Did you know that ‘choosing a wheelie bin is an incredibly personal thing’? No? Me neither. It’s funny the kind of thoughts that pop into your mind as you run, this was one of mine today yomping round Bushy parkrun, as I recalled a phone conversation with an especially passionate purveyor of said bins who was trying to help me to select from one of the many possibilities available on their website. I like that I live in a world where someone cares so much about wheelie bins, though really I myself don’t.
It wasn’t quite accurate to describe it as a Smiley Paces take over, but it was surely a start. Two of us out of a throng of 934 is still a 100% increase on any previous turn out of Smiley’s at Bushy parkrun as far as I am aware. If we keep doubling our attendance on a weekly basis exponentially in this way then by Christmas Day Parkrun we’d be up to 128 which is over 10% of the field. What’s more, if you believe Wikipedia (and obviously I do in all things, always) then, based on the ‘wheat and chessboard story’ whereby you keep doubling the number of grains of wheat as you move through each of the squares of the chessboard then the sum of grains is: 1 + 2 + 4 + 8… and so forth for the 64 squares, then the total number of grains equals 18,446,744,073,709,551,615 by the time you get to the end. Apparently. I don’t even know how to say that number out loud, but I’m thinking that if we really aim to hit this target 64 weeks from now, i.e. on Saturday 4th Feb 2017, then we are going to need a membership drive. A worthy ambition though I feel, whilst I would concede perhaps we should start more modestly with a more local takeover event at say Sheffield Castle parkrun which apparently averages around 40 or so runners, and we can then move like a locust swarm further afield as we wish. Just a thought…
Anyway, for reasons way to complicated (and possibly dull) to explain, it happened that me and one of my Sheffield Hallam parkrun breakfast club running buddies were both in the vicinity of this parkrun Mecca at the same time and so agreed to rendezvous at the Bushy parkrun, so we could together inhale the heady delights of that enchanted place. I was disproportionately excited at the prospect of us doing it together, so to speak, and even more intoxicated at the embellishment to the plan which was to make it a threesome as her sister was joining us too. Now, my loyal and regular readers will know how I like to big up my Bushy parkrun associations, with the tales of stags and carp and mythical creatures cavorting in the bracken, thousands of people gazelle-like tripping though the ant hills and bracken (albeit actually tripping at times) and the sun forever shining, though in the very unlikely event of rain, there are a thousand arching rainbows covering the entire 5km route. Sadly, this morning the rain was icy, and the aspect gloomy. I was a tad in fear of being exposed for a teensy weensy bit of creativity in my evocation of place as I trudge towards the loo for our pre-race rendezvous. The deer are all in hiding from the rain, there is not so much as a unicorn dropping in evidence, let alone an actual unicorn and even the parakeets have taken cover in the trees, and frankly who can blame them? I’d be half inclined to shelter in the canopy myself if I thought I had the upper body strength to get me there.
The first challenge is finding somewhere to dump my backpack, which isn’t waterproof, but which I have brought with me to put in my fleece and raincoat for warmth and protection post run. There is no bag drop at Bushy. To be fair there isn’t really at my home Parkrun either, but I’ve got used to dumping my backpack on the floor by the volunteers stuff, Bushy Park is so vast I feel a bit more vulnerable. It is another thing to angst about. First off is mustering the courage to whip off my fleece in the first place, as it is decidedly nippy. Given the last few outings and drenchings I’ve had, I’m really beginning to think I’d rather be running in a cagoule or duffle coat. Maybe I will one day, just to see… I strip off, stuff my fleece into the backpack and bracing myself into the chill wind, I select a tree with a wooden railing surround. I wish I’d concentrated more watching survival programmes in he past, and then I’d know how to tell which way the elements are likely to lash down most furiously over the next half hour. I decide against leaving my pack on the ground at the base of the tree as I dread to think how many dogs will have peed on it by the time I get back. Instead I hang it off the top of one of the wooden stakes, and cover the whole thing with a plastic bag which I have fortuitously (but inadvertently) brought with me (the backpack is over 16 years old now and whilst it has a whiff of vintage it has no whiff of waterproofing any more). The plastic bag is bearing the logo of an employer for a job I much hated doing, so I am happy to rip it up so it fits over my backpack, even though that is like tossing a 5 pence piece aside these days, which is maybe a tad profligate, but I believe running is worth such ostentatious extravagance. Anyway, whilst not wishing to incite jealousy exactly, I think it only fair to point out I may well be a plastic bag millionaire – now if I actually dig out and count the plastic bags I have been collecting under my sink for the past half-century or thereabouts. Frankly, I can afford to indulge in this act of abandon, so why shouldn’t I?
