I want to….

I want to hug my friends for so long and so tightly and give them such big, sloppy kisses that they’ll long for the days of social distancing.

I want to shake the hand of every person I meet, one of those double-hold shakes, clasping their one hand between my two, with eye contact and a smile so big that my face will look like it’s going to fall off.

I want to meet every friend, their partner, their children and their pets and treat them to coffee and cake, listening to every detail of what they’ve been doing during lockdown and enjoying every single word.

I want sit for hours in cafes drinking coffee, eating cake, then sandwiches, then more cake, a different sort of course. I’ve missed cafe cake. This will be my personal contribution to kick-starting the coffee and cake economy.

I want to drive to the Greasy Sausage Sandwich van, parked on the dual carriageway layby and buy the greasiest sausage sandwich they sell and wash it down with a pint of builders’ tea in a chipped mug.

I want to sit next to total strangers in the cinema and share their popcorn, even if it’s sweet, then brush past them all as I go to and from the concessions, searching for Kia Ora and the singing crow.

I want to join the round-the-block queue to the Apple store for the latest iPhone release, even though I don’t and never will have an iPhone. When I get to the front, I’ll ask for the latest Samsung Galaxy, then run away sniggering. Just because I can.

I want to get in the car and drive the length and breadth of the country, then cross over to another country and another, stopping at service stations and using every toilet. Twice. The purchase of coffee and cake is a given.

I want to climb 6b+ at the climbing wall, thrutching and huffing and puffing as I try and fail to reach the dirty, smelly, sweat-stained holds, then crawl to the cafe for chips with extra chips, soaked in vinegar. I’ll share them with all my mates.

I want to pop into a shop and buy flour, so I can make cake.

I want to put on my running kit and not run alone. I want to pin on my race number and be shoulder to shoulder with hundreds, maybe thousands of other runners in the start funnel, chattering nervously, or maybe shivering with cold, then watch as they all sprint off, and leave me plodding along, grinning, crying with happiness.

Most of all, I want to parkrun. I want to wake up on a Saturday with that ‘it’s parkrun day’ buzz and get there super early to greet fellow parkrunners as they arrive. Yes, I want to parkrun, it’s what I’ve missed the most during these lockdown times. The friendships, the stories, the pure joy of seeing so many familiar faces who I may or may not be able to put a name to, the setting up and taking down of the course, the short walk to the cafe afterwards, and of course the coffee and cake. Oh and the running, mustn’t forget that. Afterwards, hours later, returning home with a buzz and grin that lasts the rest of the day. Yes, parkrun. I want to parkrun. Please let it be soon!

Noel's return to parkrun..

We were sitting on the sofa the other night, Noel ranting at something or other on the TV, me multitasking my social media habit, one cat perched precariously on my lap, the other doing what he does best, ignoring us. Noel took a rant break, smiled (yes, smiled) and said he felt like someone who’d been ill, but wasn’t any more, normality was returning, it was time to parkrun.

Noel’s last parkrun was May 18 2019, he ran with me, but he wasn’t feeling himself, something was definitely wrong. A couple of weeks later we knew what it was and the Bastard Cancer journey began. From then on there was no running and very little walking as our wonderful, magnificent, peerless NHS did its bit, first zapping, then chopping the Bastard Cancer out and now healing.

Throughout that time he’d volunteered at parkrun when he could, supported from home when he couldn’t. I would send him photos from the cafe where we would have our post-parkrun coffee. Looking back, he was ill, very ill, but he isn’t any more, he’s now someone who was ill. He’s back and he’s bad.

We suspected that parkrun days would be numbered for everyone as the insidious Covid-19 started to shut down the world around us. So last week he put on his running kit, scraped the none-month-old mud off his trainers, dusted down his barcode, and stood with more than 500 others on the start line at Woodhouse Moor.

We set off together, with Noel intending to walk, though determined to have as much distance in front of the tail walker as possible. Progress was slow, incredibly slow as everyone wanted to welcome him back, everyone wanted to ask how he was, because that’s what happens at parkrun. He even ran for some of it and admitted it felt good. I was smiling so much I thought my cheeks would fall off, though I also wanted to cry, it was very emotional for so many reasons.

It was a personal worst for Noel, though way ahead of the tailwalker, but he didn’t care, this was what he had been looking forward to for so long, a return to parkrun.

