In the midst of all the festive frolics, it is all too easy to lose sight of the fact that for some this time of year is not always a happy one. Even within the resilient Parkrun community, there are some who find themselves homeless at Christmas, all dressed up yet nowhere to run… It therefore restores your faith in human nature to find that there are still compassionate others out there who will open their hearts and Parkrun home to displaced others at Yuletide. So it is was for Christmas Day at Concord Park. Parkrun refugees from across Sheffield and beyond embarked on what is rapidly becoming something of a traditional seasonal pilgrimage to the Shiregreen area of the city. Displaced persons drawn to one place as if by the nativity star, to recreate the Parkrun dream of a mighty 5 km stampede around the hinterlands of Concord Park. What could be more merry than this communal Christmas canter to kick start festive proceedings? Concord Parkrun it seems welcomes migrants, in turbulent times, that’s good to know. Nothing it seems, nothing at all, could be better than this – nor more apt – on a Christmas morning. Let me explain…
The day however, did not entirely go according to plan. It is the season to be merry, but also ’tis the season of prank phone calls. Ask that woman who got Tim Peake on her land line asking if it was planet earth earlier on today. Very droll, I hope he hadn’t reversed the charges, that would indeed have been an astronomical cost. (Sorry, some puns just beg to be brought to life). My morning was also to involve an early Christmas Day phone call, in this case from my running buddy announcing herself to be en-route to scoop me up and transport me to Concord for our festive frolicking. The call came within a nano-second of the agreed time of 8.05 a.m., but the voice was unrecognisable. Croaking tones sounded initially like a desperate last gasp cry for help, and I wondered if I needed to send an ambulance or at least a gift-wrapped strepsil by courier, but further enquiry revealed them instead to be the incomprehensible utterings of my cheetah buddy on first waking. Mammoth oversleep apparently. A consequence of a perfect storm of unfortunate pre-running preparation comprising: a later than planned night, inadvertent setting of the alarm for 3.00 a.m. by her normally loving and attentive spouse; heavier than expected alcohol consumption and no re-setting of the alarm for the correct hour. My buddy had spontaneously opened one eye cautiously only seconds before, then seeing the time had been rudely catapulted into both consciousness and Parkrun panic. Late, late, for a very important date. I am pleased to report her first instinct was to get on the phone to me and come up with a plan. I like to imagine the couple in question on such a rude awakening maintained that christmas tradition of starting the day if not with an actual row, then at least some seasonal frostiness and mutual blame. Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without an undercurrent of tension between family and friends at some point during the Winterval break.
Plan two devised and implemented, I headed off to theirs, willing to scoop them up instead, or at the very least have their place as our departure point for our Parkrun pilgrimage. I was already bedecked in tinsel (but tastefully understated) and had hoiked on my Santa tutu with some poignancy as it is potentially its last outing of the season. I’ve had some good wear out of it as it happens, great investment purchase.
The drive round to my running buddies was on deserted roads, it was quite fun to see brightly lit Christmas trees resplendent in the windows of some of the grander houses en route. On arrival, I found my buddies awake and bustling, deprived of a pre-run caffeine fix, and sleep-deprived too, but up for it most certainly. It was an easy drive to Shiregreen, really no-one about. We arrived to find the car park at Concord pretty much empty, but then, as always happens, a mighty congregation gathered seemingly from nowhere in the last few minutes, and a festive crew at that. They were a lot cheerier than they appear in the photos below which have capture them in more thoughtful mood. The guy with his head in his hands is not representative of the spirit of the morning, and the bah humbug bobble hat (whilst a personal favourite of mine) isn’t either. I think the serious expressions are on account of how each runner commences parkrun with their own private meditation as they psyche themselves up for the challenge ahead. Thank you Mr Carman for all the photos by the way, like the tree falling in the forest, unheard and unseen, if we ran without being captured on film it would be as if we we were never there. Thanks to you we are all immortalised, even the runner with a turkey on their head, whether they wanted to be or not… you’ll have to scroll down for that one by the way, I’m pacing myself for the photo postings, rather more effectively than I am able to pace myself when running. Here though are some others to be getting on with.
