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!

My century of parkrun volunteering!

Modelling the latest in high viz jackets.
Modelling the latest in high viz jackets.

Volunteering at parkrun is like a warm, welcoming drink on a cold winter’s day. It brings that Ready Brek glow (other breakfast cereals are available) and an all-over feeling of well-being, even though you may be soaked to the skin, have just dropped the tokens into the mud and the scanners have packed up.

This week marked my 100th volunteering stint at parkrun, the free weekly timed 5km run that started in Leeds in 2007, becoming the first event outside London where it all began. With up to 400 runners a week at Woodhouse Moor, we always need volunteers to carry out the various tasks which range from marshaling, scanning barcodes, handing out tokens, generally shouting, clapping and cheering and timing. I’ve done them all except timing, I’m not to be trusted with something that requires 100 per cent attention. Sorry, what was that?

In addition, there’s assertive organising to be done, some may call it bossing about, I’d refute that. There’s also handing out high-viz jackets and untangling the plastic tape for the finish funnel and the all-important opener-of-the-toilet, a great relief to many parkrunners.

The post-run work is then to be done, clearing up, putting stuff in the stores, making our way to the cafe for coffee and serious discussions on the issues of the day. OK so there are no serious discussions, but the biddly-beeping thingies need to have their string of numbers uploaded into the computer thing (another of the tasks I’m not to be trusted with).

But the most wonderful thing about volunteering is that instead of just turning up, running, then going home and waiting for the results, I get to see everything that’s great about parkrun from start to finish, witness how people run hard, run moderately or just jog around, then how they come back week after week. Just like me!

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.

London Marathon? Pah, come to Yorkshire!

The starters at the back see the front runners.
The starters at the back see the front runners.

Why go all the way to That There London to run 26.2 miles when you can stay in Yorkshire, where the air is cleaner, the beer is better and the goodie bag could include a Betty’s Yorkshire Fat Rascal?

Today was the inaugural Yorkshire Marathon in York, one of the flattest places in the county. So that meant a fast and furious run for the elite athletes and a jolly sprint, jog or amble for the rest of the 6000 runners. And what a marathon it was, Yorkshire through and through, right down to the warm welcome from the crowds. The sun even came out, you see, we do have good weather up north!

Noel and I, preferring trail over road and half to full marathons, as well as being just too bloomin’ lazy to put in the training, threw our (flat) caps into the ring as volunteers. The 5am start on a cool, damp Sunday morning, was a bit of a jolt to the system, and I was ready for my second breakfast at 7am and my third at 9am, though there wasn’t a mucky fat sandwich in sight.

We had the important task of pointing and shouting in the park and ride to make sure everyone had a place. I’m good at pointing and shouting, Noel less so, though he can give a stern glare if necessary. It wasn’t really necessary, the waves of runners heading for the bus were ready for the run, some more than others, but there was a great air of anticipation of excitement, as well as the whiff of Deep Heat.

We cut dashing figures in our bright pink high vis jackets, the corporate colour of the Plusnet sponsors. They gave us carte blanche to go pretty much anywhere (I had a sneaky run across the finish line and did a victory dance as we walked up the empty road after the runners had set off). It also meant we were asked plenty of random questions from spectators, so the pointing and shouting came in handy.

Edwin Korir, the first past the post took just 2 hours 13 and looked like he could go on for a few miles yet, he was  seven minutes ahead of his nearest rival. By this time we felt like we’d run a marathon ourselves and were ready for our fourth breakfast which, form’s sake, I renamed lunch.

Great event, great atmosphere and a reet good Yorkshire day, if they could persuade Betty’s to bake a few thousand extra Fat Rascals for the goodie bag and hand out mugs of Yorkshire tea, I could be tempted……Looking forward to next year!