Sunday 28 August 2016

Guildford parkrun

Guildford is a large town of Saxon origin in Surrey and has a population of around 140,000 people. The name is thought to derive from the words 'gold' and 'ford'. The 'gold' part is thought to be linked to the golden flowers or the golden coloured sand found near the ford. The town's location is down to the convenient existence of a gap in the north downs where the River Wey was forded - hence the 'ford' part.

In 1925 the local council bought a large area of land from Lord Onslow to prevent future development and to create a park that would 'remain for all time a lung of the town'. This area was formerly known as Paddocks but is now called Stoke Park. Since 10 March 2012 the park has been home to Guildford parkrun.


This venue has been on my to-do list ever since that inaugural event, but for some reason it has taken me over four years to get around to visiting. We ended up visiting during 'the nations biggest sports day' -#iamteamgb where various sports clubs put on special events to allow people to try different sports, and Guildford parkrun had an Olympian lined up to attend.

So I woke the family up nice and early and set off to run at event 222. We drove from Dartford and headed towards Guildford Spectrum which is a leisure complex that houses 4 swimming pools, an ice skating rink, tenpin bowling, a gym, an athletics stadium, football pitch, squash courts, kids soft play and a selection of cafes and restaurants. It also has a vast car park which has 1000 free parking spaces - it's a very short walk (under 5 minutes) to Stoke Park from here.

wide start line

The meeting spot for the parkrun is over in the north-east corner of the park, adjacent to the A25 and close to the rugby changing rooms and Burchatts Farm Barn. There are also toilets at the start (head around to the back of the building at the meeting area).

This venue attracts quite a large field of runners; the official average was 215 when I visited, but I would expect almost double that figure these days. Fortunately the start area is located on a grass playing field and allows a nice wide start line to be formed in between two parkrun flags.

near the beginning of each lap

This run takes place on a gently undulating two lap anti-clockwise course [my GPS data is here] which is run on a mixture of grass (2km) and people-cyclist shared use tarmac paths (3km). Although, as I understand it, the course is likely to be altered a little during the winter months.

After setting off on grass and running adjacent to the A25, the runners soon reach the first short tarmac section which passes the Wild Wood Adventure which we visited after the run. On their website it's described as 'treetop fun for kids who love adventure' and we visited this after then parkrun (my wife wrote about it on her blog).

shared-use path through the centre of the park

The 50 hectares of open space contain a playground, mini golf, tennis courts, skate park, model boating pond and a paddling pool. Sadly you don't see any of these from the course as you run around the park as they are all hidden away in the South-West corner of the park. There's also a swimming pool and lido and this is in the north-west corner.

Anyway the course progresses with the runners switching between grass and tarmac. After a long meandering section of tarmac through the centre of the park, the runners then enter a tree lined avenue which is where the uphill undulations seem to be most noticeable. This section ends at the easternmost point of the course where the runners transfer back onto grass and back towards the start-finish area.

the tree-lined section

As you run around the course there's not really a huge amount to take in. The bulk of the park is made up of sports pitches. In total these main open grass areas contain 7 football pitches (various sizes), 3 rugby pitches, 2 cricket pitches, 3 lacrosse pitches, and 6 rounders pitches. A few outcrops of trees exist and these have names such as Jubilee Wood and Peacock Wood.

The second lap is identical to the first and once complete, the runners simply enter the finish funnel back at the main meeting area where they can collect their finish token and then head off to be scanned.

the last part of the lap/course

As this is a very well attended event (378 on the day I visited) the finish funnel was quite long. At one point the queue of runners almost backed up over the finish line, but it looked like some quick-thinking marshals sorted it out before that happened.

With the run all done I had my barcode scanned just outside the adjacent building. Then, as we visited during the #iamteamgb special event, we got to meet and have a photo taken with Olympic sprint canoe athlete Rachel Cawthorn which was a nice way to round off a very pleasant morning.

post-run tokens / scanning and meeting rachel cawthorne

We ended up staying in Guildford for the whole day and eventually ended up hanging out at the Street Food Picnic which was brilliant.

For the record, Guildford parkrun was the last of the current set of Surrey parkruns for me to visit and you can see more information on all of the venues in the county on my Surrey parkrun Venues page.

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