Friday, 23 March 2012

Eastbourne parkrun course description: a runner's-eye view

by Martin Allen.

What Eastbourne parkrun may lack in sheer beauty, it certainly makes up for in technical challenge and beastly charm.The course is set in Shinewater Park, a purpose built piece of land, incorporating meandering paths, a nature reserve, a fishing lake, a sports pitch and play facilities. Unfortunately, there do not appear to be any toilets (or if there are, I haven't found them yet). This means the bushes get plenty of watering from all those pre-run anxiety wees. I just hope the dogwalkers don't get to see more than they bargained for, resulting in 75 parkrunners getting marched en masse to the local nick on a charge of multiple indecent exposure.

The park sits between a dual carriageway, a housing estate and a railway line and, whilst it is perfectly fine at ground level and certainly not an ugly course, it will never win awards for Prettiest Parkrun of the Year. But, remember that beauty is not skin deep. The delight of this parkrun lies in the intricate and surprising challenges that face the runners who attempt this switchback route.

This route is not easy to describe and I beg forgiveness now if you get lost further down the description. If, at the end of any paragraph, you feel completely lost, please raise your white flag and someone will come to rescue you. Alternatively, you may want to view/play the route here: Eastbourne Route Map

The start appears innocuous enough, in the middle of the park, on a grassy paddock area, looking due south to an asphalt path that you join after 100 metres. However, no sooner do you hit the path and speed round a corner, than you are diverted left off it, across the bottom edge of a sport's pitch and down into the first challenge - the ditch.The ditch is a self-named, sunken corner of the field that, by virtue of its position, the recent winter weather and the topography, means it retains a lot of moisture after a damp spell, or without the summer sun on it. For four or five steps you must navigate your way through squelching mud and grass, doing all you can to remain upright and to bear left again to reach a more stable, grassy footing behind some trees.

This grass path continues straight and north for about 200 metres, before emerging by a children's playground. You once again hit upon firmer pathway, now heading west.  An unexpected welcoming applause greets you as you emerge from some trees and magically appear back at the start/finish on your left. 'Have I finished already? 'No? Oh flip. What's that? Another 4.25km to go, you say? Oh, double flip'.

You are now running across the back of the start/finish area, having completed a small anti-clockwise circuit of about ¾ kilometre.

Continuing past, you head through little wooded copses, round sharp left handed corners and back onto another grassy stretch, heading due south once more, this time on the western side of the starting area.

Marshalls expertly direct you back onto an asphalt path and now you head out for a large, long, lingering loop. At the southernmost end of the park, you turn right, under the dual carriageway at the 2km mark and then right again for a long-straight kilometre, heading north once again.

Whilst there is a dual carriageway to your right, it is not at all noticeable as you run this section. The road is raised above and the noise on the path is minimal. The most disconcerting part of this area is the fact you can see lots of runners stretched ahead of you and you know you've still got all that distance to go!

Finally, after what seems an eternity, you reach the northernmost end and turn right, back under the dual carriageway. The path meanders again as you join a stonier, gravelly section that takes you past a nature reserve lake. Here you are approaching 4km and the fatigue is really beginning to set it. The shortest of short descents to a small wooden bridge over a stream is small respite, before you head left and back on to your original path that passes the start/finish, but, this time heading in the other direction, with the start/finish now on your right.  This is a real test of mental strength as you see runners funnelling through and you know you have that final reverse loop of the pitch and a trip through that muddy ditch again. 

Back past the playground and right onto the grass path behind the trees with the dreaded ditch waiting for you at the other end. As you approach you deliberately slow a few strides to ensure a good foothold, whilst retaining enough speed to not let it grab you by the ankles and drag you down into the mire (I am exaggerating a bit here!).

You’re running on vapours now. You pull on all reserves to pull you up the short bank, across the bottom of the pitch, right onto the path and sprint back towards home.

Overall, it works out about 80% path and 20% grass. Apart from a couple of very small undulations, it is perfectly flat .There is no danger of getting lost as marshalls and clear signs are there to guide you every inch of the way. The challenge of this course is that there is no respite from any downhill sections; it is flat self-propulsion all the way. Furthermore, add in the alternating underfoot surfaces of path, grass and (in winter) mud, the fact you pass the start and finish twice on your way round ,and the intricate twisting, turning nature of the course requiring technical adjustments (which compares starkly to the long, seemingly never ending back straight) and you have a really interesting and challenging little course.

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