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.

The embiggening of the rubber litter ball

Embiggen

The runner who squelched into the sports centre after me was slightly soggier than I was, her glasses steamed up, muck flaking from her hands. But she had a massive smile on her face. ‘I picked up 15 pieces of litter on my way here!’ she announced. I’d managed a couple of crisp packets and a squashed drinks can in my dash across the car park, but every little helps!

The number of runners who return with a handful of litter we’ve picked up on our excursions is growing all the time. I started my own personal campaign in February, picking up anything I could reasonably carry, particularly if it may be a danger to wildlife. Rubber bands, usually dropped by posties and those strong polythene hoopy things that hold cans together (what ARE they called?) are the main offenders in my eyes. The rubber bands are growing into quite a sizeable ball, I’m looking forward to bouncing it off the wall of Royal Mail’s HQ in Leeds, it bounces very well, if a little erratically. That’ll learn ’em.

I did plan to hold a litter pick in the village as part of Keep Britain Tidy’s Great British Spring Clean, but the Great Snows of ’18 brought the country to a halt and life as we know it was on hold as it took a few days for the snow to disappear. Sadly the litter is still there, wetter and muddier.

There is a name for running and litter-picking, coined by the Swedes. Plogging seems to have been officially named in 2016 by those environmentally-conscious Scandinavians. Since then, plogging groups have started all over the world as unfortunately litter is a universal language.

I still can’t get the image of a plastic-filled ocean from St David of Attenborough’s final episode of Blue Planet out of my head. It made me cry, what the hell are we doing to our beautiful planet? And then I got angry when the yobs in the car in front just chucked their fast food packaging out of the window. WTF? Do they do that at home? Probably.

Of course picking up a few bits of litter when out running, or walking, or even going to a job interview (yes, seriously!) isn’t enough. But if we all did it, and got cross about it, and got the government to do more then we might, just might, save our planet. In the meantime, I’m off plogging.

Litter, what a load of rubbish!

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One run’s worth of rubber bands and plastic can holders. Grrrr.

I hate litter, it’s rubbish, lots and lots of rubbish dropped or deliberately thrown by careless, thoughtless people. At best, if that’s an appropriate word to use, it’s untidy. At worst, it can kill, strangling animals and birds, leeching into the oceans, starting fires or poisoning us. Oh bloody hell, I hate litter.

Each Saturday before our parkrun, we clear up cans, bottles, glasses, cardboard and even carrier bags from the entrance to the park, all dumped under a bench which is within staggering distance of a bin. On runs or walks through our local woods there’s wrappers and papers, plus bags  of something brown and smelly hanging from trees, what’s that all about?

I don’t run on roads very often, not enough mud for my liking, plus there’s bloody litter everywhere. What possesses people to throw stuff out of their car windows? If I wasn’t such a terrible thrower, I’d scoop it up and throw it back in, let’s see how they like it them, in their neat and tidy cars, eh?

Last week was the last straw. With Noel on the point of death from a rare and virulent form of cold virus that left him bedbound and incapable of anything other than updating his social media and calling out feebly for ‘tea’, ‘coffee’ and occasionally ‘chocolate’, I had to run on my own. It can be lonely in the woods, so I broke with tradition and headed towards Pudsey on the road.

Within a few steps, I spotted a rubber band on the pavement. Picturing a hedgehog or other creature coming to a nasty end if they crawled through it and got caught up, I did what I thought was a stylish swoop, gathering and pulling it over my hand with one move. Hey, it was so stylish, I’m thinking of incorporating it into my cross training.

Over the next 11km, I had the chance to practice this time and again and I spotted more, presumably dropped by posties or other delivery people along with those horrid can-holder-togetherers, the joined circles made from tough plastic so four hedgehogs can be stuck at a time, ooo I was so cross! Fortunately for my training regime, fury fuelled my running and I kept up a reasonable pace when I was swooping.

By the end of my run, I had ten rubber bands and two can-holder-togetherers. I’ve started making a ball out of the bands and intend to bounce it off the walls of Royal Mail’s Leeds HQ when it’s big enough. That’ll show ’em. I’ll catch it of course and make sure it’s properly disposed of.

Next month Keep Britain Tidy will launch the Great British Spring Clean , encouraging people to get outside and tidy up. Why wait until then, I say! Personally, I’ve made a promise to myself that I’ll pick up as much litter as I can carry home when I’m on a run. Added to that is the general picking-up when I’m out and about, and of course each Saturday before parkrun. What about you? #GBSpringClean #CleanLeeds

Running…because I can

PecoRoundhay
Thanks to Andy Wicks for the photo

I had a lovely running friend, sadly no longer with us, who was a great inspiration to all of us who enter races knowing we haven’t a snowball’s chance in Hell of bothering the prizewinners.

Arthur James a sprightly septuagenarian, ran as best he could then finished with a thundering sprint. ‘Run….because you can…’ he said. And I did.

It’s now ten years since I ran my first ever 10km through the dark satanic mills of Dewsbury and Batley, passing the HQ of an organisation that had treated me very badly and resisting the temptation to make a moon-related gesture. Never in my whole life did I think I would run that immense distance, especially in my late 40s without the need for supplementary oxygen and emergency chocolate. The very idea! But I did, and I didn’t collapse in a heap, in fact, I was euphoric. And I got a tee-shirt and what’s more it still fits!

