When you become a super sad running geek (like me), one of the requirements of a potential holiday has to be a local parkrun. In fact, there is even a designated parkrun travel agent who specialises in exotic international parkrun tourism (they’re called Exodus travels if you’re interested). My latest holiday tourism wasn’t international, or overly exotic, but it was very beautiful. So I thought I’d do a little tourist’s review, in case you’re thinking of a trip to the Norfolk coast anytime soon and might be persuaded to give it a go.
Set in the gorgeous Holkham Estate in Wells-On-The-Sea, we drove through the impressive gates just in time to spot the famous herd of deer running across the grounds. Whilst I’m assuming this a regular parkrun warm-up for them, I can’t guarantee that you’ll see it every week.
This was our second visit to Holkham parkrun and having got a quick time previously I was keen to give it my best shot. So I went all tactical. This is a hilly course, so some revision of the elevation and a game-plan is recommended. But despite the hills I’ve found it to be a quick course, so if you’re looking for a holiday PB don’t be dissuaded. The course itself is shaped like a coffin (no joke) and very simply the first half is up-hill, and the second half is largely down-hill.
Boring information: parking is within the estate and marshals will helpfully guide you in; it’s also free! It’s a relatively small parkrun, with an average of 100 runners in winter, and 200-250 in summer. I think this is probably due to the high numbers of holiday-makers (like us) to the area; but it’s great because being January I came in the top 100 for the first time ever! The course is just one lap (I love that, so much nicer mentally) along tracks the whole way, most of which is concrete path, with other areas that are a hard-core; I’d say road shoes should be fine in most weathers. It’s a great start with Holkham Hall as a backdrop before you head off into a slightly more rural part of the estate. The first 500m flies by, and then you settle into the steady uphill track.
The first section of uphill isn’t too bad, I like to slot in behind some other runners so I can’t see the whole thing stretching out and keep my head down. But beware! As you finish the first hill, this is not the end! I made this mistake on my first visit, having vaguely looked at the elevation profile in advance. Be prepared for a second, steeper, longer uphill stretch which finishes at just under the half way mark. My advice for 0.5-1.5 miles is to shorten your stride, lean forward slightly, and drop your pace to something comfortable for the elevation. The downhill sections are fast, so if you’ve got fuel left in the tank it is easy to get the pace back again. First time round I despaired at my average pace by half-way, thinking I’d never get it back, but then I flew down the final mile to finish in a time I was really pleased with.
Second big tip: The second half is great, you begin to open up your stride, power downhill, and you think it’s all easy from here. Awesome. But it is not all downhill. There is a little surprise (spoiler alert) as you turn the corner at 2.3 miles: The Obelisk. It is quite steep but doesn’t last too long so if you’re expecting it, it isn’t too bad. As you pass the dreaded Obelisk, you can finally breathe a sigh of relief, put your game face on, and enjoy the beautiful downhill race back to the Hall, and the finish line. There is literally nothing better in life than a downhill finish at a parkrun. Well, maybe a few things. But as I sprinted my way down the finish a whole minute quicker than last time, and bagged myself a cheeky PB, I’d say I was pretty damn happy!
Obviously holiday parkruns aren’t all about PBs. This is a truly special location, set in ancient grounds with beautifully maintained green lawns and trees in lovely symmetrical rows. Things to look out for include sheep, deer, the Thatched Ice House, the Obelisk, and of course the stunning Holkham Hall itself. Apparently, there’s a pretty fancy café for your post-run beverages, and the entrance is directly opposite Holkham Beach so in summer you can even cool off in the sea. So yeah, it’s a pretty great parkrun. In fact I think it is my favourite one so far.