parkrunのための3つの喝采 (Three cheers for parkrun!)

Maikaparkrun

I can’t remember the last time that the applause was so sustained and heartfelt. There she stood telling us all how much parkrun had changed her life since coming to Leeds and about to run her 100th, surrounded by so many friends and hundreds of parkrunners.

Maika, or to give her the full Yorkshire title she now deserves, Our Lass Maika, knew nothing of parkrun, mucky fat or the rain being so heavy it came down like stair rods, but was promising to burn off, before she came here from Japan to study.

She’d never heard of ginnels, dry stone walls, or dray horses. She’d never eaten Yorkshire pudding, rice pudding or pie and mushy peas with mint sauce, how can she have lived so long and not known these pleasures? Despite being an Ironman athlete, she’d never done a parkrun. Well, I can tell you, that’s all changed now.

Maika tells me Japanese people are polite and always ready to show gratitude, they are also humble, even those who are on the verge of being granted Yorkshire citizenship as she is, we’re not known for being shy and retiring, we Yorkshire folk. So on the day of her 100th parkrun, despite this underlying humility and unwillingness to be a brazen show-off like a true Yorkshire lass, she wanted to thank her fellow parkrunners. All of them.

The thanks started with cake-baking, she wanted to give cake to her friends. This was carried out like a professional, complete with licking out the bowl afterwards, rude not to, really. Then on the Saturday, she made a short, heartfelt speech before we set off on our parkrun. This is what she said:

“It’s not just running 100 times at parkrun. My experience and life in the UK have changed since I started parkrun. I’ve made friends and joined a wonderful running club (Hyde Park Harriers) through parkrun.

“When I struggled (I still do often) in uni or personal life, coming to parkrun and running with friends had very therapeutic effects. Thank you parkrun.”

All of us who know Maika responded with ‘right back at you’, most of us shed a tear. Maika has enriched our lives and taught us so much about Japan, nutrition (which she is studying) and running, and parkrun has been the catalyst. Three cheers for parkrun! Three cheers for Maika!

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Licking out the bowl after cake-baking!

Noel has a new superhero name

RubbishMan

Noel has a new superhero name, he’s not that keen on it, but it does what it says on the tin, so that’s that. He is Rubbish Man, he has the powers to locate, pick up and dispose of any rubbish scattered around the countryside as he runs or walks. These are very special powers and may save the world from destruction, but in a very understated and long-term kind of way.

Take today for example, we were walking in the Peak District, up on Bamford Edge . Whether we’re running or walking, I pack a small carrier bag to pick up litter, not all litter, and certainly not dog poo bags which are often dangling from branches in the woods, but wrappers, plastic bottles, little things, but I am not a superhero, I’m just a plogger.

Noel went one step further. Not for him a little carrier bag, he donned his superhero outfit, which bears more than a passing resemblance to his usual outdoor gear, he’s  a modest superhero, and set about picking up Serious Litter.

The Bamford moors, much like most of the rest of the Peak District at the moment, are tinder dry, it wouldn’t take much for the whole lot to go up in flames. So what sort of idiot takes a bottle of gin up to this beautiful place, drinks the contents and dumps the bottle where it can catch a few rays and start a fire? Did the same idiot leave a nearly-full container of barbecue fuel next to it? I assume a different idiot left a five-litre waterbottle. Idiots.

Fortunately Rubbish Man was on the moors, casting caution to the north-north-west wind and fearlessly scooping up the offending items with his bare hands and carrying them all the way to the nearest bin, which wasn’t very near at all, but he is Rubbish Man, he has super rubbish-carrying powers and I’m very proud of him.

Meanwhile I’ll just carry on plogging. My mate Bev and I are doing our bit in the village by picking up litter while we’re out and about. Leeds City Council has given us bags and will collect them in September on World Cleanup Day. We’re hoping there won’t be much, but with Rubbish Man around, there’s no chance of that.

