It could have been me…. Today I held a monumental personal best in the palm of my hand, but I threw it away. ‘But why?’ ‘But how?‘ I hear you cry out with concern (in my dreams). Well let me explain. And, whilst I’m about it, I’ll share a few other things about Parkrunners and their principled natures that are good to know.
So, what happened was this. Last Wednesday, I was on a mission to get my wrist watch looked at. It has a weirdly freakish ‘fault’, namely, that whenever I wear it, it loses time, a lot of time, up to 20 minutes a day. However, when I am not wearing it, i.e., when it is on my bedside table at night it works just fine, keeping time perfectly. Now, I have no reason to suspect I’m being periodically abducted by aliens, or otherwise being somersaulted about in the space time continuum without my knowing, so I thought I’d get the battery checked out at my local friendly watch seller/ jewellers. This detail has absolutely no relevance to my Parkrun story, but I think it’s quite interesting. Anyway, on my way to the shop I espied in the gutter a muddy and discarded Parkrun barcode. As a Parkrun evangelist, I could not in conscience leave it where it lay. It needed to be returned to the happy herd of other Parkrun barcodes to live out its designated lifespan in the company of others. It is a well known fact that Parkrun barcodes are profoundly social artefacts, and one should never ever be separated from the others in this way. See how they huddle together for security and reassurance by instinct in the photo below:
The things is, though, when I came to look at it my eyes nearly popped out of my head. This wasn’t just any barcode, this was a barcode that would blow my previous Personal Best out of the water by some significant measure. I was like Charlie Bucket when he saw the coin glinting in the drain that he could use to buy that elusive extra bar of chocolate and which might, just might, give him the chance to win that life changing golden ticket. Like him, this discovered barcode could change my whole life, starting with my running career, it might, just might, take me to a PB beyond my wildest dreams. What should I do?
So what I did, was stuff the barcode in my pocket and continue my trot to the watch shop. There I discovered the battery in my watch is completely fine, fully charged (which is more than can be said for me) but I am apparently not the only person in the whole world who has this issue. The people at the shop know someone else (not Uri Geller) who also is unable to wear certain watches because they keep stopping. It was sort of a relief to find this out, although it doesn’t really help me much, because I have two watches, and neither of them will work for me, but would happily prostitute themselves to keep time for others. I had thought I was going mad, I may be going mad of course, but the issue with my temperamental time pieces is real, and not from my violent imaginings.
Back home, I look at the barcode. It is for position 126. Now I know what the right thing to do is of course, but would it really hurt just to have a little look to see what substituting this recent unexpected acquisition for my next legitimately obtained barcode might achieve? I find out, that for the two Parkruns I take part in most frequently, this barcode would turbo-charge my performance beyond my wildest imaginings. At the Sheffield Hallam Parkrun (my home run) it would give me a time of around 23.24. However, if I were to hypothetically speaking hang onto it, and take it to, oh I don’t know, let’s say Bushy Parkrun, that might give me a time of 21.30. Blimey, imagine that. I started to wrestle with my conscience. This is what I look like when I am in the midst of that battle, undergoing that inner struggle between the impulse to do what is right versus that almost primal desire to do what would be hilarious…
Ultimately though, I remind myself that the whole point of principles is that you stick to them through thick and thin, even when it’s hard. Principles that you abandon when the going gets tough are meaningless. Further more, if I were to offer up this 126 finish token in place of (for example) last week’s barcode at Hallam which was 364 or for Bushy last time I did it which was 782, I’d only be cheating myself. The clincher though, was the absolute certainty that I’d get caught. No-one is going to let the fact that I’ve beaten my previous PB by near enough 10 minutes pass without scrutiny. Unlike Lance Armstrong, I just wouldn’t be able to brazen it out. Worse, if it was believed, I might find myself talent scouted for some running contest, and having to repeat the literally impossible as as well as utterly implausible feat. Just not worth it. The conclusion of this is that it is amazing (not) how easy it is to do the honourable thing, when that is the only option open to you. I shall occupy the moral high ground, know I have stayed true to the principles of Parkrun, and avoid being ostracised by the Parkrun community all because I wont get away with it. That’s the kind of noble being I am. Matilda sort of had a point about if you are going to tell a lie, make it an outrageous one, but where running is concerned, I think not, I’ll save my subterfuge for another occasion.
So, today came around. It was incredibly windy today, hello storm Desmond. Blustery doesn’t quite cover it. I wasn’t altogether sure whether running today was a great idea, because I’ve got Percy Pud 10 km tomorrow, but then again, who am I kidding, I only pootle round anyway, I doubt it’ll honestly make any difference, plus there’s little point in volunteering at Hallam this week as lots of other Percy Pudders have already put their names forward. I head down.