We spilled out from the car to take our places under the seasonal grey sky and icy wind alongside Santas, runners in turkey onesies; a herd of reindeer deeley bopper wearers and join the line up at the start. There were some familiar faces – refugees from Sheffield Hallam Parkrun, as well as fellow Smilies on tour. My first celebrity sighting though was of Lily, the famous greyhound from Graves in festive get up. She sets a high standard in her outfits, last seen mummified at Halloween, but resplendent in her red and white faux fur outfit today. She’s the real celebrity sports personality hereabouts – her and Jessica Ennis possibly, though much as I love Jess, Lily is definitely more cuddly.
So, at the start we huddled amongst the fancy dress efforts – I , inadvertently found myself next to a rather flatulent Santa who I’d say had been at the sprouts already which wasn’t the best starting point. He was though a pretty fast runner when we got going – jet propelled possibly, so it wasn’t too prolonged an exposure, and anyway, Parkrun is an inclusive community as we know. Rather sweetly, at Concord there is a communal bag in which you can squash your fleece or whatever at the start, which is magically moved to the finish at the end of the run. How genius is that? I love this kind of local attention to detail you discover through Parkrun tourism. Welcoming, practical and completely brilliant. Thank you volunteers, for making the day possible, you all deserve your own sparkly stars of recognition, as I don’t have the means to dispense them, please accept my words of thanks instead.
If the welcoming Concord marshals felt overwhelmed by the swelling in number of attendees from the usual 50 or so to nigh on 250 they didn’t show it. A warm welcome was offered. The run briefing was given against the unnerving soundtrack of a pack of baying dogs. I kid you not, it was like the hounds of hell were on hand to pursue us round the course. No wonder there was talk of a new course record when the results came out later. Their rabid barking split the skies and you could feel the tension on their leashes as they leapt about in a state of hyper-stimulation no doubt in eager anticipation of the prospect of hunting down wayward runners any minute now. I couldn’t hear much of the briefing, but there was a seasonal gift presentation and thank you for the run director, clapping of volunteers, and an over-optimistic attempt to outline the route for the benefit of Concord first timers. We seemed to comprise half the field if the number of hands that shot up around me when we were asked to identify ourselves to the run committee were anything to go by.
The route by the way, for those of you who are interested in the technical details is described in the concord parkrun events blurb thus:
The course consists of two counter-clockwise laps, all on asphalt paths suitable for mobility aids including wheelchairs. The course starts with a flat of 500m then a slight downhill of 500m levelling out at the far end of the course. Passing through a gate and returning with a slight uphill of 400m before levelling out to complete the lap. On the second lap the finish is 400m before the start line, ensuring a total of 5km.
Anyway, eventually, the cry went up ‘unleash the hounds’ and to the noisy baying of dogs we departed. The actual dogs were revealed in photos to be cute puppy Labradors and similar, along with the adorable Graves Lily doing her Christmas tour. But my they sounded ferocious when all you could hear was their baying growing louder and louder as they picked up pace. The start was a bit tumultuous, the front runners exploding outwards.
Apparently, someone took a dominoes tumble early on being impacted from the rear, but I didn’t spot this at the time, just became vaguely aware of some commotion in my peripheral vision at the start. The tarmac path narrowed early on, and it felt a bit chaotic, adrenalin surged and I felt a fleeting panic that I’d started too near the front. However, as always happens, the field settled, and people spread out a bit more soon enough, there was time to enjoy the run and take it all in. The ferocious hell-dogs were revealed to be mainly the lovely Lily, and other cuddly looking puppy-eyed beauties. Weird. You can tell the bit about them straining at the leash was true though…
Personally, I found the route a bit disorientating. You are sort of running a figure of eight, but you do it twice, so as a slow runner I always seemed to be in sight of someone running in completely the opposite direction to me. As I saw faster runners pounding towards me at various points I had the unsettling feel that surely at least one of us must be going the wrong way. From the air I wonder if we formed some strange geometric shapes like those famous ones in the Nasca desert – a mutant humming bird perhaps. Or maybe we were more akin to a rather too big and inept troop of synchronised swimmers, having to practice on terra firma due to not being in possession of a pool large enough to accommodate us all. Who knows, once the new surveillance society really takes off we will no doubt be able to access some drone footage to check it our for ourselves. For now though, you will have to imagine. Here is what my new Tomtom said the route was actually like. I am still enjoying my new toy, though it seems to vibrate ever such a lot and for no apparent reason. Another mystery to be solved at some unspecified future date…
One unexpected hazard on the way round is that you have to negotiate those really narrow gate things, specifically designed to stop cyclists going round and narrower at the top than the bottom they only allow one person through at I time. Because of the bottle neck to get through, the first time round I took the alternative option of stepping over a low wooden bar – I did briefly consider hurdling it, but didn’t fancy an ignoble face-plant that would lead inevitably to a morning in A&E which was a distinctly possible outcome. I looked on in envy though as Lily bounded over with grace and elegance. She really does personify (or should that be dogify) the essence of parkrun as she effortlessly races round positively oozing joy throughout. Second time around, I discovered I can actually run through these without the necessity of turning sideways due to my particular physique bestowing a rare evolutionary advantage on this solitary occasion. I showed off this attribute (it’s probably not reasonable to claim it as a skill) to my running buddy later on. I could tell she was deeply impressed, and possibly even a teensy bit jealous, it is unusual for me to outdo her with my physical prowess, so this was a rare moment of comfort and joy for me this year. I don’t know quite how you’d manage those in a wheelchair to be honest, but the buggy runners managed fine.
