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….?
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!
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!
Getting my green tee-shirt for completing 250 parkruns earlier this year was a huge thrill and felt like a great achievement. But this week, on International parkrun Day and the 11th birthday of Woodhouse Moor parkrun, by sheer co-incidence, I notched up an even more thrilling 250, this time as a volunteer.
I do love running, but I adore volunteering, especially at parkrun. I remember the first time I volunteered, I was put on a marshal spot near the 1km marker, where I did what I do best, shouted encouragement. Loudly.
When you take part in a parkrun, you’re caught up in what’s happening around you, you get to know the people who run at the same pace and in my case, see the backs of the faster runners as they lap me, it’s wonderful. Well, it’s wonderful once I’ve finished, while I’m running I think I’m going to collapse in a heap and roll around on my back, legs waving in the air like an upside-down tortoise.
But when I’m volunteering, I see everything and everyone – and get to shout too. Loudly of course! I’ve done all of the volunteering roles, apart from timing, I get distracted far too easily to do something as precise as that. And the results, I haven’t done those, I’m too scared of losing all the data by pressing the wrong button.
I’ve been event director at Woodhouse Moor for the past couple of years and have had the pleasure and privilege of meeting many volunteers and visitors who support and take part each week and I love it. Our parkrunners are so thankful to the volunteers, many clapping us as they pass, some shouting thanks, if they have the breath.
Volunteering is giving, without wanting or expecting anything in return. The team of volunteers at parkrun turn up early in all weathers, set up the start and finish areas, grapple with the one-size-fits-none hi-viz jackets and wait for the final finishers, giving them the biggest cheer of all. We are the last to leave and then have to endure coffee and cake while we process the results and sort the tokens. Tough, I know, but we persevere, sometimes having to have a second or even third coffee and a sausage sandwich.
I have a parkrun tee-shirt for volunteering, it comes, free, after 25 volunteering stints, which is more than generous. It remains my favourite tee-shirt, I wear it with pride wherever I go. There’s no tee-shirt for volunteering 250 times and I’m glad. Like every other parkrun volunteer, I don’t do it for any reward, I do it because I love volunteering and because I love parkrun.
It comes to something when a continental weekend away is planned around a parkrun. Not that we’re addicted to parkrun or anything, but if that city has one, then it would be rude not to show our running shoes and chat over coffee and croissants afterwards.
In Paris, we had a choice, there are two parkruns, a little out of the city, so we chose a hotel at Puteaux, that was nearby, relatively. We had a 5km brisk walk to get to the Bois du Bologne, the longest warm-up I’ve ever done, but I was ready to join the hoards of local parkrunners and pick up a few new words of vernacular French for my running vocabulary.
We trotted up to the start, after marvelling at the Bois de Boulogne, which is like a very large version of Calverley Woods, I even did a spot of le plogging en route, though there wasn’t much too litter around and we’d spotted poo-bag dispensers, bravo! We’d passed many runners in the park, expecting to meet them at the start line, but no. parkrun in France is nowhere near as popular as it is in the UK, and there were just over 30 of us there to hear the Run Director explain the course first in French, to the two locals who probably already knew, then in English for the rest of us. Looks like I wasn’t going to pick up any French vernacular that day!
What a wonderful run in a beautiful place with delightful people. The Run Director, a Brit who lives and works in France was very interested to hear we were RDs in Leeds and I think, given half a chance, would have let us help him with the results as he’d only just taken over. He confessed it had been Tuesday the previous week before the results were out, but hey, who’s in a hurry?
The post-parkrun coffee was en plein air, in warm sunshine, with the usual interesting tales from a group of people brought together by their love of parkrun. I was chatting with one of the French parkrunners and asked why it didn’t seem to have taken off with the French, even though the French clearly loved running. He just smiled and shrugged in that wonderful Gallic way that always says, ‘I don’t know, I really don’t know’. ‘Mais moi-même, parkrun, je l’adore,’ he added.
Personally I’m looking forward to many more French parkruns, not just for the running, the coffee, croissants, and good company, but because I’ll always be near the top of the results rather than leading from the back. In France, results are presented in alphabetical order by first name and this week, I was second to Alison. Maika was some way behind, and ahead of Noel. I definitely like parkrun France, in fact, parkrun, je t’adore!
When someone drops litter, they’re telling you they don’t care. They don’t care about you, they don’t care about me, they probably don’t even care about themselves and they certainly don’t care about the environment.
The mentality that drives people to chuck stuff out of vehicles, cast packaging and wrappers aside while strolling along, talking loudly into their phones, or collect poo from the backsides of their pooches, bag it up and leave it dangling from a tree branch or on a wall for others to find is beyond me.
