Saturday 1 March 2014

Great Cornard parkrun

Great Cornard is a village just to the east of the market town of Sudbury, in Suffolk. Although it remained a small village for many centuries, expansion in the 1960's lead it to becoming the size it is today (plus as you drive into the village you can see a recently completed new housing complex showing that its expansion is continuing). Its population is now almost equal to that of its larger neighbour. As of 1 March 2014, the village became home to Great Cornard parkrun.

finally here (even though my sat nav went to sleep and let me drive the wrong way)

The venue of the parkrun is the Great Cornard Sports Centre which is part of the Thomas Gainsborough School. It has a large, free car park which is accessed via Head Lane for those that drive and a large bicycle rack for those who choose to cycle. The closest train station is in Sudbury (Suffolk) and is about 2.5 kilometres away, so quite a good distance for a nice warm up walk or jog.

at the entrance to the car park

A key point that you should keep in mind is that the course, toilets etc can only be accessed via the sports centre, which opens at 8.45am. So other than getting changed into your running gear, there's no great advantage in arriving much earlier than this. If you do you'll either have to wait outside the door, sit in the car, have a warm up jog or occupy yourself some other way (or like I did, have a pre-run chat with your fellow early bird parkrunners).

the run briefing

Inside the sports centre the runners have access to toilets, changing rooms, and showers (which I know at least one runner who took advantage of this), plus the on-site cafe is used as the post-run social gathering / refreshments venue. It is requested on the website that runners not walk through the centre wearing their muddy shoes - a hint of what's to come, maybe?

the start - 65 runners head down the diagonal path for the first time [photo: official photographer]

As this was the inaugural event, it was always going to attract a few parkrun tourists. There were a few, but not as many as I had expected to see. I think another inaugural and a special event on the same day kept the rest of the tourist crowd busy! Still, 65 runners for the first event was a large enough gathering to get things kicked off nicely.

the end of the diagonal path

The course is about 75% grass and 25% tarmac, and it is flat. It starts and mostly takes place within the school's playing fields. Runners that like to bring or run with their dog should note that this is not possible at this venue due to the school not allowing dogs within their grounds.

keep right

The current official course description says (as of 1 March 2014) that the route takes place 'over two laps with a smaller loop covered twice more'. This could also probably be described as a figure of eight shaped lap (although it doesn't look exactly like an eight when viewed from above) which consists of the aforementioned loops but not quite in the way the description suggests. To complete the 5 kilometres the runners have to complete just a shade under two of these figure of eight laps.

these gates are opened specifically for the parkrun and are locked again once the run finishes

The start is on the tarmac path that runs diagonally across the grass playing fields. At the time of writing, the google maps satellite image is out of date and the diagonal tarmac path, which is fairly new, still shows up as grass. Anyway, this diagonal path is going to become very familiar to anyone that runs here because you have to run along it four times during the course of the parkrun.

that's the way to do it

So. At 9am sharp we were despatched from the starting gate and ran along the diagonal path. The first time the runners reach the end of the path, the route turns left and follows the concrete/tarmac paths along the edge of a building before following turning away on another path and then onto the grass. Here the runners hug the outside edge of the playing field until they come back to the start point. Creating a small (660 metre) anti-clockwise loop.

the volunteer tail runner

The runners now head back down the diagonal path, but this time, at the end, they turn right and after going back onto grass follow the edge of the playing fields before turning left and heading through a gate which leads out of the school's grounds and into a separate set of playing fields. Again, the runners hug the outer edge of the fields as they proceed around this section in a clockwise direction and passing the 'AFC Cornard Dynamos Football Club' clubhouse before coming back around to the gate and passing back into the school grounds to continue the lap of the school grounds (are you still with me?)

you can't beat a bit of parkrun tape

Turning left immediately after the gate (it was a bit muddy here), the runners again just hug the outer edge of the school playing fields. A bit further on there is a dip in the ground and then a loop around a taped off area at the north-west corner of the course. Now, next to an enclosed hockey field, there is a hazard - It is a long jump sandbox. Once the runners have passed it they continue around the hockey field, noting the finish funnel, which they will enter next time around. Once past the hockey field, the runners emerge back at the start point and rejoin the diagonal path to run the figure-of-eight all over again. This larger loop is approx 1.9km.


Second time around the runners enter the finish funnel, collect a token and then have it scanned along with their own barcode, which they would have printed out in advance ready for the run. I'm aware that my course description may be a bit hard to follow, so you can view my GPS data on Strava which may make more sense than I do today.

the finish funnel

Some other bits: The course is fine for buggy runners. The grass was nowhere near as wet and muddy as I was prepared for it to be and I walked away with my feet just as dry as when I started, so that was nice. I wore my trail shoes which probably helped with keeping my feet dry, but if you're not precious about your road shoes you could probably get around without to much difficulty, even in wet conditions. Oh, and on certain parts of the course you really have to stay disciplined enough to remain fairly near the edge of the playing fields and not be cut the corners, however tempting it might be!

a good selection of club tees were on show

So with another venue successfully welcomed into the parkrun family, it was time for the post-run refreshments. I grabbed my fruit salad and water from the car and bought a cup of tea in the cafe (£1, but sadly it came in quite a small cup). The results were processed and uploaded, and there was plenty of parkrun-chat going on. The very friendly organisers and marshals were all keen to hear our feedback about their first event and I'm pleased to say that a great time was had by all!

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