A couple of months ago I had a sudden burst of inspiration and decided to start a mission to run all the parkruns in Essex. Several of my friends are aiming for “Lon-done” but this doesn’t appeal to be because there are a lot of parkruns in London which follow my strongly non preferred format of All Grass, Many Laps, No Hills. I can just about deal with Some Grass if there is a trade off of Interesting, Hilly Course but I can’t be doing with circling a playing field on the other end of the Misery Line just to complete a challenge. However, there are only 24 parkruns in Essex (I’m defining Essex as the area covered by East of England Ambulance’s Chelmsford control room, in other words Essex boroughs and not London boroughs) and only two of them are unsuitable. They are Basildon, Billericay, Brentwood, Burnham on Crouch, Chalkwell Beach, Chelmsford, Clacton, Colchester Castle, Great Dunmow, Great Notley, Gunpowder, Hadleigh, Harlow, Harwich, Highwoods, Hockley Woods, Maldon Prom, Markshall Estate, Mersea Island, Roding Valley, South Woodham Ferrers, Southend, Thurrock and Wickford Memorial. I have put the ones I have done at time of writing in bold and the unsuitables in italics.
I decided that my first stop on this tour would be Burnham on Crouch for no real reason other than I liked the sound of it and it was a nice day to be running by the water. Burnham is the penultimate stop on the Wickford to Southminster branch line, a service I am very familiar with as my genealogical studies often take me to the sprawling metropolis of Southminster (three pubs, one shop, two graveyards). Burnham is an even bigger development that has a cinema and a tattoo shop, but it still feels like you are nicely in the arse end of nowhere. So long as the train turns up, it’s an easy journey and not too far to walk the other end. If the train doesn’t turn up, you’re screwed because the next one isn’t for 40 mins but if this happens bear in mind there is a lovely sounding parkrun at Wickford just waiting for failed tourists.
I was a little taken aback that I was the only person who put their hand up to “do we have any tourists?” in the run briefing. No one seemed to know where Mile End was and when I explained it was in London it was greeted with as much excitement as if I’d come from Australia and then confusion that I’d come all that way on my own for no apparent reason. I enjoyed this though, it made me feel special and also like I’d been somewhere many of my friends never will. You have to get these little victories in somewhere if you’re never going to do anything remarkable with your times, after all.
The course is two laps and takes in a wide variety of surfaces, all presenting their own trip hazards. The start is on grass, then it goes along a smooth tarmac path out of the park and up some zigzags (think a miniature version of the famous ones at Milton Keynes) and along a delightful riverside path which would be even more delightful if had been resurfaced in the last fifty years. A right turn takes you into the marina, then into another park/wild area of natural beauty where I saw a good selection of birds. There is a hill in this park, which just about mitigates the fact that you are now running on grass (albeit well kept flat grass which has the parkrun course mown into it). It is neither a long hill nor a steep one but it does feel awfully sloggy (in fact someone has even called it that on Strava) and caused my pace to drop alarmingly. At the top of the hill there is a lovely view of the marina and estuary, and then you run back down again, back the way you came and round again. My finish time was 35:43 which I thought was fairly acceptable as the terrain was quite rough and there was more grass than I expected. I was delighted to have a top 100 finish and first place in my age group until I realised that there were only 88 runners and that I was also last in my age group.