Saturday, 15 February 2014

Tilgate parkrun (winter course)

With the wet and windy weather we have been having over recent weeks, trying to find a previously unvisited parkrun venue that had a low risk of cancellation was a priority for the day. After spending some time on twitter and facebook, there seemed to be a lot of confidence coming from Tilgate parkrun that they would be able to go ahead with their event. All that wasn't known was which one of their routes would be the chosen one - that would be decided after the early morning course inspection.


As the weather was awful, I decided to travel alone to this venue. It didn't seem to fair to drag the wife and daughter along to stand in the very strong winds while I ran. The journey was pretty straight forward but I put my sat-nav app on just incase. Travelled around the M25 and then filtered onto the M23 heading towards Brighton. I left this road at junction 11 and followed the sat-nav's instructions to turn right into Tilgate Drive. However, if your sat-nav does the same you'll be better off ignoring it as Tilgate Drive does not (at present) allow vehicles through to the car park. The best way to approach the venue is via Titmus Drive, this way you'll have easy access to the car park.

you get a real start line here

At the car park, payment is made by inserting your money (£3) into the machine at the barrier. However, the barriers are not lowered and payment not required until after 9am. This means that parkrunners can park for free. If you prefer to cycle, you'll find some cycle racks just opposite the car park. If you travel by train, you'll find Crawley train station, which lies about 2.5 kilometres north of Tilgate park is the closest option. There are toilets, they are adjacent to the car park and they were open when I arrived at 8am.

one of the humped bridges

I made my way down to the standard meeting point which just next to the boathouse at Tilgate Lake - There are three lakes within the park and this is the largest of them. A few minutes later I saw a load of kit being transported in my direction by some people clad in the unmistakeable hue of volunteers' yellow. Shortly after, a report came back that the standard winter course was available to run. Previous weeks had seen the lake burst its banks and flood a section of the course and an alternative route was used. In fact Tilgate parkrun have run four different routes so far in 2014 and we're only seven weeks in.

tilgate drive (downhill section)

So as the wind continued to blow, gust and gale the 168 brave souls lined up at the start line waiting to be sent off for a swift Saturday morning blast around the park, lakes and woodland that makes up Tilgate Park. The first bit is almost a full lap of Tilgate Lake - as you run around it you can let your mind wander back to Sir Malcolm Campbell's time when he used this body of water to conduct various tests on the former world water speed record holding powerboat - Bluebird.

tilgate lake

There are a few small humped back bridges to cross as you make your way around the lake (you'll also pass Silt Lake on your journey) and once around you'll be directed up towards the Smith and Western cafe/restaurant (post run hot beverages can be found here) where you'll negotiate a ramp to avoid a small set of steps. This is followed by a slightly downhill section with speed humps along the closed section of Tilgate Drive. You'll soon find a friendly marshal awaiting your arrival, here you'll turn left and run through a short section of woodland path.

short woodland section

At the end of the path you'll reach Titmus Lake and turn left to tackle Chevron Hill - This path is fairly narrow and feels even more so due to the high bush/trees on either side. There are markings in the floor that look like chevrons so I'm guessing that this is where the name comes from. At the top you'll find another marshal who will safely guide you across another section of closed road. Round a few corners and past the walled garden and it's time to head downhill.

chevron hill

The downhill section could have been a lot quicker for me, but I got spooked by a German Shepherd dog that was off its lead and I slowed down in an effort to avoid attracting its attention. Once I was clear of it, I was able to let gravity take over and I whizzed down the rest of the hill. At the bottom you rejoin the path that you left after the first lap of the lake.

next to the lake

From here you'll run towards the finish, but as you reach the finish area and glance down at your gps watch (if you're wearing one, of course) you'll see that you've only done 3.5km. You'll have to run another lap of the lake to make up the remaining 1.5km. It soon passes and before you know it you are back on the final straight running towards the line, which this time you can cross and collect your finishing token!

the finish

The course is mostly on tarmac so you can get away with normal road shoes here. However as I ran in the winter there were a few muddy parts where I was glad I had gone with the trail shoes. Buggy runners would get around the course just fine - chevron hill would give you a great upper body workout and would probably reduce a lot of buggy runners to a walk.

... and done

The park was originally part of Worth Forest and now consists of a golf course, park, a nature centre, children's playground, restaurant/cafe, as well as a Go-Ape centre. So there are other things to do here, but probably best enjoyed on a day when the weather isn't quite so bad! I will of course have to return to run the standard route once all this bad weather clears and I'm looking forward to it very much!
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