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Top seven list of 'well-educated' parkruns

PUBLISHED: 10:00 15 January 2020

A good sign: the weekly Soham Village College parkrun

A good sign: the weekly Soham Village College parkrun

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Athletics correspondent Carl Marston is travelling around the region (and beyond) running in different parkruns. Here he heads to Soham Village College and compiles a top seven 'seats of learning' parkruns

Runners and walkers mingle before the start of the Soham Village College parkrun, in Cambridgeshire. Picture: CARL MARSTONRunners and walkers mingle before the start of the Soham Village College parkrun, in Cambridgeshire. Picture: CARL MARSTON

Feeling in need of some education and, perhaps of more relevance, because it was just half-an-hour's drive from home, I paid a first visit to the Soham Village College parkrun on a windy last Saturday morning in East Cambridgeshire.

There are many parkruns, up and down the UK, which are based at schools, universities or other seats of learning.

I have been to my fair share, hence the means to compile a top seven list of 'well-educated' parkruns.

I like them. Nearly all of them tend to provide flat and so potentially fast courses, using the school playing fields or university sports pitches.

Runners keep their balance on the wet grass at the Soham Village College parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTONRunners keep their balance on the wet grass at the Soham Village College parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTON

A lot of grass, sometimes very muddy, and often multi-lapped within sight of the school buildings, the views might not always be spectacular, and the routes not always the most interesting, but they are all attractive in their own 'educated' way.

- Top seven list of one-lap parkruns

The venue for the Soham Village College parkrun, which held its eighth event on Saturday. Picture: CARL MARSTONThe venue for the Soham Village College parkrun, which held its eighth event on Saturday. Picture: CARL MARSTON

And, perhaps because they are based at schools, these parkruns always seem to attract a young crowd - maybe that's just a figment of my imagination, but I usually feel my age when I roll up to one of these scholarly events.

Soham Village College was no exception, with plenty of enthusiastic junior athletes ready to show us old-stagers a clean pair of heels.

So here's that top seven.

Runners relish a cross country section around the perimter of farm fields at the weekly Thomas Mills parkrun. Picture: THOMAS MILLS PARKRUN FACEBOOKRunners relish a cross country section around the perimter of farm fields at the weekly Thomas Mills parkrun. Picture: THOMAS MILLS PARKRUN FACEBOOK

1 Soham Village College (Cambs)

Last Saturday was only the eighth staging of this event, since its inception in late November.

True to form, record numbers turned up, just as they had done at most of my other recent parkrun visits (including Roding Valley, Cyclopark, Shorne Woods and Salcey Forest) - parkrun is going from strength-to-strength, and setting new records each week.

Many of the 207-strong field at Soham Village College were youngsters of school-age, an encouraging sight, and just as heartening were the 34 sampling their first-ever parkruns.

Runners assemble for the start of the first-ever Thomas Mills parkrun, in Framlingham. Picture: CARL MARSTONRunners assemble for the start of the first-ever Thomas Mills parkrun, in Framlingham. Picture: CARL MARSTON

The course was indeed flat, with a mixture of grass (sports fields) and tarmac (weaving in and out of the school buildings), comprising three-and-a-small-bit laps.

Muddy in places, especially on the tight corners, and a bit blowy in parts, but a good 'learning curve' for all of us, even the oldest participant - 86-year-old George Ginn.

Soham Village College can traces its origins back to 1686 and the formation of Soham Free School, which later became Soham Grammar School and eventually merged with the community-based village college in 1972.

Lecture over.

The finish funnel at the low-key Harcourt Hill parkrun. at Oxford Brookes University. Picture: CARL MARSTONThe finish funnel at the low-key Harcourt Hill parkrun. at Oxford Brookes University. Picture: CARL MARSTON

On a personal note, I learnt that I need to run a few more miles in training - and you are never too old to learn!

2 Thomas Mills (Suffolk)

I attended the inaugural event, last June, a slick two-lapper based at Thomas Mills High School on the edge of Framlingham.

Runners in the finishing funnel at the Colney Lane parkrun, held at UEA in Norwich. Picture: CARL MARSTONRunners in the finishing funnel at the Colney Lane parkrun, held at UEA in Norwich. Picture: CARL MARSTON

It's a good test because, in addition to the usual loop around school playing fields, the course also incorporates a circuit (often a muddy trudge) around farmland. The uneven terrain around the edge of the field ensures you keep your eyes firmly fixed on the ground ahead of you.

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A good cross country twist, if you like.

The school can traces its origins back to the 18th century and the Baptist philanthropist, Thomas Mills, who left money in his will to 'further the education of the children in Framlingham'

Runners and walkers assemble for the Soham Village College parkrun last Saturday. Picture: SOHAM VILLAGE COLLEGE PARKRUN FACEBOOKRunners and walkers assemble for the Soham Village College parkrun last Saturday. Picture: SOHAM VILLAGE COLLEGE PARKRUN FACEBOOK

parkrunners will also find it an enlightening experience.

3 Harcourt Hill (Oxfordshire)

Stepping up, in terms of the age bracket, I visited Harcourt Hill last October, held on a campus of Oxford Brookes University, on the western perimeter of Oxford.

If you like sports pitches, this is the parkrun for you - each of the two laps takes in seven grass pitches, plus the edge of a golf course.

A real university experience, heightened by the use of wooden posts to show the course route.

4 Colney Lane (Norfolk)

Another university gem, I used to toil around cross country events at the University of East Anglia, so the course holds no surprises to me - an initial loop of sports pitches, followed by two longer laps on trail paths and with some short but steep climbs to boot.

It snowed when I visited!

5 Great Cornard (Suffolk)

The ultimate in school playing fields, held from Great Cornard Sports Centre next to Thomas Gainsborough School.

If the weather is kind, this is personal best material.

6 Ellenbrook Fields (Herts)

I visited when there was ice on the ground, last February. Skates were not required, however, and it was terrific fun.

The course is a one-lap affair, based at the University of Hertfordshire Sports Village, De Havilland Campus, in Hatfield, although this isn't one of those typical sports pitch challenges.

It's dead flat, at Ellenbrook Fields on the old Hatfield Aerodrome. Another education.

7 Swaffham (Norfolk)

Another of the traditional school playing field routes, staged from The Nicholas Hamond Academy Sports Fields in Swaffham, Norfolk.

I have fond memories of my visit, in July of 2018, because I was dangerously near the front of the field, not a sensation I am familiar with these days.

It's a small, friendly event, starting from just inside the school field gate, next to the junior school, with the promise of three flat laps around grass playing fields, with a few stretches between trees and lots of cones.

Highly recommended.

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