Happy birthday to me – again

There’s the official birthday, the one where we count the years, blow out an increasing number of candles and eat cake. Then there’s the parkrun birthday, the one where we puff and blow as we run around 5km on a Saturday morning, then eat cake. Birthdays always have a cake theme.

It’s my eighth birthday, eight years of parkrunning, jogging and more recently limping, along with quite a bit of volunteering, there’s also been cake in abundance.

I had no idea what to expect when I turned up for my first pakrun. Someone at the climbing wall said it was good fun and free, which had a massive appeal to my Yorkshire pocket. As Noel was on a first aid course that weekend, rather than lig around in bed, I donned my running layers and headed for Woodhouse Moor, just five miles away, but somewhere I’d never been before. This park was destined to become part of me, and me it as I’ve left lots of shoe rubber, the odd bit of skin where I’ve fallen, and quite a bit of sweat there.

I wasn’t completely new to running, but it was all a bit hit and miss and I wanted to improve, believe me, there was room for improvement. That day in March 2011, parkrun 117, I lined up with 274 others to do my first of what would become many laps over the following years, some definitely faster than others.

Over the next weeks, I dragged Noel along, who turned out to be rather handy at that distance, in his youth he was a 1500m runner and keen footballer so was quickly up to speeds I’ll never be able to do. Running became volunteering and post-parkrun coffee drinking. I’d be bouncing off the ceiling when I got home on a Saturday and only some of that was down to the caffeine.

We both became regular volunteers, then run directors, I’m now the event director, would you believe, though it’s definitely all about the team and teamwork, no-one does anything along at parkrun, unless they want to of course.

I always marvel at the parkrun mix, getting soaked or sweaty, or both, in the regular company of 500 or so runners is a great leveller. We all look pretty much the same in our running kit, all equal, all parkrunners. Yet we rub shoulders (in no particular order) with doctors, nurses, pop stars, sports stars, teachers, clerics, politicians, academics, students, stay-at-home mums, stay-at-home dads, shop workers and those without work to name but a few. And we wouldn’t know unless someone points it out. Sometimes, when I’m out and about, I’ll get someone calling to me, ‘Hey, Mrs parkrun’. ‘Yes,’ I answer, ‘that’s me’.

In just eight years I’ve made so many new friends, found myself when I’ve been lost in worry, sadness or depression, and, whatever the weather, enjoyed running around the park once described as Leeds’ Green Lungs. I’ve no idea what I did on a Saturday before that date in March 2011, but I know that come Saturday, there’s no place I’d rather be than at parkrun, any parkrun, anywhere in the world. Though of course there’s only one Woodhouse Moor and that will always be home.

If I could capture the essence of parkrun, pop it in a bottle and spray it around for all to enjoy, it would be a base of friendship, with tones of encouragement and healthy competitiveness, along with high notes of laughter and support, with hints of hard work and a whiff of cake, lemon polenta cake in case you were wondering. See you Saturday!

Hi-viz hero..anytime, anyplace

What’s a parkrun run director doing in the middle of the road, in the dark, stopping traffic and being generally bossy? Many motorists were asking that very question as they skidded to a halt near a busy junction in Calverley, a village with no parkrun.

It all started as we settled down to sample my latest culinary offering, a veggie chilli which I suspected may hit 11 on the heat scale. The blinds were down, the door curtain drawn, the beer chilling and the fire crackling into life, a cosy evening awaited.

Suddenly there was a frantic knocking on the door, usually a sign of chuggers cranking up their smiles. Noel answered, one look from him usually scares away any unwanted callers and the odd guest.

But no, it was a visibly upset mum whose car had stopped in the middle of the road at the bottom of the hill outside our house. And when she said stopped, it was absolutely refusing to go any further. There were three young children inside who were understandably anxious, and I don’t blame them. Some folk treat out road like a race track, while others hurl around the corner to get a bit of traction up the steep hill. This wasn’t a good place to be stuck.

It was one of these new-fangled automatic cars with extra safety features, such as the one that puts it in park when, for example, fuel runs out. We couldn’t have pushed it if we’d have wanted.

I was worried about their being another accident so dashed inside where my trusty parkrun hi-viz was waiting for its weekly outing, all freshly washed and not smelling of Woodhouse Moor mud. I grabbed it and was immediately transformed into bossy director mode, though some may not have noticed the difference.

It really did help as cars slowed down, probably wondering where the parkrun was. Thankfully one of our neighbours was passing and came to the rescue with fuel and the offer of a place for the children to wait while we faffed. We had offered our house, but the youngsters were keener to go to a house with other children and toys. They may also have smelled the chilli which was rather ferocious.

Fortunately the fuel did the trick, the traffic started to run freely and we returned to our Friday evening indulgences, vowing never to buy an automatic and also, as an afterthought, to go easy on the fresh chilli.

The next day there was a calmer knock on the door, it was mum and children, all looking happier. She’d brought us flowers and a card, addressed to the hi-viz heroes, which made our day, especially as we’d been soaked to the skin volunteering at that morning’s parkrun. No-one volunteers, or helps others for material rewards, but when it does happen, it’s very nice.

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

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!

Making waste into anti-waste

The wonderful Francesca with the Christmas tree she made. It’s now MY Christmas tree!

