The new vicar signed up for parkrun

There are no official parkrun hats, though if there were, they would be very good indeed. And what’s more, I would have been wearing it in a church this week.

There’s never a dull moment when you’re a parkrun event director, and those moments tend not to be confined to a Saturday morning run. That’s why I found myself in a packed church on an autumnal Wednesday evening, wearing my parkrun hat, metaphorically that is.

The Church of St Augustine, or Wrangthorn as we know it, looks out over the infamous Muddy Corner at the far end of our parkrun course at Woodhouse Moor. For a few years now the kind folk at the church have offered coffee and cake to parkrunners once a month, with a few enthusiasts from their running club either parkrunning or volunteering.

We held the celebrations for our 600th parkrun there, of course cake was eaten. We even had Leeds University medical students show us how to perform CPR there in the warmth and shelter of the church rather than the muddy, windswept Hyde Park which was our other option. And of course there was cake.

Wrangthorn has been without a vicar for a year or so, which is evidently normal in the Church of England. The appointment of a new vicar was as eagerly awaited as a parkrun PB, so when Rev Adrian Smith was announced as the new priest-in-charge, there was much excitement and maybe expectation of divinely-inspired PBs.

Along with with other local community partners, I was invited to the service of licensing. This is where clergy and members of the church team get to wear fantastic robes in snazzy colours, say prayers and lead us in song. The service was due to be led by the Bishop of Leeds, but Bishop Nick was held up in the House of Lords for the Brexit vote. Instead, we had Bishop Paul, who mentioned Brexit in his prayers, calling on divine help , there was a big Amen to that, I can tell you.

They made the mistake of asking me to say a few words, then gave me a microphone, though I rarely need any amplification. I gave Adrian a warm welcome on behalf of Woodhouse Moor parkrun, resisting the temptation to tell him that we are, according to the Guardian, one of the top ten parkruns in the world . He said his wife Sue had run a couple of parkruns and that he had *ahem* signed up, but was yet to break his duck. I did of course tell him that he would be very welcome any week…and why not this week..?

Afterwards in the church hall, as I chewed on a slice of rather tasty vegan chocolate cake (I’m not vegan, but my mate made it and she does bake exceedingly good cakes!) and looked around, I felt so proud of what parkrun has done for individuals and communities, bringing people together over a 5km run, jog or walk around a local park.

Here I was in a church hall with cake and new friends and acquaintances from all walks of life. There was a variety of faiths, including the local Iman and representatives from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (another blog there) and folk from many different backgrounds, including a few parkrunners. These were all people I’d never have met if it wasn’t parkrun. Hooray for parkrun!

You can dig it

Photo courtesy Left Bank Leeds

Fresh air is my drug of choice. I make sure I’m outside for some part of the every day, preferably all of it, taking huge lungfuls of lovely air, enjoying the colours, sounds and smells. Oh my goodness, it makes me happy, relaxed and there’s always the possibility that I could get properly mucky.

So when I was asked to help with the new garden at Left Bank, Leeds, where I’m a non-executive, I was there straight away with my spade, gloves and stout shoes.

Left Bank, the former St Margaret of Antioch Anglican church, was originally designed to have a tower, but the funds ran out, which was bad news for tower-lovers, but good news, more than 100 years later, for garden lovers. The church was left with an area of land where the tower should have been.

The building went from church to not-church to a lovely arts venue, all the time with an outdoor border of overgrown trees, bushes and an abundance of bindweed and sticky willie, with additional late 20th century detritus, most of it fast food related.

Thank goodness for grants and generosity, within a few weeks and help from big diggers the near wilderness was transformed into a beautiful new garden. All it lacked were plants, lots of them. That’s where I and fellow volunteers came in.

Within a couple of hours, lots of digging, quite a few cups of tea and a surprising number of cigarettes, not me of course, I’ve already said fresh air is my drug of choice, the plants were in place, and, although I say so myself, it all looked rather good. We are always looking for volunteers to join the team, let me know if you want to join us!

A parkrun poet

One of us is a poet, the other is just holding the frame!

I know I do go on about parkrun, but I’m not going to stop anytime soon, especially as I’ve discovered we have a parkrun poet at Woodhouse Moor!

PhD student Tahera completed her first parkrun earlier this year and like anyone else who parkruns, she was bowled over by the experience. Most of us just fill our social media feeds with adjectives, like ‘ace’, ‘stoked’ and ‘knackered’, or talk incessantly over post-run coffee, but Tahera was moved to poetry.

