parkrun tourism: return to Killerton parkrun

by Ben

Between Lolly and I, we have actually visited Killerton parkrun three times before. I did post about my first visit, way back in October 2014. Back then, I was in the infancy of my running; I’d run my first trail race a few months earlier, but was still very much a road runner. It was only the second event I’d ‘toured’ at, and I was very much a regular at Longrun Meadow at the time. In contrast, only six of my last twenty six parkruns (dating back to the start of 2018) have been at Longrun Meadow, and I’m predominantly a trail runner these days. With these things in mind, and the fact my previous post was more of a comparison between Longrun Meadow and Killerton, I thought it worth writing it up again.

Although Killerton is a parkrun that I’ve been meaning to get back to again for a while, it’s taken me 225 weeks to return. In fact, it only happened this week because of the snow. We had been scheduled to visit Severn Bridge parkrun: I was even on the volunteer roster as Run Report Writer. But then the snow and ice hit, and in a swathe of cancellations (particularly in the Bristol area) Severn Bridge was called off.

Everything went a bit white…

With Longrun Meadow also cancelled, it was time for Killerton to shine. They had announced on the Friday that they would almost certainly be on, so it only remained to get myself into gear and out in time to do it. Which nearly went all wrong – when I got in my car, after de-icing, my sat-nav suggested that I would arrive at Killerton at 8:58. Bugger. It would take longer than two minutes to change into my trail shoes and get to the start!

Well, after an entirely legal drive within the speed limits, it turned out that my sat nav just didn’t like small country roads (I’ve only had this car for five-and-a-half years, you’d have thought that I’d realise that by now.) I arrived at about 8:46. This left just about enough time for me to get my stuff sorted and head up to the start for the first-timers briefing. Sure, it technically wasn’t my first-time, but after 225 weeks, things get a bit rusty. There is space for 270 cars in the National Trust car park (free to members, no idea how much for anyone else, as we’re members.) Killerton are very open on their social media that car sharing is important, and they will literally turn any car after the 270th away. (They have a car park marshal with a tally counter.)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the weather, there were not that many first-timers or tourists of any description. As far as we could tell, I might well have ventured the furthest (Taunton to Killerton being a huge 29 miles), and there was only one person running their very first parkrun! It does have to be noted that I appeared to be in a distinct minority, with both my arms and legs bare. I was certainly a tad chilly at the start, but I was absolutely fine during the run, so I don’t have any regrets.

The run

Both the first-timers and the main run briefing had warning about slippery sections on the course due to ice, but things weren’t too bad early on as we crossed a snowy field and then dropped down along woodland paths. I went off a little too fast through this first mile, enjoying the terrain. There are a few gates and cattle-grids along the route, but they are all marshalled and open during the run. (Except the cattle-grid, which is taped off!)

A snowy start – but lovely and wide to avoid congestion!

Shortly after the start of the second mile (towards the end of the second kilometre) the course winds around the edge of a field (though still on the woodland path) and starts to climb again. At this point we had our first real issue with snow or ice, with a short section of compacted snow on the uphill that was a little bit slippery, but nothing too serious. We continued on for another half mile through the woods before emerging onto farm-track. While this is probably normally an upgrade in terms of grip and pace, we now found ourselves playing ‘dodge the icy puddle’. I was running well inside the top-20, so few of the puddles had been broken up.

My memory gets a bit hazy as to exactly which order things came along this stretch, but things definitely got worse before they got better. We had a huge puddle to get through, which while not actually icy, was unavoidable and very, very cold. There was then (or possibly there had already been, whatever) a stretch with more mostly unbroken puddles: though bizarrely, my biggest concern was the marshal who was walking down to warn us to be careful!

You can just about make out the finish funnel, and the huge field we run up towards it.

Safely through all the ice, the course returned off-road into the large field to the south of Killerton House. During the summer, these are often filled with livestock (last time Lolly ran, the lead runners were having to weave through some quite rowdy cattle in the finishing straight!) There was nothing there today, and in the clear conditions, I could see all the way to the finish from a long way off. I slipped past one runner early on during this field, and had expected to gap him easily, as he seemed to be struggling, but he made me work all the way to the finish!

Post run

A time of 21:21 equalled my effort at Penrose parkrun on New Year’s Day, the quickest of the year for me. It’s worth bearing in mind that Killerton is a downhill course, finishing about 120 feet lower than it starts. After scanning my barcode, I overheard a couple of runners mention that they were going for another lap. I’d wanted to make sure I added a couple of miles onto this run, so I figured that I’d try and tag along. There ended up being a group of six of us heading around the course again, and I got a lovely commentary on the course and some of the runners and marshals from Gordon Seward, a very regular volunteer at Killerton (he’s been timekeeper over 40 times every year since the event started in 2011.)

I dropped off the group as we approached the finish for the second time, and stopped to chat to Kirk Shepherd, a fellow tourist and Longrun Meadow runner. We discussed the course and conditions for a while before he headed to the cafe and I headed home. (As Danny Norman told me last week, I’m a part-time tourist sometimes.)

Killerton is a lovely parkrun in a gorgeous location. There are toilets in the car park, and a National Trust cafe, which smelt delicious, between the scanning table and the car park. There’s generally a hose available by the toilets to hose down dirty shoes, and this week there was a bread stall set out by the car park! Lolly has often brought the children down during holidays as it’s a great place for them to run and explore, but I have to admit that I’ve never been myself outside of parkrun.

Hopefully it’ll be less than 225 weeks before I return again.