Running in the early stages I did suffer (nearly) a major wardrobe malfunction as I realised I hadn’t tightened the cord on my leggings sufficiently, and could feel the crutch dragging down towards my knees and my running tights were at real risk of ending up round my ankles if I didn’t take pre-emptive action. This pre-emptive action early on necessitated the appearance of rummaging around in my knickers under my skirt whilst I continued to pound round. I was in fear of being papped by the official photographer at just this moment of in-decorum. Fingers crossed I would be in favour with the official censor this week. Mind you with the other outfits on offer I was possibly being a little precious. The turkey head number was a brave choice methinks, and now is the moment we can enjoy that, that and the risque Santa chest-bearing outfit too:
Apart from enjoying the fancy dress (which I think MASSIVELY improves the running experience), I also got my usual kicks from eavesdropping on other people’s conversations going round. A favourite of many, was one between a vegan and vegetarian who were comparing their respective christmas fare with some misunderstandings (and potential incredulity/ disappointment) as they did so. The vegetarian was describing a roast comprising quorn wrapped in sausage meat. As a fellow vegetarian I was definitely confused. That doesn’t sound terribly vegetarian, and I’m not convinced as a hybrid option to cater for both the carnivores and the herbivores it would quite work. It’s like that time I went for a meal and I wanted to drink white wine and my companion wanted to drink red and the waiter suggested we therefore ordered a bottle of rose. Why? So we would both be pissed off with the choice presumably? Bonkers. Anyway, fortunately for me the vegan also requested clarification, the sausage meat would actually be sosmix. Ooooooooooooooh, now that makes sense, that could work.
The vegan was going to do a vegan version of pulled pork for her meat-eating relatives. Ambitious I felt, and I was delighted that she elaborated. It seems you can do this by slow cooking a Jack fruit and covering in barbecue sauce. I’m a bit dubious as to whether this would fool anyone, though I do get its texture might change on cooking. Also, I was very excited at this reference to Jack Fruit. I’d never even heard of it before I went to Vietnam, and they are extraordinary things. It’s quite fun to be reminded of them and to be able to pull a photo from my other now dormant blog (with apologies to those of you who have seen and marvelled at this picture of such a remarkable fruit before). Amazing though, you have to concede:
Enough of the foody digression. Also going round, I was slightly spooked by the sight of a runner who appeared to be carrying Santa’s detached head under his arm throughout … it turned out to be a themed muff (I think and hope), but it was most definitely unsettling. Surely enough to set kids screaming if they’d witnessed it. Though to be fair I suppose it being Christmas morning, even if it turns out this was from the real Santa, it wouldn’t matter too much. After all, surely it is a safe bet he’d fulfilled his usefulness by this point in the year, so who cares really that he has been brutally decapitated and his head carried aloft in sadistic triumph round a park today, no-one will really notice his absence until same time next year. What do you reckon? Passes the good taste test, or a little too much for Christmas morning…
Besides, there were other Santas in abundance, so I’m guessing they weren’t all the real one, one looked like he was hoping for a secret Santa slash rather than undertaking a parkrun Santa dash as he disappeared off-piste mid-run heading behind a random building. In fact he reappeared soon afterwards gazing about in confusion. I conclude he’d either thought the better of it, or was in search of some other runner. I hope he was reunited with them eventually, or maybe he’d got a sort of snow-blindness (only from drizzle not snow) and is even now staggering around Concord disorientated and confused. Hope not. Here follow more jolly pictures of runners en route – it was fabulous, you should have been there – maybe you were?
