Centenarians? Centurians? In any event, there were lots of one hundred milestone runners flying around the Sheffield Hallam route this weekend. Cue Parkrun Party. Yay!
Basically, to imagine a Parkrun Party, first just think about the key constituents of throwing an awesome conventional party. So that might be, oh, I don’t know, let’s say music; free flowing alcohol; dancing; buffet; atmospheric lighting; late night conversations that take you through to dawn; cake; balloons and fab friends. Then what you need to do, is remove certain aspects that don’t quite work in a park on a Saturday morning at 9.00 a.m.. So subtract the following: music; free-flowing alcohol; dancing; buffet; atmospheric lighting; late night conversations. You get to keep the cake and balloons though. Add in the following: standing around in the freezing cold at the beginning, a mandatory 5 km run in the middle, and then more standing around in the cold at the end. Oh, and an early morning start. I know, it’s really sounding terrific isn’t it? We do know how to have a good time in the Parkrun community. Compare and contrast – party images (conventional) versus party image (Parkrun). I know, it’s pretty obvious which one any right minded person would opt for!
There are some wins though, nobody has to spend the whole time holding back their friend’s hair whilst they are being sick in the loo; you won’t have to take evasive action round a photocopier/ kitchen table/ nightclub dance floor to avoid being groped by some sleazy guy; no hangover; no being stuck sat on the stairs all night willing the evening to end because you haven’t got the social skills to interact with anyone and no intoxicated twister games that you will regret in the morning.
So stripped bare, a Parkrun Party retains only what is essential. Fab friends, shared experiences, cake (in monumental quantities) and balloons. Also, in the case of Sheffield Hallam Parkrun, our (practically) resident photographer ensures there will still be lots of hilarious/ atmospheric/ excruciating photos to flick through after the event so every moment of the celebrations can be relived posthumously. Plus, there is something really joyful about runners achieving their milestone T-shirts. Today there are two Smiley Paces runners both completing their 100 runs, it’s taken them four years each to get to this point. So although people talk about getting a ‘free T-shirt’ that isn’t true. In this instance it’s actually taken 1000 km running and eight years of Saturday mornings to get these two Smileys to that point. A true test of tenacity. They weren’t the only people achieving their century this weekend. There was also spouse of Smiley – who no doubt is an individual in their own right but nevertheless is pictured below as an honorary part of the Smiley gang; and one other person who I don’t know and so basically doesn’t get a look in. They got to triumph in their own way though, I dare say, though probably not so well supplied in cake. We Smileys however, celebrated together.
So, this Saturday, even though it was freezing cold and distinctly looking like a lot of rain was on its way. I was happier than usual to skip down to the park as free cake offers an amazing incentive to run. I didn’t need the usual motivational pep talk, just to know that there would be a large selection of consumables on offer at the end. Let’s go indeed!
What’s more, I even donned my Smiley vest in a gesture of solidarity with our club runners. I had at one point entertained vain notions of running along with them. However, that was always going to be over-optimistic, still, but I could show willing and gain glory by association by hanging out with them at the start.
A fair few of us had assembled. I was in time to see one Smiley in particular touching up her make-up in anticipation of the run. She is the one who exercises the real power behind the photographer’s lens. The photographer himself is a necessary pre-requisite for snapping away endlessly to capture runners in action over the years and venues, but it is the photographer’s right hand woman who has the really important job of quality control/ self-esteem protection of all the other runners who have ever been snapped in action by the dedicated George. These are many and manifest with some 85,000 photos taken over the years I’m told – no, I haven’t checked, but this is plausible. It is she who looks through each of the pictures captured each week, and prior to posting, will ensure any that are especially mortifying are deleted. She is the gatekeeper who decides which pictures may pass into the posting stage, and those which are to be ditched for all eternity. Any appalling or inappropriate images that have been inadvertently captured, are on her whim destroyed, added to the virtual trash cans of cyberspace from where they can never be retrieved. In this way, she is personally responsible for maintaining the basic morale and dignity of the entire running community of Sheffield and its environs. Who can count the tearful tantrums she may have prevented, or the blackmail opportunities she has allowed to pass her by? She appears to be a benign influence, but naturally we all live in terror of her having an off day. Imagine the vengeance she could unleash on a runner who had wronged her in some way? Your worst nightmare image going viral across cyberspace and nothing whatsoever you could do to stop the spread. I shudder at the very thought. Acutely aware of this, I decide not to pass any comment on the wisdom and necessity of coming to the park with a complete pop-up make up stand and light-surrounded mirror. I make a mental note not to make a big deal of it, and to make a special effort not to draw attention to it in any way when I am subsequently writing up my next blog post. Besides, it is of course important that one always looks one’s best I know.
