Sunday 11 September 2016

Hastings parkrun

I've been reading about the seaside town of Hastings, East Sussex, and its history is so rich and varied that I really wasn't sure where to start with this blog post. Hastings is of course best known for one of the most famous battles in English history. However the first mention of the town is from the 8th century when 'Hastingas' meaning 'the constituency/followers of H├Žsta' is mentioned.

Through the years the town has been linked with smuggling and you can visit the caves that were used. The town was, for centuries, a very important fishing port - in fact Hastings still has the largest beach-based fishing fleet in Europe. Fossils, including dinosaur bones and footprints are regularly found at the far eastern end of the town. Hastings Castle was Britain's first-ever Norman Castle and can also be visited.


There's tonnes more to learn about and do in Hastings, but this blog is about running so I'll move onto that now. We had come down to St. Leonards, which is an area to the west of central Hastings to take part in the 74th running of Hastings parkrun. The event had its inaugural event on 18 April 2015 and has been attracting around 150 participants per week (143.7 average at the time of my visit).

The parkrun takes place along the seafront and upon arrival we parked on Sea Road in one of the free parking spaces right next to the start/finish area, which is opposite Grosvenor Gardens (or West Marina Gardens according to the signage onsite). I was expecting these spaces to be fairly empty when we arrived, but being free-of-charge obviously makes them popular and there were only a couple of spaces remaining. There are other side roads close-by that allow free parking, but if they are also all full then there is always the option of the pay-and-display car park which is located about 800 metres to the east.

pre-run briefing and meeting another tourist

If travelling by train it is best to head for West St. Leonards station which is the closest to the parkrun start area [500m]. St. Leonards Warrior Square is the next closest [2km], and finally there is Hastings station [3.5km]. Anyone travelling by bicycle would probably find the most convenient place to secure their bike is to the railings on the promenade, but there are a few official cycle racks dotted around along the prom.

There are public toilets available for use at the eastern end of Grosvenor Gardens / West Marina Gardens but the opening times vary depending on time of the year. From 1 April to 16 October they open at 7am, but from 17 October to 31 March their opening time is set at 9am which means that it's worth planning a pit-stop elsewhere if you're visiting over the winter.

the parkrun stone feeling rather at home i imagine

The first-timers briefing takes place at about 8.45am and this is followed by the full briefing just before 9am. They are held at the shelter opposite the most westerly part of Grosvenor Gardens / West Marina Gardens. I was a little disappointed to hear so many people chatting during the main briefing - it happens at quite a lot of venues and I don't understand how they don't realise how disrespectful they are being to the run director and the other parkrunners.

The event itself starts right next to the shelter and I couldn't write this blog without giving a special mention to the Hastings parkrun start sign which in infamous for the added bits of pen-written text. At first 'parkrun' was written in as 'Park Run', but this has now been covered with some paper and the corrected 'parkrun' has been added. I love it when venues have something quirky to get excited about.

and it begins

The course is a 100% tarmac/concrete out-and-back route along the seafront promenade. It is flat apart from the ramps that transfer the parkrunners between the upper and lower decks of the prom and it's absolutely fine for a spot of buggy running. I wore my New Balance Zante V2 road shoes for this run and there is no way you'd ever need anything else other than standard road shoes here.

After heading off from the start point with the sea on their right, the participants head east along the promenade. The upper path of the promenade features a cycling path which seems to be well used so it is vital that attention is paid to cyclists approaching in both directions and to other users of the walkway. At almost the exact point the course reaches the first kilometre point, the parkrunners head down a ramp and onto the lower promenade.

lower path and bottle alley

Eventually the course passes through the approx-700-metre-long Bottle Alley, which is the covered section of the lower promenade (gps devices may become confused in here). The back wall of this alley is made of 320 concrete slabs decorated with 15 tonnes of broken glass bottle segments hence the name 'Bottle Alley'. Upon exiting the alley there is a short, sharp slope back up to the upper level of the promenade.

The parkrunners head past Hastings Pier, which has had a troubled time in recent history. It received major storm damage in 1990, then had a series of partial closures resulting in a full closure in 2008. In 2010 a fire destroyed 95% of its superstructure, but somehow despite all its woes it has been reconstructed and re-opened to the public in April 2016.

halfway and the way back on the upper level

The 2.5km turnaround point is located about 200 metres after the pier outside The Source Park, which is an underground skatepark built in an old victorian turkish bath building - It opened to the public in February 2016 and I wish I had realised what it was when I was there because I would have loved to have popped in for a nose around. A marshal is posted here and gives out halfway times to the participants as they navigate around the turnaround cone. The parkrunners stay on the upper promenade for the return leg and at around 3.3km pass Warrior Square which features a statue of Queen Victoria which was erected in 1902.

Further on the route passes the grade II listed art deco building that is Marine Court. The building, and specifically the eastern end was designed to imitate the curved bridge of the Cunard White-Star Line (RMS Queen Mary) ocean liner. The parkrunners then go past the Azur restaurant and down a little ramp which leads into the final kilometre of the run back along the opening stretch, but in the opposite direction until reaching the finish line [event 74 results here]. You can see my GPS trace of the course here on Strava, but the line of the course isn't 100% accurate. A certain part of this was caused by the undercover section where I lost signal.

the way back past marine court and into the last kilometre

Being a seafront course it is quite exposed to the weather. I took part here at the end of the summer so the temperature was still ok, but there was quite a strong wind blowing. This was fine on the 'out' leg where we had a tailwind, but the headwind on the return leg was really hard work and that final kilometre was probably the most painful section of a flat 5km run I have ever done; I was making so many involuntary sounds and I had a pain inside my body that was so intense that I could still feel it 15 minutes after the parkrun had finished.

It's worth noting that the Sussex coastline suffers from something called Longshore Drift which is the movement of beach materials along the coastline. In Hastings this can result in the lower promenade becoming covered in shingle. When this happens the parkrun has a backup route which stays on the upper promenade at all times.


Once all of the parkrunners, parkwalkers and tail walkers have finished, the team head across the road to the Bo Peep pub which opens early to accommodate the parkrunners. We didn't manage to make it to the pub as we had decided to hang out on the beach playing chicken with the incoming tide. Once our feet were thoroughly soaked through we got changed and then had our packed lunch on the grass over in Grosvenor Gardens / West Marina Gardens (I still don't know what the correct name is) which was very pleasant. A big thank you goes to all of the volunteers that helped to put the event on.
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