I have been wanting to visit this Hadleigh parkrun ever since I went on a history walk up to the castle last summer. It looked like a mountainous beast of a parkrun, with a hill to put Finsbury Park to shame (the course boasts double the elevation overall, and an 18% gradient in several places). Last weekend seemed like a good time to do it because a) I am still not fit enough after my Marathon Ordeal to get a good time and am saving the fast courses for when I can b) the weather was nice enough to make the 5km walk from Benfleet station a pleasant stroll rather than a bracing ordeal. I also rather hoped that the hill training would serve to counteract the unfitness thing somewhat.
Several of my friends had expressed an interest in joining me for this but suddenly when I posted that I was leaving from West Ham station at 6:41am this interest dwindled and the only person to join me was the equally
foolhardy dedicated Rob.
The walk from Benfleet station was indeed quite a bracing warm up, being almost entirely uphill, with the occasional stop for a beautiful view over the estuary.
The meeting point for the parkrun is near The Hub Salvation Army cafe, a facility which wins the prize for “Cleanest parkrun toilets”. We were amongst the first to arrive (perhaps I didn’t need to get the 6:41 train after all) and I was slightly alarmed to notice some large brown cows hanging around the start area. None of the volunteers seemed too perturbed, though, and sure enough the cows dispersed before the run began.
And what a run it was. The first 100 metres or so are flatting (very gentle uphill) and the rest of the first kilometre is completely downhill, on the Olympic mountain bike track. When I say downhill, I don’t mean a gentle slope, I mean a hair-raising rollercoaster ride of chicane bends and a gradient whereby if one was to fall over one would simply roll to the bottom like Humpty Dumpty. As I have mentioned previously, I am somewhat larger than is optimal, bottom heavy and lacking in balance with the result that I plunge down hills in a comical fashion, gradually gathering speed and trying to keep up with my feet without falling over. Because I’d started at the back the result that I shot past a bunch of people shouting “excuse me sorry excuse me” over and over again. After about five minutes I finally caught up with my feet and got them under control and started to feel quite exhilarated just flying along. My first kilometre was my fastest since the marathon. Beast? Pah!
Unfortunately the second kilometre wasn’t quite as easy. This was now on the normal path, although it wasn’t much different underfoot from the mountain bike path (gravelly trail). It was a series of ups and downs and small bends and suddenly the sun came out and it got very hot and I started to puff and pant in an ungainly manner. I threw in a few walk breaks but as I didn’t know the course and couldn’t see very far in front of me I don’t think I timed them very well.
Kilometre three started with a gentle downhill, which I took at a much more sensible pace, and then a flat bit during which I could peek through the greenery and see that I was level with boats. I realised that in what seemed like seconds I’d descended the whole of Hadleigh mountain, from land high enough to build a castle to sea level. I also realised that what goes down must go back up again. Sure enough, kilometre four started with my worst nightmare: a very steep climb on grass. This fortunately didn’t last very long, and there were a couple more undulations to give you a brief reprieve before returning to the mountain bike path.
Oh my god. That hill. I couldn’t run up it, in fact I struggled with walking up it. It felt practically vertical! I though I was going to have to have a little sit down but I bravely struggled on at a pace even a snail would be ashamed of, panting like a dog, lungs on fire and cursing the fact that I’d got up at 4am on my day off to travel to the 68th closest parkrun to my house to kill myself climbing up a mountain bike track. Why must I do these things to myself?
A few seconds later I wheezed my way over the line with an extremely hard earned time of 44:08 (yes, really) to find Rob who had been waiting for me for a whole nineteen minutes after managing to run the whole thing even the vertical bits (!!!!) happily making friends with the volunteers and other tourists.
The day ended with a trip to beautiful Hadleigh Castle with fellow tourist Sharon and some delicious black IPA in a pub in Leigh on Sea. I have to say I really enjoyed my trip to Hadleigh, even though it nearly killed me, and I would do it again (especially if someone wanted to drive me there). It’s nice to really push yourself and get the most out of your five kilometres, and I also really like the feeling of being limited by my cardio fitness (which I can do something about) rather than the state of my legs (which seem to be totally out of my remit). Plus there are some great views, and it’s the first time I’ve ever come home from parkrun tipsy. If only they’d tarmac it!