Saturday 28 April 2018

Hazelwood parkrun

The town of Sunbury-on-Thames sits in Surrey, just outside the Greater London boundary. The first recorded mention of the name is from 962 when it was referred to as Sunnanbyrg (Sunna's Burgh), by the time the Domesday book was published in 1086, it had become known as Sunneberie. Eventually the name settled as Sunbury and then Sunbury-on-Thames.


The town was agricultural for hundreds of years, but in the 19th and 20th centuries other industries such as brick making, aircraft parts, gravel extraction, concrete production and plastic moulding became popular.

In the late 1800s it became popular for people from the home countries based in London to set up their own sports clubs. These were important as they gave people a place where they could go and be part of their wider community in London. With London-Scottish and London-Welsh rugby clubs already established, it was only a matter of time before a London-Irish club would join the fold. This finally happened in 1898 when London-Irish was formed in Sunbury. 

briefing / start

The London-Irish Rugby Football Club had a home in Sunbury which was purchased in 1931. When WW2 started, the Ministry of Agriculture requisitioned the land for food production and the post-war years saw the team play their matches in Blackheath. At the end of the 1950s they were finally in a position to relocate to Sunbury.

They once again moved home in the late 1990s when they relocated to the Madjeski Stadium in Reading. In 2014 a brand new, state-or-the-art facility, The Hazelwood Centre, was built in Sunbury and this serves as the club's main training and administrative base.

the opening stretch

The Hazelwood Centre contains facilities for hosting large events like weddings, business conferences, and parties. But its main purpose is as the home to London-Irish Rugby Football Club. The ground covers 63 acres and the main training area has enough space for four full size grass rugby pitches plus one artificial pitch, twelve junior pitches and a clubhouse. There are further pitches on an adjacent field at the far end of the site. It is classified as a world class training facility and served as a training base for Wales, Fiji, Argentina, and The All Blacks during the 2015 Rugby World Cup. It has also provided training facilities for many NFL teams.

In March 2018 the Hazelwood Centre became home to a free, weekly, 5k, event called Hazelwood parkrun. I travelled here by car via the M25 and M3 to take part in event 7, and parked in the ample sized onsite car park (c.300 spaces) for free. Had I arrived by bicycle I could have secured my bike in the bicycle shed within the car park. By public transport I would have taken the train to either Sunbury or Upper Halliford stations and walked or jogged the remainder of the journey. A selection of local buses also stop within walking distance of the venue.

early part of the lap

Once within the Hazelwood Centre, there are onsite toilets and changing rooms available for use. Just before 9am, with the crowd of eager parkrunners ready to go, the run briefing is held outside the clubhouse. There's then a short walk across to the start line, which is on the southern side of the artificial (astroturf) pitch.

The event takes place entirely within the private grounds of the Hazelwood Centre, and as a result no dogs are permitted at this venue. Underfoot is grass, but there's also a short section on stones on the northern side of the course. In the winter (or during periods of significant rain) expect it to be wet/splashy/muddy enough to need trail shoes. As this is a rugby training ground, you may find scatterings of training equipment every now and then, but don't fear, the course is has plenty of width, so it's easy enough to filter past.

mid-lap / entering the second field

During my research for this blog, I was trying to find out exactly where the name Hazelwood originates. Sadly I couldn't find the answer, but it does tie in with a number of other local names which appear to be named after trees and woods. So going by that, the best I can come up with is that maybe the name could come from the site previously being a wood that contained Hazel trees. Anyway...

... The course itself is totally flat and comprises of a short anti-clockwise loop around the first two rugby fields, which is then followed two full anti-clockwise laps of the grounds. Heading west along the northern edge of the five rugby training fields, the course then takes a turn across a public footpath and into the back field. Here the loop continues with a full loop of the field, which I found a little wetter and a little bumpier underfoot, before returning the main training area via the same crossing of the footpath.

the second field and the footpath crossing

Now heading around to the southern border of the grounds (for info: the southern side seems to hold onto more water than the northern side), the lap continues past the opposite end of the five training pitches before reaching the main clubhouse and the second full lap begins. At the end of the second full lap, the course splits from the main loop and the participants are filtered towards the finish right outside the clubhouse.

By the end, my shoes (I went for my trails) were soaked through, which I had expected so brought extra shoes and socks to change into. Barcode scanning takes place right here at the finish and participants can cheer on the rest of the field before heading inside for some refreshments in the onsite cafe.

towards the end of the lap

Incidentally, if you are heading elsewhere after the run and would prefer to avoid being #parkrunfresh, the centre also has showering facilities which could come in very handy. After the run I popped into the cafe, which does a fine selection of breakfast options, and spent a bit of time in the cafe chatting with some familiar faces from my former home parkrun at Riddlesdown.

The results for event 7 were processed and online shortly after the run. 118 people had taken part - this number was a fair representation of the average number to be expected at time of writing. As always, I recorded the course on my Garmin and the full GPS data can be found on my Strava account: Hazelwood parkrun #7. The Relive course flyby video can be found on my Youtube page, here: Hazelwood parkrun #7 relive video.

finish, scanning etc...

The event has got off to a fine start and with the wide course and great facilities available certainly has plenty of space to accommodate growth. The (almost) full grass course is great for those that may want to avoid less forgiving surfaces such as tarmac and concrete. I had a very pleasant morning at Hazelwood parkrun, and with the Irish connection I could imagine this being a popular venue for St. Patrick's Day celebrations. Finally a big thanks goes to all those that volunteered to help make it happen, and for making me feel so welcome.

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