September is usually the month of the Ealing Half Marathon, which takes place on the last Sunday of the month. But of course sadly this year it won’t be happening. At least not in its traditional form.
However the lovely people who organise the Ealing half marathon have turned their hand to organising a couple of virtual events this month. First: the Queen of the Suburbs Challenge. For this challenge you have to run or walk in or to 13 of the many parks in the borough of Ealing. They have picked parks right across the whole borough from Northolt, to Southall, to Ealing to Acton. One of the best things about living in Ealing are the parks. I love the fact that from my house I can access so many different open spaces within 1km. I have already been to many, but this challenge has introduced me to some that I have never visited, and some that I didn’t even know existed.
It’s a a challenge that’s flexible – as long as you complete it within the month of September. So some people have done all the parks in one go – a run of approximately 20 miles (32km). Others are walking them with their families. My plan evolved – I decided I was definitely not going to attempt all parks in one go. I started with two that were nearby, and then another couple, and then decided that I would try and do them all on consecutive days…
But how do the organisers know that you actually did do the runs? For this challenge we had to upload our Strava data for each run to show that we had been to each place, and on which date. (Strava is an activity tracker with GPS for those that are puzzled.) Another aspect was taking selfies at each park and sharing them on social media. One of the things that I think most people really miss about doing ‘proper’ organised runs is that sense of community, and lots of people being together for a focussed activity. Sharing stories on social media has really helped bring back a little of that feeling. I don’t like taking selfies at the best of times, and I don’t think many people look their best when out running, but hey – I’ll do my bit!
Day One – Thursday
I ran before work to Montpelier Park and Pitshanger Park. It was a beautiful early autumn morning, cool and bright. I’ve been to Pitshanger Park countless times but although I’ve run past Montpelier I’ve never actually been in it. There are many mature trees making it shady and pretty. Pitshanger was lovely as usual, beginning to look quite autumnal.
Day Two – Friday
On Friday I ran after work, through the Bunny Park, which is officially called Churchfields Recreation Ground, to Southall Park. I have walked in Southall Park lots of times as it is quite near one of the places I work from sometimes, and is a good place for a lunchtime stroll. However I have never run there before, and my route took me through a new place that I had never heard of – Dormers Wells Moated Manor.
Dormers Wells Moated Manor is now a fairly wild space given over to nature. Five hundred years ago there was a manor house complete with moat, and a well was recorded as early as the 13th century.
Day Three – Saturday
On Saturday afternoon I drove over to Acton for the two parks over in the east of the borough. I felt a bit bad driving over there, but I calculated that running there and back would be over nine miles, and to be honest that sounded like a bit too much! North Acton playing fields were new to me, and so I ran right round them. It’s basically what it says on the tin – playing fields. There are some tennis courts, five-a-side football pitches, a large open air gym, and a big children’s playground at the southern end. And then the rest of the space is playing fields. A lovely wide open space in a built up area close to a major road, with some old oak trees and a wildflower meadow space along one edge.
Acton Park is more familiar because it’s another space for lunchtime walks when I’m working in Acton. Acton was opened as a public park in 1888, which must make it one of the oldest in Ealing. It has lots of trees, and a very classy mini golf place, which was packed on Saturday. I keep meaning to book to go there – it looks like a lot of fun!
On the way back everyone had to stop at the level crossing to wait for the train to go by. I have been wearing my Ealing Half 2020 t-shirt for all the runs so it’s pretty clear I’m doing the challenge, and next to me was another runner also doing the same thing! We had a chat about which parks we had done already. And just before I got back to the car I managed to persuade a very drunk person lying on the ground to at least get his legs out of the road and onto the pavement – it’s a very different experience going for a run on Saturday afternoon compared to early in the morning!
Day Four – Sunday
Originally this was going to be a classic Sunday long run (15km) taking in four parks on the west and north of the borough. However, by Saturday evening I seemed to have developed a bit of a left glute strain and was almost limping. Yikes! I think this may have been precipitated by some over enthusiastic ‘donkey kicks’ at my outdoor gym class in the morning, and then running in the afternoon. So I decided to slightly change the plan.
The plan still included four parks, but I drove to each one, and ran at least 2km in each. This meant that I covered just under 10km altogether but had a a short break between each section. In fact it was better, because I actually had an opportunity to do proper circuits of the parks, instead of just arriving and leaving.
First was Spikes Bridge Park, which I have never been to before, although I now realise that I have passed it a few times on my runs down the canal. It was very busy considering it was only just past 8 on a Sunday morning. Lots of people walking and running, and a group of young people getting ready for a cricket match. As I was leaving children started arriving for another sporting activity- football maybe? There used to be a running track here, which has been converted to a path, with 5 a side football pitches in the middle. It felt like a friendly park, people smiled and said hello as they went by.
Next was Northala Fields, which I’ve written about before here. It was also very busy, people walking, running, doing a very jolly outdoor exercise class, boxing practice on the top of one of the hills, fishing, cycling. I saw another runner in an Ealing Half 2020 top in front of me, but I couldn’t catch up with him to say Hi! Looking on Instagram later I think there were quite a lot of us out running in the parks on Sunday!
The third park was Islip Manor Park, which I’ve never been to before. It’s quite small, only just over 1km all round, but that meant I could do a couple of circuits and have a proper look around. There are mature trees, including a yew walk. Islip Manor has its origins in the 14th century, but the grounds as they are now were laid out in the 19th century, and were opened as public gardens in 1929. As I went round on my second circuit I spotted someone taking a selfie at the park sign – none other than Sandra from Ealing Half Marathon herself! She was doing the rounds on her bike, and said she had already seen lots of people out and about doing the Challenge!
Finally I went to Ravenor Park in Greenford. I used to live in Greenford, and go to this park fairly regularly. If I’m being totally honest I find it quite a boring park. There is a meadowy bit which is nice in the summer, and a large multi use games area, where people were playing basketball. In the spring there are very pretty displays of flowers. But overall it’s quite uninteresting really. (Sorry to those who love it!)
Day Five – Monday
Well, if the challenge began with a cool autumn feel it ended feeling like high summer! For the last run the temperature went up to 29 degrees C. It was so hot! I’m not a fan of running in warm temperatures – give me a cool, crisp morning any time, but once I started thinking that I would do it on consecutive days I felt I just had to get out and run the last three parks.
First was Walpole Park. As it was such a beautiful afternoon the park was busy, and most people were obeying the new Rule of Six, although I did see one group of about twelve…I have written before about the park here, so I won’t go into details in this post.
Next was Lammas Park. This park is the centre of the Ealing Half Marathon. The starting pen forms down the avenue of horse chestnut trees. And the finish line comes after a loop of the west side of the park. It’s not particularly hilly, but after 13 miles the last gentle slope feels like a mountain!
The next and final park was a Blondin Park, which I have written about here. I really like this park, it’s a shame it’s not nearer to where I live. Especially on such a hot day, when I had to run another 4km home. In the end I walked/slowly jogged back, and by the time I got home I was as red as a tomato!
Total distance covered = 38.4 km/ 23.8 miles. In five days. I’m very happy with that!
This challenge has been a lot of fun. I have really enjoyed having a reason to explore some new places, and re-visit some others that I haven’t been to for a while. I could have spread it out over more days, or not done so much each time, but I am very happy that I’ve finished it now! I can have a bit of rest before part two – running 13.1 miles in the last week of September.