Clair – in Haywards Heath – is a parkrun that rarely seems to get much attention from parkrun tourists, perhaps it’s because it’s so close to Brighton that people think if they’ve gone all that way, they might as well go to the seaside. Or perhaps it’s because it has four and a half laps. Or maybe it’s because it’s bastardly hilly. I don’t know. Anyway, it happens to be the home run of my friend Allison from Single Pringles and the Brighton Marathon training group (see, there are some people in these groups who aren’t giant fuckwits), so I gleefully accepted her invitation to go along.
Clair is actually a very good parkrun for tourists because it’s RIGHT next to the station, which is served by frequent, fast trains from London. I didn’t get up until half past five and I still managed to get there massively early. This is good, as contrary to popular belief, I do actually prefer not to get up at 4am. Allison was there to meet me from the station and as we were so early, we decided to walk a lap of the course so I could get a feel for it, after visiting the toilets which are next to the park in Clair Hall.
Clair Park is clearly on a hill, but because you go round four times rather than just going up, it is a bit deceptive and you might be forgiven for thinking it is only hilly (as Finsbury Park or Bradford are “hilly”) whereas in fact it is actually Hilly in the way Hampstead and Hadleigh are Hilly. The total elevation is 101m, which is more than Hampstead but a little less than Hadleigh. There is zero potential for getting lost on this course, you just stick to the edge of the park and keep going round until your watch says 5k. If you don’t have a watch, just remember that you do the Worst Hill four times. There are stinging nettles quite close to the edge of the paths, so if you are really determined to go off course you will get a rude awakening. I did worry that with the four laps on very narrow paths, an influx of faster runners might force me into the nettles, but as it turns out the lapping wasn’t so bad – with only 200ish runners, there never seemed to be a deluge of people coming past me, and the only people I lapped were walkers, so it was fairly easy not to collide with anyone.
The course starts halfway up the hill, rises through a shaded path (which was very welcome as it was a massively hot day and I was actually dripping Proper Sweat off my elbows – yuk), round a corner, down a long hill (quite steep in places and with a few trip hazards, so take care), then out to a short, flat, open (HOT) section, then down a rather overgrown path (nettles!) which brings you out at the bottle of the Worst Hill. This hill is about as steep as the steep bit at Ally Pally. Because I am pigheaded I refused to walk it though my “running” pace actually dropped to 11 minutes per km which is slower than walking pace and I could quite clearly see that the less pigheaded people in front of me who were walking weren’t going any slower than I was. But it is the principle. I felt really smug when I reached the pinnacle for the fourth time and hadn’t walked any of it.
The half-lap is just the less-steep uphill and half of the downhill, so there is quite a pleasant downhill finish.
I felt less smug when I saw my time – 38:36, my slowest in ages. I had been paying more attention to avoiding nettles/trip hazards/expiring on the hill than to how fast I was going and it hadn’t felt that slow, but I guess the heat and elevation took their toll after all.
I would really recommend this parkrun to anyone who likes hilly tarmac courses. I think it might be the hilliest tarmac course in the UK – certainly one of them, anyway – and the four laps aren’t as bad as they sound. Do not expect a decent time, though.