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!

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.

Another parkrun 250

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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.

 

 

I love the NHS. I love parkrun. So there.

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Thanks to Julie Haddon for the photo

This week’s parkrun was a birthday celebration for a 70-year-old, a special  septuagenarian who has a unique relationship with everyone in the country, the National Health Service. Looking out over our 570 parkrunners, there were more scrubs and white coats than you could shake a stethoscope at – and there were quite a few of those too.

There was a whole lot of parkrun love for the NHS, including Diane, one of our regulars,  who was born the same year as the NHS. Diane loves parkrun and expects to run her 400th by the end of the year, joined by her family and friends. She also loves the NHS with a passion, so much has been done for her and her family.

Personally, I think the NHS is the best in the world and will happily argue that case with anyone over a pint and a pie. Look at the big picture, we have a healthcare system that is free at the point of delivery, it’s there for us. Not many other countries in the world can say that, or if they can, there’s a cost involved, for those who can afford it.

However, the not-quite-as-big picture shows that like any 70-year-old, it’s creaking a little. There’s just over 65 million of us to look after, an increase of 20 million or so from 1948. And, thanks in part to the excellent work of the NHS, we’re living longer, surviving diseases that at one time were not survivable.

But no-one lives forever and as we get older, and we’re all getting older, we’re likely to need more care, and that is a huge cost both in terms of people power and money. The NHS does its best for us, it really does, but quite rightly it’s looking to us to take responsibility where we can. You know the kind of thing, eat more of the things that are good for us, drink less of what’s bad for us, keep fit and active, and hang around with friends. Let’s face it, why wouldn’t we want to do that!

For me, that’s where parkrun is a great friend to the NHS. Every Saturday, hundreds of people come along to Woodhouse Moor  , just one of more than 500 parkruns in the UK, to run jog or walk 5km around a park that was created by the Victorians to be green lungs for the city. Thanks to a gang of volunteers who gladly give up their time, they can do this for free. Then there’s the post-parkrun coffee and conversation which ranges from general chit-chat to the true superiority of Yorkshire and Yorkshireness in practically everything, but that’s another blog.

A friend who works for NHS England in the department which is promoting and supporting self care asked me if parkrun was the Next Big Thing for health and wellbeing. Definitely, I said. Not only does it help people like me keep fit and keep sane for the price of a pair of running shoes and a coffee, it also helps a very special under-pressure 70-year-old to do its job just that little bit better. Then everyone wins, don’t they?

I’ve run more than 250 parkruns, volunteered nearly as many times and am Event Director at Woodhouse Moor. I’ve also worked for many years in the NHS as a manager. Oh, and did I mention, I’m from Yorkshire? 

Every cm² of Woodhouse Moor

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I’m almost certain that there isn’t a square centimetre of the path around Woodhouse Moor that I’ve not trod, pounded, tripped, skipped or huffed and puffed on. I have tottered along that tarmac in all weathers, including rain so torrential it washed the dye from my hair and air so cold it turned my hands blue, and that wasn’t my hair dye.

But this Saturday, my running shoes were ready for an extra special turn around the park as I stood on the start line for my 250th parkrun. That’s 250 of the 5km timed runs which began in that there London 14 years ago and has now become, pardon the cliche, a global phenomenon.

With the help of all my toes and fingers, plus a handy abacus, I make that 1,250km, that’s 750 times around the park, not including warm up/cool down laps, putting out and taking in kilometre markers and a few freedom runs, which are parkruns done unofficially.

I did my first parkrun back in 2011, I was doing a bit of running, but not with any great enthusiasm, style or motivation. Noel was on a course for the weekend, so I thought I’d give it a go, it was something to do. There were 274 runners, I couldn’t believe it, so many people turning up at 9am on a cold March Saturday morning, were they mad? Of course they weren’t. I felt like I was, wearing far too much clothing, bumbling around until I crossed the finish line. Wow, I thought, this parkrun thing definitely has something going for it, it turned out I was right.

As well as running, I started to volunteer on a regular basis, becoming run director then event director and watched parkrun grow in confidence as a part of people’s running lives. That growth was not just in numbers, as we now have more than 500 parkrunners a week and that’s with another six parkruns in the city, but also as force for good in the mental wellbeing of the runners and volunteers. Oh yes, that weekly get-together which includes a bit of running, drinking coffee and eating cake afterwards along with a lot of talking, often with just as much listening, has kept me well, mentally and physically.

I’m not saying parkrun is a panacea, but all the parkrunners I know are good people who give help and support as well as receiving it, because that’s what friends do. And I now have many friends who are or have been parkrunners.

Things have been a bit rubbish recently for me, just life happening, the good and the bad, the ups and downs. Then a couple of weeks ago, my dad died after a short illness. I felt so very sad, yet at the next parkrun, I could hardly get around because of the hugs, hands on the shoulder, words of kindness and support, shared tears of so many people.

This week, as I ran that same tarmac, I could hardly get around for the words of congratulations and more hugs. Even the following day as I was supporting at the Leeds Half Marathon, strategically placed at mile 10, shouting ‘only a parkrun to go!’ many of the runners were congratulating me on 250 parkruns, I was very humbled.

Thanks to the generosity of parkrun, I get a free tee-shirt to mark my achievement, it’s green. Emerald green. My Irish dad would have approved.