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!

parkrun on a prayer

parkrun 600 at Woodhouse Moor, my 273rd. Thanks to Ian Watson for the photo

It’s before 8am, the sun is just up and the dusting of snow on the Woodhouse Moor paths is sparkling. We have a decision to make, should we, or should we not, go ahead with our parkrun.

Already snow and ice has forced the cancellation of several events nearby. It’s not a big deal, we’re here every week, there’s a lot to choose from, or we could just head for coffee and pretend we’ve run.

But this wasn’t an ordinary parkrun, though you could argue that none are. This was the day of our 600th, and celebrations were planned, cake had been baked, lots of cake, we were expecting a good turn-out. We’d arranged for our parkrunners to enjoy coffee and cake in the warmth of Wrangthorn Church, which offers us hospitality once a month. It’s a busy church, next week and the week after were booked up for them, so cake from the freezer would have to be hastily eaten al fresco in the park if we cancelled. But that couldn’t be a reason to not to cancel if the course wasn’t run-able.

Claudia and Frank, the run directors on the day had to make the call. We trotted up and down the paths, Frank and I were like Torvill and Dean, doing a bit of skating to test out the slip factor. Neither of us fell, which was a bonus. Social media messages were pinging away, asking if we were on, but we carried on our inspection, better to be safe.

Claudia, who confesses she likes to err on the side of caution, took a deep breath, OK, she said, we’re on. And that was it, we were ready to go. With the sun shining down on us, melting the snow, we were off, all 480-odd of us. As far as we knew, no-one fell, there were even a few PBs, though not from yours truly, I couldn’t help stopping and chatting with folk on the way round, enjoying the atmosphere, grinning every step of the way.

We headed across to Wrangthorn which was buzzing with parkrunners scoffing cake. Jim, one of our parkrun regulars (203 runs in fact) a churchwarden, confided that he’d looked out of the window in the early hours to see the snow coming down and was worried we’d have to cancel, so he took immediate action, he prayed.

Whatever your view on divine or any other form of intervention, someone or something was smiling on us and we were all definitely smiling as we celebrated our 600th on a cold and snowy February Saturday. #loveparkrun

Making waste into anti-waste

The wonderful Francesca with the Christmas tree she made. It’s now MY Christmas tree!

Yes yes, so I’m a grumpy old woman, deal with it. But I’m just fed up to my back teeth of waste, litter and our one-use throw-away society. There’s just so much STUFF and it’s filling our rivers, oceans, forests and land.

Here we go again, old Stripey’s going off on one, but when I was a lass, we couldn’t afford to throw something away unless it was totally finished with, so much less went in the bin. This was evidenced by the bin lorries then, small affairs that looked like a mini version of Thunderbird 2 with lift-up doors which received the contents of metal bins hefted over the shoulders of burly binmen (there were no binwomen). Not like now when the wagons are the size of a small house and the wheelie bins as big as a garage.

Now it’s Christmas time and I can feel my grumpiness reaching critical mass. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas, I love showing goodwill to all women and men, but it’s the sheer indulgence and decadence that upsets me. Last year we bought a Christmas tree with a proper root system, which we put outside where it has lived happily, though it did go off on one during the summer heatwave and is a bit bald, OK, it’s a lot bald, but it’s still alive so it’s getting trimmed and illuminated whether it likes it or not. We can’t be wasting it, can we?

It is nice to have a tree inside too, something the cats can knock over and somewhere to put the presents. And what’s better than a recycled tree? I spotted the very thing on the web page of the wonderful Leeds Wood Recyling . This Community Interest Company is the antidote to my grumpiness, it takes waste and makes it anti-waste, collecting and re-using timber that would otherwise languish in landfill. Actually, it’s even better than that, as they also offer training and volunteering opportunities and has created jobs.

The store, on a small industrial estate near the Armley Gyratory, smells divine, the air is heady with freshly-sawn wood and other woody aromas. So now I have my little Christmas tree and have sourced the timber for the raised beds on the allotment without having to cross the UPVC and metal threshold of a shop or deal with any packaging. Good grief, I think my grumpiness may have subsided…for the time being. Thank you, Leeds Wood Recycling.

Another parkrun 250

MeVol250
Modelling the parkrun volunteer 25 tee-shirt

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.

 

 

#hatelitter, it’s an art

Me
Artist at work installing on site

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.

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The last time these nine mosaics will be seen together! L-R, cigarette butts, plastic can holder, plastic bottles, poo bag hanging from a tree (seriously), #hatelitter, poo, drinks can, food package, drinks bottle

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.

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Plogging along

PloggingALong
Plogged in the sports centre car park.

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.

HeidiArt
Heidi sits on my art installation. Typical.

 

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!

maikacake
Licking out the bowl after cake-baking!