Sunday 16 July 2017

South Norwood parkrun

South Norwood is a district of south east London and sits in the London Borough of Croydon. The area was originally part of the Great North Wood - a natural oak forest that was once measured to be 830 acres in size and stretched from Camberwell down to Croydon.

As South Norwood was developed, the local authority acquired a piece of land for use as a sewage farm [c.1862]. The London Clay subsoil meant that drainage was poor and the area remained largely flooded. However, the venture was fairly successful until its closure in 1967.

This same land had previously been the site of a moated house and would go on to be used as farmland and allotments. Around the time of the second world war it was used by the military as a training area and also housed a civil defence unit.

During the years from 1988 to 1999, the former sewage farm site was transformed into South Norwood Country Park. The country park covers an area of 125 acres and is home to wild flower meadows, wetland, a lake, childrens play area and a pitch and putt facility.

There is also a large mound which was formed from much of the building debris from the world war two raids on Croydon - this mound is a fab viewpoint and you can see for many miles around from the top.

On the 8th of July 2017, the country park became home to South Norwood parkrun, which is a free, 5km event that takes place on Saturday morning's at 9am.

I headed over to the venue for their second event. Free car parking is available in the adjacent Croydon Sports Arena which is home to Croydon FC and Croydon Harriers Athletics Club. It's worth leaving yourself plenty of time to get to the start line as it could take 10 minutes or so to reach it from the car park. The arena car park also has a good number of bicycle racks.

There are some local roads adjacent to the venue where it is possible to park, but the advice is to use the official car park - it's about the same distance to the start and it'll avoid getting on local residents' nerves. Upon arrival at the start line you will also notice that there is a car park here too...

... It is only small and from what I can see, the intention is to leave this car park for the use other park users. If parkrunners use it, it will only end up becoming a source of friction. So just park in the Croydon Sports Arena car park.

If I had travelled by public transport, I would have taken the mainline train to Elmers End or used the local tram network and headed towards either Arena or Harrington Road stops. As it happens, Arena tram stop is adjacent to the stadium car park so is perfectly placed especially if you need to use the toilets beforehand.

The official route from the car park or Arena tram station is to cut through the arena itself - The biggest plus points for doing this are; (a) it's a shorter route than following the roads, and (b) the toilets are inside the arena - just head towards the small, tiered seating stand (pictured above) and you'll find toilets located inside it - there are also communal showers in here (it's worth noting that I have no idea if it's ok for parkrunners to use them).

When I visited, there were arrows placed all through the arena to show the route to the meeting point / start area of the parkrun - these were quite useful as the country park itself seems to be quite hidden away. The walk to the start involves crossing the tram lines so be very careful here.

Once you reach the park's visitor centre (which has very restricted opening hours - not open during parkrun) and the playground, you'll hopefully find a gaggle of eager parkrunners and volunteers plotting their actions for the morning. For the record, you'll find another set of bicycle racks here.

The run briefing was held on the grass outside the visitor centre. With that done, the runners moved into position on the start line which is just a few metres along the path.

The course here is made up of two full clockwise laps (2.3km) followed by a further quarter lap (0.5km). Underfoot is mostly a gravelly, loose stone surface (89%), but there is also a tiny bit of tarmac (1%) and some grass/dirt/mud (10%). In summer (when I visited) road shoes were absolutely fine, but some runners might prefer to use trail shoes in the winter when it's likely to get quite splashy.

It's quite a difficult course to describe in detail because it essentially follows the meandering gravelly paths and there are not really any notable landmarks around the course to point out. The scenery is almost exclusively trees, hedges and meadows. In fact, the route actually goes three-quarters of the way around the lake, but unless you're looking for it, you probably won't even notice that it's there. There are, however, a couple of sections which should be covered...

There's a chicane at around the 1.5km / 4km point and if you hit at a good pace it feels amazing to run around. Then towards the end of each lap there is a slight incline to negotiate - it actually feels like running up a corkscrew as it curves to the right and tightens as you go up. As you'd expect, it feels harder second time around, but it is a fun and unique feature of the course.

At the top of the incline the courses passes the aforementioned mound. It's also worth mentioning that most of the paths the run uses are shared use, so watch out for cyclists on your way around. You'll also find plenty of dog walkers milling around.

The finish funnel is hidden around a corner about 500 metres after passing the start line. It's a good idea to take a look out for it on one of the earlier laps so you know exactly where to turn off of the main loop once you reach the end. When I visited, barcode scanning took place, as expected, next to the finish line.

The post-run social is listed as being at the Croydon Arena. I was going to pop in with a fellow tourist for a quick cuppa, but we couldn't find the exact location. The Croydon Council website says it's officially closed on Saturday and that certainly seemed to be the case as far as we could see, so we both headed our own respective ways back home. [I'll add some more info if it becomes available].

The official results were up online a few hours after the run and there had been 118 participants at event 2. I recorded the run with my Garmin and you can find the GPS data of the course online, on Strava; South Norwood parkrun event 2. Of course, you can also watch the #relive video above to see the course.

Link: The London parkrun venues

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