The inaugural Sutton Park parkrun

Good morning. I can’t believe its Thursday already, I can almost smell the long weekend. Time flies when I’m in Wallingford.

Regular readers of this blog will be aware I participated in the inaugural Sutton Park parkrun last weekend. Before I share my thoughts on my new ‘home’ parkrun, I thought I’d start with a bit of history.Sutton Park parkrun start

[Photo: Richard Hill]

Way back at the start of 2010, I was a member of a group of local runners who were keen to get a parkrun up and running – apologies for the terrible pun – in Sutton Park. We failed. I think another group of runners tried and failed a few years later. At one stage it felt like parkrun would never come to Sutton Park. A shame when you consider the lack of parkruns in Birmingham and the fact that Sutton Park is so popular with runners.

Earlier this year I heard rumours that a parkrun in Sutton Park was looking more likely. When I bumped into my old running coach at the start of August, I discovered that a test event was taking place. He also described the course to me and said it would be quite challenging; definitely not one for setting a personal best. Hills are unavoidable in Sutton Park, but for every up there is nearly always a down!

On Saturday, I woke up well before my alarm and was dressed and ready to go by 07:30. It actually took longer to drive to Sutton Park parkrun than to Walsall Arboretum parkrun. Although I live next to Sutton Park, the parkrun course starts and finishes near Banners Gate at the opposite end of the park. I suspect it may be easier to run or cycle through the park.

Course

Car parking at Banners Gate is always at a premium, so the event organisers encouraged people to access the park via Boldmere Gate and to park in the large car park near the model aircraft flying field. The start was a short walk or run from this car park, I think it’s safe to say I’d warmed-up by the time I reached the start.

It was interesting to play ‘spot the inaugural parkrun collector’ (I’m not sure what the official title is) at the start. I overheard one runner saying he’d travelled for more than five hours to get to Sutton Park. I’m not sure if that’s dedication or something else.

The Event Director had asked for people to stay away from the inaugural event as he didn’t want to overwhelm the volunteers, other park users or the course. In the end I think there were a manageable 239 finishers. It will be interesting to see how quickly this number increases. I don’t think it will take long.

The event briefing was emotional and outlined some of the challenges Gary and his team had overcome to get Sutton Park parkrun started. A lot of people were thanked and we were reminded that we weren’t the sole users of the park. We were then set on our way; it took me about five seconds to cross the start line.

Although the first kilometre and a bit were reasonably flat, the surface (and my general lack of fitness) made it quite hard to run fast. It took me a long time to get going.

Most other runners were taking in the scenery, I was busy watching my footing; the last thing I wanted was another injury. The majority of the first section is along quite a narrow path; if you are a fast runner, I would strongly recommend you start as near the front as you can as overtaking is virtually impossible. I’ve included a still from a video a runner called Andis has shared on YouTube. Andis captured the whole course, I think it’s definitely worth watching if you are considering a trip to Sutton Park.

First section

[Source: Andis Ozols]

I must admit that I find watching myself running a little strange. I discovered that I still run like a wonky donkey and look like I’m constantly limping. So much for improving my running technique. I thought I was running at quite a decent pace, the reality was a little different. The course then split into two and runners had the option of running across a wooden bridge – warning this bridge does get quite slippery when it’s wet – or through what in normal, wet conditions is a small water feature.

Sutton Park parkrun kilometer 1

[Photo: Richard Hill]

I think it’s safe to describe the path along Lord Donegal’s Ride towards the Jamboree Memorial stone as the most challenging section of the course. Think gravel, energy sapping sand, and a short but steep hill which is really hard to run up. Thanks to the recent dry weather, the path was incredibly uneven in places. I’m ashamed to admit I got half way up the hill and slowed to a walk. Next time I’m determined to run up it all.

Gravel hill

[Source: Andis Ozols]

Thankfully, a steep uphill in Sutton Park is generally followed by either a flat or a downhill section; the next section of the course took runners towards the Jamboree Memorial stone (and my favourite ice cream van) and away from the gravel onto some welcome tarmac. Although the tarmac was easy to run on, I found the short out and back section quite mentally challenging and a little demoralising. Probably because it brought back memories of evil hill training sessions with my running club. There is nothing worse than running down a hill knowing you’ve got to run straight back up it.

