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Top five list of 'out-and-back' parkruns - Carl Marston's parkrun tour

PUBLISHED: 08:00 22 January 2020 | UPDATED: 09:46 22 January 2020

Irchester Country Park, home to the weekly Irchester Country parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTON

Irchester Country Park, home to the weekly Irchester Country parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTON

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Athletics correspondent Carl Marston is travelling around the region (and beyond) running in different parkruns. Here he heads to Irchester Country and compiles a top-five list of out-and-back routes

It's a cold start as runners and walkers congregate for the start of the 13th Irchester Country parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTONIt's a cold start as runners and walkers congregate for the start of the 13th Irchester Country parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTON

You can't beat an out-and-back course, for personal best material, although there are exceptions.

I visited the Irchester Country parkrun, situated just outside Wellingborough in the county of Northamptonshire last weekend, for event No. 13.

It's a delightful run, effectively an out-and-back 5K along firm, well-surfaced woodland trails, incorporating a small 1K loop at the top end.

But this is not PB fodder.

RCHESTER COUNTRY PARKRUN FACEBOOKRCHESTER COUNTRY PARKRUN FACEBOOK

Unlike a couple of the other parkruns I have included in my top-five list of out-and-back courses (see below), at Hackney Marshes and at Rutland Water, Irchester is a little testing - still quick, but with several little undulations to break up your rhythm, and slow you down.

To me, that's a good thing. A parkrun course that keeps you on your toes, even though you know what lies ahead of you during the second half. More of the same.

And so to that aforementioned top five out-and-back parkruns:

Runners approach the finish to last Saturday's Irchester Country parkrun, staged near Wellingborough. Picture: CARL MARSTONRunners approach the finish to last Saturday's Irchester Country parkrun, staged near Wellingborough. Picture: CARL MARSTON

1 Irchester Country

Although only established at the beginning of November, Irchester Country is already attracting big numbers.

A bumper field of 435 congregated close to the railway museum in near-freezing conditions last weekend, for the start of the 13th event, although it was only third on the list behind the 472 who blew away the cobwebs on New Year's Day, plus the 459 who appeared the previous Saturday.

The distinctive Normanton Church, jutting out into the reservoir, near the start of the weekly Rutland Water parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTONThe distinctive Normanton Church, jutting out into the reservoir, near the start of the weekly Rutland Water parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTON

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I braved it with a pair of shorts, although I compromised with a pair of gloves, thus resembling one of those Premier League foreign footballer imports, but without the skill or pace to match.

The surroundings are magical, picturesque woodland partially hiding the park's former glory days as an ironstone quarry.

Young runners nearing the finish to the Rutland Water parkrun, from March, 2018. Picture: CARL MARSTONYoung runners nearing the finish to the Rutland Water parkrun, from March, 2018. Picture: CARL MARSTON

A little less muddy than nearby Salcey Forest, which I had tackled a fortnight earlier, Irchester Country is well worth a visit.

Most people I spoke to, at the finish - conveniently sited close to the cafe, on the Royal Meadow (topical name, given the current wealth of controversial Royal stories) - agreed that this was not a PB course.

But they all loved it.

The misty setting for the Hackney Marshes parkrun, when columnist Carl Marston visited in January, 2017. Picture: CARL MARSTONThe misty setting for the Hackney Marshes parkrun, when columnist Carl Marston visited in January, 2017. Picture: CARL MARSTON

2 Rutland Water

What better way to celebrate a 52nd birthday, than by running a corker of an out-and-back parkrun at Rutland Water?

Well, that's what I did, back in March, 2018, making the most of a scenic 5K on the edge of Rutland Water Reservoir, at Edith Weston, near Oakham.

This is a very weather-dependent event, a bit exposed when the wind is blowing and the rain is threatening, but all conditions are to be embraced and conquered.

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True, I did feel my 'new' age as I covered the 2.5K from Normanton Church out to a red cone, strategically placed two-thirds of the way across a dam, marking the half-way point.

A quick turnaround and it's a swift 2.5K back to the church, leaving a little bit left in the tank for the subsequent brisk walk back to the car park.

Rutland Water remains the best parkrun that I have run on my birthday - in fact, the only one.

3 Hackney Marshes

They don't come any faster than the Hackney Marshes parkrun.

Strictly speaking, it's not a 'pure' out-and-back, because it comprises two 'there-and-back' sections, with a 100-metre gap between the start and finish. But it still gets on this list (I'm not a stickler for rules or regulations).

There's an initial 2K burst on the east edge of the main marsh, to the first turnaround point, followed by an extra out-and-back segment from East Marsh bridge along a dirt path close to the River Lea. The route is dead-flat, and mostly on tarmac paths, and it's not far from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park at Stratford, which is handy for any hotel stay.

The marshes were cloaked in fog when I visited, three years ago (January 21, 2017), creating a wonderfully eerie atmosphere.

4 Sizewell

Although described as a 'one-lap course,' this Suffolk coastal gem is effectively an out-and-back, heading north in the sand dunes past the Sizewell Nuclear Power Station and on to RSPB Minsmere, before returning along a sandy track adjacent to the beach.

It's an absolute delight, though the course is not as quick as you would imagine, due to the uneven terrain.

5 Millennium Country

Now this IS a pure 'out-and-back,' a pleasant 2.5K romp in a clockwise direction around Stewartby Lake, followed by a 2.5K back to the finish.

Held in the Forest of Marston Vale, in Bedfordshire, I ran event No. 3 last April. I will be returning.

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