Joining a club and taking part in races was a natural next step, that was after I bought suitable trainers and movement-limiting running gear. Did you know breasts have no muscles and left unrestrained, will make a figure of eight when running causing untold damage and massive chafeage? I discovered that very quickly and thank my lucky stars for Shock Absorber #4 which keeps everything in place, though does catapult across the room when unhooked. I once found it hanging lazily from the reading lamp after looking everywhere, that’s the power of elastic.

But it can be a bit disheartening when all the fast folk just breeze past on their second lap and I’m puffing and panting, hardly able to acknowledge their encouragement. My poor legs just plod away and I feel like I’m getting slower and slower!

Noel was quick to give advice, ‘If you want to run fast, then move your legs quicker…’ Excellent. You can imagine the response. He’s right, though, and I’m working on it, speed sessions, hill training, it’s hard work and sometimes it doesn’t feel it’s making a difference. But I’m motivated and encouraged by Arthur’s words, I can run, so what’s wrong with that? It’s not about racing or medals, though I confess I do like a bit of bling.

The best run I had recently was splashing through the fresh snowfall in the local woods, savouring the clean, crisp air, the winter sleepiness of the leafless trees, the glimpse of the occasional bird, the sound of my own unlaboured breathing, the total freedom of running, is there anything better, really?

So as I enter my second decade of  running, I do want to run freer and faster. But most of all, I want to run just because I can. Thank you Arthur.

Santas, stormtroopers and sushi

santarow

Leeds. Eight-thirty on a Sunday morning just before Christmas, two Santas, shivering in the sub-zero temperature, stride through the near-deserted streets. The only people they pass look straight ahead, pretending they aren’t there. Pretending we aren’t there, for I am one of those Santas.

Being good Yorkshire folk, careful with our hard-earned cash, we’d parked some distance from the city centre where it cost only half a crown for the whole day, so we were quite alone, Sue and I, the two Santas, with our trusty minder and photographer Noel. Noel wasn’t a Santa, he doesn’t do dressing up. No wonder the remains of the late-night revellers didn’t make eye contact.

But as we neared the centre, we joined a sea of red. Santas as far as the eye could see, big ones, small ones, fat ones, thin ones, big fat ones, small thin ones, several dogs and two festive Stormtroopers, we knew they were festive because they had snowy white beards and their weapons were set to ‘stun’ rather than the usual ‘completely obliterate’

This was the Santa Dash in aid of St Gemma’s Hospice, a surreal experience for those taking part and those watching, so many Santas, so little space. Sue and I had to do the obligatory tactical visit to the facilities, it’s a runners’ thing. Noel went ahead, then turned round, looking alarmed ‘How will I recognise you?’ How indeed with so many Santas around, he told me later he could tell my walk a mile off, I think that’s a good thing.

Our Japanese friend Maika, who is spending her first Christmas in the UK, is making sure she experiences as much of the festive spirit as she can. She too was a Santa, with Christmas pudding glasses, traditional eyewear Chez The Clauses somewhere in Lapland. Along with our Sikh friend Jaz, we made for a multi-cultural, multi-faith bunch of Santas. We laughed ourselves silly as we ran, walked, said hello to and high-fived fellow Santas and barracked the Stormtroopers.

The post-run refreshments were courtesy of the Japanese restaurant Little Tokyo. Instead of the usual mucky fat sandwiches and custard creams served up to hungry runners, there was sushi, tempura vegetables, dips and…….. chips. Chips? I asked the lovely Little Tokyo staff who were braving the cold to feed us. Yes, they responded, it’s what the crowds want! Maika was amazed, Santas, Stormtroopers and sushi, whatever next?

A pantomime, that’s what’s next for Maika’s Christmas  experience. Oh yes it is…I can’t wait to blog about that!

Mates, mindfulness and mud!

 

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Robin, me and cake

 

I’m quite used to bringing up the rear at races, especially if there’s only a few dozen taking part. I always argue that I’d rather be at the back of a small event than in the middle of a large one.  Actually, I’d love to be at the front, we can all dream, can’t we?

I’d run Meltham AC’s Cop Hill Fell Race once before, coming last then, well, when I say last, I was next to the last, Simon the tailrunner was behind me, but I’m not sure that counts! It was such a lovely, well-supported race, with marshals giving great encouragement and only telling me I was nearly there when I actually was. That’s proper marshalling, that is.

This year I definitely wanted to do it again, but knew I would be slower than usual. A mix of missing mojo and general fed-upness that comes with unsuccessful job-hunting, along with a couple of sad events have made running even more challenging than usual. To be honest, I was feeling quite down. But there is nothing like a run with mates to lift the spirits and when I found out that the tailrunner was the lovely Robin, who I met last time, a great sense of relief swept over me, we could run and chat and then eat cake.

Thanks to my volunteering with parkrun and at other events, I’ve seen for myself the positive impact of running not only on physical health, but more importantly on mental wellbeing. I’ve just become a Mental Health Ambassador for Kirkstall Harriers, my running club, it’s an initiative from England Athletics in partnership with the mental health charity MIND. The idea is to support people who are experiencing mental health problems to start running, get back into running, or continue running as well as to improve the mental wellbeing of existing club members. One of the initiatives Ambassadors promote is #runandtalk, the eating cake is implicit.

Robin has been running courses in mindfulness so we had a right good run and chat, definitely a tonic for mental well-being. He did make me run through the deep mud, but that just added to the enjoyment of the race. So what that I came last, I had a great time – and I felt better too.  Let’s hear it for mates, mindfulness and mud!

Running, it’s good for your mental health

 

tenthnn
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?