pots Garden Centre, before ending up in a field.

It is then a short walk back up the bumpy track to the start of the run, beside some toilets next to the campsite.

It’s a different world to the centre of Ipswich, and the start-and-finish area in the shadow of Ipswich Town’s Portman Road football stadium.

Instead of 13.1 miles on roads, we tackled five kilometres on grass and trails. There were a few spectators, not thousands, and a field of 67, not 3,000.

But it was parkrun, it was friendly, it was free.

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Up to last weekend, there were 565 parkruns in the UK (a total that is rising almost every week), and there had been precisely 118,718 parkruns staged, averaging 196 participants per event, since the birth of parkrun, 14 years ago.

I think that puts everything into perspective. You don’t need thousands of participants to make any event a success, Just a few – even 67 – will do just fine.

The run-down

So where (‘Ware’) is Westmill? It’s a small village – population of 264 recorded in the 2001 National Census – near the River Rib and nine miles from Ware, in Hertfordshire. However, Westmill Farm, the HQ for the parkrun, is a mere two miles from Ware.

The course is two laps, starting from the campsite and cutting diagonally across a field and alongside Millennium Lake, through a yard and eventually turning left up a hill, along the Upper Lake and back to the campsite. The first Westmill parkrun was held on July 22, 2017, with 172 runners at that inaugural event. This remains the record – 126 ran the second event, and 154 celebrated the first anniversary, but otherwise numbers have always been less than 100.

That was certainly the case on Saturday – no one I met was using the low-key 5K at Westmill as a warm-up for the Great East Run!

Saturday’s results

Douglas Hobson, of St Albans Striders, led home a select field in 19mins 27secs. It was his 222nd parkrun, but his first visit to Westmill – he has been a regular visitor to Suffolk, clocking up 11 Ipswich and 10 Kesgrave events.

Vicky Simpson, from Bishop’s Stortford RC, was the first female finisher with a PB of 22:39.

Records

Ian Kimpton has the course best, thanks to his 16:29 showing from event No. 10 last September. Teenager Lottis Rowedder’s 20:03 is the female course record.

Carl’s experience

Using the run as a fitness test, to see if my calves would hold out for the next day’s half-marathon, I had hoped for a flat, easy course.

Instead, I encountered a few testing inclines and ended up 24 seconds outside 20 minutes, and with a pair of tired legs – not ideal preparation for Sunday!

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