Well this isn’t going very well. I am still struggling with some soreness in my back and in my left ankle. I can still run, at least I can jog a few miles around the sports field but it’s taking its time to get better. I do though take the view that if I can jog a few miles, I can go and do a parkrun somewhere. I still have this urge to get my total up to 250 by the autumn (currently on 235) and so acquire the dark green t-shirt. So it was that I headed off this morning to Sunny Hill parkrun in North London.
Sunny Hill Park is in Hendon which is a district of the Borough of Barnet, at the bottom end of the M1 motorway. The place is listed in the Domesday Book as Hendun, which means “the highest hill”, a name which is entirely appropriate as we shall see later. For much of its life Hendon was a small village in a rural setting. It was surrounded by farms and there would be sheep grazing on the adjoining hills. The oldest building in the area would be St Mary’s Church which dates back to the thirteenth century. Gradually in the nineteenth century the sprawl of suburbia crept northwards to envelop Hendon. The railway arrived here in the 1850s. The Northern Line of the Tube was extended to here in the early twentieth century. The River Brent flows down through Hendon and gives its name to the neighbouring Brent Cross.
Hendon is a famous name in the early development of aviation in this country. Hendon Aerodrome was constructed in around 1910 and was one of the very first purpose built airfields. In the First World War it played an important role in training pilots for the newly formed Royal Flying Corps. Between the wars it was the scene of many major air displays in front of thousands of spectators. As an RAF base it played a major part in the Battle of Britain and itself came under heavy attack in 1940. After the war its importance to the RAF gradually diminished and it finally closed for good in 1957. The site is now occupied by a large housing estate but also by the RAF museum, well worth a visit, if you’re interested in that sort of thing.
Hendon is a familiar name to anyone who has had any involvement with the police force. Hendon Police College, now known officially as the Peel Centre, is where thousands of aspiring police officers are sent for a thirteen week training course. Hendon is also home to the main campus of Middlesex University.
Sunny Hill park was originally called Sunnyhill Fields and belonged to Church Farmhouse, a seventeenth century manor house which went on to become a museum. There are still traces in the park, such as lines of hedgerows, of the farmland that it used to be. In 1921 around 16 acres were acquired by the local council to be turned into a park. More land was added in 1929. At its southern end the park rises quite steeply to give far reaching views out over north and west London. At the northern end you’ll find tennis courts, football pitches, a café and a playground.
The course at Sunny Hill consists of one short lap and then two long laps, nearly all on tarmac paths. Each long lap involves a stiff climb up to the highest point of the park, so this is not a course on which to expect PBs. Some people have suggested that this is the toughest course in Greater London and ... well ... it’s a strong contender.
I was certainly not expecting any fast times today. I had trained very little during the week hoping that my sore ankle would clear up. It hasn’t quite. I can run if I have to but I am limping slightly on my left side. I was determined however to keep my series of parkruns going and so I lined up alongside 70 other starters. The weather did not match the name of the park - it was dull and grey with a few spots of rain.
My aim was simply to get round and I managed that. I started off very gently and gradually accelerated. It was a bit tricky with my sore ankle. I couldn’t push off from my ankle on the uphill sections and I had to take the downhill sections very carefully. In retrospect it was probably a mistake to choose London’s hilliest parkrun for today’s effort. I finally finished fifteenth in 23:47. That was okay. I’m glad I went to Sunny Hill, glad I got the chance to enjoy “London’s toughest parkrun”, glad I got to see the view from the top. I can always come back, when I’m a bit fitter and try and improve my time.
My statistics for today ... that was parkrun venue number 203. I was first in my age group and seventh overall on age graded scores. I had hoped that today’s effort would restore me to the state of being LonDone, that is to say, having done all the parkruns in Greater London. But now I find that another new parkrun has started up in Hanworth. I tell you ... it’s a never ending mission, this parkrun touring!
I normally throw in a video a the end but there isn’t one of Sunny Hill parkrun yet so I shall leave you instead with a few photos.
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