Thursday, 24 July 2014

Dartford parkrun course description

Please note: The course has been changed slightly since this was first posted.

Just a few short months ago, this parkrun venue was just an idea in a tweet, And now after lots of hard work it is finally almost time to launch Dartford parkrun. I have been involved in getting this one up and running, but apart from a lot of running around the park testing out different route ideas, I don't really feel like I've done that much. The main credit has to go to event director Richey and to the parkrun ambassador for Kent, Jacky MacDonald. Dartford Borough Council and Dartford Harriers have also been instrumental in making this a reality.

central park

The run takes place in Central Park, Dartford. It is right in the town centre and is easily accessible by train via Dartford train station. If you do travel here by train, you might be interested to know that platform 2 is the place that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards became reaquainted after they lost touch after primary school and what followed is rock 'n' roll history - A commemorative plaque was unveiled in February 2015, be sure to check it out. From the station it is about a ten minute walk to the meeting point in the park. One of the main reasons for having the run in this park was the central location, with the hope that the local people that stand to benefit the most can easily reach the venue.

a general view

Dartford is also well served by buses, most of which stop right opposite the main entrance to the park. Anyone who cycles will find some bicycle racks in the centre of the park outside the park's elegant looking cafe building or outside Dartford library at the main entrance. However I expect cyclists will use one of the fences around Dartford Harriers athletics track, which is more convenient than the other options. The athletics club are based at the track in Central Park and thanks to the support from their President, Tony Durey, the clubhouse will become the central point for parkrunners to meet, use the toilets, and enjoy some refreshments afterwards.

central park athletics track

In 1984, the Central Park athletics track was the venue of Zola Budd's first UK appearance. The track was still cinder at this point. The meet drew a crowd of 5,000 and ignited the interest of the UK media, with the race broadcast live on BBC's Grandstand. She set the Central Park women's track record over 3,000 metres that day. The time was 9:02.06, a record which still stands to this day. Dartford Harriers are the hosts of the Dartford Half-Marathon, which is the longest, most-continually held road race in Kent.

the view from the start line (athletics track on the right)

The run starts in between the two trees outside the Dartford Harriers clubhouse. The standard 'A' course is a two lapper and takes in all of the park's areas and lets runners see all of the park's features. It is mostly run on tarmac or other similar hard surfaces, but there is a stretch that leaves the tarmac in favour of grass and a dirt trail, which can be a little muddy in places during the winter. It is largely a flat course, but not completely.

darent valley path

The first section sees the runners heading off along the path adjacent to the athletics track. The runners continue onto the gravelly path and then, on lap one, turn left at the corner. The next section forms part of the Darent Valley Path. It meanders nicely through the trees and the vigilant runners might catch a glimpse of the River Darent on their right hand side. There's a small bump and right hand turn to negotiate as the course takes the runners across The EllenorLions bridge (or bridges).

the river darent and the bridge that runners cross as part of the route

Immediately after crossing the bridges, the route swings right and onto a grassy trail path that follows the river again. The tree line to the right hand side is very thick and completely blocks out any view across the river. The embankment to the left grows in size as the runners progress along this section. Once at the far end, the route turns to the left (this corner gets wet and muddy in the winter) and runners negotiate the uphill trail section. This is only short but features quite a few protruding tree roots and overgrown bushes to the side. In the winter it can be a bit slippery, especially at the very top.

the beginning of the off-road section

At the top the runners follow the only possible route around the the left and run along the outer edge of the football fields, adjacent to the road. At the end of this grass section, there is a lamp post which runners must use as a marker to run around (ie DO NOT cut across the football pitch to the left hand side). They are now back on tarmac and head slightly downhill on the twisty path back towards the double bridge.

runners pass the cafe twice during the run

Once across the bridges they turn right as they return to the main section of the park and run past the skate park. Here the tarmac is a little worn and cracked, but it is a pleasant section in the shade of the trees. This path takes runners past the park cafe and playground, and then swings to the right where the path narrows and the run goes through a heavily shaded path which runs adjacent to the playground. At the end of this path there is an old stone bridge (often referred to as the Troll Bridge) - this is one of the arches of Dartford's medieval bridge. It was rebuilt in 1923 across Dartford's other river, the River Cran, which now flows underground.

the medieval bridge (turn right as you pass it)

Turning right at the medieval bridge, the runners now follow the narrow path's natural course, where they can admire the stunning flower beds in the formal area of the park. Just outside the park, the runners may notice the red bricked building which is Dartford Library - this was opened to the public on 1 January 1916 and its dome was used as an air raid watch post during the second world war. It has also featured on the TV show - Britain's Most Haunted.

the central path and dartford library (runners run towards the camera)

As they run adjacent to the library the runners might catch a glimpse of the Dartford War Memorial which commemorates over 300 Dartford men who perished in the first and second world wars, and also in the Korean War. It was erected in 1922 and is now grade 2 listed. Turning left at the junction, the runners now head along the central path through the formal area. On the right is an area where the gardeners can get creative, which usually features an intricate design made from flowers. At the time of the inaugural event, the design was of a poppy. Really impressive work. This then leads past the rose garden and towards the bandstand.

the bandstand

The runners take a right hand turn just before the bandstand and follow the path which forms a loop around the bandstand green. They now take the long sweeping right hander where they will encounter fellow runners on a brief two way stretch. All that is left is a long tarmac straight that heads back towards the athletics track. At the end of the tarmac, the runners are directed onto the grass and through the trees to avoid any conflict with vehicles that could be using the access road. This completes the first lap.

the straight path that heads back to the athletics track

Lap two is almost identical but with the addition of a short out and back section. When reaching the first corner on lap two, the runners will be directed to their right to run along 'Mick Jagger's leg'. It is just a short section where runners need to loop around Mick Jagger, the Vox amp, and the Dartford Warbler before heading back and continuing the lap as described above. When reaching the end of lap two, they can simply enter the finish funnel which will be set up on the grass in almost the same place as where the run started.

sir mick

Barcode scanning takes place right next to the finish line and the runners can then head into the Dartford Harriers clubhouse for some refreshments and post run analysis. I have run the course with the running buggy and the only part that would be of any concern is the trail section which is narrow, bumpy and uphill (plus the bottom corner which might be difficult during the winter). It's worth having a look at this section to make sure you are comfortable with it before attempting a buggy run, especially if you aren't used to off-road buggy running.

the stunning flower beds

I really like the course, but then I am heavily biased. It's pretty fast and also features lots of different sections to keep things fresh throughout the run. Dartford has a great running community spread across its running clubs and groups, so I think this event is a good thing for the area. Of course, attracting existing runners is the easy part (they're everywhere!) - I really hope we can provide a welcoming, inclusive environment for any locals looking to get out and enjoy their local park and improve their health/fitness at the same time. I'm really looking forward to the Dartford running community becoming even stronger than it is already. All we need are a few volunteers each Saturday morning to make it happen!

Dartford parkrun are on Facebook and Twitter.

Edit: In March 2015 I made a video of the course, you can view it here: Dartford parkrun course video

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