What do you mean you had to do some last minute Christmas shopping? Some of us know the proper way to spend a Saturday morning. I was headed back to Essex in order to attend Chelmsford Central parkrun. I have been to Chelmsford before - we used to have friends who lived there and I have vague memories of strolling round the town centre. I think I also went for a run around Chelmsford but not in the park where I was headed today.
My first surprising fact about Chelmsford ... it is a city! It was awarded city status as recently as 2012. With a population of around 168,000 it is a fairly substantial place these days and is the county town of Essex. It already had its own cathedral. The Church of St Mary the Virgin dates back to the Middle Ages but it was upgraded to the status of cathedral in 1914.
The derivation of the name Chelmsford is not hard to work out .... there would have been a ford here across the River Chelmer. The history of Chelmsford goes back at least as far as Roman times when it was known as Caesaromagus (the market place of Caesar) In the Domesday Book it is listed as Celmeresfort but by 1198 it had acquired its modern name of Chelmsford.
Chelmsford developed into a middling sized market town over the following centuries. It was known for its wool and leather industries. Still, by the year 1800, the population was no greater than 3,800. In the nineteenth century Chelmsford started to grow. Improved transport links (the railway arrived in 1843) and the introduction of more modern facilities such as gas lighting and a proper sewerage system made the town a more congenial place to live and by 1900 the population was up to 22,000.
New businesses opened up in Chelmsford and transformed the town. In 1899 Marconi established the first workshop making radios in Hall Street. Chelmsford sometimes likes to claim the title “the birthplace of radio”. Many major engineering companies set up shop in Chelmsford producing everything from ball bearings to electric valves. The presence of these companies made Chelmsford a target for German bombing in World War Two. Quite a few hundred people were killed and many more were made homeless by bombing raids and strikes by V2 rockets.
Many of these industries have since closed but Chelmsford appears to be a flourishing and prosperous place to live. There are some major educational establishments, a large shopping centre, a museum, some parks and much more. The TV show “Location, Location, Location” voted Chelmsford the eighth best place to live in the UK.
The parkrun takes place in the adjoining parks of Admirals and Central Park which are situated right next to the town (sorry, city!) centre. It’s is a long narrow park which runs along the banks of the River Can. At its western end it broadens out into an area of sports pitches. The most prominent feature of the park is a large Victorian viaduct which carries the main rail line.
The course starts at the eastern end and is basically an out and back with a loop at the far end. It is predominantly on a foot/cycle path but the loop at the western end is mostly on grass. It is fairly flat to gently undulating and looks like it ought to be a reasonably fast course.
Chelmsford Central parkrun has been going for around six years and is a popular event, usually attracting four or five hundred starters. There was a bumper crowd of 592 runners there today and, with Christmas just a few days away, there were quite a few Santas and Elves amongst them. The morning was bright and not too cold, pretty good for running. There did seem to have been a downpour overnight though, which made the grassy areas a bit muddy and slippy. This was a problem at the start as we had to begin with a lap of a grassy field which I’m sure is fine under normal circumstances but today was rather treacherous. I also misjudged where to place myself at the start - I had assumed we would run straight ahead but instead we turned sharp left so I was left behind a bit as we skidded round the first field. Once we got onto the tarmac path I started to accelerate. There were kilometre markers so I shall give you my split times though I’m not entirely confident the km markers were wholly accurate. I passed 1k in 4:05, which seemed about right, allowing for the slow start. The next kilometre on tarmac I covered in 3:45, reaching 2k in 7:50. The tricky section was the next kilometre, mostly on grass, along by the river and round the sports fields. It wasn’t as bad as the first field but it was still rather muddy and slippy in places. I reached 3K in 11:58 and 4k (back on the tarmac) in 16:07. It seemed to me I would struggle to break 20 minutes today so I was pleased to see the finish come back into view and I crossed the line in 19:43 which gave me 19th place. It wasn’t as fast as I had hoped but I reckon, if the course had been all tarmac, I’d have been maybe 30 seconds faster.
So that was Chelmsford. It has a very nice setting, with decent facilities near the start. I also enjoyed the course, though I’m sure I would have enjoyed it more in dryer conditions. I might come back here one day. Some pictures have just appeared. Here’s one of me at about the 4k marker.
My statistics for today ... that was parkrun venue number 188. I was first in my age group and first overall on age graded scores (which, out of 592 runners, is pretty good!)
I shall finish as usual with a YouTube video of the course. If you’d like a quick whizz round, here it is!
P.S. I won’t have to wait long for my next parkrun. I shall be at Bushy Park on Christmas Day.
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