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Adapting to change! – View from the Pack on new Bracknell Parkrun course

Sandhurst Jogger and stalwart of Bracknell Parkrun Dave Bartlett gives us his take on the recent changes made to the course at Great Hollands…..

On the 2nd January 2016 I undertook my first ever Parkrun having been introduced to it over a pre Christmas curry! Registration completed and looking through the Parkrun website it quickly became apparent that Bracknell, held at Great Hollands Recreation Ground (RG40 3EE) would become my local. Joining a further 204 runners I had no idea what I had let myself in for or the extent of popularity. Running 5K on a Saturday morning appeared to be a great way to start a weekend and get a useful measure of progress free of charge. Completing my first in a little over 35 minutes I was hooked, despite the fact that I was barely able to breath, never mind talk on my way around. Completing 20 at Bracknell, 8 at Frimley & 1 at Rushmoor throughout 2016 it quickly became apparent that Bracknell was the toughest of those within a 10 mile radius of home.

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This finding was strongly seconded following my joining Sandhurst Joggers in March: doing all I could to discuss the local options whilst pushing out an hour with likeminded people, most of whom actually had enough breath to communicate whilst they ran. Imagine my delight when I received an email on Thursday 12th January 2017 noting that the forthcoming run on Saturday 14th would be the first on the new course. Filled with enthusiasm I arrived with 411 (a clear indication of how this event has grown) other runners all excited to undertake the new course.

With the start relocated to the car park side of the lap, heading off in an anti-clockwise direction (the usual) we quickly learnt that getting a 25 metre wide start of 400+ runners down to a 3 or 4 person wide woodland track was never going to be easy. Following the old route to the fire break and heading up this to its summit (probably makes it sound a lot worse than it is) the majority were probably wondering what had changed. A short distance after the turn we were quickly able to identify a zig zag path that took us back down the incline to the lower level of the woods before turning back towards its boundary with the local estate. Reaching its summit we again found ourselves heading back down into the woods and heading for what would be the third climb in what was turning into a tough first mile. Breaking the woods we were then guided by a wood chip path across an upper section of a field (some rest bite for those who were already tiring) which we use to run the boundary of. Passing the finishing funnel we then ran the old path that headed behind the tennis courts and parallel to the football pitches.

Imagine our surprise when instead of passing between the football pitches and basketball court we were directed off to the right of the later to find ourselves heading downhill to the allotments. Yes, the downhill was nice, unfortunately it was short lived as this ultimately led to another uphill section bringing us back to the level of the basketball court. Diverting around this we then found ourselves back on the original course and heading back to the new start along the outside of the football pitches. Thinking that we were now familiar with the layout we headed off for the last lap and a half. To the surprise of most there were further changes ahead, instead of running up the initial fire break we were encouraged to run straight past and up an even tighter and windier path through heavier forestry (I’m still wondering how those with buggies managed it). Now coming back down the fire break we looped back into the zig zag wood chip at the lower end of the woodland. Oh, it’s nice to be able to see targets ahead as we zig zag around the woodland path. On the other hand it’s an ideal time for those who have overtaken you to give you verbal encouragement as they run back in the other direction looking for the woodland outlet.

All in all the course would appear to have got tougher (validated by the fact that there were only 2 PB’s on the day against 30 the week before) and there are a number of teething problems (the start and course extension by 0.3K) that need ironing out. All of that said it has now turned into a course for runners and I would strongly recommend that if you haven’t run Bracknell before you seriously consider given this a go. I’ll certainly be back, I do however wonder how many of those who are doing Parkruns for what I believe they were intended to bring to society will bother when they have Frimley Lodge & Woodley, much flatter and less challenging options. I look forward to seeing you at a local Parkrun in the not too distant future, the run report probably makes it sound worse than it was, give it ago for yourself!

In fact, Bracknell organisers have been working hard on some tweaks to the course. The start will return to close the original location which should reduce congestion early on. There are fewer twists and turns in the woods which should help with course flow and reduce finishing times. The latter will also be aided by greater course accuracy having been measured by a calibrated wheel and multiple GS watches. Plaudits to the organisers for these actions, they’ve listened to feedback from participants and implemented changes, very impressive from people who do this as volunteers!

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