Crystal Palace is my ‘home run’, and is also the first Parkrun I ever did. It typically attracts around 250-300 runners. The park itself is pretty large, covering the side of the hill between Penge and Crystal Palace Parade (site of the remains of the Crystal Palace itself, and the location of the famous TV transmitters). There are various features inside the park including a sports centre, café, farm, outdoor concert venue, hedge maze and dinosaur park, and the run – whichever route it goes, takes you past most of these.
Because this is a large park and often hosts events such as funfairs, the route can vary quite a lot:
The original route, which is currently shown on the course page on the Parkrun website, is a figure of eight. Runners start from the corner of the park closest to Penge West station (conveniently right next to the toilets), and run about 100m uphill on tarmac towards the sports centre before bearing right onto a gravel track which goes gently uphill for around 200m, and then bearing left onto a much steeper tarmac section that goes almost to the top of the hill, and can be a challenge even for a seasoned runner.
At the summit, runners circle back round the outdoor concert venue onto the downhill half of the lap that is about 50% on tarmac and 50% on gravel track. This downhill is where you really need to make up time, and the path is broad enough that you can go all out. Once you get back to the toilets at the start, you bear right for lap two, which is exactly the same.
The third lap is very curtailed, and consists of the 100m opening stretch on the tarmac uphill and about 100m on the first gravel track, before you veer left into the finishing funnel.
Two and a bit laps with a lot of uphill is tough, and best times are around 17 minutes. It definitely isn’t a course for easy PBs.
The last time I ran Crystal Palace, the course was substantially different. Rather than the two and a bit laps, it was a single lap, although starting in almost exactly the same spot as Course One. You begin running uphill on tarmac for about 50m, then bear right onto the gravel track, and bear left onto the steep tarmac uphill – the same as Course One.
However, about halfway up, you then bear right onto a track that runs behind the outdoor concert venue for about 50m (which could get slippy in wet weather), then bear left again, and run up a curving tarmac path to the top of the hill. You then run through a gate, and turn right up a short but very steep mud track to reach the uppermost terrace, and run along the line of the foundation of the Crystal Palace itself, past the impressive red sphinxes.
At the far end of this terrace, you turn left for a short downhill to the second terrace, and run all the way back along until you go back through the gate. You then do a hairpin right and a hairpin left, and begin the welcome descent that takes you past the sports centre. You then bear right, and run almost the breadth of the park, going through the woodland section and past the dinosaurs, before you swing back to the right for the final sprint to the finish funnel which is located right next to the start.
Course Two has been in place for a few months according to the event organisers, and it’s certainly a little more picturesque than Course One – mainly because the views from the top terrace, and the chance to run past the Crystal Palace ruins themselves are fantastic.
I found it slightly less challenging than Course One (and shaved 44s off my previous course PB) because all the uphill was concentrated in the first half and it was possible to make up a lot of time in the last 2.5km downhill / straights. However looking at the event history, best times over the last few weeks have averaged about 18 minutes suggesting it’s either slightly harder (or perhaps a bit longer – my Apple Watch, which admittedly isn’t always spot on with distances, logged it as 5.18km).
As Crystal Palace is one of my closest Parkruns I always walk, but it’s well connected to Crystal Palace Overground (about 10 mins), Penge West National Rail (5 mins) or Penge East National Rail (10 mins). There is also a small car park near the start line. The facilities in the park are good – while the Park Café seems to be closed at the moment, I understand there is a café in the National Sports Centre, and plenty nearby on Penge High Street. There are also free toilets right next to the start line.
Either course is doable for buggy runners, although they’re both steep and Course Two does have a couple of short sections on narrow mud tracks which I guess are hard. Crystal Palace also attracts a slightly higher number of doggy runners than most.
Overall, I’m very fond of Crystal Palace as it was my first Parkrun and the one I have run most often. The park is beautiful with plenty of interesting features that I use to help pace and motivate myself; the facilities are good, and the volunteers are super helpful (there was an issue with one of the scanners one week, and the volunteers took my barcode details and made sure my time was logged). It’s a very hard course to get all-time PBs because it’s so hilly. But PBs aren’t the be all and end all – and Crystal Palace is simply very enjoyable.
Number of runs: 10
Best time: 21:22
Best place: 22nd
Surface: 3 (mixed tarmac and track)
Flatness: 1 (hilly!)
TFL Access: 3 (nearest station is 5-10 minutes’ walk)
Facilities: 4 (café and toilets near the start line)
PB Potential: 1 (no chance!)