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Someone recently asked me what was the best Parkrun to start on with their 5ks in South West London. The answer of course is that “it depends”.
Bushy Park in Teddington was the first parkrun. It is fairly flat and sheltered from wind to a degree. It is one circuit of a 5k course with almost 2k of grass sections. The grass bits are normally fairly OK in winter and rock hard in summer. There usually over 1000 attendees every week of every ability level from Elite Olympic Champions to beginners. Many children run this event (starting at the front as children do! – although you will be dismayed as many of them stay ahead of you!) It is well organised. Car Parking is best suited to those who get there early as spaces are limited.
The current (January 2018) parkrun course at Bushy Park is the third course variant. Originally it was anti-clockwise finishing at The Diana Fountain and then it reverse to be clockwise and start at the Diana Fountain – probably for safety reasons. The third iteration shares much of the common tracks of the first two parks but is alost a figure-of-8 shape. The changes were probably made to reduce wear on the grassy surfaces as well as to consider the safety of the large numbers of people at the start/finish and at ‘pinch points’ in the course or generally when anywhere near the road. In my opinion the second variation of the course was the best one; with the ‘wiggly bit’ near the end you could find that extra motivation to ‘go for it’ for the final minute or two. Whereas the first course presented you with a loooong 1km straight line to the finish. Now there seems to be more muddy parts to the course
Richmond Park was one of the first parkrun events. It is far from flat with a first downhill half and a second uphill half to the finish. The uphill bit is not trivial but neither is it mountain climbing by any stretch of the imagination. The entire course is fairly exposed to wind. It is essentially one circuit of a 5k course with only a short 500m or so grass section. There are 100-200 attendees most weeks ranging from beginners to excellent club member athletes. It is well organised. There is sufficient parking nearby in the park but a little bit of a walk from there to the start. The natire of the course makes it probably at least 30 seconds slower than Busy parkrun.
Wimbledon parkrun, on the common (Wimbledon Common), is flat and occasionally has sharp turns on this two circuit run. I’m never to keen on multiple laps, with Deer Park parkrun being my least favourite with 3 laps. Wimbledon parkrun is sheltered mostly from wind and there can be significant muddy puddles in winter. 200++ attendees of all levels. Car parking is Ok.
Kingston is one of the surprisingly prettier Parkruns and is not in a park! It is flat and sheltered from wind (remember that on a windy day when deciding which one to go to!). The grass section is about 500m and, like the Thames Path on which it is run, is susceptible to puddles…and worse. Though far from cross country or the Aldershot Extreme GRIM events, you might get wet feet. It is one lap but the second half is much of the first half in reverse. You won’t get lost. Attendance is relatively low, in the 10s, sometimes some of the better club runners take part. It is well organised. Car parking is an issue due to nearby residents only zones but as it starts at the Hawker Centre you should be OK as that has a fairly large car park that is not used much early on Saturday mornings.
Мy personal bet would be that most people would find Busy parkrun to be the best. But with this new course (though scanning some betting sites I doubt you would ever find odds for ANYTHING to do with parkrun)… I’m not so sure. And it really depends on what sort of run you are looking for and at what level and with which friends.
So of these which is the best? They are all close together so you could choose any.
For a PB on a still, cool, spring morning you would have to go for Bushy.
For a PB on a windy but dry, early winter’s day you would go for Kingston.
For a bit of extra hill training and a challenge you would go for Richmond.
For a group arriving by car think twice about Bushy Park but arrive early regardless of the event. Better still cycle there.
For novices and children go for Wimbledon or Kingston. Although every ability level is welcomed at every event.