We’re embarrassingly lucky in Milton Keynes to be blessed with two equally awesome and very different parkruns, and whilst running one of them this weekend I thought it might be nice to review them both in the hopes that some of you might want to visit them one day. (I mean, whilst running my thoughts were more ‘bugger it’s cold, I think i might be sick, why do we enjoy this again?, oh a PB’ but afterwards I definitely thought that this post might be a nice idea).
So yes, we have two. Milton Keynes parkrun (they got the name by virtue of being set up first – in 2010) is based at Willen Lake. If you’ve ever run in MK you’ve probably run round Willen Lake – it’s a really popular spot and home to loads of local races.
Linford Wood parkrun is the new kid on the block, setting up camp in 2016. It’s based in erm, Linford Wood, a wooded area that you probably wouldn’t know was there unless you were looking for it.
Both are reasonably easy to get to, and if you live locally are easy to cycle or run to. Willen Lake has an abundance of parking, but make sure you bring some change as it isn’t free. Linford Wood has some on-street parking near the start, which is free to use, and then it’s easy enough to follow the hoards of runners to the start.
The how many
I don’t have exact stats to hand, but MK parkrun is definitely at the bigger end of the scale. Averaging 300+ runners a week and peaking at 690, it’s definitely a big ‘un. With this in mind you need to pick your starting place carefully if you’re gunning for a fast time as the start can be very bunched up, although it does spread out 1km in. If you’re anything like me though, it’s a good way to prevent yourself setting off too fast.
Linford Wood is smaller in comparison, although growing all the time. With an average turnout of 175, to me it has a much more community feel to it. This may in part be due to the smaller area making everyone literally feeling closer together, and it might also be due to the wonderful warmth of the core team (of which I am proud to be a part of – RDing on Christmas Day last year was definitely my highlight), but it epitomises everything that I love about parkrun – community and inclusiveness. Numerous tourists have been known to comment on the friendliness of Linford Wood parkrun and I know it’s something the team pride themselves on.
So, the important bit; the route. Both parkruns are single-lappers, which is quite the luxury in parkrun world. Willen parkrun was once voted most scenic parkrun in the UK, and whilst it’s easy to become blasé about the place you live, I can see why. Taking in part of Willen Lake itself, the Peace Pogoda and the canal it really is beautiful and I love the sense of scale it provides.
The route is all on paths so no need for trail shoes and it is largely flat.
Apart from the zigags.
Love them or hate them, the zigzags are an integral part of Willen parkrun. Four zig-zagging slopes, which sap your energy before rewarding you with a lovely downhill. Look out for them 1 mile in.
Although based within woodland, Linford Wood is also run solely (pun very much intended) on solid paths. A few wet leaves to look out for in autumn, but apart from that you’re golden. Linford Wood feels pretty flat, but it is deceptively undulating. The absence of any large hill lulls you into a false sense of security but it is an energy-sapper, and the twisty-turny nature of the second half of the course can slow you down a little. Another beautiful course though and there’s nowhere better for observing the changing of the seasons.
I’ve spoken to quite a few people and there’s a lot of debate about which course is ‘easier’. I’ve personally run faster at Linford Wood, but I know the course inside out which probably helps, and there aren’t any congestion issues. This is one that really will come down to personal preference.
Here are the respective elevation charts if helps you make up your mind.
Both courses have the requisite cafe for post-run hot drinks. Linford Wood has a lovely, very friendly, small cafe where you’ll find yourself rubbing shoulders (literally) with people you’ve just run with – and the core team who will be beavering away to get the results uploaded. It’s a genuinely warm and welcoming atmosphere and it’s great to support a local cafe, who otherwise wouldn’t be receiving any business on a Saturday morning.
Willen has a bigger, but just as nice cafe, but it does lack the intimacy of Linford Wood.
Overall, we really are spoilt for parkrun choice in MK and I’d highly recommend either of them.