I love the NHS. I love parkrun. So there.

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Thanks to Julie Haddon for the photo

This week’s parkrun was a birthday celebration for a 70-year-old, a special  septuagenarian who has a unique relationship with everyone in the country, the National Health Service. Looking out over our 570 parkrunners, there were more scrubs and white coats than you could shake a stethoscope at – and there were quite a few of those too.

There was a whole lot of parkrun love for the NHS, including Diane, one of our regulars,  who was born the same year as the NHS. Diane loves parkrun and expects to run her 400th by the end of the year, joined by her family and friends. She also loves the NHS with a passion, so much has been done for her and her family.

Personally, I think the NHS is the best in the world and will happily argue that case with anyone over a pint and a pie. Look at the big picture, we have a healthcare system that is free at the point of delivery, it’s there for us. Not many other countries in the world can say that, or if they can, there’s a cost involved, for those who can afford it.

However, the not-quite-as-big picture shows that like any 70-year-old, it’s creaking a little. There’s just over 65 million of us to look after, an increase of 20 million or so from 1948. And, thanks in part to the excellent work of the NHS, we’re living longer, surviving diseases that at one time were not survivable.

But no-one lives forever and as we get older, and we’re all getting older, we’re likely to need more care, and that is a huge cost both in terms of people power and money. The NHS does its best for us, it really does, but quite rightly it’s looking to us to take responsibility where we can. You know the kind of thing, eat more of the things that are good for us, drink less of what’s bad for us, keep fit and active, and hang around with friends. Let’s face it, why wouldn’t we want to do that!

For me, that’s where parkrun is a great friend to the NHS. Every Saturday, hundreds of people come along to Woodhouse Moor  , just one of more than 500 parkruns in the UK, to run jog or walk 5km around a park that was created by the Victorians to be green lungs for the city. Thanks to a gang of volunteers who gladly give up their time, they can do this for free. Then there’s the post-parkrun coffee and conversation which ranges from general chit-chat to the true superiority of Yorkshire and Yorkshireness in practically everything, but that’s another blog.

A friend who works for NHS England in the department which is promoting and supporting self care asked me if parkrun was the Next Big Thing for health and wellbeing. Definitely, I said. Not only does it help people like me keep fit and keep sane for the price of a pair of running shoes and a coffee, it also helps a very special under-pressure 70-year-old to do its job just that little bit better. Then everyone wins, don’t they?

I’ve run more than 250 parkruns, volunteered nearly as many times and am Event Director at Woodhouse Moor. I’ve also worked for many years in the NHS as a manager. Oh, and did I mention, I’m from Yorkshire? 

Running with my best friend

UsIlkley

About four kilometres into my favourite race and my calf started to hurt. Definitely something wrong there. As usual I was leading from the rear so there wasn’t anyone around to sympathise, just a couple of birds who were more interested in each other than a weird human plodding across Ilkley Moor (with a hat, in case you were wondering).

Then there he was, my best friend, waiting patiently for me. I could have cried with happiness rather than the pain I was feeling. Noel, my nippy husband of 18 years, had disappeared into the distance as we set off on the Ilkley Trail Race.  Actually everyone had disappeared into the distance as this is a race of two halves, the first half being up, and I’m really not quick up those hills. However, one of the reasons I love this race so much is that the second half is down including the finish, And I’m good at downhill, I’ve even been known to overtake other runners, runners who were actually running, not just those who stopped to tie their shoelaces.

Noel had paused to sample the al fresco facilities and was a little worried about me as I’d griped about a sore knee that morning, but wanted to run. I was in a gripey sort of mood, which instantly vanished when I picked up my race number, it’s always a pick-me-up to pin on the number, an extra bonus if it’s on straight, which is rarely is.

