Adam Bird

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Sunday, 14 August 2022

Jersey Farm parkrun - event 119

Jersey Farm parkrun

On the 6th August 2022 I ran the Jersey Farm parkrun which was the 119th event held at the venue, my 89th parkrun and 24th different course I'd attended.

Completing parkrun challenges is not as easy as you might think. For example, it's actually impossible to complete a parkrun beginning with X, to get a Y you have to go to York, or hope that Yeovil bring back their elapsed event. To complete a parkrun beginning with Z you have to travel to Holland or Poland. The letter J is not much better with events few and far between, so when the opportunity to arose to tick of Jersey Farm from my parkrun list I was going to take it!

With summer holidays fast approaching and nothing in the diary Stephanie and I asked the kids what they all wanted to do during the six weeks off. Each one of them said the same thing, "Alton Towers", so we formed a plan! As with most plans these days, they only really work when a parkrun is included. Or in this case, two!

In order to make the most of Alton Towers we booked a cottage in the Peak District. In fact, I'm writing this from the cottage itself and am grateful for the internet connection as this place really is in the middle of nowhere! Perfect!

To break up the drive on the Saturday with three irritable kids in the back of the car we decided to divide it into three legs, firstly by stopping in Sandridge which is a small village just outside St Alban's, home of Jersey Farm Woodland park. Followed by a stop in Birmingham to visit Cadbury World and the final leg north to the bungalow in the middle of nowhere.

We left home, seven minutes past seven which was the scheduled departure time. I knew that the advised travel time allowed us plenty of wiggle room but always plan for the worse! As it was, we were very fortunate as the M25 was quiet and we arrived in just over an hour.

As the park itself has no parking, nor facilities we followed the advisory information on the course description page of the event website which is also often repeated on the events Facebook page. Participants are advised to use the free car park in Sandridge village and walk ten minutes to the park which is exactly what we did. As an added bonus there is a public toilet block which came in handy after the short drive before the event and afterwards where I got changed ahead of the longer trip north.

The walk from the car park to the start is actually very pleasant and you travel along part of the course so it gave us a nice taster of what to expect. I say 'us', but it was only me who was participating. As much as I tried to convince the kids and Stephanie to run, walk or jog along with me none of them could be pursuaded.

It became apparent, just be walking to the start line that the course was going to be of the 'undulating' variety. It also became clear that it was also going to be very scenic with some lovely views across Hertfordshire peeping out across the park in certain corners.

The course itself starts in the centre of the park at its highest point. It consists of a small starting loop before two laps of the park itself. The first loop is on a bridleway on the perimeter of the park whilst the second is on fields inside the park itself.

The small starting loop, I assume is designed to help spread the field out a little bit as the bridleway path, whilst not narrow could be too small to accommodate a decent crowd. There were a good number of tourists making up the field and was one of the busiest, if not the busiest first timers briefing i'd seen.

From the start, participants head around the small field where everyone gathered in readiness, before passing a patch of trees and heading down hill via a path alongside another field. As we've been having such beautiful weather the fields were straw like and the ground underfoot hard and dusty. At the bottom of the field the path swing right onto the bridle path before 'u' turning back onto the field and back uphill again towards the start line.

This is the first of three runs up this hill, once as just described, the second at the end of the first full lap and the third at the end of the final lap. Upon each turn, the hill appeared to get progressively longer and slightly steeper, maybe that was just my over active imagination!

One you've reached the top field here, participants turn left on the first lap which leads you back to the bridleway path. This path is then followed as described above around the circumference of the park. It is treelined and therefore lovely and cool which was a welcome relief. The sun shone romantically through the leaves where the tree cover was slightly thin, making me blink as I ran due to the intermittent brightness.

Once the first lap is complete and the hill successfully climbed for the second time instead of turning left, participants carry straight down, starting the second lap that covers the internal parts of the park. Whilst you are running on what is effectively farmland the paths here were lovely and flat, partly due to the straw like grass, but partly because of the impact the weather has had on the soil. The lap isn't a carbon copy of the first as it follows the shape of the field boundaries and so makes for an interesting picture when you look back on your Strava route as it's not easy to describe.

Without those obsessive parkrun challenges I'd never experience gems such as Jersey Farm. Whilst even after all this time I can't say within any confidence that I actually like running, but I know for a fact places like this make the experience so much more enjoyable!

In the end I finished in 106th place out of a field of 170 in a time of 29:48, which on an undulating course such as this one I can be incredibly pleased with!

Monday, 1 August 2022

Thurrock parkrun - event 285

Thurrock parkrun

On the 30th July 2022 I ran the Thurrock parkrun which was the 285th event held at the venue, my 88th parkrun and 23rd different course I'd attended.

