Not me, Jessica Ennis. Though there were a great many puddles, and I did a considerable amount of sploshing of my own through them.
Blinking in the dark from the comfort of under the duvet early this morning, all I could hear was rain beating down on the attic roof. This does not bode well. Parkrun is all well and good, and running in the drizzle acceptable, but this is actual unrelenting torrential rain that is a tortuous test of my tenacity in turning out to Parkrun. I seriously wonder if this is the end of days, you know, like the great flood? If it is, and this is my last day on earth, should I choose it to spend it running in the rain? For me this is a variation on the theme of ‘live each day as if it was your last’ which, for your information, actually as advice is bollocks. This is because whenever I have considered it, say on the way to work, I realise very quickly that if this was indeed my last day ever alive, I certainly wouldn’t be heading off there for a start, but if I didn’t turn up, and then the world didn’t actually end for everyone, ironically it might subsequently do so just especially for me – when I got sacked for not turning up or actually saying what I thought at a team meeting or whatever, and quite soon I’d be jobless, destitute, probably living on the streets etc. So you have to be pretty sure it’s a count down to Armageddon before you embrace that principle. I decide on balance it probably isn’t the end of the world, so I’ll have to make my judgement based on other criteria.
I can think of a great many reasons not to run today. The primary one being it will be profoundly unpleasant. I am getting much better at running when it is wet under foot, even embracing the hilarity factor of mud, bogs and rivers en route, but wet overhead is a different prospect. Plus, if I get really soaked then I might be too cold to hang about for breakfast afterwards, and it is the prospect of the post-run breakfast that keeps me going to Parkrun week after week. Then I remember that I have never yet regretted going on a run, and I will get extra smug quotient for doing so in inclement weather. Plus, I think of Shackleton. He got all his crew safely back from the Antarctic in decidedly less clement weather, and they had to drag lifeboats with them (plus those glass photo negatives and a banjo if my memory serves me right) and it took a couple of months. Parkrun for me will be 35 minutes tops, and I only have to carry a barcode (#DFYB apparently, if you are very cool and hip and happening, and have just checked the Parkrun UK Facebook page). I will run. I will do so with bad grace, but I will run all the same.
Within seconds, my phone vibrates with a message. My faint hearted so-called running buddy has sent a tempting text. I will not shame her by quoting it in its entirety, suffice to say it suggests the sacrilege of ‘how about breakfast, but without the running bit first?‘ It is extremely seductive as a notion, but I hold my nerve. ‘I will not judge you’ I say as judgementally as is possible via text, ‘but I will be running.’ There is a longish pause, then a confirmation of a grumpy change of plan, we shall both now run! This is a first, me motivating someone else to venture out in the rain. Normally, she and I collude with each other to take it easy and concentrate on eating cake.
Despite the confidence of my statement, I am not keen. I put on my running waterproof. This annoys me, it doesn’t have a two-way zip so I find it a bit restrictive, and even thought it’s chucking it down, it’s quite warm, maybe I’ll be too clammy wearing it. I stomp off remembering to take with me my aforementioned very bad grace. Quite quickly though I feel better, it is wet, but it is also blustery and beautiful, the colours on the trees (whilst we still have them, poor Sheffield trees, horribly threatened at present) are just amazing. As I am heading into the park there is someone standing at the entrance to it, with a very large dog on a lead. For some reason when the dog sees me it becomes wildly excited. Trembling with enthusiasm at my approach and wagging its tail furiously. I am quite flattered, I don’t normally get that kind of reception from anyone or anything. Lots of cool things happen on the way to Parkrun today, it is almost an assault on the senses. I am particularly amused by a guy running just ahead of me, he’s wearing a lot of clothes, a beanie hat pulled down over his head, a sort of puffa jacket thing, long trousers, probably gloves, trainers. Sprinting quite fast, he looks like he’s on his way to (or possibly away from) a robbery. As he comes alongside the top pond in the park he reaches into his pocket and hurls pre-torn bread chunks into the water attracting a flock of hungry ducks towards him. It is hilarious to watch, it’s like he’s conducting a drive by shooting, not the innocent activity of feeding the ducks. Who knew such a sweet act of compassion could appear so sinister. It just goes to show – what, I’m not exactly sure, but it definitely shows something.
