Saturday, 15 March 2014

Canterbury parkrun

After a delay caused by the need to modify the originally planned course, Canterbury parkrun finally sprung into life on 15 March 2014. I had been fortunate enough to run at the test event a few weeks prior to the inaugural run, so I was already familiar with the course and the facilities.

the pavilion

The run is hosted by the University of Kent in Canterbury. Those arriving by car can park for free in the sports pavilion car park, while cyclists have access to a bicycle rack just outside the pavilion. Canterbury West is the closest train station and is just under 3 kilometres away.

assembling for the run briefing

The Pavilion really is the central point for this parkrun. Inside you'll find the toilets and it's also the post-run socialising venue. Plus in cold or wet weather conditions it'll be the pre-parkrun huddling point. The start is on the playing fields just outside the building and is marked with a red post and flag. From here it's difficult to see exactly where the course goes and unless you have an extremely keen eye you would be forgiven in thinking that it all looks pretty flat around here.

steep descent (what goes down, must come back up)

The course has a couple of grass playing fields to run around and an out-and-back section which must be run twice. The official course description can be found on the course page. At this point it is worth mentioning that the University do not allow dogs on their playing fields and as a result the venue is not suitable for runners that wish to bring or to run with their dogs. In true parkrun style, you'll find extremely friendly marshals at all the right places giving clear directions and offering lots of encouragement.

the smoother part of the crab and winkle way

Once the run has been started, the runners head off in a clockwise direction and travel almost half-way around the perimeter of the playing fields before climbing a short steep bank at the far end and heading off down the Crab and Winkle Way (note: keep to the right hand side at all times). The Crab and Winkle Way is a disused railway path which runs from Canterbury through to Whitstable - more info here. As well being a footpath, it is also part of National Cycle Path: Route 1 which links Dover to Shetland.

during this incline you can see the pavilion (but you might be distracted by the lack of oxygen in your lungs)

Along this path where you find out that the course is not completely flat. As I mentioned before, from the start everything looks fairly flat, but the hill comes in the form of a valley that you must first run down into before running up the other side. Once the runners have climbed out of the other side of the valley, they will have reached St. Cosmos and St. Damian Church which dates back to the 13th century. There is a turnaround point here (marked by a permanent post in the ground) and the runners are sent back down into the valley.

the first and last section of the crab and winkle way (slightly dusty path)

While running along this stretch of the Crab and Winkle Way you'll notice the wide open fields on either side of the path. At the bottom of the valley there is a bridge that crosses a small water channel, I can't be 100% certain of the name of this water channel, but further along it is called Nethergong Penn. Before long, the runners arrive back at the beginning of the Crab and Winkle Way where they are now directed to their right, past the nursery school and enter the top field. An anti-clockwise 3/4 lap around the edge of the marked football pitch brings runners back to the start of the Crab and Winkle Way.

a friendly marshal will send you past the nursery and towards the top field

At this point the out and back along the Crab and Winkle Way is repeated, then the runners go around the top field again. However, once exiting the top field for the second time they return to the original playing field - this time going down the steep bank and continuing to follow the playing field in a clockwise direction with the back straight being the perfect stage for some great sprint finishes. The finish line awaits the runners just outside the pavilion.

returning to the playing fields via the steep bank (it feels steeper than it looks in the photo)

Throughout the course, the runners encounter a few different surfaces underfoot - grass, a dusty path, a bumpy bit of path, a lovely smooth tarmac path, a small section of stony path and some paving stones. Buggy runners will be pleased that they will be quite ok on the course. As far as shoes are concerned, if it has been dry then just go for road shoes - they'll be just fine. However if it has been wet you might prefer to stick on trail shoes just to help traction across the playing fields which were a little muddy when I last visited the venue.

the finish

A really nice thing with this course is that there is a lot of interaction with other parkrunners along the double out-and-back section, so when you spot someone you know you can wave or even give a quick high-five as you pass each other! And despite having to negotiate the inclines four times, it's still a reasonably fast course (the first finisher ran it in 15.12 which is surely going to take some beating!). In total 113 runners attended the inaugural event, almost half of those were members of parkrun clubs and the vast majority were tourists (or uber tourists). There were 13 runners officially running their first ever parkrun and a few unknown runners.

scanning time

After the run it was time for the post-parkrun social gathering which takes place, as I mentioned earlier, in the pavilion cafe which is on the first floor. You might find that some spectators have made their way up here during the run. A nice feature is that there is a balcony and from the balcony it is possible to see the runners, not only at the start and finish but also on a section of the Crab and Winkle Way. Also they have embraced parkrun from the very beginning by offering a 'parkrun special' on their menu.

just needs a slight tweak to make it the 'parkrun' special

So at last there is a parkrun in Canterbury. This venue is the ninth Kent parkrun and at present, I was under the impression that this is the most challenging course in the county. However my GPS readings indicate that Canterbury and Great Lines are neck and neck in terms of elevation change. They've managed to squeeze a really good, varied, interesting and slightly challenging route into not the most obvious of spaces, so hats off to everyone involved for doing that.

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