My parkrun planner is not through random choice, it is carefully considered. Crafted around ticking events off the alphabet list, ticking events off in Kent and ticking off those inside the M25. I also consider the event numbers as well to ensure that I am ticking off numeric challenges such as prime numbers, Fibonacci sequence or if I'm feeling extra technical ticking off numbers from the Wilson Index (I don't actually know why the Wilson Index is called the Wilson Index or who it is named after. It is however, the maximum contiguous number of events that I've attended, in my case 3. If I run an event that is number 4, my Wilson Index will go up to 16 on account that I've run event numbers 5 through to 16 and number 4 is the gap in my sequence. Glad we cleared that one up...)

The other factor that I consider and I believe I've mentioned it before in one of my recent postings is my NENDY list. This list, (NEarest Not Done Yet) which before an app upgrade was 15 events long and gave me great joy ticking one off and seeing what new event popped in its place. Now though, the list has been updated to include 50 event names and whilst it does still update upon completion of an event from the list, it's not nearly as thrilling and I don't quite know yet why. But anyhow, for the longest time the number one event on the list has been Thurrock, by virtue of geography. Indeed, as the crow flies the event is a mere 6.2km away and without the river it would make a nice warm up run. But the reality of getting to Thurrock means a 27 minute drive there, a 27 minute drive back and roughly £5.00 in toll money. There's also the alternative suggestion of a convenient trip across the water on the Tilbury Ferry and a reasonable jog to the event once you've reached the other end. 

But despite all of that, Thurrock hadn't appeared very highly on my planner at all. For my 'T', I was planning to tick that off at The Leas on the Isle of Sheppey, or somewhere else other than Thurrock. I may as well be honest here, I was looking for reasons to avoid it. Simply because I had a preconception in my mind about what I believed Thurrock to be and didn't want to go there because I didn't think it was going to be very nice.

My planner actually had Royal Tunbridge Wells pencilled in and I was all for that, despite the much longer drive. But due to the rail strike and plans to see Gills play away at Wimbledon on the first game of the season I didn't think I would have enough time to do parkrun and get back in time before heading off again for football. The challenge I had was rearranging my planner to find a parkrun that fit in with my revised timeframes as well as handle all the consequences of moving everything out of sequence. Due to my recent activity all of the local events this side of the river have all been ticked off so I had the choice of revisiting a local one or coming up with a solution. So I decided to bite the bullet, ignore my preconceptions and go for convenience over preference.

Part of the appeal of parkrun tourism is seeing different places and I'm glad to now say, challenging those preconceptions. Whatever vision I had in mind, for whatever reason I had that in my mind was nonsense and I certainly won't be making that mistake again. Sure I am going to have different experiences along the way and things are going to be better/worse than I imagined them to be, but I certainly won't be putting a label on a place before I've even been there.

The event is held at the Chadwell Recreation ground in Orsett Heath, which is an outdoor space at the heart of the community. Surrounded by houses on three sides, including a new housing estate on one and a series of attractive bungalows on the other (which gave me Ramsey Street vibes). The recreation ground itself is mixed use from what I could see, with a variety of longer, wilder grassed areas alongside sports pitches and a playground that is minus any markings or apparatus.

Parking is less than a stone's throw from the start. In fact, step off of the car park and you are virtually on the start line itself which couldn't be any more convenient. The route is two laps around the majority of the perimeter of the park and is virtually flat. There are some bobbly bits around the back of the course and it is all on grass. I'd imagine that in winter months or after a period of heavy rain it would be quite tough going but that is also true of most grass/trail courses and certainly not unique here.

My Strava map tells its own story as far as the course is concerned. The outline of the course resembles the silhouette of Winnie the Pooh bear sat up against a tree. From the corner of the park, next to the car park is the tip of Pooh's nose. Heading towards the corner of the park before turning left alongside the playground space you travel down his face to his body. The playground space on the right hand side looked to be a little forgotten and overgrown, but if there is any gradient on the circuit it is likely to be here as you approach a hut, or green building and pass it turning left. This is the outstretched legs of Pooh bear and the course takes a wider U-turn before turning back on itself.

Reaching the back of the course, as mentioned above is where the terrain turns a little bumpier and the grassland a little longer. The path takes you left through a small clump of trees. It would be an exaggeration to call it a woodland, but the trees to your right as you run over a series of bumps and dips, which did upset my rhythm a little bit, but I'd not consider it be overly taxing.

This path is the back of Pooh, alongside the Ramsey Street-esq bungalows, which at the ends turns right, perpendicular to the main road which you'll likely come along to reach the venue. This is the path that leads down the face back to the point of the nose or the start line where the second lap is run.

The big takeaway from the run for me was the community spirit that embodied the whole event. From the under 12s football team that all turned up and ran together, to the incredibly supportive volunteers who clapped along with plastic hand rattles to make extra noise and encouragement at the start of the second lap. Those are the types of things that make me keep going to different parkrun events just as much as the scenery or the parks themselves. Without the people there is no event, without the community spirit of solidarity it's just an event, with both ingredients together its parkrun.

After my recent calf issues I felt comfortable throughout the run. It was another hot one, but was nice to make the whole distance this week and I enjoyed a competitive sprint with a guy at the end. I finished in 42nd place out of a field of a 102 participants in a time of 28.52.

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