Sunday 23 July 2023

Lloyd parkrun

The large town of Croydon was historically part of the county of Surrey, but was incorporated into Greater London in 1965. The early settlement grew from its position on the Roman road between London and Brighton. Its name is thought to come from it being a place where the Saffron Crocus was cultivated. Wikipedia says that 'Croh' is the Anglo Saxon word for Crocus and 'Denu' was the word for valley - so Croh-Denu. Another theory is that the name could be linked to the words 'Crai' and 'Din', meaning a settlement near water. The modern-day town now has a population of around 200,000 people.

Some land to the east of the town centre had for many centuries been part of the ancient Coombe Estate which was first recorded in 1221. The estate changed hands many times throughout the years and in the 1890s was purchased by Frank Lloyd, a local newspaper magnate. The newspaper publishing business he ran was founded by his father Edward Lloyd. One of the publications, The Daily Chronicle, was sold by Frank Lloyd to Prime Minister Lloyd George in 1918. A sale that meant the previously-independent newspaper came under political ownership.

When Frank Lloyd passed away in 1927, he bequeathed some of the estate's land to the Borough of Croydon. This land was opened as a public park under the name Lloyd Park. The park covers 114 acres and is a mixture of fairly natural, undulating parkland and also open grassy fields suitable for sports such as football. There are also tennis courts, a bowling green, outdoor gym, children's playground and London's Premier Disc Golf course. On 23 October 2010, the park became home to Lloyd parkrun, which is a free, weekly, timed 5km running and walking event held on Saturday mornings at 9am.

The main facilities are all located within the same area in the park's south-west corner. There is a pavillion building containing a cafe and toilets, these should be open shortly before the parkrun starts. If travelling to the venue in a vehicle, there is a car park which can be accessed from Coombe Road. It is quite a compact car park, holding approximately 45 cars in the main section, plus a smaller over-spill section that can hold another 14. Vehicles can remain in the car park for up to three hours for which there is no charge, however you must obtain a ticket from the machine and display this in the window. Should the car park be full, there may be some on-street bays available on the side streets to the south of Coombe Road. The car park also has a bicycle rack which will hold around 20 bikes.

If arriving by public transport, the nearest train station is South Croydon which is served by Southern trains. It's just over 1 kilometre away from the park. East Croydon station is the main transport hub of the town and is also fairly close at around 1.7km away. Croydon is home to the only remaining tramway system in southern England, and Lloyd Park tram stop is conveniently located right at the entrance to the park. For those travelling from further afield that may require an overnight stay, the Premier Inn 'London Croydon South' is just under 1 km away, so is an ideal place to stay. 

This happened to be my third visit to Lloyd parkrun, but my first during the summer months. The other two were in November 2012 and on New Year's Day in 2014. The meeting point, start and finish are all located on the grass adjacent to the car park. Shortly before 9am there is a first-timers briefing, and the main briefing takes place once everybody has assembled on the start line. On this particular occasion the tail walker had pulled out at the very last minute and the day's run director, the legendary Debra Bourne, put out a start-line plea for a replacement during the briefing. A call that I was more than happy to answer, so I ended up as the tail walker.

The course is a two-lap anti-clockwise route which takes in the whole of the western and central areas of the park. Underfoot is primarily off-road containing a mixture of grass and dirt paths with plenty of tree roots (the dirt paths turn to mud in the winter), but there's also a section on a tarmac path which I don't think was there when I previously visited. Overall this is best described as a cross-country course. Although the majority of the course is relatively flat, there are also some hills to contend with. As far as footwear is concerned I always wear trail shoes here, even in the summer. For those that prefer road shoes, it's best to visit during the summer months when the course is bone dry, but when the mud appears trail shoes are a must.

From the start the participants head east past the cafe building and follow the arrows and cones around the south side of the open grass field, for a brief moment alongside the tram line. At the end of the field the course heads into the trees where there is quite a small but steep slope to negotiate. It has tree roots running through it, so care is required to navigate it safely, especially on the first lap when the path is likely to be congested.

The surface underfoot changes to dirt at this point and the course follows the well-trodden path as it meanders through a very pleasant lightly wooded area, where you may spot the occasional disc golf basket. The first marshal is reached at around 800 metres into the course. Incidentally, the entire route is very well marked out with arrows, and I think the organising team deserves credit for maintaining this attention to detail.

After heading down a short, sharp decline the next part of the course involves tackling three of the four sides of the open field which depending on time of year may contain long wild grass in the central area. The next marshal point at 1.3km marks the start of the route's significant incline. It starts within a small wooded section with many tree roots and stones. This is where it is at its steepest - my Garmin registered the maximum incline as a 11.4% grade. The good news is that the incline tapers off as it progresses before finally flattening out at around the 1.5km mark.

The high point of the course features an out-and-back style section, again this area has long grasses in the central area during the summer. The out and back takes the participants to the most northerly point on the course, please note that although I've said it's an out-and-back section, the out and back paths are separated by the central grassy area. The view to the west is very nice from up here. The return section follows the same hill profile as the previous incline, but in reverse. So the decline gets progressively steeper as it descends, and the last bit features more tree roots as it goes through a different wooded section. Helpfully, in true cross-country style, all the tree roots around the course were marked with pink spray paint.

At this point, the course emerges on the far side of the open grass playing field and the remaining part of the lap involves following the perimeter path around these fields which changes between dirt path, a tarmac path which passes around the far side of the bowling green before changing back to grass and dirt paths. The participants have now reached the half-way point which is back at the original start area.

The lap is now simply completed a second time and the finish funnel can be entered upon completion of that second lap. Barcode scanning takes place right after the finish and the on-site cafe, called Lloyd's Park Cafe is the place to head to for post-parkrun refreshments. We found the menu to be fairly extensive and on balance pretty reasonably priced.

As always I had used my Garmin to record the route and the GPS data can be viewed on Strava. I used the GPS data to create a Relive course fly-by video that can be viewed on YouTube. The results for event 611 were published a few hours later and 220 participants completed the course. This was around the figure to be expected at this venue at this time of year. During the winter, the number of participants seems to drop into the mid-100's. This is not surprising as Lloyd parkrun is widely regarded as one of London's toughest courses,  especially during the winter. Both of my previous visits had been in the winter and I can confirm that it is a tough one. I remember the main incline being so muddy that I could barely get any traction, even with trail shoes. I've always been a bit of a fan of that, so I really enjoyed it.

I should also mention that as the tail walker, I had the opportunity to be involved in the course clear down process. I was so impressed by the way this process has been developed. At the end of my first lap I was given an empty bag to collect signs, and essentially I swapped my full bag for an empty bag each time I reached a marshal. It seemed to work beautifully, and I just hope I didn't miss any!

It was such a brilliant morning and the park is actually very picturesque. Well worth a visit, but if the difficulty of the hills is a worry, schedule the visit for the summer where you'll be treated to a slightly less brutal version of the experience. Finally, a big thank you to all the volunteers.

Related Links:

GPS data of the course (22 July 2023)

My first visit blog (November 2012)
My second visit blog (New Years Day 2014)

Lloyd parkrun report for event 611 (Lloyd parkrun news page)

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