The highlight of my childhood visits to my grandparents’ house in Kettering was always a trip to Wicksteed Park. Sailing down the bumpy slide in the children’s playground, losing your lunch on the lurching Pirate Ship and of course the terrifyingly precarious Pinfari rollercoaster. In the interim years, I’ve visited much bigger and fancier rides, and yet nothing quite replicates the fear that rouse in my belly every time the car heaved and clunked its way to the top, then tottered on a fragile looking and very exposed precipice high above the lake, before plunging with a screech into the depths of a pit full of debris, possibly containing the bodies of several previous patrons.
It therefore seemed entirely logical to me that I should get up at 4am to travel to Kettering to get a K for my parkrun alphabet, even though there is a perfectly good K in Kingston, just the other side of London. Kettering also ticks off three boxes on my parkrun Family Tree as my mother and both her parents were born there.
Everything about Kettering parkrun (possibly about Kettering) was slightly bonkers, not helped by the fact that they were having a Star Wars themed run (some joke about May 4th?) and people had turned up dressed as hairy creatures and princesses and carrying lightsabres. (I have never seen Star Wars and I find it all very confusing. Isn’t it meant to be in space? Why are there no spacemen in it? Why are there hairy creatures and princesses in space?) The first timers brief was the best I’ve ever been to – it was conducted by a very enthusiastic lady named Andrea and contained helpful instructions such as “when you see the train tracks, shout choo choo!” and “after you have finished, look on Strava, the lake is a rude shape”. Everyone seemed a bit perplexed that we had come all the way from London to Kettering to do a parkrun, and I didn’t see any other Cow Cowls. I got the impression that there were a lot of regulars there. We met a nice bunch of Vegan Runners at the end too, who recommended a great pub in Kettering town centre called Kino Lounge.
On to the course. It starts near the top of the hill, heads off to the very top, then turns left and heads down the hill towards the lake. The start was very congested and as the path has foliage either side, there is little room to overtake. At the bottom of the hill, you have to hop over the miniature railway line (trip hazard) and then on to a sandy trail path for a bit before heading on to the highlight of the lap – Wibbly Wobbly Bridge! This is a delightful wooden slatted pontoon bridge that takes you across the lake. It is not really designed to take a hundred people at a time and it bounces like a trampoline. I reckon that if everyone co-ordinated their steps, they could actually work it up to bounce everyone into the lake. Also watch out for a sneaky join in the middle, which has a tendency to ride up, and provide a second trip hazard, just in case the railway line didn’t get you.
The next part is back on the trail paths round the lake, alongside (and over) the railway line, with strict instructions not to run on the line itself. (I cannot imagine why anyone would want to. Some people must like falling over). Then there’s a very short cut across the grass and back on to tarmac for the hill. It is not a steep hill but bloody hell it goes on a bit and every time you think you are getting to the top there’s a bit more of it. The good news is that the course is two and a half laps and you go down the hill three times but only up it twice. It would actually be quite a fast course if there weren’t any other people on it, but I was completely hemmed in by other runners most of the way round and couldn’t really have gone any faster without a lot of jostling. I thought I was doing okay because I had the 35 minute pacer just behind me for one and half laps, but as we came up to the hill for the second time I heard him say “oh dear – I am a bit behind, I need to speed up” and suddenly he took off like a rocket. I was unable to follow suit! I finished in 36:05 which is a completely unremarkable finish time that I have nothing much to say about.
The worst thing after all this was the discovery that the fucking rollercoaster was CLOSED for no apparently reason (possibly lack of interest due to freezing weather). To be fair, this is an accurate representation of my childhood experience too – so many times I turned up to this kind of bitter disappointment and was fobbed off on to the bumper cars. This time we took the miniature railway and the log flume. I recorded my log flume experience as a Garmin activity; my Garmin said it was “unproductive”.