I miss my friend and her sister at the loos, but amazingly, find them in the throng of nearly one thousand starters and am able to join them in time to hear the pre-race briefing. It is as always, pretty comprehensive. Milestone runners are congratulated, champion rickshaw fundraisers (Children in Need but I didn’t see it) cheered, and marshals warmly applauded. The new Parkrun code is alluded too. I agree this is a worthy initiative, but have already seen some creative additions suggested. One favourite is: ‘Can you add ‘don’t make your children run with you if they are hating it and crying’?’ I have never witnessed this at Bushy parkrun to be fair. Well, it’s something in the air here of course – a stronger, fitter, leaner, faster, more enthused, runner has evolved from Bushy Park. With other creatures it’s harder to pinpoint the exact moment in evolution that leads to a seismic shift and so the emergence of a new species. With parkrun we have a documented moment when the DNA exploded outwards which is the literal origin of The Parkrunner. Sadly though, as I suppose must happen with any evolutionary developmental process, mutations creep in. Whilst some are to be celebrated, others are not. Alas I have seen the occasional sobbing child being bullied round at Sheffield Hallam and it is an obscenity to behold, (and yes people do try and intervene, but such situations are hard to manage) Not in the spirit of Parkrun at all. The following rules are in the spirit of parkrun however, and should be read, inwardly digested and abided by. One day I will do a spoof of this, but for now, I’m actually enjoying the original. Embrace the moment.
So we listen to the briefing. My running buddy claps almost a bit too evangelically to be cool at each one of the announcements. I think the excitement has rather overcome her, I’m sure she whooped and even jumped up and down a bit. Positively giddy. I look on her with compassion and benevolence, I remind myself she is a Bushy parkrun virgin so it is inevitable she will be a inappropriately euphoric with it all, as an ”old hand’ of Bushy parkrun I have perhaps become a little too nonchalant. She is so intoxicated with the reality of just being here, that she doesn’t even seem to have noticed there are neither unicorns nor a tunnel of rainbows, I might yet get away with this. Bushy parkrun is rising to the occasion too, and will seduce her as surely as it has me.
She comes with her ‘really slow’ (at running) sister, whose presence here, whilst not entirely in breach of the rule ‘don’t force your friend/ child/ relative to run if they are crying and hating it’, has possibly come in response to the application of prior extreme cajolement – surely a grey area of running etiquette. That line between motivational pep talks and unreasonable pressure. For the record, said sister, still manages to romp home way ahead of me by the way. Which would have been completely acceptable were it not for the fact that she kept saying how ‘no, honestly, I’m pathetically slow, really, really slow’. Yes, well you may be, but you are still 2 minutes ahead of me on your second ever parkrun, so maybe for next time around work on the phrasing of your running achievements in order that I may retain some small vestige of self-esteem to carry me through the winter months ahead…
All too soon we are off! Sprinting towards the ant hills and the bottle neck of the start. It feels quite a squash today, but the park is gorgeous in the rain – which has abated a bit to be honest. The leaves on the ground are kicked up underneath the runners releasing a wonderful smell of autumn. I feel happy running, it is unusual for me, but I’m in a rhythm, in thought, and jollily jogging along, eavesdropping, which is what I do best. That’s not to say I don’t waiver from time to time – there is one woman who passes me with a long thick plait tantalisingly bobbing up and down on her back. She is like Rapunzel with her locks (although the runner’s hair is black and I think Rapunzel was blonde – she was in my Ladybird book of the name I’m sure, though I don’t honestly know how well researched that was prior to publication). I fantasise briefly about grabbing hold of that plait and being dragged round, like those runners who do canicross with their dogs? She is too fast though, and flown by before I can latch on – SPOILER alert Matt Damon (The Martian) might have had a chance of link up, but not me. The things that man did with gaffer tape were pretty good, but that join up – inspirational.
