|letchworth garden city|
The garden city movement's principals were based around combining the advantages of cities and countryside while eliminating their disadvantages. The town is famous for having the UK's first roundabout, formally known as Sollershott Circus. It also has the UK's largest colony of black squirrels which are grey squirrels with melanism (the development of the pigment melanin - it is the opposite of albinism).
I visited on 21 July 2018 to take part in Letchworth parkrun which is based at The Grange recreation ground at the northern tip of the town. The recreation ground is essentially a large rectangular open space which features 6 football pitches, playground, basketball court, skate park and a pavilion (with toilet). There is also a free, onsite car park which also has a bicycle rack. If this fills up, the adjacent roads can be used.
|the grange / run briefing|
Letchworth has a train station and this is right in the centre of town so if using this method of travel you'll need to leave enough time to walk/run over to the venue. Incidentally the movie The World's End was mostly filmed in Letchworth and the railway station building was used as one of the pubs central to the movie's plot.
Anyway, back to the parkrun. Once within the recreation ground the parkrun team should be easy to spot right in the centre of the rec where the finish line is located. As the time approaches 9am, the participants slowly start to gather and the briefings take place over near the skate park which gives a raised platform for the run director to address the crowd.
|start and opening stretch|
If you're sitting there thinking that the description I've given of the rec so far sounds a little dull for a parkrun, don't fear! The majority of the run takes place through the adjacent farmland, and that is where everyone heads to straight after the briefing.
Once in place at the start, the run director gives the signal and the Saturday morning 5k run, jog or walk is underway.
|just reaching the northern tip|
This parkrun takes place on a just-under-two-lap clockwise course. Underfoot is a mixture of surfaces, grass, gravel, and notably, farm tracks which I was reliably informed turn into a mud bath during the winter, so trail shoes would make life a little easier. However I visited during the longest rain-free spell we've had for years and the ground was baked solid, so I went for my regular road shoes.
From the start, the participants head north on a fairly decent gravelly path and turn to the right shortly after to weave their way through to the mostly northerly point of the course while heading ever-so-gently downhill. So far the underfoot conditions were gravelly with a few uneven parts to look out for.
|heading up the incline|
At the northern tip of the course, the route turns to head southwards along a proper farm track, and this is where you are faced with a long, steady incline which lasts for 900 metres. It rises approximately 21 metres from bottom to top.
The solid earth was made all the more treacherous by the baked tractor tyre indentations which meant eyes were firmly fixed on the ground. However a quick glance up every now and then revealed the lovely views across the fields of golden wheat swaying gently in the light breeze.
|reaching the southern tip|
The course reaches its highest point at the southern tip of the course and the rest of the route essentially heads downhill, but at such a small gradient that I thought I was just running on the flat. Underfoot is back a light gravel as the path heads back towards the recreation ground.
Most of the paths are long straights, but the end of this one features a chicane followed by a bicycle width restriction at the entrance to the rec.
|heading back towards the recreation ground|
With grass underfoot for a short section, the route now heads for the avenue of trees at the north of the rec and this features a pleasant, slightly meandery dirt-track path which heads through a couple of enclosed bushy sections.
About half-way along you'll note the section that peels off to the finish, but for now the full length of the avenue is run, and a right hand turn at the end links back into the start area where a second lap begins.
|avenue of trees|
Upon reaching the avenue at the end of lap two, all you need to do is peel off at the appropriate point. The two runners in front of me peeled off too early and I naturally started to follow them until I realised what they had done.
I returned to the correct path a headed to the finish when directed. With that done and barcodes scanned, it was time to have a chat to some marshals and then make a move. I did consider stopping at Norton Common to see if I could catch a glimpse of one of those black squirrels, but I couldn't find anywhere to park so carried on back home.
|around the finish|
According to the official course webpage, the post-run refreshments are courtesy of a portable coffee van, but I didn't see it there on the day I visited. The official results were soon processed and I received my SMS as always. For any who is interested in the details of the course, you can take a peak at my GPS data on Strava. There's also a course fly-by video which I generated using the Relive app on my phone.