On the way up, before the Calf Incident, I’d been amusing myself with memories of past races and favourites. Ilkley always features, it’s only short, about 11km, but challenging and really well supported. Another favourite that stood out was my first ever Flat Cap Five on trails above Dewsbury. We were stuck in traffic and arrived after everyone had set off, so Noel and I ran together, it was lovely. If only we could do that again, I mused.

So there we were again, running together, chatting on the way, generally enjoying ourselves, because that’s what running’s all about, isn’t it? My calf was hurting so there was more walking than running, but I did manage a speedy hobble for the final straight.

After a suitable rest and vigorous foam rollering, I’ll be back on my training programme. It’s a Big Birthday next year, I’m going to run the Calderdale ultra marathon with my best friend. But don’t tell him, I don’t think he knows yet.

The Guinness is good in heaven #2

Us

The lovely Chris, who was celebrant for my dad’s funeral, asked if I would put a few words together for the service as I’d let slip that I did a bit of writing from time to time. I agreed and then realised I only knew a small part of his story and would have to do a bit of investigative reporting. By gum, that took me back.

The internet and social media are all very well and good, but at best they can only throw up a few factoids, or send you on a wild goose chase after all the people of the same name on Facebook and LinkedIn. My dad was on none of those and had never surfed the net, why would a man just short of his 90th birthday bother with such time-consumers? He was happy enough with his newspaper and his radio.

Everyone had something good to say about him, his sense of humour, his kindness in helping others and that twinkle in his Irish eyes. The best story came from Adrienne, his partner of 38 years, who told me about Bruce.

It must have been more than 40 years ago that a gangly 16-year-old turned up at Buckley’s, where my dad worked in the boiler room. Bruce was homeless, so my dad suggested he stay in the boiler room where it was always warm and dry. Seriously, it was so warm and dry in there, he grew orange trees from pips!

Thanks to my dad, Bruce got a job there. He lived in the boiler room for a year, slinging a hammock across the room when it was time to sleep. He was never late for work. Bruce continued to work there, continuing the engineering training that was interrupted when he became homeless, finding a proper home, though it probably wasn’t quite as warm, and a partner, as well as a life-long friend in my dad. He’s still working there.

We met for the first time at the funeral, it was amazing to hear his story in his own words, and also to see the genuine love and respect he had for my dad, and the gratitude that life could have been very different. It was a lovely story, one of many I heard that day.

Another came from Charles, my mum’s brother, who I’d not seen for more years than I care to remember. He is a life-long fisherman, he goes fishing every week if he can and was taught how to tickle a trout by my dad. Did it laugh? I asked. Ah, he said, same sense of humour as you dad, then.

We said goodbye to dad, but so long as there are stories like these, he’s not really gone, he’s laughing, joking in Heaven, where the Guinness is very good indeed.

Every cm² of Woodhouse Moor

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I’m almost certain that there isn’t a square centimetre of the path around Woodhouse Moor that I’ve not trod, pounded, tripped, skipped or huffed and puffed on. I have tottered along that tarmac in all weathers, including rain so torrential it washed the dye from my hair and air so cold it turned my hands blue, and that wasn’t my hair dye.

But this Saturday, my running shoes were ready for an extra special turn around the park as I stood on the start line for my 250th parkrun. That’s 250 of the 5km timed runs which began in that there London 14 years ago and has now become, pardon the cliche, a global phenomenon.

With the help of all my toes and fingers, plus a handy abacus, I make that 1,250km, that’s 750 times around the park, not including warm up/cool down laps, putting out and taking in kilometre markers and a few freedom runs, which are parkruns done unofficially.

I did my first parkrun back in 2011, I was doing a bit of running, but not with any great enthusiasm, style or motivation. Noel was on a course for the weekend, so I thought I’d give it a go, it was something to do. There were 274 runners, I couldn’t believe it, so many people turning up at 9am on a cold March Saturday morning, were they mad? Of course they weren’t. I felt like I was, wearing far too much clothing, bumbling around until I crossed the finish line. Wow, I thought, this parkrun thing definitely has something going for it, it turned out I was right.