This reckless behaviour results in our paths, parks, woods and roadsides rustling with wrappers and discarded plastic bottles. At best, it looks terrible, at worst, it’s a danger to wildlife who may eat it or get trapped, or humans who will eventually find a diluted version in their drinking water, for some, they’ll be getting their own back, but unfortunately will have given it to the rest of us too.
A couple of years ago, Leeds City Council started a #onepieceoflitter campaign. The idea was to challenge people to pick up one piece of litter a day. I liked the idea of that, everyone can do it, everyone can make a difference. The more I picked up, the angrier I got about the thoughtlessness of litter louts.
While I was out running, I started picking up litter, bringing home anything I could sensibly carry then disposing of it in the recycle bin wherever possible. I didn’t know it at the time, but there already was an international litter-picking-up movement, known as plogging, which started in Sweden. I’m now proud to call myself a plogger.
I knew that sooner or later I’d have to make some sort of protest, but the usual mechanisms such as writing to my MP, or signing a petition don’t have impact on people’s behaviour and that’s what’s needed. It’s already an offence to drop litter, so the threat of a fine isn’t enough to deter people. So I thought about art, I love art, it reaches the heart and soul, it challenges, it provokes and it looks good. That’s it, I said to myself and the cat sleeping on my computer, I’ll do some rubbish art.
I usually run off-road and love my local woods in Calverley, they are beautiful woods, managed by Leeds City Council and including West Wood, an ancient woodland owned by the Woodland Trust. So why the hell do folk drop litter – and worse? It’s not over-run with the stuff, but there’s enough to spoil it for the rest of us. I plogged many a bagful.
I’d just completed a mosaic for the bedroom fireplace and wanted to do more, it’s very satisfying to make your own jigsaws with coloured glass, though no-one can go around the house barefoot any more. My first thought was to use bits and pieces from my plogging hoard in the mosaic, but that seemed to be saying that the litter had some sort of aesthetic appeal in itself and that’s just not true. Plus it’s stinky.
From there, I hit on the idea of producing a series of nine pieces representing litter I’d plogged, or as in the case of dog poo, just tutted at. I’ve now hidden them in the woods, where they may or may not be found, a bit like the litter they picture. Someone may find them and take them away – great, I hope they pick up some litter too. Someone else may see them and ignore them, do they do that when they see litter? Others may destroy them, I don’t mind, so long as they clear them away. I’m going to visit them from time to time and then remove them in a year, just so I’m not leaving litter.
I hope people who find them enjoy them, but most of all, I hope it’ll make them think about the impact of litter on everyone’s lives.
It may be my age, but I’m getting more than a little grumpy about litter. What is it with people just dumping stuff out of the car window as they drive along? Or dropping bottles and wrappers because they can’t be bothered to carry them home after consuming their sugary contents? And dog poo bags. Don’t get me started on dog poo bags and the baffling habit of dangling them from tree branches.
I wept, long, deep sobs with real tears, as I watched the last sobering episode of David Attenborough’s Blue Planet 2. You know, the one where we’re killing the planet with all our plastic and making the Disney movie Wall E a prophecy.
I’ve been plogging for some time now, picking up any litter I can carry while out on my runs, the bending down and standing up is now part of my workout, plus it’s great exercise for the facial muscles as I turn my nose up at the smell and dirt and in general disgust that people can be so thoughtless. It’s not much, but if we all do it, then it’ll make a tidy difference to our world.
Plogging is a real environmental running movement, and we have the Swedes to thank it, they even carry plastic bags, gloves and grabby-picky-uppy things. I guess being from Yorkshire and a rock climber, I’m not squeamish about a bit of muck, so it’s bare hands then soap and water for me.
I do most of my plogging in the local Calverley Woods, where there’s not a great deal of litter, so any that is dropped is noticeable. The main culprits seem to be drinkers of Red Bull and softer drinks in plastic bottles, along with fast food wrappers and, of course, dog walkers and their poo bags, empty and full, cold and warm…
The other day I even plogged in the sports centre car park on my way to circuit training. Empty screenwash bottles, 20 metres from the bin. They’d topped up their washer bottle then just left the container. Unbelievable.
I am so outraged, I’ve made a plogging-themed mosaic art installation, which will be launched soon to Noel and Heidi and no critical acclaim. Heidi’s fellow feline Socks Akers has declined the launch invitation, he has some serious sleeping to do. Heidi is only coming on the promise of treats. Watch out for the arty news soon, in the meantime, I’ll carry on plogging.