To be honest, it’s always a bit of revealing question, the answer that one gives allows you to separate the ‘true runners’ from the ‘also rans’. How might any of us make that choice which could come to define us? You must know the question I mean:- If you could only have one of the following two options, which would you choose? A new Personal Best, or, a flattering photo of yourself running? Only a very few exulted individuals have been known to achieve both, in fact I can only really think of one – and you can’t help but wonder if being photo monitor was a factor in doing so on this occasion – no wonder the airborne figure on the left is looking as pleased as punch. Richly deserved though – full minute off a PB is awesome indeed. Maybe that extra make-up application also helped. You know, like greasing the legs of horses going cross country can help them slide over obstacles. Perhaps the same principle applies with slapping on a bit of lippy? Reduced air-resistance knocking seconds off each 500 metre sprint. To test the idea, I might wear full clown make up next week, just to see what happens. Come and say ‘hello’ if you spot me.
So, we are all milling around at the beginning of the run. In my enthusiasm for showing solidarity, I find myself in a completely different place from usual in the start funnel. Much further forward, it’s quite packed, and a bit intimidating. I am with the two Smileys and their balloons and bunting, and they have positioned themselves in the optimum location for their anticipated finish times – which are quicker than I have ever even dreamt of – there are a few others of us about too. The shout for ‘off’ goes and it’s a fast start indeed. A real sprint, eek! I am out of my comfort zone, but want to stay with the Smiley group as long as I can. This is hard, it’s a bit chaotic, we are surrounded by the competitive runners – those more likely to elbow you aside (in the nicest possible way) than apologise and gesture ‘after you’ if approaching a bottle neck at the bridge (which is more what I’m used to with my usual running associates).
Also, it turns out that it is harder than you might think to run with a balloon, they are not in fact the ultimate running accessory next to a fitbit or Garmin after all, and my Smiley comrades in possession of one helium sphere each, wrestled to control them. I am in the wake of at least one of the balloons and for a weightless artefact it is surprisingly disruptive. I get bopped quite a bit, it is sensory overload. My Smiley friend is fleet of foot, I travel on in her wake, ducking and diving to avoid balloon impacts en route, but still only manage the first mini lap and just beyond the cafe before I cave in, and revert to my usual slower pace. I am curious though as to how the rest of the run will be. I never normally start off so fast, I just don’t know if it will mean I burn out utterly or in fact improve my time. The centurions though do just great, confidently striding out, and caught in action too. You can see me looking a bit panicked in the background whilst the centurions are indomitable. Go Smileys!
Back in my own zone, I check out what’s going on around me. It’s quite strange, because I am in a different cohort from my usual running companions. It’s strange how you get to know the people who run at your speed, right now there are a fair few new faces around me now. I notice particularly two youngish women running together who actually stop by the cafe so one can nip in to get a napkin for a runny nose I think – and then pick up pace again and swiftly overtake me. There is a young (under 10) boy who appears to be sprinting effortlessly, but on reaching a bench suddenly stops, collapses onto the seat and puts his head in his hands. It is evident the joy of running has for now at least, deserted him. A concerned adult went to comfort him – don’t know if morale was restored and running subsequently resumed or not.
I am too far behind my Smiley Centenarians (and my they are looking good for a hundred apiece) to join them at the finish, but I am near enough to hear a triumphant whoop go up as together they cross the line. I had no doubt they would be swept up into a grand collective smiley hug of shared celebration. The paparazzi was there to co-ordinate a photo-shoot prior to the breaking out of the cakes, which I subsequently find out are many and manifest. Luckily for me, Smileys are not only FGRs (Very Good Runners) but also FGBs (Very Good Bakers) it seems! Hurrah, no wonder it is the best running club in Sheffield, that sugar high can shoot almost anyone to new levels of achievement.
Running high secured, the sugar high follows shortly afterwards. By the time I catch up, there are cakes piled high in abundance on the tables outside the cafe. Lemon drizzle cake; chocolate brownies; chocolate muffins; carrot cake and more besides. We queue for coffee to accompany it in the cafe – which is both steaming and heaving – and then take on the cake-challenge with gusto. I think the lemon drizzle was probably my favourite, but I was defeated in trying out them all, so survey was incomplete. I’m pretty sure I got near to consuming my own bodyweight in cake though, so I like to think I did my bit to demonstrate appreciation for the catering efforts of the triumphant two.
Congratulations were shared and the race debrief continued onto Facebook. There were some awesome times today. Don’t know if it was the sense of occasion putting a spring in everyone’s step; the incentive of cake at the end; the cool running conditions or the speedier than usual start, but lots of pleased Parkrun people sharing impressive stats in the aftermath. Congratulations all! I didn’t get a PB but astonishingly I did get my best time of 2015 (which actually isn’t really anything to get very excited about, but is of interest), maybe starting off in terror is the way to go?
So bravo Smileys, once again I salute you. Not only for your awesome running, but the commitment that has taken you to the one hundred mark. Most especially, I thank you for sharing the love in literal, as well as metaphorical ways, by supplying such quality cake. Thank you too, our tame photographer George, fabulous photos once again. Loads of people must have been wrapped in a warm glow of self-satisfaction and oozing good will on Saturday night. Everyone is wonderful, life is wonderful, it is in fact a wonderful life.
Roll on the next hundredth celebrations. Surely a fair few must be in the pipeline now… In the interim may you speedily obtain your Milestone Tees and wear them with pride – and the black will look fabulous under a Smiley vest to boot! Life is good. Let’s go!