02/09/2017 Priory Park, Bedford
Not to be confused with the Bedford Harriers Half Marathon held in December, the Bedford Runners Half (http://www.bedfordhalf.co.uk/) is a chip timed off-road race organised by a commercial company MCD Events which combines the longer race with a series of Mini Marathons for children held later in the day at the same venue. The Half is UKA accredited and measured.
The race is held at Priory Park and is around 50 minutes from central Peterborough. There is no parking at the country park but the organisers have a 400+ car park about 20 minutes walk away. This is a bit inconvenient but, although advertised as ‘limited to 400 places’ there did seem to be ample parking way beyond that limit. The race starts at 09:00 so getting there at 08:00 meant there was no problem with parking. If left later you could be queueing to get into the car park (off a busy roundabout) or even have to find an alternative location. Car sharing is recommended.
Priory Park is a small version of Ferry Meadows with a very pretty set of lakes surrounded by public footpaths following the line of old railways. The race start is about 5 minutes walk from the bag-drop and portaloos. As always; there are never enough toilets, and this venue had large queues up to and beyond the race start time. Given the relatively long walk from the car park, this is something I think they could improve on.
The race had 1800 entrants (from 2500 tickets sold) and starts in waves with each wave being escorted to the start line and started separately. Its chip timed so there is no reason for runners to feel pressured into joining the ‘wrong’ wave.
Unusually this race is entirely on gravel tracks, tarmac paths and a substantial turf section at the end - there are no road portions. The first mile is straight down an old (now paved) railway track leading to the only hill on the course – a straight up-and-down flyover over the A428 dual carriageway.
The second section is a very pretty double-lap of a second country park by the Bedford River, returning you to the flyover bridge again. This section is woody, shaded and could be slightly muddy after rain, but is paved throughout.
There is the potential for congestion here as the different waves of runners are sharing the same path over two laps, both in the same direction. There is signage directing which side to run on and which side to overtake on, but headphones and lack of attention mean a commanding voice is sometimes (but rarely) needed to keep runners in the correct ‘lane’. Peterborough Parkrunners will find this all very familiar.
Returning down the old rail trackway the third section of the course is a slightly twisty and narrow section to bring runners out onto the ‘signature feature’ of the Bedford ‘butterfly bridge’, which we pass but don’t run over (it has steps). A few more twists through the narrow wooded riverbank (again all paved, but with leaf litter and some muddy bits after heavy rain) and back onto the rail bed again.
The last section takes the runner within sight of the finish only to loop round the Priory Park lakes on gravel paths and then finally onto a mile of uneven turf and meadowland. This grass is cut back to form an obvious route but after rain could be slippery – it’s a disconcerting thing to find on a ‘road half marathon’ and there are the obvious rabbit holes and uneven surface to concentrate on, just when you are most tired.
Finishers get a technical T-shirt, a medal, banana, water and cookies. There were several coffee and fast food concessions at the finish area and a local foodie pub within in the country park for more substantive recovery. Results were published on the website about an hour after finishing.