I make my way to the start, and it is a bit depleted, but, and here’s the thing, there is nevertheless a ripple of excitement passing through the crowd.
Parkrun start is right by the children’s playground. Within the playground is a Sheffield superstar. A goddess amongst us. It is Jessica Ennis (or ‘Jess’ as we like to call her round here), out in the rain with her child. The reaction amongst us is quite hilarious. We are all in awe at being within her vicinity, but way too cool to approach her, it would be unfair. So there are surreptitious side glances, and appreciative looks as a murmur of recognition passes amongst us. Everyone in Sheffield loves Jess, you can almost see the warmth oozing out towards her from the crowd of Parkrunners at the conclusion of the run (or is that just the steam of sweat evaporating). I too love Jess even though it is her fault that I once got an answer wrong in a pub quiz about exactly which events she participates in (it’s actually harder than you think to list them, so don’t judge before you’ve tried for yourself). I feel smug and rewarded for my diligence in turning out for Parkrun. We, like Jess, have been willing to turn out in the rain, and so have found ourselves rubbing shoulders with the stars. Sort of.
The rain pauses briefly, so I take off my running waterproof. The shout for ‘off’ comes round quite quickly, after something about there being filming today, but I don’t know what that was for – student project at a guess, the film crew looked alarmingly youthful, but then everybody does these days. There are a lot of fallen leaves, so it’s quite slippery. There are some monster puddles, and I realise belatedly that my legs are killing me after a particularly sadistic workout at my Friday exercise class yesterday. Running is quite as bad as I thought. The route at Endcliffe involves a loop at the start (and twice again later actually) that takes you back past the playground. I figure that running round I can have a good old gawp at Jess, just to check my celebrity sighting is properly and personally verified. In my enthusiasm for rubber necking I don’t look where I am going and land full in a deep puddle. This leads to a pretty conclusive soaking, wet up the legs and two shoes full of water. I’d really like to do a run with dry feet again, but this might not now happen until 2016 at this rate. I also can’t see Jess because she has her back to me, serves me right.
It seems a long, long way around today. I am really badly lapped, and I hate that. Worse, as the leaders are finishing and I’m having to head off round again, the heavens open and a proper drenching ensues. Wet through to my knickers, with water dripping down the back of my neck and fringe sticking to my forehead, this is not glamorous. Jess doesn’t look like this when she runs, what’s wrong with me? The rain is falling so heavily I just want to get around. I do get one cracker conversation coming my way though. Coming down the road back into the park, after running along Rustlings Road you have to go downhill and negotiate a series of speed humps. A parent has come back from the finish to help encourage her very young (6 or 7 maybe) daughter get around the final loop. As is usual for me, I am happy to parasitize any encouragement that is forthcoming, whether personally directed at me or not, so I listen in for any top tips. The woman is shouting advice about the speed humps – ‘here are Jessica’s Hurdles’ she exclaims, and both her daughter and I fly over them, though her daughter with rather more grace than me as she overtakes me in the homeward stretch. Henceforth, these speed humps will be forever known as Jess’s Hurdles in my world at least. You can see the similarity to be honest – something like this (thank you creative commons people for your images on google). My technique is indistinguishable from Jess’s, obviously.
Adding to the familiar indignity of being beaten to the finish funnel by a six-year old, loads of other runners and marshals are shouting congratulations to the speeding infant. I inadvertently say out loud ‘I wish some of those congratulations were for me’. My petulance is rewarded, one of the funnel supervisors gives me a special clap of encouragement. I ought to have been shamed by this, but actually, I was quite heartened.
So, at last, all over, not many coming in after me, so barcode scanned, I rendezvoused with breakfast club buddies (we were up to four today) and after helping someone push start their car up a hill (as you do) we headed off for our well-deserved breakfast, all thoughts that we ever waivered in our enthusiasm for running quite forgotten. We even planned another run tomorrow. Running is a strange affliction, hard to fathom and hard to explain.