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Kings of Anglia Issue 10 Magazine Offer

On the run: a visit to Swaffham parkrun

PUBLISHED: 15:57 17 July 2018 | UPDATED: 15:57 17 July 2018

A familiar sight for all parkrunners - where all 5k runs begin, in this case at Swaffham. Picture: CARL MARSTON

A familiar sight for all parkrunners - where all 5k runs begin, in this case at Swaffham. Picture: CARL MARSTON

Archant

Athletics correspondent Carl Marston is travelling around the region (and beyond!), running in different parkruns. Here he heads to Swaffham

Runners and walkers congregate before the start of Saturday's Swaffham parkrun, held in hot sunshine. Picture: CARL MARSTONRunners and walkers congregate before the start of Saturday's Swaffham parkrun, held in hot sunshine. Picture: CARL MARSTON

I had passed through Swaffham on many occasions, and visited it a few times, but I had never run at this old market town, until last Saturday morning.

I have usually breezed straight through it, on the way to a scenic dog walk on the North Norfolk coast at Blakeney, Morston Quay or at nearby Holkham Hall.

Back during my student days, in the late 1980s, I stopped overnight at Swaffham while walking the length of the Peddars Way (46 miles between Knettishall, near Thetford, and Holme-next-the-Sea, near Hunstanton), a route steeped in history that follows an old Roman road and an even older trackway, the Icknield Way .

To be honest, though, that’s all a bit of a Breckland blur.

Runners brave the hot conditions during the Swaffham parkrun, held from the Nicholas Hamond Academy. Picture: CARL MARSTONRunners brave the hot conditions during the Swaffham parkrun, held from the Nicholas Hamond Academy. Picture: CARL MARSTON

There’s a football club, Swaffham Town, based at Shoemakers Lane, while Swaffham Raceway used to host greyhound racing between 1987 and 2000, and is still a venue for stock car racing.

But now the founding of the Swaffham parkrun, one of the ‘youngest’ members of the current total of 542 parkruns in the UK, is encouraging local residents to run five kilometres each Saturday morning, while attracting a few visitors from beyond the county as well.

The run-down

Swaffham parkrun is held within school grounds, so dogs are not allowed to take part. Picture: CARL MARSTONSwaffham parkrun is held within school grounds, so dogs are not allowed to take part. Picture: CARL MARSTON

The Swaffham parkrun was only born a few weeks ago, after months of planning, but it’s already a firm favourite on the East Anglian circuit.

The inaugural event, on May 26, had a total of 142 finishers, and a couple more 100-plus fields have since rolled up to the Nicholas Hamond Academy, on the edge of town, to take part either as runners, joggers or walkers.

After enjoying the delights of the seaside, on the previous two weekends, with exhilarating runs along the promenade at Hastings and Felixstowe, the course at Swaffham does not hold quite so much magic.

But, in its defence, the three-lap route around the school playing fields is conducive to fast times, even personal bests.

Getting lost is not a danger at the weekly Swaffham parkrun. The course is well-marked. Picture: CARL MARSTONGetting lost is not a danger at the weekly Swaffham parkrun. The course is well-marked. Picture: CARL MARSTON

Starting from just inside the school field gate, where a sign warns against the presence of dogs – ‘The exercising of dogs on these premises is prohibited – any canines have to the wait behind the fence while their owners complete three laps of a small field and large field, with an un-and-down straight thrown in for good measure.

It’s well marked, well marshalled, and well worth a visit.

Last Saturday’s results

Malcolm Tuff was away and clear as he led home a field of 78 on a blistering hot Saturday morning.

A member of Ryston Runners, based at Downham Market, Tuff began steadily before surging around the three laps in 18mins 17secs. It was Tuff’s first outing at the Swaffham event, although it was his 43rd parkrun, the majority of them registered at King’s Lynn. He is an over-50 veteran who has an impressive marathon personal best of 2:44:29 from the 2014 London Marathon.

Sarah Lake, of Dereham Runners, was the first female finisher in 26:30, most of her 96 parkruns having taken place at Holkham and Brandon.

Records

Dominic Hughes, who has finished first at three of the first eight events, has the course best of 17mins 17secs. Elizabeth Daly, of Dereham Runners, posted a swift 20:46 at the sixth event, a fortnight ago, although no lady has yet dipped under 20 minutes

Carl’s experience

One of the joys of parkrun, and visiting different venues each week, is the rich variety of courses on offer, all five kilometres in length, but all with their own personalities.

I’ve run in local parks (eg Bury St Edmunds), within woodland (eg Brandon), by rivers (eg Boston), in urban parks (eg Chelmsford), near castles (eg Colchester, Clare), by the sea (eg Gorleston, Harwich) and beside a reservoir (Rutland Water).

Swaffham parkrun may not have any distinctive landmarks, but it brought back happy memories of running around football and rugby pitches during my schooldays, which is where my love for running was first born.

I also like the heat, hence my sub-19:30 time. And if I ever tackle the Peddars Way footpath again, I’ll be sure to nip into Swaffham on a Saturday morning – though I’ll leave my dog on the other side of the fence.

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