I think we have just about hit peak parkrun in the last couple of weeks. It’s that time of year when it’s possible to do six parkruns in the space of fifteen days and many people, including myself, have done just that. After the record breaking Bushy parkrun on Christmas Day, I prepared myself for the New Year’s Day double on Tuesday. January 1st is the only day of the year on which it is possible to do two different parkruns. I started at 9 o’clock with a run around Guildford parkrun (7th in 20:11). I then drove over to Cranleigh to take part in my second parkrun of the day. Many people had the same idea and many of the people I saw lining up in Cranleigh I had seen an hour earlier in Guildford! I chose just to trot round the rather muddy course, my only goal was not to run a personal worst, and I finished 33rd in 23:13. I’m not sure if I’d want to do the double again next year but I was pleased to add two more parkruns to my total.
Meanwhile life goes on and this morning I was back to my normal routine of heading off somewhere to add to my total of parkrun venues. Today I was to be found in the village of Sandridge, which is just to the north of the city of St Albans. It is a small village with a history going back at least as far as the eighth century when it was known as Sandruage. The village church is St Leonard’s and dates back to 1114. The village was also the scene of part of the second Battle of St Albans in 1461, part of the War of the Roses. The village never grew enormously, being always a satellite of St Albans, but today it is home to around 5,000 people. It is an attractive small village in rural Hertfordshire with its own church and pubs and shops.
At this point, if you have been following my parkrun journey religiously and have a fantastic memory, you might be saying, “Hang on, didn’t you go to Sandridge about six months ago?” Yes I did! That was for Heartwood Forest parkrun. Unfortunately Heartwood Forest parkrun has ceased to exist! It has expired and gone to meet its maker. It is an ex parkrun. What happened was ... the owners of Heartwood Forest initially allowed a parkrun to take place on their land but then they started applying more and more restrictions. Parkrunners couldn’t run down certain paths. They couldn’t run at all in the winter. They couldn’t use the car park even if it was empty on a Saturday morning. Eventually the parkrun organisers decided to bid farewell to Heartwood and look for another venue. They were very fortunate in that at the other end of Sandridge they could use Jersey Farm woodland park.
Jersey Farm is a modern district at the southern end of Sandridge. Its name comes simply from an actual farm which used to stand here. Back in the 1970s the fields were turned into a large modern housing estate. It’s a perfectly decent place to live with its own church and pub and Tesco store and a large area of open space in which to walk the dog, play with the kids or go parkrun! Jersey Farm park consists of a broad expanse of grassland framed by areas of woodland.
When Jersey Farm was added to the list of new parkruns, there was great joy and celebration in parkrun world. It was not so much that a replacement had been found for Heartwood or that there was a new parkrun to the northwest of London. No, it was because it began with the letter ‘J’. Let me explain - there is a thing in parkrun touring called alphabeteering whereby you try and get a parkrun on your list beginning with each letter of the alphabet. Some letters are much harder to find than others. Previously if you wanted a letter J on your list you had to travel to the island of Jersey - a long and expensive trip. Now there is a J on the fringes of London! There were an awful lot of parkrun tourists there this morning - there were 262 starters and over half of them were first timers.
The course is two and a bit laps, moderately undulating. It starts on the grass in the middle then runs along the dirt and gravel path around the perimeter. I believe they also have a summer course planned which is more on grass. It’s undulating, it’s twisting so it is not the fastest course around but it’s not too bad, at least when it’s not too muddy. The weather this morning was dull and grey and a bit chilly but not too bad.
Usually when I travel to a parkrun I don’t encounter anyone I know. But this morning I was very pleased to run into Marc (Phillips) and Claire. For them this is their local parkrun as they live within a mile of the start. So to the start - you need to get away fairly quickly as the path soon narrows and I just about managed to do this. I was about fifteenth after one kilometre and steadily moved through the field until I was up to eighth. There weren’t any kilometre markers on this course and so I was never entirely sure how far we had run. I had to just glance at my watch and, as the time was approaching twenty minutes, I assumed the finish must be approaching soon. And so it proved. I turned a corner and there it was. I finished eighth in a time of 20:26. That was fine on that course. I reckon on a flat tarmac course I’d have been a good minute faster.
So I was happy enough with my visit to Jersey Farm. There aren’t any facilities at the venue itself but there is parking, toilets and a café in the village, just a short jog away. It’s a perfectly pleasant, if slightly testing course and the folks there are entirely amicable.
My statistics for today - that brought my total of parkrun venues up to 190. I was first in my age group, first overall on age graded scores and I managed my first age category course best of 2019. It was also my first parkrun as a 62 year old. Most importantly, I now have my J!
I normally finish with a YouTube video but there hasn’t been one yet of Jersey Farm. But the good news is ... there was someone taking photos this morning. See if you can spot me!
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