It wasn’t difficult for her, she is a poet. She even shared her work at the Batley Iftar, to celebrate the start of Ramadan. The month of prayer and fasting can challenge anyone wanting to run, but Tahera was with us at Woodhouse Moor, volunteering, helping sort the tokens afterwards and running.

Tahera is now one of our regular welcome briefers, I hope that next time she does it, she’ll read her poem. Thank you, Tahera, thank you, parkrun!

The Running Bug by Tahera Mayat

I lost my parkrun newbie badge
At Oakwell Hall parkrun in Birstall
It was the day before my birthday
So I was looking forward to cake

But post-run refreshments are
Just that post-run i.e. afterwards
First I had to do a 5k or 3.1 miles
I've never even walked that far!

I had butterflies in my stomach
Calming words from running friends
Run on the downhill I'm advised
Ahead of the first timers briefing

It's 9am on a Saturday
I'm not having a lie-in
But hearing 3, 2, 1, go
And starting my first 5k

It was a challenging course
With the uphills and off-road
The run was tough for me
But the aftermath was worth it

The guilt free cake and hot chocolate
Basking in the praise from the others
The post-run atmosphere and chat
But best of all was getting my time

I remember we did a group photo
With the bright red Run for Jo banner
Next thing I know I'm back at Oakwell
Doing a challenging yet rewarding 6.5k

But if long distances aren't for you
Then there is the 2.5k fun run
And if running isn't for you
There'll be food and entertainment

So spread the word about
Run for Jo taking place
On Sunday 23rd June 2019
At Oakwell Hall in Birstall


Speaking to the shelves, listening to the books

Surrounded by books and book lovers, who wouldn’t want to put pen to paper and get writing? The Leeds Library (not to be confused with Leeds Central Library) is the oldest subscription library in the country, dating back to 1768.

Its entrance is like finding 12 Grimmauld Place, the Black family home in Harry Potter, tucked away in the city centre, all stairs and corridors, opening out into a beautiful book-filled treasury, complete with twin spiral staircases with a little self-serve cafe and honesty box.

Where better, then, to spend a few hours in the company of author, playwright, artist and all-round lovely person Emma Adams, and learn more about this writing lark? Just over a dozen of us pulled up a haphazard collection of chairs around wooden tables which had been pushed together in the centre of the rooms. Actually a couple more joined us later in just about the amount of time it takes to get from the Central Library, but we said we would not speak of it.

What a wonderful, inspirational afternoon in delightful company. After a couple of introductory exercises, inspired by the surrounding books, we were encouraged to spend 20 minutes writing. I penned a little post-parkrun episode inspired by that morning’s banter. Here it is, warts (or rather moles) and all, names and events have been changed to protect the innocent and for dramatic effect.

Adrian

The noise in the cafe crescendo-ed, drowning out the 19-year-old barrista’s Spotify playlist which was something shouty, pulsey and utterly tuneless. Thank God, I thought, I couldn’t do with hearing any more of Snott Dogg or whatever he called himself.

The crescendo was caused by laughter from Gillian, Big Gillian as she used to be, but now Medium-Sized Gillian, thanks to cutting out the Yorkshire Mixtures and dandelion and burdock pop and taking up running. She’d lost a lot of weight and looked great. It set me wondering what happened to all that lost weight. Did it find its way to the fatberg in the sewers of London? Or maybe it formed a huge hill somewhere, all wobbly and slippery, probably smelly too.

It was the laughter that brought me back from my fatty fantasy. ‘It’s Adrian, he’s dropped off and disappeared,’ Gillian told us. I know only one Adrian, he’s Philip’s new partner, he’d recently come out, met Adrian and become a very happy man. They’d even stayed in a yurt together and toasted their relationship with Babycham and a packet of fig rolls, which they regretted later.

Anyway, I was relieved to hear it wasn’t lovely Adrian who’d dropped off, it was Gillian’s mole, who she had christened Adrian. She confessed she was a moley person with little lumps and bumps everywhere, none of them sinister, just lumpy and bumpy. Some even joined up to make shapes, a fleshy join the dots.

But Adrian was special. He’s been there all her life, he was a hairy mole and he lived on her bum. She was quite fond of him, but he did chafe a bit when she started running. It’s a well-known fact that moles, particularly hairy moles, don’t like Lycra.

