So off I went on my second parkrun of 2022. There was one slight difference though in that, since last Saturday, I have had my 65th birthday and am therefore in a different age group. I can’t honestly say that I enjoy getting older but I can be grateful to have made it to 65 and to be still fit and healthy and able to run. For my first parkrun as a 65 year old I was hoping to set a decent time and so I looked for a reasonably flat course on tarmac. Thus it was that I found myself heading up the M1 in the direction of Northampton.
Northampton is a pretty substantial place and has been for several centuries. With a population of 225,000, it vies with Reading for the title of the largest town in the UK. It did apply for city status as recently as 2000 but without success. For the time being it will have to settle for being just a very large town.
Northampton was already a thriving place in the Middle Ages. Northampton Castle was an occasional royal residence and an occasional setting for the Parliament of England. The University of Northampton was established in the thirteenth century as a rival to Oxford and Cambridge. It was subsequently disbanded by Henry III and the town had to wait until the twentieth century for the University of Northampton to re-emerge.
Most of medieval Northampton was destroyed in the great fire of 1675 but the town was rebuilt and in the eighteenth and nineteenth century became an important hub for emerging industries. In 1968 Northampton was designated a New Town and the population rapidly increased. The building of the M1 motorway meant that commuters could travel quickly to Birmingham to the north or London to the south.
If you were playing a word association game then the word you would associate with Northampton would be … shoes! The shoemaking tradition began in the eighteenth century - at one stage it was estimated that a third of the male population was involved in the industry. Over the years they manufactured millions of boots and shoes, particularly for the armed forces. There are still some specialist brands in the town although mass production has ceased. There is nowadays a shoe museum in Northampton. The town’s football club retains the nickname “The Cobblers”.
Northampton has a strong sporting reputation. Northampton Town FC has been in the league for many years, reaching the old First Division at one point. They are currently struggling to get out of League Two. Northamptonshire is one of eighteen first class cricket counties. They have boasted a number of test players. Northampton Saints are in the Rugby Union premiership.
The parkrun takes place in the centre of town at Northampton racecourse. This is something of a misnomer as it is a long time since horses raced around here. Originally it was Northampton Heath - a place for locals to graze their animals. The tradition of horse racing began in the eighteenth century and continued on into the beginning of the twentieth. Nowadays the place is a green open space in the heart of the town, home to a number of sports pitches and other sporting facilities and playgrounds. The racecourse has had a bad image as the site of a lot of crime and anti social behaviour but local people are trying to improve its reputation.
The parkrun is run on the tarmac path around the perimeter and consists of one big lap around the whole park and then one half lap around the western end. There is a gentle dip and then rise along the back stretch but otherwise the course is fairly flat. Northampton parkrun is a fairly popular one, usually greeting between three and four hundred runners. (356 today) We were fairly fortunate with the weather today. The forecasters had predicted us all sorts but when I arrived it wasn’t too cold, it wasn’t too windy and it was only lightly spitting with rain.
It was a fairly narrow start for such a large field and it took me a little while to get a bit of open space and run freely. Once I had settled into a steady rhythm I seemed to be running well and passing people for most of the run. I was hoping to run something like the time I managed at Bedford a few weeks ago and I seemed to be on target for much of the run. Maybe if I’d put in a big sprint finish I’d have made it but I was just outside with a time of 21:43 which gave me 37th place. I was pleased with that - it was a decent time for someone in the over 65 category. I shall try and improve it later in the year.
I should mention a couple of other participants. Unusually the first finisher today was a woman. Congratulations to Sophie Harris. Near the back of the field was Bob Emmerson. Last year Bob became the oldest person at age 88 to reach 400 parkruns. He is still going strong in his eighty ninth year and aiming to reach 500. He gives hope to us all!
My statistics for today - that brought my total of parkrun venues up to 240. I was first in the over 65 age group and was eighth overall on age graded scores.
If you’d like a quick view of the course there is some nice drone footage in this video.
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