parkrun on a prayer

parkrun 600 at Woodhouse Moor, my 273rd. Thanks to Ian Watson for the photo

It’s before 8am, the sun is just up and the dusting of snow on the Woodhouse Moor paths is sparkling. We have a decision to make, should we, or should we not, go ahead with our parkrun.

Already snow and ice has forced the cancellation of several events nearby. It’s not a big deal, we’re here every week, there’s a lot to choose from, or we could just head for coffee and pretend we’ve run.

But this wasn’t an ordinary parkrun, though you could argue that none are. This was the day of our 600th, and celebrations were planned, cake had been baked, lots of cake, we were expecting a good turn-out. We’d arranged for our parkrunners to enjoy coffee and cake in the warmth of Wrangthorn Church, which offers us hospitality once a month. It’s a busy church, next week and the week after were booked up for them, so cake from the freezer would have to be hastily eaten al fresco in the park if we cancelled. But that couldn’t be a reason to not to cancel if the course wasn’t run-able.

Claudia and Frank, the run directors on the day had to make the call. We trotted up and down the paths, Frank and I were like Torvill and Dean, doing a bit of skating to test out the slip factor. Neither of us fell, which was a bonus. Social media messages were pinging away, asking if we were on, but we carried on our inspection, better to be safe.

Claudia, who confesses she likes to err on the side of caution, took a deep breath, OK, she said, we’re on. And that was it, we were ready to go. With the sun shining down on us, melting the snow, we were off, all 480-odd of us. As far as we knew, no-one fell, there were even a few PBs, though not from yours truly, I couldn’t help stopping and chatting with folk on the way round, enjoying the atmosphere, grinning every step of the way.

We headed across to Wrangthorn which was buzzing with parkrunners scoffing cake. Jim, one of our parkrun regulars (203 runs in fact) a churchwarden, confided that he’d looked out of the window in the early hours to see the snow coming down and was worried we’d have to cancel, so he took immediate action, he prayed.

Whatever your view on divine or any other form of intervention, someone or something was smiling on us and we were all definitely smiling as we celebrated our 600th on a cold and snowy February Saturday. #loveparkrun

The sum of all our friends

The cake took some cutting…..

All the arrangements were made, the venue, catering and entertainment booked, invitations issued, responses received and a feeling of mild panic rising as I realised that there were more people coming than available chairs. Mild panic became moderate to extreme panic when I suddenly remembered. Cake. There was no birthday cake.

A party without cake is no party at all, even if the meal is breakfast. Just to clarify, breakfast is my favourite meal, I can eat it any time of day and like a Hobbit, can have multiple breakfasts. Unless you’re in Greece, Italy, or some other European countries, cake isn’t on the breakfast menu. But still, this was a birthday party and cake is compulsory.

Of course, I could have made it easy for myself and bought one, but that just didn’t seem right, Mr Kipling may bake exceedingly good cakes, but not good enough in my book, plus it would have cost a fortune, I am from Yorkshire after all with short arms and deep pockets, and I couldn’t justify all that packaging. Seriously, a plastic tray, a plastic wrapper and a box? No, just no.

A quick Google for lemon cake recipes, my favourite, a trip to Morrison’s and the ingredients were weighed out, scaled up for a giant cake. You Tube is a treasure chest of sparkling ideas, along with hints and tips. I soon had six cakes sandwiched together with the contents two jars of lemon curd and a kilo of buttercream. It was a heavy cake, supported by bamboo skewers to avoid toppling. I decorated it with another kilo of buttercream, white chocolate shards, various other sweets, though fewer than I started out with as Noel ate some, pretending he was in charge of quality control. It was all topped off with a stack of lemon puffs, skewered together like a giant biscuit kebab. Several dentists were on standby as it made its way to the party.

It was a very relaxed and informal celebration, spending it with some of the friends who have in some way, great or small, made my life better, happier, fun, that’s what friends are for. When I look at what I’ve done, what I love, what I enjoy, nearly all of it is thanks to friends, who have encouraged or involved me in some crazy scheme or other whether it was singing, running, climbing, skiing, starting an allotment, gardening, baking, singing, mosaic-making, drawing….the list is endless. I know I am the sum of all my friends, and I am so thankful.

Barbie, Madonna and me

Doesn’t sound as old when you say it in French

We’ve one thing in common, Barbie, Madonna and me. Other than the obvious, that we are all females with greater or lesser amounts of plastic to enhance our appearances, we are all the same age.

