Saturday 26 March 2022

Sandhurst Memorial parkrun

Sandhurst is a town and civil parish in Berkshire with a population of just over 20,000 people. The name originates from the sandy soils (Sand) and the woods (Hurst) in the area. As with many towns, Sandhurst started out as a small farming community, until in 1812 The Royal Military College, which had been based in Great Marlow and High Wycombe, moved to Sandhurst.

In 1947 it merged with the Royal Military College Woolwich and became The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst; the name it retains to this day. The military own large parcels of land around the town where they frequently conduct training exercises.

The high-security psychiatric facility, Broadmoor Hospital is located nearby, as is the famous public school Wellington College. The expansion of the town really kicked off when the railway came to Sandhurst and the population grew. The town underwent a significant expansion between the 1950s to 1980s when more housing was added. A memorial park was opened in the town in 1949 and the town's existing war memorial (c.1921) was relocated here in 1984.

Sandhurst Memorial Park is home to quite a large number of clubs and organisations such as Sandhurst Town Football Club, Sandhurst Cricket Club, Sandhurst Tennis Club, Sandhurst Gardening Club, Sandhurst Camera Club, and Sandhurst Tug of War Club. Interestingly, the National Outdoor Tug of War Championships were held in the town in the years 2000 and 2013. Also Sandhurst Tug of War Club have been world champions on three occasions, something the town must be immensely proud of as you'll see it displayed on signs around the town.

The park is also home to the Sandhurst Community Hall, a Community Police Point, and Sandhurst Town Council. It has many football pitches, tennis courts, a large playground (split into two), skate park and a balancing pond which is home to the local swans.

The park is also home to Sandhurst Memorial parkrun which has been in operation since December 2019. I joined them for their event number 44 on a beautifully sunny early spring morning in March 2022.

I travelled by car and when it comes to parking, the park has it covered. There is the main Sandhurst Memorial Park Car Park in front of the community hall and council offices - this will hold just over one hundred cars. If it fills up, there is another car park just along the road called Pyes Acre Car Park which can hold about eighty vehicles. The signs say they open from 8am, but they were open when I arrived at 7.45am. The best thing is they are completely free-of-charge to use. Bear in mind that Saturday mornings are busy for the local football teams so there may be quite a lot of vehicles around.

If using public transport you can reach the town by train where you can alight at Sandhurst station. It's about a 10 minute walk to the park from the station. If taking a bus the 125 and 598 seem to stop outside the park. I don't remember seeing any official bicycle racks (I may have missed them) but there were a few fences and poles dotted around that could probably be used. Lastly, the toilets - they are located on the side of the council building right next to the car park, opposite the playground. They should be open from 8am, but when I was here they were open before then.

The meeting point for the parkrun is on the small grass area in between the two playground areas. It is here that the briefings are held. Once they are done, the participants move out onto the adjacent path and line up at the start area.

The course is flat and takes place on a mixture of different surfaces such as tarmac and other hard packed surfaces, gravel, dirt, grass and wooden planks (while going over bridges). The split is roughly 4km hard surface, 1km off-road. As far as footwear is concerned, even though the split of surfaces suggest road shoes, I'd lean more in the direction of trail shoes.

The course here has been tweaked a few times since the event started, and who knows, maybe it'll change again. Anyway, it currently consists of a start tail followed by a small lap around the balancing pond. This is then followed by two full anti-clockwise laps which go beyond the park's boundaries and into the adjacent Shepherd Meadows Site of Special Scientific Interest, home to an abundance of wildlife including over 300 species of insects.

Shepherd Meadows is named after wildlife artist and conservationist David Shepherd. The River Blackwater flows through the site and you'll run along both sides of it as you navigate your way through the meadows.

Around the course there are a few bridges to cross (five, I think) and you cross most of them multiple times. Originally this venue did not allow buggies, however this has now been amended and the advice is to speak to the team in advance of your visit. The issue largely stems from at least one of the bridge crossings which is a bit fiddly to negotiate, but of course contact the team and take their advice if you are considering taking part with a buggy.

Underfoot the paths are generally well kept but are not always perfectly smooth. They can be narrow in places and the adjacent grass can be a tad boggy. The far end of the course goes around a grass field which I'm told can be very muddy at times, and it also seems to have a selection of mole hills, so watch out. There is also a special water feature to splash through which varies in size from week to week - you'll find this on the eastern side of the balancing pond and you'll negotiate it three times.

You will of course find some lovely marshals at various points around the course. Once the two full laps are complete, you head back down the start/finish tail. through the gap in the hedge and onto the grass where the briefings were held just a short while earlier. Here you'll find the finish line and the barcode scanners. On the day I took part there were 134 finishers and the results for event 44 were online a short while later. The average number of finishers is currently 154.5.

In case my description doesn't quite give you the detail you may need, please feel free to take a look at my GPS data on Strava and also my Relive course fly-by video on youtube. After the event, refreshments can be found at Pistachios and you may even find a few other parkrunners there too.

As I was getting changed back at the car, I could here what sounded like gunshots and explosions in the distance which I'm assuming was the army in the middle of a training session, so don't be alarmed if you hear the same. Lastly, many thanks to all the volunteers that made the day's event possible.

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