Saturday 20 July 2019

Cyclopark parkrun

In North Kent you will find the ancient town of Gravesend which has a population of around 75,000 people. The town was first recorded as Gravesham in the 1086 Domesday Book but was also recorded as Gravesende / Gravesend just a few years later. In 1974 the original name of Gravesham was formally adopted as the name of the borough. The town sits on the north coast of Kent and has a defensive fort which was built on the orders on Henry VIII in the 16th century.

The oldest surviving building is Milton Chantry and this dates back to the 14th century. Gravesend is also famous for being the final resting place of Pocahontas - she died in Gravesend and was buried at St George's Church in the town centre. The exact position of her grave is unknown due to the original church having been rebuilt in the 18th century following a fire. However she is commemorated in the form of a bronze statue within the grounds of the church.

cyclopark / pocahontas

The southern end of the town is bordered by the A2 motorway which broadly follows the old Roman road, known as Watling Street. In 2008 the road was widened and at the same time, moved ever so slightly to the south. This created an empty strip of land between the existing houses and the new road, the majority has been given back to nature but some of the tarmac from the old A2 has been retained as a pedestrian walkway and National Cycle Route 177.

A 48 hectare area of the reclaimed land has been developed into a purpose-built cycling facility called Cyclopark. The main feature is the beautifully smooth tarmac track which undulates and weaves its way around the site, but it also has off-road mountain biking trails, a BMX track and a skate park. Also on-site is a children's playground and various fitness suites. I've visited the Cyclopark many times over the years and have ridden both the road and off-road cycle tracks (more about my running-related visits below).


On 20 July 2019 Cyclopark parkrun came into existence and while I would love to tell you that it takes place on the track itself, sadly it doesn't. Cyclopark parkrun takes place on the aforementioned pedestrian footpath / cycle route which runs alongside the park. However, the Cyclopark does support the event and provides all the facilities such as toilets, cafe and car parking.

There is a charge for car parking and this is paid via a machine just inside the main reception area (you can pay upon arrival or at departure), if it is busy you may find the staff on the reception desk can process the payment for you. Alternatively, it may be worth investigating the possibility of parking next door in Morrisons for free (the Morrison's website confirms there is a three-hour time limit, but don't overstay as you will be issued with a fine). There is also a Travelodge next door which is super-convenient for anyone planning an overnight stay.

opening section

You'll be pleased, but not surprised, to hear that Cyclopark has cycle racks galore, so travelling by bicycle is the perfect option. The National Cycle Route 177 which runs alongside the park stretches right back into Dartford (via NCR1) to the west and into Rochester to the east. I've ridden this route a number of times over the years and found it to be pretty good. For anyone travelling by train you'll find the closest station is Gravesend and is just under 2 miles away.

We took part in the inaugural event, but it was not the first time I had run the course. I was invited over to the test event by the co-event director Ian Pullen. Ian was one of the first people I met when I moved to Dartford in 2013, we were probably drawn together by our common love of buggy running. In fact we once had a collision with our running buggies as we ran alongside each other one evening (the kids were both fine).

national cycle network / high five from friends

As I mentioned above, the parkrun takes place on the adjacent cycle path. Underfoot is 100% tarmac - some of it is fairly old as it is the original surface of the old A2 but it has held up pretty well over the years. The 5k is covered by effectively running a double out-and-back, but as it stands the start/finish area is not quite at the end of the out-and-back (see GPS and video for what I mean). Even though you are next to the A2, the landscaping does a good job of reducing the traffic noise.

It has a gentle but prolonged change of elevation all the way along the length of it, with the lowest point being at the far western end where there is also a very convenient loop in the path to turn around at. It is easy to underestimate the effort required to negotiate the gentle uphill part of the course and this may bite you towards the end of the second lap. Interestingly the elevation change recorded on my Garmin came out at 46 metres, which is more than I was expecting.

the course (out)

It's also worth noting some details regarding the start - the first part of the course is a 300 metre out and back to the east which results in the entire field performing a 180 turn while still heavily bunched up on a fairly standard width path. There is also a pinch point just outside the entrance of Cyclopark which is worth being aware of. Other than that, you just need to remember to stay to the left as you make your way around the course.

The course doesn't really require a lot of marshals or signs but you'll find both placed at strategic points as you work your way long it. Also don't forget that you are on a cycle route, so keep your eyes peeled for cyclists who could approach quite quickly from behind on the downhill part. You may also encounter the odd dog walker as it's quite a popular walking route for them.

the course

At the end of the 5k, barcodes are scanned just outside the rear of the Cyclopark, and once everyone has made their way around the course the team head into the Cyclopark Cafe. Over the years the cafe has been Cyclocafe, then 'Cafe 1809' which was Dame Kelly Holmes' venture into the cafe world (named after her bib number in the Athens Olympics). It is now called 'park EAT' and serves all the coffee shop staple items you would expect.

The results were soon processed and 172 people attended the inaugural event. As of 2024 the event is generally attended by around 170-220 people each week. One of the big hopes is that it will help to ease the pressure on the increasingly popular Shorne Woods parkrun (my write-up) which is just a few minutes down the road. If you have kids with you, there is a nice playground onsite, however as of May 2024, Cyclopark charge £4.50 per family group to use it.

turnaround point / finish

If you have visited and find yourself a little disappointed that you didn't get to run on the Cyclopark track, there are a number of opportunities to do so at other events. Firstly there is the free, weekly Cyclorun at 8am every Sunday which was originally set up in January 2014 by a man called Steve Cable. It is now run by my former running club SLGR and offers 2.5k, 5k, 7.5k and 10k options. Incidentally I used Cyclorun for my one-and-only true attempt at a 5k time-trial buggy run where I managed to put in a sub-20 time.

If that doesn't take your fancy there is the Gravesend Floodlit Winter Series which takes place once a month for 6 months between October and March. This is run by the excellent chaps over at Nice Work and is very much a local favourite as a midweek leg-stretcher. It has both 5k and 10k options available and I raced it twice - November 2014 and December 2014. The Kent Roadrunner Marathon has traditionally taken place at Cyclopark and it involved running something like seventeen laps on the track, but sadly this event seems to have disappeared from the calendar.

post event

There have been a few other events that I have taken part in here - Sweatshop held an afternoon of relay races here back in 2014 which was brilliant, but ended up being a one-off event. You'll also find a festive Santa Dash during December - at time of writing this is being organised by Nice Work. Also back in 2014, there was a three-part race on the mountain bike trails called The Rocky Road Trail Race Series. I only managed to make to one of them, but was in pretty decent shape and managed to win it.

Anyway, you can view my GPS data of the course on my Strava account, here: Cyclorun parkrun 1. You can also watch the course fly-by video generated using the Relive app on my YouTube account, here: Cyclopark parkrun fly-by video. A huge thank you and congratulations to Ian, Louise and the rest of the team for getting the event set up.

Update May 2024: We have re-visited a few times since this write-up was originally posted. The event has a great team who have things down to a tee. We've always been very warmly welcomed, and I imagine we'll continue to visit every now and then.
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