As well as running, I started to volunteer on a regular basis, becoming run director then event director and watched parkrun grow in confidence as a part of people’s running lives. That growth was not just in numbers, as we now have more than 500 parkrunners a week and that’s with another six parkruns in the city, but also as force for good in the mental wellbeing of the runners and volunteers. Oh yes, that weekly get-together which includes a bit of running, drinking coffee and eating cake afterwards along with a lot of talking, often with just as much listening, has kept me well, mentally and physically.

I’m not saying parkrun is a panacea, but all the parkrunners I know are good people who give help and support as well as receiving it, because that’s what friends do. And I now have many friends who are or have been parkrunners.

Things have been a bit rubbish recently for me, just life happening, the good and the bad, the ups and downs. Then a couple of weeks ago, my dad died after a short illness. I felt so very sad, yet at the next parkrun, I could hardly get around because of the hugs, hands on the shoulder, words of kindness and support, shared tears of so many people.

This week, as I ran that same tarmac, I could hardly get around for the words of congratulations and more hugs. Even the following day as I was supporting at the Leeds Half Marathon, strategically placed at mile 10, shouting ‘only a parkrun to go!’ many of the runners were congratulating me on 250 parkruns, I was very humbled.

Thanks to the generosity of parkrun, I get a free tee-shirt to mark my achievement, it’s green. Emerald green. My Irish dad would have approved.

Opposite history

Hard to believe, but tourists come to our village and stay in the house across the road. I thought at 140 years, ours was an old house, but it’s a mere whippersnapper compared to Calverley Old Hall, which dates back to the 1300s, parts of it anyway.

The hall is owned by the Landmark Trust, which offers holidays in history. It restores castles, forts, towers and cottages for self-catering breaks, people like that kind of thing. If there’s something that even post-Brexit Britain will be able to offer, it’s history, we have so much of it.

 

While there is a comfy, quirky cottage for five in the hall, the rest of the Grade One Listed Building, in estate agent parlance, has ‘development potential’, in fact it’s on the Heritage at Risk register, where its condition is described as ‘poor’. Personally, I think that’s an understatement and the only thing that stops it slipping into the ‘nobbut a pile of stones’ category is that it has an intact roof and is more or less watertight.

Fortunately, salvation may be in sight for this hall with a murderous history (more about this later), as following a competition, architects have been appointed to revive the entire building and bring the tourists flocking to Calverley. Unfortunately before the work can start, National Lottery funding of more than £3million has to be secured.

As part of the bidding process, the Landmark Trust threw open the doors of the hall, handed out hardhats and invited the locals to have a look. I’ve often stared at the mullioned windows as I clean my own, wondering what was behind them. Now I know. A big hall, with fabulous hammerbeams , magnificent fireplace large enough to live in, lots of stone, dirt and an old toilet, just there in the corner, no plumbing, I have no idea why it’s there. Also there’s a smaller hall (the solar wing) and a chapel, complete with private gallery so the rich lords of the manor could look down on the hoi polloi through carved oak screens.

The house was in the hands of the Calverley family, who all seemed to be called Walter, so it does make storytelling complicated. There were good Walters, like the one in the 1300s who was a pioneer of the iron industry, prudent Walter, who drew up marriage settlements for his children in the 1400s, and murderous Walter who, in 1605, ran amok and murdered his two small sons, one of them a Walter, stabbing his wife. He was tried and pressed to death, but he had another son, Henry, who could carry on the family name, though he didn’t change his name to Walter. Pity. There are rumours of a ghost, seen by folk staggering from one of our three village pubs.

In 1754 the hall was divided into cottages, its gardens disappeared and houses started to spring up, including ours more than 100 years later. The site was bought by the Landmark Trust in 1981 and they have been working to repair and revive it ever since. There’s not a lot of money around for this kind of major improvement project, but fingers crossed that when the lottery bid is submitted in January, it will be successful.