Yes yes, so I’m a grumpy old woman, deal with it. But I’m just fed up to my back teeth of waste, litter and our one-use throw-away society. There’s just so much STUFF and it’s filling our rivers, oceans, forests and land.

Here we go again, old Stripey’s going off on one, but when I was a lass, we couldn’t afford to throw something away unless it was totally finished with, so much less went in the bin. This was evidenced by the bin lorries then, small affairs that looked like a mini version of Thunderbird 2 with lift-up doors which received the contents of metal bins hefted over the shoulders of burly binmen (there were no binwomen). Not like now when the wagons are the size of a small house and the wheelie bins as big as a garage.

Now it’s Christmas time and I can feel my grumpiness reaching critical mass. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas, I love showing goodwill to all women and men, but it’s the sheer indulgence and decadence that upsets me. Last year we bought a Christmas tree with a proper root system, which we put outside where it has lived happily, though it did go off on one during the summer heatwave and is a bit bald, OK, it’s a lot bald, but it’s still alive so it’s getting trimmed and illuminated whether it likes it or not. We can’t be wasting it, can we?

It is nice to have a tree inside too, something the cats can knock over and somewhere to put the presents. And what’s better than a recycled tree? I spotted the very thing on the web page of the wonderful Leeds Wood Recyling . This Community Interest Company is the antidote to my grumpiness, it takes waste and makes it anti-waste, collecting and re-using timber that would otherwise languish in landfill. Actually, it’s even better than that, as they also offer training and volunteering opportunities and has created jobs.

The store, on a small industrial estate near the Armley Gyratory, smells divine, the air is heady with freshly-sawn wood and other woody aromas. So now I have my little Christmas tree and have sourced the timber for the raised beds on the allotment without having to cross the UPVC and metal threshold of a shop or deal with any packaging. Good grief, I think my grumpiness may have subsided…for the time being. Thank you, Leeds Wood Recycling.

The music lives on

It was a mystery. One string, three pegs, no bridge and definitely feeling sorry for itself. This odd-looking instrument languished for years in the dark store room at a Victorian school in Leeds, unplayed, unloved.

Then my mate Len spotted it. He’s on the support staff at the school, but more importantly, he’s a music-lover and a musician. He asked first of all if it could be put on display with the other instruments, but it made for a sorry sight and was destined for the bin.

So with permission, he took it away to give it TLC and maybe, just maybe, hear it played again. 

The strange instrument is a trench cello from the First World War. There were many made, scaled down versions of their grander cousins, using anything at hand, including oil cans, able to be assembled and disassembled quickly and played in the trenches, what music that would have made. It would have made a fine contrast to the sounds of shelling, shooting and downright bloody misery of war.

Of course the cello had to be played, but first of all, it had to be mended. With the help of internet search engines, a very clever and handy dad, lots of work and just £30, it was restored. Len doesn’t play the cello, but he knows someone who does, he took it to them to try it out, they loved it and didn’t want to let it go! It sounds beautiful with that sad melancholy notes that only a cello can produce. 

How Len’s cello found its way to the basement of Swinnow School is a mystery, but he’s hoping to find out more. In the meantime, while those who fought in the trenches 100 years ago have gone,  the music they made can live on. Thank goodness for lovely people like Len who didn’t want to see such an historic thing of beauty disappear.

A shoe for everything..I now know..

Shoes

I don’t go to the gym very often, all that grunting, panting and sticky, stinky sweat, and that’s just me trying to get my Shock Absorber sports bra on in the changing rooms.

Why sit on cracked vinyl seats which harbour their own bacteriological ecosystems and push bits of metal around when you can hoik barrow-loads of poo to the allotment and breathe clean, fresh air? Why run on a treadmill watching a screen when you can run outside watching the world, and get muddy into the bargain?

When I do go, it’s to take part in a circuit-training or similar class where there’s lots of little stations around the sports hall, each describing different exercises which thankfully only take a minute or so at a time. There’s a lot of jumping up and down, stepping side to side, juggling with weights and socialising with classmates. And as far as kit is concerned, anything goes, no-one wears fancy designer lycra, or if they do, it’s from the previous decade, maybe century.  And doesn’t everyone just wear whatever shoes come to hand…or rather foot…?

I have a good collection of running shoes, luggy ones for the boggy fells, less luggy ones for the less boggy fells, sturdy ones for the trails, which makes up most of my running, then a pair for roads, which I don’t do very much, and parkrun, so they are also my circuit shoes. I mean, why would you have a separate pair for inside?

Today I had an extra piece of kit to work with on the circuit and it was exclusive to me. I was singled out for this special treatment by the long-suffering Mike. Just by way of background, Mike is Mr Circuit at Kirkstall Leisure Centre, I’ve known him for years, he likes to keep a clean and tidy class and that includes the sports hall.

So I set off on my circuit journey, oblivious to the trail I had inadvertently collected at Saturday’s parkrun and was transferring to Kirkstall. When I looked behind me and saw a little mud sculpture next to a larger mud sculpture with a Saucony  tread, and a few muddy leaves tumbling from my shoes, I knew I was in trouble and may have to reconsider my policy on indoor shoes. Quickly.

Mike presented me with my extra piece of kit was a brush, a big brush, my punishment was to sweep up the mess I’d left behind and promise to wear mud-free shoes. Mud-free shoes? Is there such a thing? Looks like there is now!