The field is definitely depleted this week, with nigh on 2000 runners doing the Sheffield Percy Pud tomorrow, I reckon a large number of regulars are ‘tapering’ with a strategic lie in. As I pass the loos on my way to the start, the temptation for a precautionary pee is too much for me to resist and I join the queue. It is an open sore of injustice that there is only one cubical in the women’s toilets, and so there is always a queue. Hence, a tradition has been established that women alternate between the official ladies loo and the disabled toilet, this means you wait outside and then you can nip into which ever one comes free first. Generally speaking I do avoid using disabled loos because it seems unreasonable to do so, but the ‘restroom’ provision for women in Endcliffe Park is so pitiful I’ve become used to this custom. I’ve not been in the gents funnily enough, but I think they must have a Tardis like quality (smaller on the outside) and every male parkrunner has their own personalised urinal and cubical because there is NEVER a queue for that. Today though, disaster strikes, the disabled loo is out of order, we all have to use the official ladies. This causes consternation. A fellow smiley (we are a wise and public spirited lot) takes charge of the situation. Anticipating a huge queue, she has the wisdom to pop out after ‘performing’ but prior to washing her hands in the automated hand washer/drier combo, so someone else can nip in and make the most of the facilities instead of having to wait for her to complete her ablutions before she exits and makes others aware of the vacancy. I am very impressed. She is a time and motion genius! Not ‘motion’ in that sense, but in a public spirited assessment of time efficiency she has the situation sussed and under control. The Smileys are truly a super human breed, I don’t know how I slipped through their selection criteria.
Precautionary Pee executed, I go to the start. Reluctantly remove my fleece and stuff it in my backpack prior to the start. Regular readers will know my backpack isn’t waterproof, but I have come prepared with a large M&S bag into which I put it before leaving it with the other pile of discarded clothing and baggage alongside the wheelie bins used by the race director and volunteers to transport the Parkrun paraphernalia to the course. In the start funnel I hear an adult and child discussing Parkrun tactics. The youth (under 10 at a guess) has worked out that there are definitely some short-cut options en route, should you choose to take them. The adult is quite calm and non-judgemental in exploring the pros and cons of this possible course of action. Through careful questioning he leads his charge to the only possible conclusion ‘I could do this, but I would only be cheating myself.‘ Silently, and sagely I inwardly nod and smile at this further manifestation of the Parkrun Principles. How honourable we all are – and starting young too? That collective sense of warm smugness fogs outwards, enveloping all the gathered runners and volunteers in its embrace.
The run itself is good today. The threatened rain doesn’t really come, and the blusteryness is quite fun. It feels dramatic. Loads of volunteer marshals are on hand to cheer runners round. I can get away with not really trying because I’m tapering, which is always a boon. I get to wave at people I know on the way round. Going along the outside of the railings as you head down Rustlings Road there’s a back wind and a slight downward incline so you feel like you’re flying. What’s more, there was an over-excited collie – the sheepdog sort – trying to herd the passing runners along from the other side of the fence. It was fun to watch, and motivating too in a way. Maybe instead of cani-cross, Parkrun should encourage more sheepdogs at runs off the lead to chase us all forwards and round, it could work. Imagine these sheep wearing milestone tees and you’ll get the idea…
It’s all good. There is one anxious episode where a fellow Smiley companionably tries to engage me in conversation not realising I am unable to speak and run – I hope I didn’t come across as hostile. Then, towards the finish, I hear a younger man behind me suddenly lock onto me and I sense he has made it a mission to ‘have me’ he is on course to overtake. I don’t like to think of myself as fiercely competitive, but having kept ahead of him to the last 500 metres, I’m not giving way now. Sprint finish! Yay, I did it, made it back first. It nearly killed me, but I did have it in the tank after all. There are no photos of my sprint finish, but there are some shocking ones of me en route, being beaten by a succession of small children and somewhat unflattering. I’m hoping they are unflattering and that it is the case I’ve fallen out with the power behind the camera lens, it would be worse to have to face the fact I might actually look like this. The new hair colour might be a mistake too, running in the – sorry with a -buff was possibly a miscalculation also…
The finish funnel is quite jammed with volunteers. I wonder if they have decided to take a particularly hard line on funnel duckers (now there’s a term begging to be spoonerised) but actually it’s because each post in the finish funnel line up has been allocated its very own marshal to stand on it and weigh it down so they don’t get blown away (the posts not the marshals). Look, marshals as dead weight – that’s a sight you don’t often see:
It was windy out there it really was. I get finish token 333, not as impressive as 126 perhaps, but I got it all by myself, and I quite like that it was all the threes, that pleases me. It doesn’t take much sometimes, little pleasure eh, little pleasures… That’s three threes in a row which is sort of like have four threes, and four threes make 12, and if you add one and two together you get three again. A.Maz.Ing!
