Saturday, 12 October 2013

Kingston parkrun

Kingston-upon-Thames is a lovely part of London and I've always enjoyed visiting the area and walking along the banks of the river Thames, so I was pleased when my scheduled visit to Kingston parkrun finally came around.

The Start

I had always imagined that I would cycle to this venue, but we've recently moved to Dartford and I didn't really fancy the 45 kilometre cycle ride either side of the run. So, even though the official page advises that parking isn't easy, I drove.

Train links all involve a walk/jog (or bus ride). Kingston is the closest station but if the London Underground is more your style, it will get you into Richmond but you'll have to work out the rest from there, there are apparently buses that will take you the rest of the way if you don't fancy the warm-up jog.

The Hawker Centre (including bike racks - there are more around the back)

This is a riverside out-and-back run, which starts and finishes near the Hawker Centre (if you fancy an interesting read, look up the history of the Hawker name in the local area). It is a sports facility run by the YMCA and features a gym, sports areas, tennis courts, soft-play area and a coffee shop. It has a large, free car park which I used for the duration of my stay.

Officially, I imagine the car park is supposed to be for users of the centre only which is probably why it isn't mentioned on the parkrun course page.

Part of the first (and last) meandering path

So once the usual parkrun formalities have taken place, the runners (99 on the day I visited) head off along the fairly smooth meandering towpath towards Ham. The glorious banks of the Thames to the left and an ever changing mix of grass, scrub, and trees to the right. Being riverside, it'll come as no surprise that this is a flat course.

The boundary marker between Kingston and Richmond

Interestingly, the majority of the run takes place in Ham, which is in the London borough of Richmond-upon-Thames. Only the first 500 metres and the last 300 metres (approx distances) are actually in Kingston. Shortly after starting the run you'll pass a large white stone which marks the boundary between the two boroughs.

About a kilometre into the run you'll run under the Teddington footbridge and past Teddington Lock.

Teddington Footbridge

Once past the lock, the terrain underfoot changes to a rougher, stony path and before long the clear views of the Thames are interrupted by the covering of trees that you have found yourself within. Next up is the Thames Young Mariners Outdoor Learning Centre, which offers land and water based activities for kids and teenagers, where you'll briefly find water on both sides of the path.

The path gets rougher

After this is the final part of the 'out'. Then a marshal directs you inland (this is the half-way point) onto 'Ham Lands' where you follow a single track dirt path around a loop, you'll need to keep your eye out for the sawdust trail that the marshals put out beforehand to make sure you stay on the correct path.

The Ham Lands were excavated for gravel back in the early 20th century and the old pits have been back-filled with soil and rubble from bombsites from across London, which has apparently created a mosaic of different vegetation types.

The Thames

At the end of the loop you emerge back onto the towpath and retrace your footsteps back past all of the previously mentioned landmarks until you return to the Hawker Centre where you'll find the finish line and cheering volunteers on the grass just to the left of the main path.

The towpath also forms part of a traffic-free cycle route, so you'll need to keep a look out for bikes approaching in both directions. There were also a fair amount of dog walkers and the dogs were darting in and out of the trees, so again just keep your eyes peeled for them.

Taken from Teddington Footbridge (the parkrun goes along the tarmac path on the right)

The day and night before I ran here, it had rained heavily. If I hadn't signed up for an off-road trail race the following day I would have stuck my trail shoes on to be on the safe side. However, my road shoes coped pretty well with the conditions. Although I expect that after a prolonged period of wet weather, the Ham Lands section could be a bit muddy and/or slippery.

My final sprint (I'm in the black top). From the kingston parkrun photo pool (photographer: Paul Crockford)

The course is suitable for buggy running. However, it will be bumpy for the occupant during the middle kilometres, so if they don't mind the bumpy ride you'll be fine. If it has been raining there'll be plenty of puddles to splash through - something that my daughter really enjoys!

All over for another week

I'm so pleased that I made the effort to travel across London to run here. It's a lovely place to run and even with the few bumps and short off-road section, it is a very fast course (I ran my fastest time so far this year here). If I lived closer I'd definitely make it one of my regular parkrun venues.


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