Thanks to the thoroughly shitty service on the Gospel Oak to Barking line, my trip to Barking has been put off at least a billion times. I had begun to think that I would never get there, and was fully expecting to divert to Finsbury Park this morning. But amazingly, the train obliged, and I was delivered to Barking, a grubby enclave on the London/Essex border where every pub is a dog pun, promptly at parkrun o’clock.
Barking Park is actually surprisingly pretty, considering Barking isn’t very pretty at all. The south part of the park is open fields, and the north has a pretty lake with lots of wildfowl including beautiful swans and Egyptian geese. There is a pretty wooded area with a lot of fir trees and flower beds. In stark contrast to last week’s snow run, today the temperatures had crept into double figures, and with the daffodils and crocuses starting to sprout, there was a distinct springlike feel. It was very nice to be able to pack away my coat early and wander around taking photos while waiting to run.
Somehow I had completely failed to take note of how small this parkrun is – 109 runners this week was quite a good attendance for them. Compared with some of the massive 500+ runs I have done recently, the gaggle at the start line seemed very small. I guess this is further evidence for the theory I heard recently: the more middle class the area, the more runners at the parkrun. Barking is not very middle class at all.
The run was exceedingly well organised. There were either marshals, cones, arrows or all three at every possible opportunity to take a wrong turn. There were also kilometre markers, and start and finish lines taped to the path. The route is fairly simple – it starts with a straight, flat section by some tennis courts (or something), then turns down a pleasing gentle downhill twisty section with a hairpin bend at the end of it. There is a flat section along the pretty lake, a gentle uphill (that does not seem to go on as long as the gentle downhill), a flat section through some trees which brings you near to where the run started. There was a big cheer squad at this point, and a nice touch that I’ve not seen anywhere else was one of the timekeepers shouting out your one mile time (mine was eleven minutes something). This isn’t the end of the lap though – there’s still a loop around the open grassy area before you start on the identical second loop. The “finishing straight” is particularly good – it is a long, straight tree lined path with the volunteers and funnel visible right at the end, and feels a bit like the end of a race. The paths are exceptionally good, as smooth and camber-less as those at Dulwich, and I think this is a definite potential PB course. The only thing that would make it slightly slower than Dulwich is the two hairpin bends.
My time was 36:50, which was distinctly average and probably a bit of an underperformance considering the perfect weather and course, but I’ve pretty much given up on improving my short distance times until after The Marathon. In fact, four out of my last 5km times have been between 36:30 and 36:50, so I am nothing if not consistent. I was rather pleased to have a top-100 finish although of course this isn’t particularly hard when there are only 109 runners. Barking does seem to have a slightly slower field than I am used to – there were the same number of people behind me as I’d expect at Finsbury Park but only a quarter of the number in front of me! I would have expected such a fast course to have loads of extra fast club runners, but there were only a few (unlike Dulwich which felt a bit like gatecrashing an Olympic 5000 metres).
My final comment on Barking was that instead of offering cake at the finish, they had a box of Swizzers sweets including my absolute favourites, Parma Violets. This alone would be enough to keep me coming back. Barking, I hope to see you again soon. Definitely my favourite hill-free parkrun so far.