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!

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? 

Every cm² of Woodhouse Moor

250

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.

Running, it’s good for your mental health

 

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Thank you to Lizzie Coombes for the photo

 

Today is World Mental Health Day.  It’s a day to focus on what’s making us tick, and whether that ticking is working properly, or maybe it needs a bit of adjustment. It’s a powerful thing, the mind, great when it’s working well, debilitating when it’s not.

I love the NHS, I’ve worked in it for many years, I’ve been a patient all my life, it serves us well, particularly in emergencies and when there’s serious physical illness. But, and you know what they say, ignore everything before the ‘but’, when it comes to mental health services, the NHS is playing catch-up.

According to the Kings Fund, an excellent heath and social care think tank, three in four people with a mental health problem receive little or no treatment for their problem. If they are severely affected, they die up to 20 years before their time. Its report says mental health problems account for 23 per cent of the burden of disease in the UK, yet spending on mental health services is just 11 per cent of the NHS budget. Now there’s lots of caveats to those statements, the NHS, its funding and commissioning is complex, more layers than a very large onion, and peeling it can definitely bring tears to your eyes. I know I have worked in commissioning for many years and shed many a tear. But it is a fact that NHS support for mental well-being is severely under-resourced and under-funded.

The onus is therefore on individuals, where they are able, to help themselves as much as they can and for others to be in a position to provide that help. It’s what we do as humans, we try and look out for each other.

Top of my list for mental wellbeing is exercise, whether it’s running, skiing, climbing, hiking, yoga, circuit training or whatever else gets me a sweat on and the endorphins going. Then there’s talking, I have a lovely husband and friends who give me a good listening to.

But if I was to name just one activity that has made me smile when I felt like crying, held my hand when I felt lonely, opened up a whole new world of friendship and given me the chance to help others when they are going through bad times, its parkrun. The weekend just gone was International parkrun Day and at Woodhouse Moor,  we celebrated our tenth birthday, there were more than 600 runners and volunteers enjoying a 5km run, jog or walk. If I could capture and bottle the joy and camaraderie of that day, or indeed any Saturday morning, I would give it to the NHS to distribute free to everyone. Wouldn’t that be great?

It’s Mrs parkrun!

 

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Me being a Mrs parkrun. Thanks to Stephen Morris for the photo

There I was, minding everybody’s business. Well, I was marshalling at a particularly muddy section of my club’s popular trail run and had to make sure no-one went the wrong way, not on my watch anyway, when a little pack of runners gave me a big smile, massive wave and called out ‘It’s Mrs parkrun!’

It’s amazing how people label you, especially when the meeting is out of context. I’ve done the same myself when meeting fellow runners. Before I know it, I’ve proclaimed that I didn’t recognise them with their clothes on. In the cold light of day, I appreciate how bad this may sound to everyone else.

Working in NHS management, I’ve been called a bureaucrat, usually with an inappropriate adjective, and much more, some of it not repeatable in this family-friendly blog. I can’t even begin to tell you the expletives that accompanied some of the journalist sobriquets that came my way, though to be fair, there were some kind ones too. Journalism is, after all, a noble calling, which always had a major supporting role in league tables of the most trusted professions. Supporting because, being near the bottom, they hold everyone else up.

I’ve been parkrunning since 2011, completing 225 in all weathers and have nearly as many stints at volunteering. I find it almost impossible to believe, but some people don’t know what parkrun is. Good grief, where have you been for the past 13 years? Briefly, parkrun is a free 5km timed run, in one of 1000 or so locations throughout the world.

Woodhouse Moor in Leeds, where I’m Event Director, was the first to start outside London ten years ago and will be holding a cakey celebration in October. We’re now one of six parkruns in Leeds, each week, we get up to 500 people, so I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me too much that people make the connection.

With all the parkruns around, though, I can only lay claim to being one of hundreds of Mrs parkruns. But I’ll definitely take that. Thank you!

