It’s Saturday, it’s 7.30am and the alarm is making that annoying beeping noise reserved for stupid o’clock during the week. It’s cold outside and I can see goosebumps through my winter-weight Ron Hills, Noel has goosebumps on his goosebumps, but he is wearing just a vest, shorts and a thin layer of frost on his glasses.
Within 20 minutes, we’ll be lined up with more than 200 others at Woodhouse Moor, Leeds, shivering, but ready to run five kilometres as fast as we can. The same is happening at a couple of hundred other parks in this country and around the world. It’s the weekly parkrun and I’m about to run my 50th, which means that by clocking up 250km, I’ll get a tee-shirt. And not just any old tee-shirt, it’s a red one, worn by a select few. Ooo how I’ve worked for that, not available in the shops, as they say.
I first heard about parkrun from a friend, who described how folk who should know better got out of comfy warm beds early on a Saturday morning to run with friends and strangers, hand over a barcode, have it scanned, then within a couple of hours receive an email telling them how fast they ran, their position in the field and, using clever maths, how they compare with the very best in their age range.
Since my first parkrun last year, I’ve run through rain, snow, sun and fog. I’ve run better and faster, though we’re not talking world records here. I’ve made new friends and been re-acquainted with old ones and I’ve learned how to start a stopwatch, though not, unfortunately, how to stop one. I’ve also enjoyed some rather fine post-run coffee and exchanged stories of personal bests and those nearly made. What a superb concept, anyone can do it a real democracy – and it’s free.
Well, when I say free, everything has a cost, but thanks to sponsorship from the likes of Adidas and Sweatshop, all that’s asked of regular runners is that we volunteer a few times a year, which is hardly chore, though the getting-up time is stupider o’clock.
Today, as well as getting my tee-shirt, I found out what the sponsorship by Sweatshop means. It seems each month a parkrunner gets the Sweatshop Prize, which is a pair of trainers – and this month it’s me! Blimey! Thanks guys, I’m speechless, and you don’t hear THAT very often!