Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Sittingbourne parkrun

In Kent, just to the north of the town of Sittingbourne you will find the town's newest open green space on the site of a former brick and gravel pit which then became a landfill site until it closed in 1973. The landfill site was capped back in 2003 - this process involved creating a barrier between the material buried here and the surface.

milton creek country park [photo:7t]

Part of the new country park was formerly known as Church Marshes Country Park, but the area has now been regenerated and extended to include the Saxon Shore Way which runs along the creek. The new, larger park has been named Milton Creek Country Park. Depending on Government funding, there is also the possibility of it being extended towards Sheppey in the future.

The new park officially opened on 4 June 2012 and covers an area of 128 acres. It features a network of paths which take visitors through all of the various ecological areas such as meadow, scrub and aquatic. Animals that have found home at the park include rabbits, foxes, slow worm, common lizard and grass snake. It's also worth mentioning the glow worms which apparently are quite a sight on warm August evenings.

you can just about make out the church through the fog [photo:7t]

On the 27th of February 2016 the park became home to Kent's 15th parkrun when the inaugural Sittingbourne parkrun took place. Since that first event the attendance figures have remained fairly high with the venue attracting around 150 runners on each subsequent occasion. It is worth noting that I visited during event number 3 so it's still early days.

Upon arrival, car parking can be found in a few places. Firstly, the official on-site car park. This is actually within the park and also within the loop of the course. The current arrangement is that the car park gate is locked just before the start of the run and not re-opened until the last runner has finished, which is very sensible. However, if you need the freedom to get away before this you could park a few minutes down the road in the local Asda or you could park on a side road.

run briefing [photo:7t]

Other travel options would be to cycle - National Cycle Route 1 passes by the park and there are some bicycle racks within the car park area. For those travelling by train there are two rail stations nearby, Sittingbourne or Kemsley. For those requiring toilet facilities there are some in the Asda (up on the first floor, but they were closed at 8am on the day I visited) or there are some in the Holy Trinity Church Hall which also doubles up as the venue for post-run refreshments.

The run itself takes place over two-and-a-bit almost completely flat clockwise laps around the park. Underfoot you'll mostly find gravelly paths plus there's a bit of grass every now and then. As far as footwear is concerned, road shoes would do the job in the dryer months but trail shoes will be the way to go when the ground is wetter. I wore my light trail shoes and was glad I did.

around the course [photo:7t]

The meeting point and the start area are located at the front of the park, almost in the shadow of the adjacent Holy Trinity Milton Regis Church, which is apparently one of the oldest churches in Kent. The majority of the run takes place on comfortably wide gravelly paths and the course weaves all over the place resulting in plenty of turns to keep things interesting.

In fact the course has so many turns and there are so many paths criss-crossing each other that the directional arrows and marshals are crucial to assisting the runners around the course. Quite simply without the wonderful marshals in place it is very difficult to work out which way to go - you can't really just wing it here. Even after completing my first full lap I was a little hesitant at junctions second time around as the field had thinned out and I didn't have any other runners in sight to follow. Thankfully the marshals were all in place to keep me on track.

marshal at the most northerly point of the course [photo:7t]

This really is a fun course to run. The only thing that took away a bit of my enjoyment was that the area is pretty popular with dog walkers and I got a bit nervous around some of the large dogs I encountered which meant that I slowed down to a gentle jog at some points. Keep your eyes peeled as you go around the course because you might just catch a glimpse of some of the wooden carvings - I spotted a train and also a dragon called 'Gladys'.

Once the two-and-a-bit laps are complete, the runners peel off of the main path and head into the finish funnel which is located just outside the children's playground. During my visit the scanning took place right at the end of the finish funnel and I then decided to have a little cool-down jog around the park where I had planned to take a few more photos for the blog. However, my phone had other ideas and shut itself down before I could photograph all of the areas I wanted to capture - sorry.

gladys [photo:7t]

It's probably worth making a note about the official buggy running advice here. The official line is that this course is not suitable for buggy running - this is due to 'the ground being so uneven and narrow in places'. However, I have had confirmation from Sittingbourne parkrun that they have not banned buggy running - they just strongly advise against it.

However, I certainly would have no trouble buggy running here and the bumpy sections are something that my daughter loves and looks forward to when we buggy run. The slightly narrower sections are no narrower than what you would find on many other courses so, as always, the buggy runner themselves must stay extra aware of other runners' ankles. There is also a brief section that can be wet and soft underfoot in the winter. So essentially the buggy running policy here is exactly the same as almost every other parkrun - the parent and child(ren) should make their own decision about whether this course is right for them.

a nice friendly sprint for the finish line [photo:7t]

Anyway, this is a great location for a parkrun and I really enjoyed my visit. Just remember to pay very close attention to the signs and the marshals as it would be very easy to take a wrong turn here if you're not paying attention. In fact the whole field of runners missed a couple of turns at the inaugural event and only covered around 4.6 kilometres of the 5km course.

If you'd like to see the full 5k course, elevation profile and all that geeky stuff then please take a look at my Strava data trace which I had thankfully saved before my phone started to play up. If you're looking at my splits you'll see the fourth kilometre was slower than the rest - this was when I was spooked by some dogs and really eased off the pace until I was clear of them.

finish funnel [photo:7t]

Lastly, can I just add a huge, huge thank you to all of the volunteers that made the event possible.
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