Sunday, 29 January 2017

Dulwich parkrun

I first ran at Dulwich parkrun as part of a Christmas Day double (before they were banished) with nearby Hilly Fields parkrun back in 2012. I wrote a blog post to cover the day, but I didn't really give the venue the full and detailed write-up, so when the Dartford parkrun on tour gang decided that we should swing by for a visit, I jumped at the chance to finally give the venue the coverage it deserves...

The first recorded evidence of Dulwich (which has also been known as Dilwihs, Dylways, Dullag) was in the 967 where it was recorded as a hamlet outside London. It's meaning is thought to have come from the Old English words 'dill' - a white flower, and 'wihs' - a damp meadow, which combined gave the meaning 'the meadow where dill grows'.

dulwich parkrun [photos: 7t / esther]

Modern-day Dulwich lies mostly in the London Borough of Southwark, which at time of writing is home to four different parkrun venues - the others being Southwark, Burgess, and Peckham Rye. It has a few recognised districts including Dulwich Village which is centred around the location of the original hamlet of Dilwihs. The village is the most-desirable of them all, it features many traditional village houses as well as grand Victorian and Edwardian homes. You'll also find the Dulwich Picture Gallery here which is the world's first purpose built public art gallery.

In 1890, some farmland and meadows known as 'Five Fields' were transformed into a public park to designs by Charles Barry Junior (eldest son of Charles Barry, the architect responsible for the current Palace of Westminster). The layout was later refined by Lt. Col. J.J Sexby, who designed Southwark Park and part of Peckham Rye Park.

On 14 April 2012, Dulwich Park became home to Dulwich parkrun and since then, the event has grown from double figure attendances into one that now regularly attracts in excess of 200 participants. Being in London, the event is fairly easy to reach - North Dulwich and West Dulwich stations are both within a 15 minute walk of the park plus there are at least 5 different bus routes which stop outside one of the park entrances.

the flashmob appears / the opening section [photos: 7t]

For those who choose to cycle, there are some fences not far from the start of the parkrun meeting area that could be used to secure bikes. Lastly, for those travelling in a vehicle, there is plenty of free, on-street parking to be had on either Court Lane or Gallery Road. There is some free parking inside the park, but parkrunners are requested to use one of the above roads.

This event definitely falls within the 'flashmob' style of parkrun. After my warm-up freedom run, I was standing near the start area at 8.45am and had seen no evidence whatsoever that a parkrun was about to take place. I saw a friend of mine at this time who needed the toilet, so I showed him where it was (1 minute from the meeting area, hidden behind some trees and bushes). When I returned about 4 minutes later, there were a whole bunch volunteers wearing hi-vis vests and the finish funnel had been set up.

another view of the course / frozen lake [photos: 7t]

If you have never been to this park before, I should let you know that it is well-kept and apart from some very minor changes in elevation, it is flat. There are a number of different areas in the centre of the park which are generally open grass, but every now and then you'll find something like the American Garden, which was regularly visited by Queen Mary. You'll also find a playground, a lake (which was frozen during this visit) and a cafe. Sports facilities include tennis courts, bowling green, and cricket and football pitches. There is also a closed road that creates a loop through the park called Carriage Drive.

This road, which is just a smidgen over a perfect mile, is used for the parkrun course. It's worth noting that when you are in the park on the road, it kinda looks the same wherever you are, so you'll need to make sure you know where you need to head to for the start of the parkrun. The run starts near Queen Mary's Gate which is on the southern side of the loop not far from the tennis courts and the lake.

the course / one of the three sculptures [photos: 7t]

Once the run briefing has taken place, the runners take their places at the start line which is located on a spur where the entrance from the South Circular Road leads into the park. If you haven't worked it out by now, the loop of the park is run 3 times with the run finishing pretty much back where it all started. Underfoot is 100% tarmac so road shoes are always the only option to consider. The course is perfect for buggy running and also for any wheelchair athletes - I think I'm right in saying that both the mens and womens parkrun wheelchair records have been set here at Dulwich.

The road that the loop is run on does, at times, have quite a camber and there are a few sections where the centre of the road offers a better running experience than the 'racing line'. Although the road meanders from left to right (but mostly left as the course is run anti-clockwise), visually not a lot really changes and I found this to be quite a difficult element of the course. It's also worth noting that there are no marshals out on the course and no signage.

more course shots [photos: 7t]

It's worth looking out for the three sculptures on the northern side of the loop - these are called the 'Three Perpetual Chords' by artist Conrad Shawcross. They were commissioned by Southwark council as a replacement for the 'Two Forms (divided circle)' sculpture by Barbara Hepworth which was stolen from the park in December 2011. The new sculptures, which were installed in 2015, represent The Octave, The Fifth and The Fourth from the western harmonic scale.

With the three laps complete and barcodes scanned, there was a little milling around and chatting at the finish area while we waited for the rest of our band of runners to come in. A few minutes later, and in true flashmob style, the large volume of runners that had been standing chatting at the finish line, vanished. Gone. All that was left were the volunteers and the finish funnel, which was soon packed away and all signs of parkrun disappeared for another week.

the finish [photos: 7t]

Some of the runners may have ventured over to 'The Pavilion Cafe' which is the advertised post-run coffee venue. Our merry band of touristing Dartford parkrunners had already made our own plans to head down the road to Forest Hill and sample the delights of the Wetherspoons vegetarian breakfast, which we did.

As we were sat in the pub enjoying a respective breakfasts, our results came through, and while I didn't quite make it around as fast as I thought I would have, I did set a new course personal best. We had visited on event #255 which had 257 participants. I recorded my run using Strava, so if you would like to see the course in detail please feel free to take a look at the GPS file, here: Dulwich parkrun 255.


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