Just another shouty day as a parkrun volunteer

Shouting is what I do best
Shouting is what I do best – thanks to Ian Watson for the photo

“I’m off now to do what I do best,” I told the reporter as the interview finished. “What’s that, then?” he asked, packing away all that new-fangled kit radio broadcasting has these days. “Shouting at people, I’m going to shout at people.” And so it turned out to be.

I’ve volunteered at Leeds parkrun for a couple of years now, but in the past 12 months I’ve been promoted to Chief Shouter-Atter, though they do prefer that I refer to myself as one of the run directors as shouting isn’t technically a proper job. Personally I think a bit of being shouted at is like a tonic and therefore qualifies as a form of therapy.

I was getting up a good head of steam in honour of Leeds parkrun’s seventh birthday when the call came from the local radio asking if they could interview us as we prepared for our weekly 5km run. I was happy to delegate this task to Sam who has a background in broadcasting, whereas I was a mere humble print journalist. But no, they wanted us both to join them at the radio car where we spoke at the passing cars, imagining them to be the Radio Leeds listeners.

The interview went well, with me challenging the reporter to join us. It turned out he’d forgotten his kit, though I said it was quite acceptable for him to run in his knickers and vest like we had to at school when we forgot our kit accidentally on purpose. He politely declined, so we then turned to the job in hand, getting 400 runners safely around the course and then packing them off to the refectory at Leeds University for breakfast and a right good celebration of all things parkrun.

Volunteering is something everyone should do at some point in their life. Careers are all very well, if you can keep them and so are jobs, if you can get them, but volunteering is a way of giving and receiving a reward better than money. At parkrun, I’ve done everything from setting up the finish funnel to the responsibility of unlocking the toilets with the additional burden of checking the toilets for foreign bodies. I’ve handed out tokens, scanned them and collected them at the other end, though not all on the same day. I’ve taken photographs and written reports (you can take the girl out of journalism, but not journalism out of the girl), but top of the parkrun pops is shouting encouragement to the hundreds of people who sprint, run, jog, walk and occasionally limp past. Shouting is definitely what I do best.

Just one second each….

Race face and war paint

If the 25 of us had just pushed ourselves that little bit more, we would have won. All we needed was to run one second each faster and the prize would have been ours. We would have held high the red wellies (size two-and-a-half) and proudly paraded them in front of the losers. But we were the losers by just 19 seconds, we had to watch the parade. Damn.

Of course it was all a bit of fun, the girls entered the fourth annual girls against boys Red Welly Relay two-one up. Each runner had a 200m section of the 5km Leeds Hyde Park parkrun to sprint handing over the baton, one half of a pair of red wellies, in homage to the statue of the Duke of Wellington guarding the park entrance. Some wag had painted his greaves red and left him a traffic cone helmet set at a jaunty angle, the Traffic Cone Relay didn’t seem appropriate, so red wellies it was.

The race was handicapped. Using clever maths our parkrun times were added, multiplied and the number first thought of subtracted. The result was the girls set off four minutes before the boys. I was number 11, and by the time I took hold of the red welly and semi-sprinted, the boys were hot on my heels. They overtook round about number 23, I think, but I have been known to make things up!

I got back to witness the boys’ triumph, they won by 19 seconds. We congratulated them of course, promising that next year, we’d wop ’em… Personally, I’m starting my training programme now!

A hand on the torch

Not being famous, a local achiever or a ridiculously rich friend of the sponsors, I never dreamed I’d get my hand on the Olympic torch as it made its way through Leeds. It just shows how wrong you can be.

The Torch itself led the procession of early morning parkrunners at Hyde Park. The parkrun, uncapitalised in the style of ee cummings, is a national and now international phenomenon with thousands of runners of all ages, abilities, shapes and sizes tackling a 5km course each Saturday morning at 9am. It’s free and it’s wonderful, we’ve made lots of new friends, taken on new challenges and now, to put the tin hat on it as we say in Yorkshire, we got to see and to touch the torch itself. I had to shed a tear.

Naturally my friend Andy and I treated it with the solemn dignity it deserved. Naturally.

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Smashing the record’s a feather in my cap – or rather my hair

The Flying Feather of Victory

I knew as I rounded the final corner and glanced at my watch that I was not only going to break my record, I was going to smash it into a zillion pieces. The encouragement of friends, strangers who saw my scary look of determination, and Noel’s big grin as he handed me the token holding my time in its barcode confirmed it. I’d done it.

Ever since we started running the 5km Saturday morning parkrun (sic) in March I have chased what seemed like an unattainable goal – getting around in less than 30 minutes. For Noel, our friends Andy, Bev and Nathan, 30 minutes is easy, a doddle even. For me, she of the flappy arms and funny feet, even running is hard, let alone putting any speed in it.

Week after week, thanks to the cleverness of the parkrun system that reads a personal barcode then, through the magic of maths and the internet, sends details of time, position and age-related ranking to my inbox. Week after week, I’ve tickled the 30 minute mark, getting within four seconds – then slipping again. It became a Mission Impossible, but one I chose to accept.

Finally, thanks to encouragement, lots of running, joining the Eccleshill Road Runners and just telling myself I could damned-well do it, I jolly well did. The email said 29 minutes, 35 seconds, my watch said that at some point, but I did the usual and forgot to stop it.

Celebrations were great and prolonged. I was going for my hair enreddening anyway, but felt I really did need to celebrate my landmark in some way. My hairdresser didn’t have any medals to give (why should she?!) but she had feathers, the latest fashion in hair ornaments. I’ll have one of those, I said. I need a feather in my cap, or in my hair at least.

Hopefully my new feather will help me fly to my next personal best… a 10k in less than an hour….

Run hard – eat cake

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Never say no to cake, even after a gut-busting five kilometre dash around the local park. Granted, we usually have to trek across the Leeds University campus to get post-race cakey satisfaction. But today the cake came to us by the creaking table load.

The Leeds Hyde Park parkrun(sic) celebrated its 199th event, well, we are Loiners and we do like to do things differently. Plus, it happened to be the 51st birthday of parkrun founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt, who chose to spend it with us, so what better excuse for cake?

Runners were asked to wear red, not a push for me, with a wardrobe ranging from red to orange and back to red again, though Noel, or Mr Black as he likes to be known was struggling, though managed to find shorts with a red stripe. Our mate Phil’s only red was embarrassment as he confessed he’d forgotten.

The weekly runs are a kind of Sporty Big Society. They are free, rely on the goodwill of volunteers and by gum they do you good, at least that’s what I tell myself as I splutter around the two-and-a-half laps of the park. I now know every centimetre of that course, though the bit I like best is picking up the little tag as I cross the finishing line.

Today’s Big Society had undertaken a Big Bake-In to celebrate Paul’s birthday and the one run short of 200. Cakes, cakes and more cakes, with the odd piece of fruit, but the best cake of all was the special parkrun cake, cut by Paul, eaten by us. Nom nom.

Back to cakey trekking after next week’s run, unless someone can declare it their birthday – with more than 200 runners it’s a safe bet!