I never thought I would reach the age of…. I can’t bring myself to write it… six zero. It’s so old, so last century. When my grandparents looked after me during school holidays, in my eyes they were ancient, though they weren’t much older than I am now. Grandad wore flat caps before they were a fashion statement and grandma word a scarf that knotted under the chin. I remember once asking my grandma if she’d seen the Battle of Hastings, dates never were my strong point.

Barbie was born fully-grown, albeit in miniature, and in proportions so severe that a full-scale version would give the 5’9 woman a 36-18-33 figure and a zero chance of ever bearing children as she was too undernourished to menstruate. I don’t think that was her main concern, though, she is just a doll. An old doll, but a doll with so many personalities they should call her Legion.

I never had a Barbie, it would have been a bit like having a plastic twin who had been separated at birth and sent away on adventures, though she would be destined to travel in a suitcase. And she could never look anyone in the eye as the first versions had her looking demurely to the side. No, I had a big outdoor world to climb trees, mess about in the muck and make up games with my mates. What do you have to say to THAT, eh, Barbie? Oh nothing, you’re a doll and you can’t talk.

Madonna, or Madonna Louise Ciccone to give her full name, was a bit of a tearaway when she was a child, maybe she was my twin, separated at birth, I definitely came into the tearaway category, actually, I still do. From there, we definitely took different paths, though we have both been known to pick up a guitar, there’s no information available about whether she ever owned a Barbie. She is the wealthiest woman in the music business, has sold more than 300 million records worldwide and she’s still going strong. Good for us oldies, that’s what I say.

The three of us have witnessed amazing history. I remember squinting at our tiny black and white television to see a Neil Armstrong step onto the Moon, actually Barbie wouldn’t have seen that as she was looking to the side. There was the hysterical screaming at the Beatles who revolutionised music and England winning the World Cup in their grey shirts, well they were grey on my TV. The Berlin Wall has been constructed and demolished in my lifetime, the Iron Curtain has crumbled and the Bamboo Curtain has given way to free trade. So much history, and it continues to be made, though I’m not sure what the Barbie of 2059 will make of Brexit. Maybe she’ll team up with Action Man and the Thunderbirds to send it and its authors into orbit.

I can’t say I feel old, well only when I roll out of bed on a morning and creak a bit, but that wears off as I put on my running shoes, or climbing shoes, or ski boots, or gardening boots, or slippers, or shopping shoes. I just pick up the appropriate piece of kit and get on with refusing to grow old gracefully.

A ten out of ten day

Thank you, parkrun.

‘I wonder what the world would have been like without parkrun….’ Noel mused. ‘Well, for a start, we’d never have met George, ” I replied. ‘And we’d never have known what a ten out of ten day looked like.’

I first met George five years years ago when he came to Woodhouse Moor parkrun to volunteer, he was just 13. A mutual friend commented that for George, every day was a ten out of ten day. I’m an optimist, my glass is half full, but not that full, maybe an eight or a nine, sometimes, on a good day, I didn’t think a ten was possible. After spending time with George, I can confirm this is true.

George became our star volunteer, collecting tokens from parkrunners after their barcodes had been scanned. Then, encouraged by his mum and dad, he had a go at running. It’s fair to say that his ten out of ten day may have slipped to a nine-and-a-half as he sat down on a bench part-way round and refused to go further. But he got up and did it, did more and is now the proud owner of a parkrun 50 tee-shirt.

He knows everyone at our parkrun and everyone knows him. His arrival on a Saturday morning is heralded by shouts of welcome and massive hugs all round. He cheers us as we run, we cheer him when he runs, it’s wonderful. He’e even become a parkrun ambassador, speaking at conferences and the like,

Last weekend at our parkrun, we had a TV crew from Sky, who are recording a series about special parkrunners, no prizes for guessing who! The crew had arrived the previous day to film George doing all the amazing things he does and interviewing those who do it with him, like dancing and acting.

On Saturday, where we broke our attendance record with 721 parkrunners, he interviewed a few of us, while running, a challenge in itself. He then went on to the newly-opened 21 Co Cafe in Headingley , which supports young people with Down Syndrome, he volunteers there too. What a guy. The day was definitely a ten out of ten for me, I suspect it might have gone up to 11 for George!