This week there is no parkrun, there won’t be one next week and for weeks to come, it’s necessary to combat the global pandemic of Covid-19. But it hasn’t stopped us getting together virtually with our parkrun pals, me the extrovert blabbering away on the video conferencing, him the introvert watching on. We’ll be running, not a parkrun, because that would be stupid, but running somewhere locally, then having a virtual coffee with our parkrun pals. It won’t be the same, at the moment nothing is the same, but it doesn’t take away the fact that Noel isn’t ill any more and he’s parkrun ready when the time comes.

Post-parkrun silliness

The Y of YMCA

Is it just us in Leeds, with our famous cheery Yorkshire dispositions, or is every parkrunner gripped by silliness and a capacity to talk a load of rubbish while overdosing on coffee and cake after our weekly pootle around the park?

We have been going for some time, as I’ll happily announce to Woodhouse Moor visitors on a Saturday morning. After all, who wouldn’t want to trumpet that we are the fourth oldest parkrun in the world, starting in 2007 and the first outside that there London?

And while most of our parkrunners head back home, or somewhere else to get on with the rest of their Saturday after they’ve done their run, a small hard core group can be found in the cafe afterwards each week, some of them even joining us after doing another parkrun elsewhere and helping with the token sorting, thus solving the mystery of how they can receive run results and volunteer credits at two different events.

The cafe staff tend to wear earplugs to cut out our noisy chatter and leave a dustpan and brush near the doorway for us to clear up the mud we’ve trampled in. They put up with a lot, though we suspect that Saturday mornings help boost their takings significantly, so they forgive us when it comes to payday.

We’re a captive audience, so are used by fellow parkrunners as a sounding board, completing surveys, helping with research, or even sharing our collective wisdom with Puggles (non-parkrun cafe users). Some join in with the banter, some smile and turn their headphones up to 11, others come to the door, see the mayhem and decide they’ll go to the cafe across the road.

But this week, the silliness scaled new heights with the help of a Spotify disco collection. Often the music they play is new-fangled stuff the sort they played on Radio One, blimey, I didn’t know that was still going, Radcliffe and Macone tell me it went defunct years ago and that BBC 6 Music is now the only radio station. But this selection was pure vintage, and just called for dancing, especially when they started with the Village People’s YMCA, an absolute classic.

I can only say it went downhill from there. I may be a passable parkrunner, and while I may have been in the mood for dancing, the good moves remain in my head. At one stage we were all on our feet, prancing around, including the staff, skinny flat whites and soya porridge everywhere. Some of the keener parkrunners were connecting to Strava or twidding the knobs on their FitBits to record the extra activity. As usual, I had forgotten my watch.

I danced so much I had to lie down when I got home, but I understand from other parkrunners that this too is a popular post-parkrun activity. Roll on Saturday and the return of the post-parkrun silliness. And napping.

parkrun volunteering..from a hospital bed

The wonderful thing about parkrun volunteering is that even when you’re not there, you can be there.

Since soon after the Bastard Cancer showed its fat ugly face (the bastard), Noel has been missing his weekly parkrun at Woodhouse Moor, but fortunately not his parkrun friends. He’s been in hospital over Christmas and the new year, already feeling better for having the damned tumour taken out and dealt with.

As parkrunners know, this time of year we reach Peak parkrun. As well as the usual Saturday 5km runs, there are extras on Christmas and New Year’s Day, in fact January 1 is the only day of the year you can run TWO parkruns.

As Run Director on New Year’s Day it was also my job to sort out the results. We actually broke our attendance record that day, 748 runners all wanting to know how well they’ve done on the morning after the night before. That’s quite a job. Fortunately, Noel is a whizz with results processing and even more fortunately, there’s very good wifi at Jimmy’s. And seeing as he had a bit of time on his hands, he offered to do the results, from his hospital bed.

I arrived fresh from my run, bearing the mud-stained kit bag full of all the parkrun equipment. I don’t think any of the staff noticed the mud… The beeping of the various medical machines was drowned out by the bipping and beeping of the timers and scanners as Noel uploaded them to his laptop, waved a magic wand and, hey presto, the results were done!

Noel volunteered to volunteer, it’s something he loves doing and he loves parkrun. He’s very much part of the team, the quiet one behind the loud one. He’s missed being there and everyone’s missed him, I can’t even begin to tell you how how much I miss him when he’s not there. In fact he’s had so many messages of support and encouragement from the parkrun community since he started this Bastard Cancer journey he’s been humbled and overwhelmed and so have I.