 

A personal worst – but one of the best

Mohammed

There’s only really one rule in parkrun, two if you count ‘don’t forget your barcode’,  three if you include ‘have fun’. The rule is about under-11s, who must run with a responsible adult. It’s not negotiable and I have in the past removed youngsters from the results when it became clear that they had run alone.

This week, Noel and I had the pleasure of running with ten-year-old Mohammed and Hassan, his nine-year-old brother. We’d agreed with their mum that we would run with them and she agreed we were responsible adults.

The two were very excited, they’d done one previous parkrun and loved it. Their mum told us they wanted to be sibling triathletes, like a couple of other Yorkshire brothers you might have heard of.

Our parkrun is in a park popular with university students, the previous day had been glorious, with hundreds enjoying the warmth and sunshine, it was also the end of term, so there was a lot of celebrating. Consequently  litter was everywhere. Hassan and Mohammed were scandalised, this is their local park and they couldn’t believe that grown-ups could be so disrespectful to the environment. As we ran, they told us how important it was to take care of our green spaces, they were most concerned about global warming and even described how pollutants could get into the water table. These were two very interesting brothers indeed.

As we made our way round, they were encouraged by many of the other parkrunners, who cheered them on, including the faster folk who lapped us. ‘There,’ I said to Hassan, ‘You can be like him if you train’. Yes, he replied this was what he wanted to do, he wanted that very much. But for the time being, he wanted to beat his brother. He did.

They chattered away to Noel and to me as they ran, which was a bit of a clue that they could run faster if they put their minds to it, but they were having fun, taking it all in, and so were we.

My time was a personal worst, so was Noel’s. But running in the company of two such interesting and interested young men made my parkrun one of the best. They’ll be back, joined by their older sister after Ramadan, we’ll run with them again, until they get too fast for us of course!

 

Don’t I know you?

Peanut
Two parkrun celebrities

Noel is a super-recogniser, he only needs to see a face once and he can identify that person again. He could be a spy, seriously, except he’s married to Mrs Chatty, spies can’t be married to chatty people. At least that’s what he tells me, maybe he’s double-bluffing.

He confesses his gift can sometimes be a curse, especially when he picks out famous people. The last time it happened was a couple of weeks ago when we were enjoying our mid-morning caffeine break to gee us up for another few more hours skiing. I was proudly wearing my Yorkshireman Half Marathon tee-shirt (they don’t do a Yorkshirewoman version, thank goodness, it would probably be pink, pink, I ask you). An English voice chirped up from a group of cheerful chappies who were probably not drinking coffee.

“Yorrrrrk-shiiiiiiire!,” I heard in a southern accent. I took it as a compliment, it’s always a compliment. Noel scrutinised the Yorkshire shouter, before he could stop himself, he blurted out ‘don’t I know you?’. The shouter looked bashful, ‘Yes, he said, probably from television, or the movies..’. “Are you a runner?” I asked him. I am not a super-recogniser.

For the rest of the afternoon, Noel was processing his vast internal data files, he finally found him. Our Yorkshire shouter was Neil Stuke, best known for his role in the TV dramas Game On and Silk.  He was a little embarrassed, not every celebrity wants their fame exclaimed in a French bar, you never know where autograph hunters are lurking, so he tweeted him to apologise. The apology was quickly accepted, what did we do before social media, eh?

I have had those recognition moments, though it tended to be in my reporting days when I was covering court cases. I had a canny way of clocking the accused, though of course I said nothing, well, it would have been rude, and some of them had been convicted of being very naughty indeed, which I would have featured in newspaper columns in a way which would not really have shown them in a very good light. They may not have liked that.

This week at parkrun I had more of a ‘shouldn’t I know you?’ moment. It turns out Peanut, the keyboard player with local popular beat combo The Kaiser Chiefs is a keen parkrunner. Being more from the Abba and Police generation, I of course failed to recognise him, but he was gracious and let me take his photo with George, who of course as far as Woodhouse Moor parkrun is concern is an even bigger celebrity.   I wonder if he asked for George’s autograph…..