Woolacombe Dunes parkrun in Devon is less than a year old, but already has a reputation for its spectacular scenery and “challenging” course!
Paul Cooper and Jane Rattue from Woolacombe Dunes parkrun tell us more…
Jane Rattue, Run Director: I had already run a few parkruns in my local park, having been introduced to parkrun by my son. Over time I progressed to a half-marathon and a few local trail runs, albeit not very fast.
So, when on a training coastal run, aiming to get fit enough not to embarrass myself when running a hilly trail event with two of my grandchildren, I spotted a sign, conveniently placed at the top of a steep step climb and the perfect excuse for a breather to stop and read it, calling for a group to set up a Woolacombe parkrun, I was very interested.
Running by the sea with spectacular views and fresh sea air lifts the soul and sets you up for the weekend, and I thought being able to share that with others would be a great opportunity.
What I love most about our parkrun is the spirit in which all our volunteers engage with parkrunners, they are friendly and welcoming and our Marshals offer encouragement and positivity to those struggling with our somewhat technical course!
We make a point of setting up early so that we can meet and greet tourists as they arrive. We have a strong working bond with the rest of the team, who are all proud of where they live and want to share that with tourists.
I am most proud of being known as a friendly parkrun and that walkers, joggers and runners often say that they can’t wait to return, even though they live hundreds of miles away!
Woolacombe Dunes parkrun offers a truly unique course in a stunning location. No wonder it is designated as an AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), that we want parkrunners to experience with us.
The route is hilly, sandy, challenging, fun! Most of the course is run on sand, either on the coast path running through Woolacombe Dunes or along the beach, except for the start and finish which is on compact track.
The start is mostly downhill with a couple of steeper sections, including the fun drop down onto the beach. The beach section is just over a mile as you head north towards Woolacombe village with views across the sea towards Lundy Island.
Then, of course, what goes down, must go up! The climb off the beach is up the ‘Dune of Doom’ taking you back onto the coast path. It was named by one of our tourist parkrunners and it’s a name that’s stuck (AKA the Gladiator Travelator).
It is a 20-metre high sand dune at the two-mile point, which some superhuman parkrunners can run up, while most of us resort to walking or crawling on hands and knees!
The course then undulates for a while before a steep hill and a final push along the gentle climb to the finish. But don’t let the reputation of the ‘Dune of Doom’ put you off!
While our parkrun is challenging, it is also rewarding and there is always a wonderful atmosphere at the finish where, once people have got their breath back, everyone likes to hang around to share their experience!
And we have a great team of volunteers, who love to hear what you thought of our parkrun and how it compares to others you have done. You’ll always get a friendly welcome.
For our post-parkrun coffee, most parkrunners head to The Porthole, which is close to the start/finish area with fantastic views over Woolacombe Bay. The core team head into Woolacombe village to Meraki Coffee Co to process the results, where we’re often joined by locals and tourists.
We believe the climb up the sand dune is unique to parkrun, but what is also unusual is the effect the tide has on the beach section of the run. With the Bristol Channel having one of the largest tidal ranges in the world, there could be a lot of beach to run on, or hardly any at all (you’ll sometimes get your feet wet), and the sand can vary from wet and firm to soft and dry and all kinds of variations in between.
Amongst our community, five members of the Purdy family join us most weeks, with Aristide (JM10) being one of our youngest runners and his grandad David (VM70-74) being one of our oldest. Which just goes to show that you shouldn’t take too much notice of the reputation Woolacombe Dunes has for being tough.
Our parkrun has had a positive impact on our community, with lots of people joining us who are new to parkrun, despite the nearest parkrun being less than 10 miles away. Our two local GP surgeries have become parkrun practices and we have two local sports clubs lined up to do event takeovers.
The reputation our parkrun has developed has seen large numbers of tourists visit our event, making up about 80% of our numbers through the summer, which has obvious benefits to the many small businesses, guest houses and campsites in the village and beyond.
One of the benefits I enjoy most is the community feeling at the events on a Saturday morning, whether turning up to volunteer or run, but always making time to head to the café afterwards.
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