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!

The power of the hi-viz

A hi-viz jacket has special magical powers when you’re a race marshal. First of all, it makes you look smaller, positively svelte. It’s true, one size fits none, so they’re ginormous, even if you’re not. Many’s the time I’ve worn one like a wrap-over dress, adding a few tucks here and there, it looked strangely chic….. no actually that was only in my head, no-one ever looks chic in hi-viz.

I’ve found the main hi-viz superpower is to help folk run faster. Slip on the jacket, wave your hand, shout if you have the volume (I do, I so do) and the runners zoom on past, especially if you call them out by name. Just watch them straighten up, lift their knees, stride out and speed up, pure magic. Or maybe they are just wanting to get away from the loud shouter in the hi-viz wrap-over. Same result!

Of course I prefer to run and be on the receiving end of all that encouragement, but injury and general lethargy have forced me down the hi-viz route of late. I’m expecting that go-faster magic to be in the fabric of the jacket and rub off as training starts for my big running year! Did I really say I’d train for an ultra….?

A shoe for everything..I now know..

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I don’t go to the gym very often, all that grunting, panting and sticky, stinky sweat, and that’s just me trying to get my Shock Absorber sports bra on in the changing rooms.

Why sit on cracked vinyl seats which harbour their own bacteriological ecosystems and push bits of metal around when you can hoik barrow-loads of poo to the allotment and breathe clean, fresh air? Why run on a treadmill watching a screen when you can run outside watching the world, and get muddy into the bargain?

When I do go, it’s to take part in a circuit-training or similar class where there’s lots of little stations around the sports hall, each describing different exercises which thankfully only take a minute or so at a time. There’s a lot of jumping up and down, stepping side to side, juggling with weights and socialising with classmates. And as far as kit is concerned, anything goes, no-one wears fancy designer lycra, or if they do, it’s from the previous decade, maybe century.  And doesn’t everyone just wear whatever shoes come to hand…or rather foot…?

I have a good collection of running shoes, luggy ones for the boggy fells, less luggy ones for the less boggy fells, sturdy ones for the trails, which makes up most of my running, then a pair for roads, which I don’t do very much, and parkrun, so they are also my circuit shoes. I mean, why would you have a separate pair for inside?

Today I had an extra piece of kit to work with on the circuit and it was exclusive to me. I was singled out for this special treatment by the long-suffering Mike. Just by way of background, Mike is Mr Circuit at Kirkstall Leisure Centre, I’ve known him for years, he likes to keep a clean and tidy class and that includes the sports hall.

So I set off on my circuit journey, oblivious to the trail I had inadvertently collected at Saturday’s parkrun and was transferring to Kirkstall. When I looked behind me and saw a little mud sculpture next to a larger mud sculpture with a Saucony  tread, and a few muddy leaves tumbling from my shoes, I knew I was in trouble and may have to reconsider my policy on indoor shoes. Quickly.

Mike presented me with my extra piece of kit was a brush, a big brush, my punishment was to sweep up the mess I’d left behind and promise to wear mud-free shoes. Mud-free shoes? Is there such a thing? Looks like there is now!

parkrun, je t’adore

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It comes to something when a continental weekend away is planned around a parkrun. Not that we’re addicted to parkrun or anything, but if that city has one, then it would be rude not to show our running shoes and chat over coffee and croissants afterwards.

In Paris, we had a choice, there are two parkruns, a little out of the city, so we chose a hotel at Puteaux, that was nearby, relatively. We had a 5km brisk walk to get to the Bois du Bologne, the longest warm-up I’ve ever done, but I was ready to join the hoards of local parkrunners and pick up a few new words of vernacular French for my running vocabulary.

We trotted up to the start, after marvelling at the Bois de Boulogne, which is like a very large version of Calverley Woods, I even did a spot of le plogging en route, though there wasn’t much too litter around and we’d spotted poo-bag dispensers, bravo! We’d passed many runners in the park, expecting to meet them at the start line, but no. parkrun in France is nowhere near as popular as it is in the UK, and there were just over 30 of us there to hear the Run Director explain the course first in French, to the two locals who probably already knew, then in English for the rest of us. Looks like I wasn’t going to pick up any French vernacular that day!

What a wonderful run in a beautiful place with delightful people. The Run Director, a Brit who lives and works in France was very interested to hear we were RDs in Leeds and I think, given half a chance, would have let us help him with the results as he’d only just taken over.  He confessed it had been Tuesday the previous week before the results were out, but hey, who’s in a hurry?

The post-parkrun coffee was en plein air, in warm sunshine, with the usual interesting tales from a group of people brought together by their love of parkrun. I was chatting with one of the French parkrunners and asked why it didn’t seem to have taken off with the French, even though the French clearly loved running. He just smiled and shrugged in that wonderful Gallic way that always says, ‘I don’t know, I really don’t know’. ‘Mais moi-même, parkrun, je l’adore,’ he added.

Personally I’m looking forward to many more French parkruns, not just for the running,  the coffee, croissants, and good company, but because I’ll always be near the top of the results rather than leading from the back. In France, results are presented in alphabetical order by first name and this week, I was second to Alison. Maika was some way behind, and ahead of Noel. I definitely like parkrun France, in fact, parkrun, je t’adore!

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Running with my best friend

UsIlkley

About four kilometres into my favourite race and my calf started to hurt. Definitely something wrong there. As usual I was leading from the rear so there wasn’t anyone around to sympathise, just a couple of birds who were more interested in each other than a weird human plodding across Ilkley Moor (with a hat, in case you were wondering).

Then there he was, my best friend, waiting patiently for me. I could have cried with happiness rather than the pain I was feeling. Noel, my nippy husband of 18 years, had disappeared into the distance as we set off on the Ilkley Trail Race.  Actually everyone had disappeared into the distance as this is a race of two halves, the first half being up, and I’m really not quick up those hills. However, one of the reasons I love this race so much is that the second half is down including the finish, And I’m good at downhill, I’ve even been known to overtake other runners, runners who were actually running, not just those who stopped to tie their shoelaces.

Noel had paused to sample the al fresco facilities and was a little worried about me as I’d griped about a sore knee that morning, but wanted to run. I was in a gripey sort of mood, which instantly vanished when I picked up my race number, it’s always a pick-me-up to pin on the number, an extra bonus if it’s on straight, which is rarely is.

On the way up, before the Calf Incident, I’d been amusing myself with memories of past races and favourites. Ilkley always features, it’s only short, about 11km, but challenging and really well supported. Another favourite that stood out was my first ever Flat Cap Five on trails above Dewsbury. We were stuck in traffic and arrived after everyone had set off, so Noel and I ran together, it was lovely. If only we could do that again, I mused.

So there we were again, running together, chatting on the way, generally enjoying ourselves, because that’s what running’s all about, isn’t it? My calf was hurting so there was more walking than running, but I did manage a speedy hobble for the final straight.

After a suitable rest and vigorous foam rollering, I’ll be back on my training programme. It’s a Big Birthday next year, I’m going to run the Calderdale ultra marathon with my best friend. But don’t tell him, I don’t think he knows yet.

The embiggening of the rubber litter ball

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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