Top five weather-beaten parkruns

Dunstable Downs, home to the Dunstable Downs parkrun in South Bedfordshire. Picture: CARL MARSTON

Dunstable Downs, home to the Dunstable Downs parkrun in South Bedfordshire. Picture: CARL MARSTON - Credit: Archant

Athletics correspondent Carl Marston is travelling around the region (and beyond) running in different parkruns. Here he heads to a windswept Dunstable Downs parkrun

Catching the wind: the sign says it all as a runner approaches the finish to the Dunstable Downs par

Catching the wind: the sign says it all as a runner approaches the finish to the Dunstable Downs parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTON - Credit: Archant

When the wind blows on top of Dunstable Downs, a chalk escarpment in South Bedfordshire, it really blows!

I braved a swirling wind, with rain in the air, for the 40th staging of the Dunstable Downs parkrun last Saturday morning.

It was an experience. This was no day for personal bests, or super-quick times. The 5K route was muddy underfoot, and although the views from the top of the Downs are spectacular, even in slightly murky conditions, it was not much fun running into the teeth of a strong wind, 797 feet up on what is the highest point in the East of England.

The rather foreboding scene before the start of last Saturday's Dunstable Downs parkrun. Picture: CA

The rather foreboding scene before the start of last Saturday's Dunstable Downs parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTON - Credit: Archant

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But when the going gets tough, the tough get going, and a field of 78 runners and walkers, plus 16 hardy volunteers, made mincemeat of the testing weather - it takes more than a few gusts of wind, and the onset of driving rain, to deter your average parkrunner!


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I feel this is therefore an opportune moment to reveal my Top Five weather-affected, weather-beaten parkruns of the last couple of years.

Runners on the homeward stretch on top of Dunstable Downs during last Saturday's windswept parkrun.

Runners on the homeward stretch on top of Dunstable Downs during last Saturday's windswept parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTON - Credit: Archant

1 Dunstable Downs

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There can't be many more exposed starts to a parkrun, than that of the Dunstable Downs event, on top of the chalk grasslands of the Chiltern Hills.

This is a favourite spot for gliders, kite fliers, hang-gliders, paragliders gliders and even birds of prey. But it is also a popular haunt for parkrunners on a Saturday morning.

Runners and volunteers congregate at Thieves Lane Car Park before the start of the Panshanger parkru

Runners and volunteers congregate at Thieves Lane Car Park before the start of the Panshanger parkrun. Picture: TIMELINE PHOTOS - Credit: Archant

I arrived at the Chilterns Gateway Centre, the parkrun HQ, 40 minutes before the start. The wind was howling, it was bitterly, bitterly cold, and even the 'Caution Runners' signs were threatening to be uprooted from their moorings.

Still, I stripped down to my shorts (blue hot pants) and a couple of sweatshirts, determined not to over-heat during the one-lapper, mindful of the 'warm' pace I would be setting.

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The snowy scene during the 'sprint' to the finish at the Panshanger parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTON

The snowy scene during the 'sprint' to the finish at the Panshanger parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTON - Credit: Archant

I never did warm up. The course was on grass and trail paths along the escarpment, with a couple of muddy sections through woods.

To add to the 'experience,' it also began to rain during the final kilometre, blowing into the faces of the toiling parkrunners.

Yes, I think it's fair to add that conditions were not perfect.

The start of the Mersea Island parkrun, at Cudmore Grove, East Mersea, at the time of the 'Beast fro

The start of the Mersea Island parkrun, at Cudmore Grove, East Mersea, at the time of the 'Beast from the East.' Picture: LW PHOTOGRAPHY - Credit: Archant

2 Panshanger (snow)

The wintry weather that brought heavy falls of snow to most of the country ensured only a select few parkruns survived, at least in the East of England, on March 3, 2018.

Panshanger parkrun, a picturesque one-lapper in Hertford, was covered in a layer of snow, giving it the feel of Christmas rather than of early Spring.

Runners make their way along the icy route at Ellenbrook Fields parkrun, which survived the cold sna

Runners make their way along the icy route at Ellenbrook Fields parkrun, which survived the cold snap. Picture: CARL MARSTON - Credit: Archant

It was just a feat to keep your balance and follow the snowy trails through Lady Hughes Wood, Garden Wood, over the River Mimram and around Kings Lake to the finish, near the rather disconcertingly named Thieves Lane Car Park.

I will return one day, when everything isn't quite so white.

3 Mersea Island (wind)

Runners congregate for the run briefing, in the shelter of the trees, before a very wet Wimbledon Co

Runners congregate for the run briefing, in the shelter of the trees, before a very wet Wimbledon Common parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTON - Credit: Archant

I was greeted by the tail of the 'Beast from the East,' when I rolled into the car park at Cudmore Grove, East Mersea, Essex, for the 63rd staging of the Mersea Island parkrun in February of 2018.

Sure, the 'Beast from the East' had lost its sting, but the Mersea Island parkrun is not the best place to be when the wind is blowing.

The course is a trifle exposed, to say the least, heading north and then east near the cliff edge before following the sea wall. I survived to tell the tale, though I was beaten by a small dog who was more suited to the wind.

4 Ellenbrook Fields (ice)

Normal trainers, trail shoes, ice skates? I don't own a pair of the latter, but they might have come in useful when I made an appearance at the Ellenbrook Fields parkrun, at the University of Hertfordshire, at the start of February this year.

The one-lap course is dead-flat, based on the site of the old Hatfield Aerodrome, and is held on tarmac and concrete paths, although a sheet of ice (at least big pockets of the stuff) gave a new dimension to the 5K challenge - more chance of a broken leg than a PB.

5 Wimbledon Common (rain)

The scene of my 100th different parkrun, in late July, this sneaks onto the list because of the rain - not heavy, just very, persistent.

The course was strewn with puddles, conducive to flippers rather than trainers. I think it rained for about a week!

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