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One of the toughest parkruns in the UK - wind and sand at Great Yarmouth North Beach parkrun

PUBLISHED: 13:08 17 March 2020 | UPDATED: 13:08 17 March 2020

Runners and walkers congregate for the run briefing before the start of last Saturday's Great Yarmouth North Beach parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTON

Runners and walkers congregate for the run briefing before the start of last Saturday's Great Yarmouth North Beach parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTON

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Athletics correspondent Carl Marston is travelling around the region (and beyond) running in different parkruns. This week he heads to Great Yarmouth North Beach parkrun, his toughest parkrun to date

The beach at Great Yarmouth last Saturday morning, before the fifth Great Yarmouth North Beach parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTONThe beach at Great Yarmouth last Saturday morning, before the fifth Great Yarmouth North Beach parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTON

It might be as flat as a pancake, or at least lacking in hills or steep gradients, but I reckon the Great Yarmouth North Beach parkrun is one of the toughest parkruns in the country.

Forget the absence of hills – the prevailing strong wind and the energy-sapping sand will slow you down, however fit or fast you might be, or think you are.

These are still relatively early days for the Great Yarmouth North Beach parkrun. Indeed, when I visited last Saturday morning, skirting Norwich and progressing through the Broads to the east coast of Norfolk, it was only Event No. 5.

Certainly, for anyone wanting to try out a tougher-than-usual parkrun, I would recommend a trip to Great Yarmouth, especially on a windy day – and most days on the Yarmouth beach are windy affairs!

The sandy scene at last weekend's Great Yarmouth North Beach parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTONThe sandy scene at last weekend's Great Yarmouth North Beach parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTON

You can always get a sense of how tough a parkrun course is, by the times towards the top of the field. And of course by your own time, if you are interested in such comparisons.

Well, Great Yarmouth North Beach will surely soon by gaining club membership to one of the ‘hardest parkruns in the UK.’

As yet, with only five events completed, it is too early to grade Yarmouth on the parkrun difficulty hierarchy.

A good sign: all ready for the Great Yarmouth North Beach parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTONA good sign: all ready for the Great Yarmouth North Beach parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTON

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Certainly, it is not as gruelling as the current famed top three, worked out by the SSS (Standard Scratch Score) handicap/difficulty system, which compares runners’ 5K times across events.

Woolacombe Dunes, in North Devon, tops this list – or it did until quite recently – alongside Churchfields Farm (Droitwich) and Whinlatter Forest (Cumbria).

Runners and dogs toiled, but conquered, the windy conditions at the Great Yarmouth North Beach parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTONRunners and dogs toiled, but conquered, the windy conditions at the Great Yarmouth North Beach parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTON

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Looking at a top 20, compiled just a year ago, Hadleigh (in Essex) is 20th on the list of toughest/slowest parkruns and yet, from personal experience, I found Great Yarmouth North Beach to be a tougher proposition than the route which predominantly follows the 2012 Olympic mountain bike trail in Hadleigh Country Park, overlooking the Thames Estuary, where you only encounter the ‘uphills’ in the second half.

The weather wasn’t great at Hadleigh when I visited, either, though more rain than wind just before last Christmas.

Perhaps I was in a bit better shape than I am now, just three months later, but I was actually three minutes slower at Great Yarmouth than at Hadleigh.

Runners in action at the fifth staging of the Great Yarmouth North Beach parkrun, on the Norfolk coast. Picture: CARL MARSTONRunners in action at the fifth staging of the Great Yarmouth North Beach parkrun, on the Norfolk coast. Picture: CARL MARSTON

Now I am not one for times, stopwatches, heart-rates, kilometre splits etc etc. But my unscientific research does seem to suggest that Great Yarmouth North Beach parkrun is a ‘toughie’ and worthy of a top-20 berth in the hardest events slot (again, on a blowy day).

For instance, I have only run two slower times on this mini parkrun tour (which now stands at 134), than at Yarmouth, and on both occasions it had nothing to do with the severity of the route.

It just so happened that my hip ‘gave in’ at Raphael parkrun (Romford), leading to a painful last four-kilometre hobble to the finish, while at Swindon (now Lydiard) I started eight minutes after the rest of the field had left.

No such problems were encountered in the seaside resort of Yarmouth, just a blustery wind and some sinking sand.

The course, though, is a belter, and (looking back) I absolutely loved it, though it was a bit head-down and grit-your-teeth in parts.

It’s two and-a-bit laps (that ‘bit’ was actually into the teeth of the wind, and so felt more like another lap than a ‘bit’), on sand and shingle (more sand than shingle), avoiding the dunes, the hard-surfaced promenade and of course the ‘inviting’ North Sea.

The run briefing mentions ‘adders in the dunes,’ which I think is always a good deterrent for any runner toying with the idea of straying into the dunes.

The event starts on the beach, close to the southern end of the Great Yarmouth Waterways (looks a bit like Venice, if you squint), and heads towards the sea before veering right to follow the shoreline in the direction of the Britannia Pier.

A couple more right turns and you are on a sandy path following the line of the promenade for nearly a kilometre back towards and beyond the start/finish areas, followed by a stretch along the beach to start lap two (and a bit!).

After five events, I note that only one runner has ducked under 22 minutes, and no lady has yet finished in under 27 minutes.

I will obviously return for another crack, one day – but I think it will be on a calm summer’s day, when I can hear the waves gently lapping, and not the wind blowing a gale.


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