Inspired by the wonderful day I had nearly killing myself at Hadleigh, this weekend I went off in search of more hills. I didn’t fancy another 4am start and I had somewhere to be in the afternoon, so Hampstead Heath seemed like a good bet. Also I seem to be accidentally on a mission to do every parkrun that starts with an H (so far: Hackney Marshes, Hove Promenade, Highbury Fields, Hadleigh, Hampstead Heath… I guess Hilly Fields is on the cards).
To be honest I think I was a bit complacent when I arrived. Having conquered Hadleigh last week, I imagined that Parliament Hill would feel like a speed bump in comparison. The run doesn’t go up the well-known viewpoint path but it does get nearly as high from the other side, and there’s plenty of opportunities to take in the view on the way there and back. Speaking of which, be warned that there’s no toilets at the start – the nearest are at the athletics track – and that the course is slightly different from what is currently (June 2018) on the parkrun website – in particular, the start is further back towards the car park, just out of view of where the website says it should be.
The run briefing was slightly alarming. I’ve had run briefings that have warned of stampeding cows and hissing geese before, but this was the first that warned of objectionable locals. Apparently some Hampstead residents aren’t keen on parkrunners and have taken to making numerous complaints and coming to the heath and walking three abreast during the run in a deliberately obstructive manner!
As soon as the run set off I realised I had underestimated a) the hilliness of the course b) the heat. The course is a lollipop shape (just like Hadleigh) but this time the start is at the bottom of the hill (with the finish in exactly the same place) and the loop at the top, and you do two laps of the loop. At the run briefing one tourist had been studying the map intently, complaining that last time she was there, she had got lost, which of course gave me the heeby jeebies because you just know my track record re getting lost on runs. There were definitely a few places on the course where it is possible to take a wrong turn (some more arrows or marshals would not go amiss) but luckily I am fairly familiar with Hampstead Heath and there was a lady running with a reluctant child just in front of me for the whole second lap. I am still not entirely sure I didn’t take a slight detour but if I did, the distance still worked out perfectly so I shan’t worry about it.
The first kilometre was relentlessly up, up and more up. It wasn’t particularly steep but it seemed never ending. Fortunately most of it was shaded by trees. The paths were mainly a fairly even trail, with a small section of dirt track. There then followed a really glorious downhill section, which was not steep enough to make you lose control of your feet but steep enough to make you float along effortlessly. At the bottom there was an even more glorious piece of undulating smooth concrete which I would have enjoyed more if it had been less exposed to the sun because it was really much too hot to be out for a run. To be perfectly honest I could have happily skipped the second lap and gone for an ice cream instead but that isn’t cricket so I plodded the downs and panted the ups until it was time to turn off back to the finish. This should have been a lovely downhill sprint but I was impeded by the local residents referred to in the run briefing. At first I thought they were just being a bit dozy and not moving aside to let me through, but after I had said “excuse me” and been ignored three times I realised it was deliberate and had to wait until there was space to squeeze round the side of them.
At the finish I caught up with the woman running with the reluctant child, who was now having a bit of a tantrum for unspecified reasons and refusing to enter the finish funnel. I did a very unsporting thing and sprinted past them thus putting two more places between myself and the tail runner. I would like to apologise to these two if they ever read this, without them I would probably still be running up and down Parliament Hill aimlessly and I am very bad person.
My finish time was a frankly embarrassing 42:55, but karma appears to have bitten me as there is a small error in the results meaning everyone has moved down a place and I have been credited with the two seconds slower time of the reluctant child!
All in all this was a bit of an odd parkrun experience. I might go back at some point as I am quite sure I could improve on that time if it were colder and I were fitter but I might take a map and compass and something to protect myself from the locals.
As I walked back I overheard two posh women complaining about parkrun on the hill. “They just spoil the view!” said one “Why can’t they just enough their surrounding without doing all that jogging?”
Jogging! I nearly gave her a piece of my mind but I was too exhausted.
Edited – 31st July 2018:
I revisited Hampstead Heath parkrun this weekend and enjoyed it a lot more the second time round. Not only did I manage to avoid run ins with the locals, I noticed that there were arrows to show us the route at every junction – not the big yellow ones I am used to but little coloured flags planted in the group. This made me relax! The route felt a lot easier now I knew it and could anticipate the ups and downs and I was very pleased to reduce my time by 75 seconds.