Saturday, 21 January 2012

Hampstead Heath parkrun review (with reflections on my chances of competing in the Olympic marathon)

I decided late last night (always the best time for decision-making) to give Hampstead Heath parkrun a shot today. My reasoning was flawless: I've just signed up for the Greater Manchester Marathon at the end of April and need to start training up for the horror that awaits. Ergo, a four-mile run to the Heath, a brisk parkrun and a four-mile run home seemed suitably horrific for starters. It also gave me the chance to visit a new course and review it for this blog. Hurrah!

So, up I got, bright and early, bombed down a coffee and a bowl of muesli and set off. The route to the Heath was a bit on the hilly side and I got lost towards the end, so I arrived towards the tail end of the pre-run briefing. This was the 37th Hampstead Heath parkrun and there was a fair crowd of runners (94).

We were led down from the car park to the nearby bridge to start the run. The course is a sort of short-sticked lollipop where you go round the sweet bit twice. And the stick's slightly longer on the way back. Here's a picture I made:

The course is, as I'd suspected, hilly. It's also extremely doggy, with bounding hounds suddenly appearing out of bushes at the side of the path and disappearing again, so it's best to be prepared for the possibility of a close encounter of the canine kind.

The course is, for my money, the prettiest I've run on, with tree-lined paths (which provide good shelter from any wind), a pond and the bridge. I should also mention that there's the best hill I've seen on a parkrun course just after the pond - once you're at the top, you feel like sticking a flag in the floor and eating one of your Sherpas.

Given that the parkrun was sandwiched between two four-mile slogs (and also the fibrous nature of my breakfast), I'd intended to go pretty steady. The course was so much fun though, that I got carried away and ended up placing 5th. I then had a bit of a muesli-related emergency and had to run and hide in a thicket. Unfortunately, I wasn't carrying any money or fresh clothes to throw on after the run, so I also missed out on the chance of a coffee and a chat, but I'll certainly try to make it next time.

When I signed up for the marathon, I joked that it might be my last chance to get selection for the Olympic squad. I got the chance to scope out the competition this morning as Ben Moreau (who placed 24th in the European Championships and 11th in the Commonwealth Games marathons in 2010) was putting in one of his sporadic parkrun appearances. Just like the only other time I've seen him (at Finsbury parkrun), he took off like a startled springbok and I saw him for about 45 seconds total before he vanished from view. Click here to view parkrun stats for the speedy whippet.

Our head-to-head record currently stands thus:

Best time19:10 (PB)15:07 (course record, Finsbury)
Worst time19:5815:44 (course record, Hampstead Heath)
Best position4th1st
Worst position5th1st
Number of post-race
1Probably none

Thus far, it seems that Oxford graduate Moreau (who also has a proper job and all his hair) has the upper hand. However, to quote Revelations: "So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen", so I may yet have that place in the squad off him.

Back to the real world: apart from being a very pretty (if somewhat hilly and doggy) course, Hampstead Heath was well organised, very well signposted and definitely one I'll visit again.

Nb. one final note of warning: I took my barcode round in a zip-pocket in my sweatband, big mistake - it all but dissolved. Don't do what Dan Don't does.


I commend your attention to Under 2 hours, which has some excellent accounts of dogs on the Heath (nothing about dogging on the Heath, search though I might).

EDIT (22/01/12): Also, check out Ben Moreau's blog!


  1. Another utterly brilliant post. Dan you are a comic genius. I can't help but cry laughing.

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  3. By the way, I have a bruise on my shin from smacking into a dog that turned at the last minute. I hope he was ok.

    1. Dogs are pretty robust (so long as it wasn't a chihuahua or something). If you didn't come to grief, I can't imagine he was harmed.

  4. Ben, I think you need to give Dan a bit of a chance next time. And certainly no more dogging from you, sorry I mean dog kicking.

  5. Love it! Try ally pally parkrun next. The hills are evil there too. But the competition may be less fierce. Gabi (Heathside )

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  7. Dan, come to Richmond - I'd love to read an account by you of our gloriously beautiful but challenging (very hilly) course. Also there are lots of loos in case of muesli-based emergencies as well as tree-lined paths, deer, parakeets and a friendly bunch of people


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