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!

Hi-viz hero..anytime, anyplace

What’s a parkrun run director doing in the middle of the road, in the dark, stopping traffic and being generally bossy? Many motorists were asking that very question as they skidded to a halt near a busy junction in Calverley, a village with no parkrun.

It all started as we settled down to sample my latest culinary offering, a veggie chilli which I suspected may hit 11 on the heat scale. The blinds were down, the door curtain drawn, the beer chilling and the fire crackling into life, a cosy evening awaited.

Suddenly there was a frantic knocking on the door, usually a sign of chuggers cranking up their smiles. Noel answered, one look from him usually scares away any unwanted callers and the odd guest.

But no, it was a visibly upset mum whose car had stopped in the middle of the road at the bottom of the hill outside our house. And when she said stopped, it was absolutely refusing to go any further. There were three young children inside who were understandably anxious, and I don’t blame them. Some folk treat out road like a race track, while others hurl around the corner to get a bit of traction up the steep hill. This wasn’t a good place to be stuck.

It was one of these new-fangled automatic cars with extra safety features, such as the one that puts it in park when, for example, fuel runs out. We couldn’t have pushed it if we’d have wanted.

I was worried about their being another accident so dashed inside where my trusty parkrun hi-viz was waiting for its weekly outing, all freshly washed and not smelling of Woodhouse Moor mud. I grabbed it and was immediately transformed into bossy director mode, though some may not have noticed the difference.

It really did help as cars slowed down, probably wondering where the parkrun was. Thankfully one of our neighbours was passing and came to the rescue with fuel and the offer of a place for the children to wait while we faffed. We had offered our house, but the youngsters were keener to go to a house with other children and toys. They may also have smelled the chilli which was rather ferocious.

Fortunately the fuel did the trick, the traffic started to run freely and we returned to our Friday evening indulgences, vowing never to buy an automatic and also, as an afterthought, to go easy on the fresh chilli.

The next day there was a calmer knock on the door, it was mum and children, all looking happier. She’d brought us flowers and a card, addressed to the hi-viz heroes, which made our day, especially as we’d been soaked to the skin volunteering at that morning’s parkrun. No-one volunteers, or helps others for material rewards, but when it does happen, it’s very nice.

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

A ten out of ten day

Thank you, parkrun.

‘I wonder what the world would have been like without parkrun….’ Noel mused. ‘Well, for a start, we’d never have met George, ” I replied. ‘And we’d never have known what a ten out of ten day looked like.’

I first met George five years years ago when he came to Woodhouse Moor parkrun to volunteer, he was just 13. A mutual friend commented that for George, every day was a ten out of ten day. I’m an optimist, my glass is half full, but not that full, maybe an eight or a nine, sometimes, on a good day, I didn’t think a ten was possible. After spending time with George, I can confirm this is true.

George became our star volunteer, collecting tokens from parkrunners after their barcodes had been scanned. Then, encouraged by his mum and dad, he had a go at running. It’s fair to say that his ten out of ten day may have slipped to a nine-and-a-half as he sat down on a bench part-way round and refused to go further. But he got up and did it, did more and is now the proud owner of a parkrun 50 tee-shirt.

He knows everyone at our parkrun and everyone knows him. His arrival on a Saturday morning is heralded by shouts of welcome and massive hugs all round. He cheers us as we run, we cheer him when he runs, it’s wonderful. He’e even become a parkrun ambassador, speaking at conferences and the like,

Last weekend at our parkrun, we had a TV crew from Sky, who are recording a series about special parkrunners, no prizes for guessing who! The crew had arrived the previous day to film George doing all the amazing things he does and interviewing those who do it with him, like dancing and acting.

On Saturday, where we broke our attendance record with 721 parkrunners, he interviewed a few of us, while running, a challenge in itself. He then went on to the newly-opened 21 Co Cafe in Headingley , which supports young people with Down Syndrome, he volunteers there too. What a guy. The day was definitely a ten out of ten for me, I suspect it might have gone up to 11 for George!

Of course, George isn’t the only friend we’ve made through parkrun, there are so many more, and there will be so many more.

So when Noel asked what the world would have been like without parkrun, I’d say we’d all have been the poorer for it. Thank you, parkrun.

A parkrun Christmas

Photo: Lizzie Coombes , another parkrun friend!

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!

A winning quiz team

An early start to my singing career

There were just two teams and three points in it. Us and the Walnut Whips, a team of chocolatiers with an uncanny insight into obscure music of the 1950s. The rest had fallen by the wayside, the Norwegian Blues, parrot fanciers and hygge experts, the Abba-ettes, who could sing any Abba song in the original Swedish and us. We called ourselves the parkrunners, because we are.

Not that parkrunning had much to do with it, but it was the one common factor that brought us together as a team, seeing that we’d never met before this quiz. It’s amazing how quickly we found that we were all parkrunners and we soon started swapping our  5km timed run stories and comparing tee-shirt colours. I was proud of my green 250, with Noel and Eileen looking to get theirs next year.

So there I was, microphone in hand, ready for a sing-off with the chief Walnut Whipper to decide who won the bottle of bubbly and box of fudge in the Queen of Quizzes. She was 6’10 with a huge voice to match, but I had my secret weapon, I’m a massive show-off.

This all happened because we all work for ourselves. Being self-employed has many advantages, including being your own boss. But when it comes to Christmas, you can’t have much of a party on your own, there’s no-one to pull a cracker with for a start. And breaking open a bottle of bubbly is a major undertaking leading to the mother of all hangovers.

My friend Eileen, a fellow freelancer, was saying the same thing,  and being a resourceful type, offered to organise a Christmas do for people like us. I was glad to let her, she lives in the Lake District and I’ll head for the lakeland fells at the drop of a hat.

So we found ourselves in Zeffirellis in Ambleside, we know and love it well, a restaurant with an independent cinema, a marriage made in heaven! As we entered, Noel asked the obvious question, who did I know in the room. Err, well, err, no-one except Eileen, definitely an introvert’s nightmare, fortunately one of us is an extrovert. Eileen was there and exclaimed ‘StripeyAnne!’, I get a lot of that. The other freelancers arrived, we talked parkrun, and there we were, the beginnings of a winning team.

Not that we were competitive, it was only for fun, wasn’t it?  But as the quiz rounds went on, we kept swapping top place with the Walnut Whips and the bubbly and fudge seemed within our grasp. Questions about music after 2000 were met with blank stares by us, I mean, is there any music after 2000? We thought we might have clinched it with the Beatles round, though naming the albums was a challenge. Then there was the singing round and someone had to take one for the team, that would be me, then!

We did the Ambleside version of Do They Know it’s Christmas between us, each taking a line. Points were awarded for singing in the right key, hitting notes and being an out-and-out Diva. It was between the Walnut Whipper and me, who do you think was the biggest Diva? 

As we sipped our bubbly and munched on the fudge, we reflected on our victory and made a promise to return next year. By then both Noel and Eileen should have their parkrun 250 tee-shirts, we’ll have swotted up on music after 2000 and I might take singing lessons!

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.