Sunday, 16 March 2014

Knole Park 10k 2014

The Knole Park 10k, or to be more precise, The Sevenoaks Rotary 10k Charity Run is held in March in the picturesque grounds of Knole House and Park, in Sevenoaks. The 1,000 acre park lost 70% of its trees during the great storm of 1987 and is the last medieval deer park in Kent. It is home to around 500 deer. Knole House sits at the centre of the park and ranks in the top five largest houses in England.

knole (with thumbs up)

The Sevenoaks Rotary 10k was the first 10k race I ever took part in back in 2011, so it was nice to come back to run it again. The race start time was set for 11am, which seems quite late for a race to start. However, the extra time in the morning is quite handy. It gives the runners and organisers a bit of extra time to prepare on race day.

race hq

Car parking is provided free of charge at Sevenoaks Leisure Centre, which is also home to the race headquarters. I tinkered with the idea of cycling to Sevenoaks, but in the end thought it would be better to save my energy for the race. If I had cycled, I could have easily secured my bike to the spacious bike rack outside to leisure centre and dropped my bag into the secure baggage storage area.

yes please

I entered the race online via runner's world just a week before the race took place and picked up my number on the day. This year, the race bib had the timing chip built in to it which was quite convenient as I didn't have to attach one to my shoe as well as pinning the bib onto my singlet. The toilets in the leisure centre are quite small - the gents consists of one cubical and one urinal, so it's worth bearing that in mind when arriving.

start/finish area

As race time approached, there was a mass movement of people from the leisure centre down a steep path and into Knole Park. It took about 10 minutes or so to get down to the start line. There is plenty of space for warming up around the start and as 11am neared we were instructed to assemble close to the start funnel. I was kitted out, for the first time, in my new singlet featuring the name of the running group that I run with in Dartford on Tuesday evenings - So Let's Go Running. It also has the hashtag #TeamSLGR on the back.

it's a lovely day, so let's go running

After a brief few words from the race director, 'Baron Sackville, of Knole in the county of Kent', started the race. I managed to line myself up fairly close to the front of the field because when running it back in 2011 I got caught up towards the back and had difficulty filtering through the pack, and I didn't want this to happen again.

the main grassy section in the valley

The course is made up of two 4.8k loops with a little 200 metre tail for the start and finish (that adds up, right?). Underfoot is part grass/dirt paths, and part gravelly/tarmac path. And it is not flat. My shoes of choice today were my trail shoes, however as conditions had been dry for the last few weeks, the ground was firm enough for road shoes.

typical scenery in the park

The first 2 kilometres are run along a valley which steadily climbs as you progress along it. As you reach the end of the valley, the course bears right and the runners are faced with a steep climb until they reach a path. This path continues to climb but in an undulating style, until the runners reach the water station at around 2.3 kilometres (approx 7km on lap two).

steep downhill at the 5k/9.8k point

This is also the point that the course changes. Instead of running uphill on grass, the runners are now able to pick up some speed as the back straight undulates but with more elevation being lost than gained. The path here is gravelly, but it is possible to run on the grass verge for a softer foot landing. Towards the end of the back straight, the runners are directed to the right hand side where they negotiate a 180 degree turn, before turning into the park and running on a tarmac path.

200 metres to go

Again this path undulates but is still giving more than it is taking. The path eventually leads towards the rear end of the Knole House walled gardens where the tarmac gives way to grass/dirt. As the runners progress along this stretch, spectators can be seen waiting at the end giving much appreciated encouragement. Then there is a sharp left turn followed by a steeper downhill section. This brings the runners past the 5k point and back out in the valley.

there it is

First time around, the runners continue onwards to repeat the lap. On lap two they take a sharp right hand turn and enter the 200 metre finish straight. Once past the finish line, the runners filter into the finish funnel, pick up a medal and then head along to the water and banana station.

first #teamslgr race completed (photo: by Pete Gibson)

It was a warm morning and the water station was much appreciated. The section along the valley was particularly challenging in the heat, but the rest of the course felt cooler. 

My race went really well. I reached half-way in 20.29, but struggled a little on the uphill part of lap 2 (kilometre 7) and ended up running the second lap a bit slower than the first. I'm really pleased that I managed to beat my previous course time by over nine-and-a-half minutes and finished in position 15 (out of 451) in a time 41:15 by the gun, but 41.12 by chip. It was a challenging course (GPS data is here) and this is reflected in the official times with only the top 9 runners coming in under 40 minutes (by chip) (only the top 7 were sub-40 by the gun time).

results posted at race hq immediately after the race

After the last runners had come in, I went back up to watch the presentations outside the leisure centre. Some friends of mine from Oxted Runners picked up the Ladies team prize, so that was a brilliant result for them. All in all, it was a brilliant morning down in Sevenoaks. It's a brilliant race in a stunning location and I will definitely run it again.

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