Saturday 25 February 2017

Roding Valley parkrun

On the last Saturday in February 2017, I headed over to Loughton, Essex to take part in Roding Valley parkrun  #6. The event takes place in the Roding Valley recreation ground, which is nestled between the centre of Loughton and the west bank of the River Roding.

The park is made up of a selection of open playing fields which are divided by rows of trees and, in one place, Loughton Brook. Also in the park is a playground, outdoor gym, tennis courts and a 100m straight running track (first time I've seen one of these).

Opposite the enclosed running track you will see what looks like a derelict building - this is in fact the clubhouse for Loughton Athletic Club. Unfortunately, the running club do not seem to have become actively involved in the parkrun (to date only three members have taken part), but from my experience at Dartford parkrun this would be a great link to establish both for the running club and the parkrun.

roding valley parkrun

When I arrived at the park, I parked in the small car park at the end of Roding Road. Next to the car park are two windowless, brick buildings - these are used as storage and changing rooms for the various teams that use the sports pitch facilities. They also contain toilet facilities and these can be accessed from approximately 8.30am. If travelling by train, it's best to take the underground and alight at Loughton Underground station.

The meeting point for the start of the parkrun is right next to the tennis courts and track enclosure. As I had arrived pretty early, I had a wander around and eventually bumped into the event director, run director and a few of the day's other volunteers who made me feel extremely welcome. We chatted for a bit and eventually it was time for me to head off to get changed into my running gear.

A few minutes before 9am, I listened to the first-timers briefing and this was followed by the full briefing at the start line. Once the run had started, we headed off on our clockwise two-lap run around the park. Underfoot is a mixture of grass and tarmac paths, and the course itself is as flat as a pancake. The day I visited was quite windy with gusts over 30mph, so conditions were not favourable for a super-fast time.

roding valley parkrun

Shortly after starting on the grass adjacent to the tennis courts, the route turns to the right and follows the course of the River Roding as it weaves along the eastern border of the park - this section is run on a tarmac path and then crosses Loughton Brook via a single file wooden bridge.

If you look across to the opposite bank of the river, you will see the Roding Valley Meadows Nature Reserve. This is an 18.9 hectare Site of Special Scientific Interest and is one of the largest areas of grassland, hay meadows, flood meadows and marshland in Essex.

I will note that it is fairly common for the river to break its banks, leading to part of the park flooding. This risk of flooding has already lead to one cancellation of the parkrun, so it's worth keeping an eye on the event's news and social media pages [Facebook / Twitter] if you are planning a visit - especially if the river level is likely to be higher than normal.

roding valley parkrun

It's also worth noting that that the area is popular with dog walkers and there were quite a lot of loose dogs around when I ran here - it made me a little nervous, but from what I saw, none of them had any interest in the day's 106 participants.

The rest of the run takes place on grass as it works its way around the edges of the football pitches and back across Loughton Brook via a wider concrete bridge and back towards the start-finish. There is a certain amount of discipline required to stay true to the course as there are many opportunities to cut corners, but when I visited there were arrows and cones in place to help even the most tempted runners stay on the proper course.

Once two laps have been completed, the finish funnel is found in almost the exact spot that the run started. I had my barcode scanned and headed back out onto the course to grab some photos, where I also chatted to the marshals that were still dotted around the course. There didn't seem to be a post-run venue for socialising afterwards, but I hung around until the event had finished and then hit the road back to Dartford.

roding valley parkrun

I recorded the run with Strava so if you want to check out the course in detail, please take a look at my GPS file here - Roding Valley parkrun.

Link: The Essex parkrun venues

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