Then it happened, the source of the amusement. She was sweating and panting her way up a hill, arms pumping, legs pushing, when she felt something move. It was Adrian. He was getting a bit fed up with all the friction, his little hairs had bristled with indignation, his lumpy bits decided they’d had enough of this Lycra prison, so he just jumped ship. It’s not easy for anything to escape Lycra, but Adrian found his way down the back of her left leg, bounced off her trainer and landed in the grass, right next to a mole hill. He’d found his new home.

A parkrun romance

A Saturday morning stint as a parkrun Run Director always means a stupid o’clock start, often involves faffing, usually presents me with the opportunity to do lots of shouting, which, by the way, is my best thing, but never involves subterfuge. Or romance. Until now.

It was a few weeks ago that Lucy contacted me, all hush-hush, to say she planned to propose to her boyfriend at the place they first met. That place just happened Woodhouse Moor parkrun, right there in the finish funnel. They’d been introduced by a mutual friend and immediately their romance took off, starting with marathon and ultramarathon training.

The question was, how to pop the question? Lucy planned to volunteer to record the unreadable barcodes. Alan would run, and somehow (snigger snigger) his barcode wouldn’t scan so he’s have to go to her. She’d show him a lovely video with photos of them on their many adventures together, then pop the question. Of course I offered Lucy a slot at the run brief to propose, but that would have been a little overwhelming, plus it would have ruined his chance of a PB.

It all went more or less to plan, with Alan not suspecting anything other than a celebration for his birthday that day, a youthful 37 which he thought was nothing special, though I pointed out that it was a prime number. And they are always worth celebrating.

I sidled up to the couple, hopefully to get a good photo, as Alan watched the video and unromantically dripped sweat from his over 6ft height. It was an unseasonably warm day. The video finished, they kissed, we all held our breath…. Alan looked up and saw the audience. ‘Well?’ we all asked. ‘Oh,’ he said nonchalantly, ‘I said yes’

Being dyed-in-the-wool parkrunners, there was no engagement ring, just a bracelet engraved with their barcode numbers.

They plan to get married as soon as they can confirm the venue, which will be in the Yorkshire Dales. Naturally they will have a celebration parkrun at Woodhouse Moor. One thing’s for certain, they won’t forget their barcodes!

Ten years to decompose #hatelitter

Calverley Cleanup #litterheroes

Ten years, up to ten years, that’s how long it can take a cigarette butt to decompose. All those plastic fibres and the nasty chemicals they trap are lying on the ground in my beautiful village because smokers either chuck them from their cars or just drop them as they wait at the bus stop, or as they walk along in their smokey fog.

Along with a handful of fellow villagers, I’ve spent the afternoon picking up litter as part of Keep Britain Tidy’s Great British Cleanup. I’m definitely obsessive when it comes to litter, there isn’t a day goes by when I don’t pick up something or other that’s been chucked or dropped, either accidentally or deliberately and then put it in a bin. Then there’s plogging, I can’t go on a run without picking up litter, though I draw the line at poo bags.

Usually I just do it myself, but when Keep Britain Tidy announced its month-long campaign and invited communities to host a litter pick, I responded. They put it on a map and publicised it on their website, which was nice, though I wasn’t expecting to be swamped with volunteers. But just in case, I bought quite a few chocolate biscuits to reward anyone who turned up.

Actually, I thought it would just be Noel and my mate Bev, which meant lots of chocolate biscuits just for the two of us as Bev is gluten intolerant! As it turned out, there were eight volunteers, armed with picky-uppy grabby things which saved us the trouble of bending over.

Everyone returned an hour later with their Leeds City Council bin bags bulging. Over coffee and biscuits served at the allotment hut, we discussed what we’d found and who was the worst offender. It was like a chorus as we all said ‘smokers’. Yes, there were a few wrappers and bottles, but cigarette butts were everywhere, as a group of non-smokers, we were disgusted. Why do smokers think it’s OK to pollute the atmosphere with their smoke, then pollute the environment with their detritus?

It takes up to ten years for these butts to decompose, yet according to research, most of it in America, smokers don’t consider their butts to be litter or to have an impact on the environment. Come on, smokers, if you can’t kick the habit, at least keep your habit to yourself and dispose of your butts and fag packets properly.

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!