Well what do you know? It’s a brand new year. It’s a whole new decade. And I’m still here and still running. Only just though. At the moment my training regime entails running every other day and maybe going for a walk on the days in between. It’s all that my creaky old body will allow. My main aim for the next few months is to build up my fitness so that I can take part in the London Marathon at the end of April. It will be the fortieth running of the event (I was there for the first) and my sixth decade of marathon running. The entry rules have changed so that I wouldn’t be able to defer my entry to next year, so it’s really important to me to make it to that start line.
I will be carrying on with my parkruns though, maybe every other week. I still have the target of making it to 250 different venues and I could achieve this by the end of 2020. I especially wanted to run today because it was my birthday - 63 today - and I wanted to mark the occasion. Therefore I headed off to North Kent and the Leas parkrun, which is in Minster on Sea, on the Isle of Sheppey.
The Isle of Sheppey is indeed an island. It is separated from North Kent by a channel known as the Swale. At its narrowest point you could probably walk across at low tide. You don’t need to wade across the mudflats though as a spectacular new bridge - the Sheppey Crossing - was built in 2006. This bridge was unfortunately the scene of one of Britain’s worst road accidents when around 130 vehicles ploughed into each other back in 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGGfP4K8hrY&t=47s
The Isle of Sheppey comprises around 36 square miles and is home to around 40,000 people. The southern half of the island is marshy and crisscrossed by various little streams and ditches. It used to provide grazing for the many sheep which gave their name to the island. Nowadays a lot of this area is given over to nature reserves. You will also find three prisons, presumably built here for the reason that it would be difficult to escape. The northern part of the island has a coastline which fronts onto the Thames Estuary. Nowadays you will find a number of holiday homes and caravan parks along this stretch. The one substantial town on Sheppey is Sheerness. Sheerness had for many years an important strategic position at the mouth of River Medway - a large portion of the Royal Navy found an anchorage in the estuary and there was a fort at Sheerness to guard the entrance. Sheerness was an important port in its own right (and still is. A huge amount of freight still comes in through its port) Sheerness is also one of the few places left in the UK where you will still find a working steelworks.
Just to the east of Sheerness is the coastal village of Minster on Sea. The name derives from the monastery that was once based here. The monks are long gone but you can still see the remains of the abbey. Compared to some other seaside towns, Minster on Sea doesn’t boast a lot of attractions. I had a look on Trip Advisor to see what the place had to offer and it suggested visiting the abbey, the beach and ... errr ... that’s it. It would be a nice place to live though as it has a spectacular setting on the Thames Estuary. This morning dawned bright and clear and I could see Southend gleaming across the water. Along the estuary large container ships moved back and forth and in the distance I could see banks of wind turbines turning slowly in the chill morning wind.
The parkrun takes place on the promenade that runs along the back of the shingle beach. “The Leas” is simply the name of the road that runs along the seafront. The course consists of a double out and back. There is one small hill on the course, a ramp you have to go up and down, but otherwise it’s pretty much flat. I fancied doing a faster course on my birthday as, recently, I seem to have been doing a series of parkruns on tough courses and in difficult conditions.
The Leas parkrun is a fairly new addition to the list, this was only run number 15 today. It attracts around a hundred starters each week (121 this morning) It was a nice morning for running - bright and slightly chilly - and so I set off hopeful of managing a slightly faster time than I’ve been running lately. The one hazard on the course - there were quite a few dogs running loose. There was a sign on the promenade “Dogs must be kept on a lead” but I guess the dogs hadn’t read it! I completed the first out and back in 11:30, which was quite encouraging, but probably a bit too fast for my current state of fitness. I slowed a bit on the second half but managed to keep going reasonably well. I crossed the line in 23:52 for 23rd place. That was moderately encouraging. I would hope though that there will be faster times ahead if I can just stick with the training.
My statistics for today - that was my 216th different parkrun venue. I was second in my age group and eighth overall on age graded scores.
I’ll finish with a couple of photos of the parkrun course, borrowed from their Facebook page.
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