Of course, George isn’t the only friend we’ve made through parkrun, there are so many more, and there will be so many more.

So when Noel asked what the world would have been like without parkrun, I’d say we’d all have been the poorer for it. Thank you, parkrun.

The power of the hi-viz

A hi-viz jacket has special magical powers when you’re a race marshal. First of all, it makes you look smaller, positively svelte. It’s true, one size fits none, so they’re ginormous, even if you’re not. Many’s the time I’ve worn one like a wrap-over dress, adding a few tucks here and there, it looked strangely chic….. no actually that was only in my head, no-one ever looks chic in hi-viz.

I’ve found the main hi-viz superpower is to help folk run faster. Slip on the jacket, wave your hand, shout if you have the volume (I do, I so do) and the runners zoom on past, especially if you call them out by name. Just watch them straighten up, lift their knees, stride out and speed up, pure magic. Or maybe they are just wanting to get away from the loud shouter in the hi-viz wrap-over. Same result!

Of course I prefer to run and be on the receiving end of all that encouragement, but injury and general lethargy have forced me down the hi-viz route of late. I’m expecting that go-faster magic to be in the fabric of the jacket and rub off as training starts for my big running year! Did I really say I’d train for an ultra….?

Arty start as I mean to go on

Day 2 Challenge – Do something with finger prints – and I’ve drawn with my left hand

Time to be arty again with the 64 Millions Artists January Challenge. None of this cutting out certain foods, I’m doing that anyway, or staying dry, are you kidding? This is my birthday month and it’s a BIG birthday at that. No this is a very arty challenge indeed.

It’s all very simple, every day I get a message through the magic of social media, with a challenge to get the creative cogs cranking. Nothing too taxing or time-consuming, just something fun. I did it last year and it opened up a whole section of my right brain, which if I’m honest was already encroaching big time on the analytical and methodical left-side. Now, where was I?

Last year was a revelation, one of the challenges was to draw with the non-dominant hand, in my case the left. Blimey, I haven’t drawn with any hand since school, which was last century, but it turned out rather quirky, so I carried on. In fact, I only draw with my left hand now in my little sketch book which goes everywhere with me. It beats sitting hunched over my phone, I have even been mistaken for an artist, though they were wearing very thick glasses…. But if it hadn’t been for the challenge, I’d never have had the idea to make a mosaic for the hidden fireplace we found when decorating the bedroom, and I’d never have made and hidden nine mosaics in our local woods to protest about litter!

64 Million Artists was started in 2014 by Jo Hunter and David Micklem who just wanted to encourage creativity in school, the workplace, home, everywhere in fact. They have a lovely mission to bring out the creative in us all, the 64 million is us in the UK, I can definitely sign up to that.

So every day this month I’ll be doing something creative and posting it to my Instagram page @stripeyanne. Why don’t you join me? Ten minutes of your day to do something creative. Go on, it could change your life!

A parkrun Christmas

Photo: Lizzie Coombes , another parkrun friend!

As I enjoyed my Christmas dinner, paper hat at a jaunty angle, basking in the warmth of friendship and good conversation, I couldn’t help reflecting that was it not for parkrun, I would never have met my special guests.

The day had started early, so early that we saw not one single excited child wobbling away on a shiny new bike. We arrived at Woodhouse Moor with nearly 400 others, most of us in Santa hats, tinsel and something sparkly, to run three laps around the park for the Christmas Day parkrun. If you think we were daft in Leeds, we weren’t alone, there were more than 93,000 parkrunners doing the same in 400 venues worldwide.

Our two guests were among the runners. Maika had been with us last Christmas. Our Japanese friend, who we have grown to know and love more and more since we first met at parkrun three years ago and now consider part of the family, stayed with us for a couple of days. She’s an expert in nutrition and loves all food, except mayonnaise, and who can blame her for that, so wanted to help make the meal – and I was happy to let her! Our other guest is also a parkrunner, she let slip that she would be alone on Christmas Day, so we invited her to join us.

So there we were, four parkrunners and James, my father-in-law, who in his day could have shown any of us, including Noel, a clean pair of heels. The conversation was interesting, exciting, stimulating and fun. Gifts were exchanged, food eaten and we celebrated the wonder that is parkrun. Who’d have thought getting up at stupid o’clock on a Saturday morning in all weathers to run around a park could lead to such friendships – and many many more? Thank you parkrun!