Got my finish token from running buddy Cheetah Smiley. Her spouse has expressed surprise at the association of his wife with this particular animal. I have dared him to name another more suitable species by way of alternative. He has yet to rise to this challenge. Anyway, she does look like a cheetah when she runs, you should see where her mascara ends up after the wind has made her eyes water on the way round…
Wristband and barcode scanned, rogue barcode 126 handed in with conspicuously martyred expression, I skip across to collect my backpack. DISASTER. The fine M&S plastic bag that had so carefully been used to protect it is no longer in evidence. Worse, a suspiciously similarly sized M&S carrier bag is now being used to house two different bags and a couple of sweat shirts, to protect them from inclement weather. What is this? Some scheming UNprincipled so-called ‘fellow parkrunner’ has appropriated MY plastic bag for their own illicit purposes. I am quite genuinely shocked. I consider reclaiming it, and upturning the contents in a puddle somewhere, but I am fearful that there may be some quite ‘reasonable’ explanation. (I don’t really think there is a reasonable explanation, I suspect opportunism, possibly assisted by wind loosening the tie between my backpack and the carrier bag, but basically it is still theft.) Later I espy the ‘guilty’ (innocent until proven otherwise? I think not) party carefully folding up the same bag and secreting it in his pocket. Hurrumph, moral high ground is all very well, but that was a really good bag. I just have to hope his need really was greater than mine, and failing that, that the next carrier bag he appropriates in this way will have a hole in it. Of course I wasn’t assertive enough to challenge him for possession. Much better to passive/aggressively blog about it later. I may inhabit moral high ground, but I also suffer from moral cowardice, it is my cross to bear.
I scoop up a breakfast buddy and we exit the park in search of Jonty’s and eggs on toast with mushroom side. As we are leaving I bump into two particularly inspirational Smiley elders. They welcomed me to the group and got me running (sort of – I use the term loosely) through their inclusive encouragement of ‘all abilities’ right from the outset. Together with other Smiley anchors they came up with ideas like Smiley mile challenges and other events for all and any runners. They are awesome. Alas one now is no longer running due to illness, but they have come together to have coffee with other Smileys post Parkrun today. I stop for a quick chat. ‘Are you not doing Percy Pud tomorrow?’ one queries, implying that I should be tapering ‘running today – that’s naughty!’. ‘Erm, yes I am‘, I reply sheepishly. And then confess that I freely acknowledge that there is really very little point in me tapering, because I only ever trot round anyway, much as I like to think taking a day of before hand would hype me up to a stronger performance the next day, it’s more likely I’d lose what little momentum I have. This though, is when their expertise, insight and wisdom really kicks in. They point out, that by dint of running the day before a challenging 10 km I can claim this as my excuse for any (inevitable) ‘poor’ performance at the event itself. My excuse is already in the bag as in ‘I would have done better/ got a new awesome PB, but alas I made that rookie error of messing up tapering with a punishing Parkrun the day before – could have happened to anyone, just happened to happen to me!‘ These women are an inspiration, they have every angle covered.
You know who you are, and from the heart I thank you, not just for giving me a get out clause for tomorrow, but for making room for me at Smileys in the first place, when you are AWESOME runners and inspirational women whereas I can barely put one foot in front of the other without falling over! I skip (ish) off to Jonty’s feeling a lot more confident about tackling the 10 km tomorrow. It’ll be fine, it’s all good, let’s go!
We exit the park past the pop-up Christmas tree shop in the park. How seasonally appropriate!
Just got to finalise my fancy dress… This is what I had in mind to slow down runners who risk injury by going hell for leather, but if they aren’t taking up the option I might have a go myself. Now, let me see if I can find some gaffer tape, tinsel and an abandoned fir tree – how hard can it be? There are bound to be some cuttings from the place in Endcliffe Park…
PS, also just found out on one of the Parkrun discussion pages that the Rother Valley Parkrun run director got blown off his bike whilst carrying out the pre-run safety check of the route because of the wind. Not only is this profoundly ironic – come on, you can’t not have to suppress a bit of a guffaw at this news – (and painful, we are talking hospitals and operations) the poor guy is missing out on his Percy Pud place. Life can be cruel at times, on Volunteering Day too. Harsh, harsh indeed. Get well soon.