Loads of good chit chat today, some reactions to the horrors that unfolded in Paris yesterday, which sort of puts a lot of things in context to be honest, like my wet feet, which are annoying but not so terrible in the grand scheme of things really, are they? Some first timers, suitably excited and in awe of it all, wondering how far left, whether they could do it at all? The second timers ‘I think we’ve done better at not being squashed this week and also, my legs don’t feel like they will fall off this time round … (pause) … not so far anyway.’ A rather animated exchange between father and (youngish) son about Boldemort. ‘Who’s Boldemort?‘ (blah response) ‘no you mean Voldemort duh – Boldemort, that would have to be an extra white face, you know like whiter than white, that would be so stupid!’ Hilarious, though strictly speaking, wasn’t it Daz that was whiter than white? picky, I know. Today’s favourite, the two women running together, pace for pace, with warmth and empathy as they struck out stride for stride, mainly in what seemed to be companionable silence. One then said to the other ‘I sometimes wonder what it would be like to run if you could actually be bothered with it’ No audible reaction, she obviously spoke with wisdom and insight… it’s certainly a thought – maybe I should take it on board myself?
I enjoyed the run today, it had all the criteria, modest physical challenge, blustery weather, friendly folk, good audio accompaniment, abstract thoughts (see wheelie bins reference above) not too bad with my arthritis or bunions, and no hanging around in the cold at the end waiting for anyone else to finish, because I’m always last in from amongst my cohort anyway. Cheery marshals. The one who smiled most was in the funnel, clapping and cheering us back in the rain. I asked if he was smiling and laughing so much because he wasn’t having to run anywhere, but he said he wasn’t running today because he was recovering from completing a marathon last weekend. The high from that must have been quite something, he was still cavorting on cloud nine all these days later, and in the rain too!
So mission accomplished, post run breakfast in the pheasantry coffee shop. This appeared to be the site of some sort of impromptu occupation by parkrunners, who had descended like a flash mob on the premises. It was fun though. Lots of complex bar code sorting and counting going on, many coffees being drunk, running injuries shown off and PBs achieved and missed being regaled around us. Just one table occupied by the camouflage crew from British Military Fitness, who, for the record, looked slightly less hard and intimidating when sipping their choca-mocha-lattes with extra marshmallows than they had roaring commands to their numbered-tabard wearing charges being beasted earlier on.
There was also a Christmas Tree. Decorated and everything. I despair. But that hadn’t participated in either parkrun or indeed British Military Fitness, so I don’t think it requires further comment. It was quite attention gaining enough without me further giving it the oxygen of publicity on which to flourish.
On departing, we tried to pose for a selfie, but were defeated by the technology. A yellow-cagoule wearing passer by took pity on us and stepped in as our very own David Bailey, he even took a directorial role, galvanising us to relax and smile, and especially pleasingly, made a noise of a ‘phut’ like a proper old fashioned flash bulb going off on a proper old tripod camera with a hood and everything as he did so . It was fun. Clearly, it doesn’t take much to entertain me. Thank you nice man in the park.
I was marginally less enamoured of him when I saw the photo. Do I really go that colour of puce after a run? Maybe so. The truth can hurt and they do say the camera never lies after all. On the plus side, it was deemed of sufficient quality for my running buddy to post on Facebook to give us bragging rights in relation to our attendance at parkrun with our Smiley Paces running club and Sheffield Hallam parkrun comrades. I fear I had let the side down by not wearing my Smiley vest, nevertheless, maybe the snapshot will still serve to galvanise others to make the pilgrimage. I’d so love to see a snake of our red smiley shirts curling through the trails of Bushy Park. And at the back, my spot, I’d get a great view of the full extent of it, stretching into infinity almost, if we just follow the grains of wheat on a chessboard principle, it shouldn’t take too long to get there at all. No time at all. Prepare yourself Bushy, we Smileys are stepping out and stepping up and coming your way, ready or not!