He’ll be home soon and wants to get back to parkrun as soon as he’s able. He’ll start with volunteering, but it’s the running he really wants to do. Lucy, the specialist colorectal nurse, confessed she’d not been to parkrun for some time, but said she would be there for Noel’s return to running. I strongly suspect she won’t be the only one.

400 bananas, thousands of parkrun friends

‘Don’t laugh,’ she said, meaning that whatever she said, I was going to have to stifle giggles and guffaws. ‘I’ve bought 400 bananas and I’m writing a personal message on all of them. In pen. It’s taking a while’

Of course I didn’t laugh, if you cut Jaz in half, there would be ‘kindness’ written all the way through her, right next to ‘parkrun’. But by gum, she does some wacky stuff!

She was one of the 15 or so runners on the start line of the first ever Leeds (now Woodhouse Moor) parkrun 12 years ago. At the time, she had no idea what she was doing there at 9am on a cold,crisp October morning. She didn’t even like running.

But she persevered and last weekend was ready to run her 500th, a major milestone reached by only half a dozen at Leeds (87 worldwide) and, as she proudly points out, the first Indian woman to claim that blue tee-shirt.

People call me Mrs parkrun at Woodhouse Moor, mainly because I’m so gobby, but Jaz is Lady parkrun. While she confesses she’s still not that keen on running until she’s finished and enjoying the endorphins, she loves parkrun and says she has her dream job as Head of HR and Volunteering. But best of all, like so many parkrunners, she has made many friends and been encouraged by others as she runs.

So to say thank you to her fellow parkrunners, she wanted to do something personalised, different, healthy and eco-friendly. She bought 400 bananas, hoiked them up the two flights of stairs to her apartment, spread them out on the counter and set to work, writing thank you messages. It took her just short of six hours.

Yes, she said, she had thought of printing stickers, but that wasn’t the same. Yes, she added, she could have asked someone to help, but she wanted it to come from her personally.

Come Saturday, her car was humming with the scent of bananas and packed with spare tutus. I mean, what’s a special run without a tutu or two? She asked me to tell the 600 parkrunners why there was a table full of banana messages at the finish and to shield their eyes from the blaze of tutu glory as they ran past 15 or so of us accompanying Jaz on her special parkrun. They applauded, everyone knows and loves Jaz!

There was a lot of parkrun love for us as we tutued the three laps around the course. We even sang, when I say sang, we made tunefulish noises which definitely gave us a different kind of workout.

Afterwards there were just four bananas left. The boxes and skins went to compost and everyone went away with a smile. That’s lovely friends like Jaz for you. That’s parkrun for you.

Passing the (golden) baton

Thanks to Leeds Building Society for the photo

Run with this, they said. Make it look easy, they said. Smile for the camera, they said. Look like you’re enjoying it, they said. Three out of four ain’t bad, I am expecting an Oscar nomination.

I was handed the golden baton at parkrun. Not pure gold, you understand, gold-coloured, but it was heavy enough, almost like carrying a rolling pin, if truth be told. At one point I even tucked it into my shorts so I could run hands free, but it wasn’t a good look and I nearly fell over into the bargain.

The baton was one of 15 starting the #BigCommunityRelay, a magical mystery tour from Woodhouse Moor. The lovely folk at Leeds Building Society, who are major sponsors of parkrun, helping to keep our 9am Saturday morning 5km run free, are quite taken with how friendly and inclusive we all are. You can say that again, I count among my parkrun friends people of all ages, from 8 to 80, all faiths, from Jew to Jain and from all corners of the globe, including Lancashire.

All of those friends have been even dearer following Noel’s #BastardCancer diagnosis, showing so much kindness and concern I was left speechless, and that never happens, so make the most of it.

Many parkrunners love to visit other events, going on tour. We’re the fourth oldest in the world, celebrating our 12th birthday at the weekend, the first three were in that there London. We get 5-600 parkrunners a week and a lot of tourists who are given a right Yorkshire welcome and often leave with a big smile and a belly full of cake.

Leeds Building Society know how much of a community parkrun is, so came up with the idea of starting a relay in our city, handing out the batons fitted with GPS to map parkrun progress, with the holders passing them on to others, probably by way of a chat and coffee.

What a great idea! There was a queue of volunteers ready to take the baton to places as far away as Germany, New Zealand and even Lancashire. I wonder where mine will end up!

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!

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


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!

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!