Saturday, 16 November 2013

Ally Pally parkrun

Completed in 1873, Alexandra Palace sits at the highest point of the 196 acre Alexandra Park in North London which were named to commemorate the new Princess of Wales - Alexandra of Denmark, who had recently married Prince Edward. Also known as The People's Palace, it wasn't long before the nickname 'Ally Pally' caught on, and this playful name has been adopted by the parkrun that calls the southern slope of the park home.

ally pally

Ally Pally is a well known entertainment venue and I have visited it a few times over the years. I went to a motor bike exhibition (200?) and a performance by The Strokes (2003) both with my friend Terry ( @rencestar ) and most recently to see Sigur Ros (2008) with my brother and wife. The Palace has had two large fires in its history. The first was just 16 days after it opened in 1873 and the second was in 1980.

view across the old racetrack and cricket ground

So it was fitting that as Terry had a rare Saturday off of work, he decided to accompany me to Ally Pally parkrun for a warm up before the following day's Mo Running 5k race in Battersea Park, which I'd be running for the fourth consecutive year and Terry running his third.

the boating lake

We were in the car and heading along the A2 just before 7am, and despite a half-an-hour delay at Blackwall tunnel following a serious crash, we arrived at the venue with bags of time to spare. There are 1,500 free car parking spaces across six different car parks within park. We headed to the Paddock car park, which seems to have the most straightforward route over to the start/finish area.


For public transport users, the London Underground will get you as far as Wood Green and the mainline trains take you to Alexandra Palace station - both require a short uphill walk to reach the start/finish area. Like all parts of London, the area is also served by buses but I won't even attempt to outline what goes where. Cyclists looking to secure their bikes will find a few racks in the car park adjacent to the palace but securing it to a tree at the start/finish area would be my preference. The only toilets that I spotted were at the cafe by the boating lake at the top of the park, but I'm not sure what time they open. There doesn't seem to be any information available on toilet facilities in the park.

slightly hazy, but you can still see the city

One of the big draws to the park are its panoramic views over London. You can see into, and beyond, the centre of London, I managed to pick out Canary Wharf and The Shard with ease. Around the park, you'll find a pub and restaurant, ice rink, boating lake, pitch and putt course, deer enclosure and a few cafes.

pre-run briefing

The parkrun course is made up of an 'out' section, two anti-clockwise laps, and finally a 'back' section. It starts on the main avenue that runs across the park. The park is made up of both hilly terrain and flat ground. It's best to think of this run as being on three split levels - The start is on the middle level, you first drop down to the bottom, and then climb right up to the top before doing it all again and finally finish back on the middle level.

the main avenue

The middle level is where you'll find the start/finish area and the main avenue, which is apparently lined with Lime Trees. Watch out for the white gate and metal posts shortly after the start - I was almost taken out by one of the posts because I wasn't concentrating! This section is used as the initial 'out' section and at the end as the 'back' section. Straight after the first left hand turn you'll run past a helipad (look out for the 'H' marked into the grass) - one of the locals that we bumped into had no idea it was here despite living here for years.


At the bottom of the course you'll go around the perimeter of the Alexandra Park Cricket Club playing fields, which are housed in the centre of what used to be a horse racing racecourse. It was known as the 'frying pan' on account of its shape. Horse racing took place here from 1868 until 1970 when the track closed down. The racecourse is still easily to identify and a small section now forms part of the parkrun route.

conservation area

There's only one way to get from the bottom level to the top level - Yes, it is time for the climb. After leaving the former racetrack, the route turns into the conservation area and this is where things get interesting. It starts off gentle enough, running along trail paths and across a small bridge. Then it gets a bit steeper, twists found a few corners and then you cross the main avenue. After this point there is a short. sharp, slippery climb that brings you out onto a stony orange path which continues to ascend as you run along the top level of the course.

the bottom of the steep downhill section

Dropping back down, the slope is incredibly steep. So steep that I was constantly braking and couldn't use it to make up for time lost on the up-hills. You'll soon reach the middle level and start lap two. After running two hilly/undulating laps of the park, you'll no doubt be delighted to run back along the flat main avenue towards the cheering bunch of volunteers at the finish line.


To give you an idea of the course speed, as of event 96 (November 2013) no female has ever run sub-20 here and there have only been four sub-17 male runners. The first finisher quite often comes home in somewhere between 18 and 20 minutes. Buggy runners will get round but will find the uphill muddy sections tough.

part of the steep, muddy, slippery up-hill section

Worth mentioning are the conditions you'll find underfoot - there are a mixture of surfaces and some of those surfaces get quite muddy in the wetter conditions. Whilst in the summer you'll be fine in road shoes, in the winter I'd go for trail shoes every time. The organisers could easily have designed a course that stays on tarmac the whole time, but I think they've made a great decision here by using some of lesser trodden paths around the park instead.

the top section

The post-run social takes place in the Alexandra Palace Garden Centre, but me and Terry wandered off to take some photos and didn't make it to the garden centre in time, so we stopped off at the boating lake cafe for a quick cup of Roiboos tea before heading back to our side of the river.

Another great parkrun venue!
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