Out and back

[Source: Andis Ozols]

I *may* have walked part of the hill back towards the Jamboree Memorial stone. I clearly need to work on my endurance. Fortunately, the remainder of the course is generally back downhill towards the finish next to Longmoor Pool. Judging by the photo my friend took, I’m not convinced I enjoyed running across a slightly uneven field covered in cow shit.  At least the cows (which incidentally belong to my family; the shame) kept their distance.

Sutton Park pakrun field

The parkrun organisers had very kindly provided a series of signs which gave an indication of how far we had left to run. I think it’s safe to say I enjoyed the downhill section towards the finish.

Sutton Park parkrun finish

[Photo: Richard Hill]

I’m not sure how I managed to maintain my sub 30 minute parkrun streak, but I finished in 29:18. I crossed the finish, collected token 155 and then made sure I thanked all of the volunteers and the person that had made Sutton Park parkrun a reality; Gary the Event Director.

I’ll stop waffling now as this has turned into a bit of an essay. Once I’ve volunteered a few times, I’m aiming to complete Sutton Park parkrun without any walking breaks. I have a feeling that if I make the most of the numerous downhill sections, I’ll be able to run quite a respectable time. Although I found the course quite challenging in places, I really enjoyed not having to run multiple laps around a lake or playing field. I think a single lap course is great 🙂

How far would you travel to attend a parkrun? Travelling for five hours shows some serious dedication to parkrun.

Have you ever attended an inaugural parkrun? I hadn’t realised until Saturday that collecting inaugural parkruns is a ‘thing’.

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6 thoughts on “The inaugural Sutton Park parkrun

  1. Anna Smith-James (@AnnaTheApple88) says:

    Ahh that’s so cool. I’ve been to that park but not run in it. I’m not sure I’d travel 5 hours for an inaugural one – I’m not sure what the appeal is for that sort of thing. But then I am the girl collecting letters so who can I argue?! I traveled 5.5 hours to get to Ipswich… but it was more of a weekend thing I like to think!

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    • Emma says:

      I’m thinking about attempting a few different parkruns so I can’t really talk! I’d consider making a weekend out of a spot of parkrun tourism. However, the bloke who had travelled for 5 hours was heading straight back home afterwards.

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  2. Gary Cheary says:

    Thanks for taking the time to write this review, I really enjoyed reading it. I think its a well balanced honest review our ‘little’ parkrun, we know its not perfect, but its our little baby and we love it.
    The gravelly hill (aka “The Hill Of Doom”) is definitely a unique feature of our parkrun and something we were keen to keep in to give something for people to target, i.e. “Next time I am going to make it up that darn hill”. I see that we achieved that already 🙂

    Look forward to seeing you again another time,

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    • Emma says:

      Thanks Gary. And a huge thank-you to you for getting Sutton Park parkrun up and running. Knowing a bit about the history, I didn’t think parkrun would ever come to Sutton Park.

      I really enjoyed the course and can’t wait to tackle the ‘Hill of Doom’ and the out and back section again. Running one longer lap is far more enjoyable than running multiple, shorter laps. The hills and gravelly sections just make the course more interesting. It will definitely be fun when it’s wet underfoot.

      I’m looking forward to volunteering. It’s a shame I couldn’t make it tomorrow because of work.

      Like

  3. Maria @ Maria Runs says:

    What a lovely write up, and how lovely that you will be able to get to the start by running or cycling too.
    I have been to a couple of inaugurals, Panshanger and Ellenbrook Fields, as they were both my most local run when they started, and had advertised the start in local running shops etc (and EF was started by people in my running club so I did the test event too), but I think now the preferred model is for people (apart from locals) to stay away from the first event to allow the teams to get going without too much pressure of huge numbers and to smooth out any possible issues. It does seem to be a hing though, as often if you look at new parkruns the first event has the highest number of finishers. I don’t think I’d travel to go to a first one as I would rather let the event get a bit established before going there. However, I have travelled an hour or more to drive to a parkrun when doing my Herts challenge and more recently trying to do the alphabet. I tend to visit a new parkrun if I am away somewhere for the weekend though.

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    • Emma says:

      Thanks Maria. I’m looking forward to becoming a regular runner/volunteer at Sutton Park parkrun. I think it will be a good way of meeting more local runners.
      I was concerned that so many people would turn up for the inaugural; the course would be overwhelmed with runners. Luckily that didn’t happen as there are a lot of users of the park who don’t like runners and I can guarantee there would have been complaints.
      The runner who had driven for hours to reach Sutton Park seems to run at a different parkrun every week. Week 2 didn’t have quite as many finishers.

      Like

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