Last year my wife and I took up running to keep fit. We reckoned that the school playing field near the tennis courts and bounded by Darrick Wood would be a good place to train. We found it to be perfect. We were a little hesitant to run far at first and planned four laps of the track, just over 1600 metres, but we were pleasantly surprised that we achieved over 3,000 metres on our first run.
We have always been avid walkers and we often walk through Darrick Wood to get to Downe village via Farnborough. The walking had stood us in good stead to achieve a medium distance on our first run.
The track and the paths through the woods and Tubbenden meadow are ideal for running. The ground has plenty of give in it and it is much easier on the knee joints than running on the streets.
On my first run I did some stretching exercises for my knees and I heard and felt a tearing sensation in my left knee and I thought that I had done some damage. However, this was the sound of some old scar tissue snapping and I felt no after effects and my knees are much more flexible now.
After a few weeks training my wife and I got up to running 10k which we do at least once a week and sometimes I run 14k when I am on my own whilst my wife, Bernadette, is swimming at the gym. We are now tempted to join Orpington runners who we meet regularly on a Saturday morning but their training regime is a little bit strenuous for me and they run around the park at least twice as fast as we do. I shall be joining the veteran runners if I take the plunge.
When we started running our first 10k took us 1 hour and 25 minutes but we are now down to just over an hour for running on the flat around the track. But running more than 20 laps on the track is boring so now we mix running on the track with running through the woods and the meadow. Four times round the park and 10 laps round the track make about 10k.
Running off the track has the added advantage of some uphill sections for added exercise.
Whenever we run we always make sure to keep our hearts beating at a steady pace which is not too fast to be damaging. If ever I feel any pain in my joints I slow down or stop. We do not drink or eat glucose sweets on the way as we like to put our bodies under some gentle stress.
The main object of the running is to keep fit and to maintain healthy joints but another advantage is to keep our weight down without having to diet. A 10k run burns up about 700 Calories.
We particularly like the park in spring and enjoy seeing the bluebells and blossom on the fruit trees; this is our favourite time of year and it makes the running more pleasurable.
The running track is well used by dog owners but their pets have never been any trouble to us. We are often chased but we have never been bitten by a dog or its owner. We do not run so fast that we cannot exchange a few words with the dog walkers as we jog along.
The park is well drained and rarely gets soaked after a downpour but last winter was exceptionally wet and sometimes the track and the park were flooded. At one point I could see the damage that my footprints alone were making to the running track so for this reason and the inconvenience of losing my shoes in the mud I took to road running. This was when I really learnt to appreciate the park. The road running surface was too hard for me so I had to reduce my runs to 5k. I was also breathing in a lot of distasteful traffic fumes. I missed the company of the dog walkers and the jackdaws and the fresher air.
Our training went so well that we decided to enter into the Orpington runners 10k in June. The run was a much more strenuous one through High Elms Park. I found the steep slopes were just a little bit too much for my knees and I could not catch up with the time lost going uphill with a faster run downhill; my joints would not take it and I do not like to run through pain anymore – I am older and wiser now.
So we are back to more gentle running in the woods and the meadow to try and strengthen up my joints for next year’s High Elms special.
Darrick Woods and Tubbenden Meadow are wonderful natural facilities which deserve protection forever. They are places where you can find a little bit of nature and peace and have a little fun as well so let’s hope that creeping urbanisation does not undermine them.
by Trevor Morgan