I think I need to give special mention to my favourite fancy dress outfit of not only the day, but possibly the whole parkrun year. It was buggy made into sleigh through judicious use of cardboard and even rocking a blow up reindeer at the front. That is class. What’s more, the sleigh occupant was only 13 weeks old, parkrunners start younger and younger it seems, she could be in a 250 shirt when she’s barely out of nappies, and kudos to parents of a new-born for even making it out of the house without being covered in sick and poo let alone finding the time and energy to decorate a buggy and dress in themed running gear themselves. Huge respect!
Just as the dogs at the start were a bit unsettling, there were seagulls at the end which had a slightly sinister disposition. I speak as someone who has recently re-watched ‘Finding Nemo’. Those gulls screeching ‘mine, mine, mine‘ as they jostle to eat fish/ crabs/ anything at all had a mob mentality that these concord spectators seemed to replicate. Look, it’s a worrying possibility. I don’t know if they are always there, or it was a special festive outing for them too. Maybe the prospect of all those first timers meant they were hoping for a harvest of collapsed runners at the finish. Any minute now they could expect to be hopping amongst a bounty of carcasses pecking out the eyes of conked out parkrunners at will.
The route seemed to end somewhat unexpectedly. On entering the finish funnel, I discovered the lovely volunteer marshals had indeed moved the bag containing my fleece from hanging on some railings at the start to placed on a bench at the finish line. It seems the legends are true, magic elves at Christmas, and marvellous marshals the rest of the year, carry out this selfless act. Thus I was able to be reunited with my fleece without even leaving the funnel or scanning queue. This is a fabulous innovation, I think this could be just what I need, a support crew to anticipate my every need and whim. I wonder what it would take to have a masseuse waiting at the finish too, and maybe some minion with a steaming mug of hot-chocolate on standby in case of any sudden sugar drop?
The Concord team coped well with deluge of other runners, a cheery queue formed in animated chatter waiting for solitary scanner to process finish tokens, it was a bit like waiting to get into a night club (well, as far as I can recall, it’s been a very long time since I did that). Good humoured chit chat. I thought maybe the single scanner operative was due to a lack of volunteers (fair enough in the circumstances) however, it seems it’s actually because the Concord team are only in possession of a single scanner – it was a measure of how much the field had grown for this seasonal outing that it was under so much pressure today!
So finally, bar codes having been scanned, Christmas greetings and yo ho hos were exchanged, and farewells said.. though many of us would be doing it all again the next day for the Boxing Day Saturday Parkrun as usual. Bring it on.
Before departing, here is me in action. As a special Christmas gift I get a flattering photo of me running. Well, maybe not totally flattering, but definitely in action and no profile view so jowls temporarily hidden from view. Hurrah, a first.
So we stumbled damply back to car, comparing gadgetry – I got a reading of 4.91 km which apparently is good enough re accuracy, though slightly shorter than my companion’s Garmin reading. I must have taken an inner track as if by instinct on the way around.
As we approached our vehicle, my friend confidently used her electronic key to unlock the car in anticipation of our arrival. It bleeped in recognition as it unlocked its doors… and then in an act of seeming submission (or mischievous rebellion) it also started to wind down all its windows and open the sunroof too. It was quite comical to witness, thank goodness she stopped pressing the button when when she did, the whole thing could have collapsed into pieces like a comedy clown car.
Although it is probably a mixed blessing to have a car that is more intelligent than all its occupants put together, it was a boon to have heated seats for the return journey. (Well, it was for those of us in the front, sorry one of our number had to sit marinating in their own drizzle at the back). I was worried I might suffer the slightly unsettling sensation of having wet myself as warmth oozed round my posterior. Amazingly though I didn’t (either imagined or in reality) despite having missed out on my usual precautionary pee on account of the fact that the Concord sports centre was not unreasonably shut for Christmas day when we arrived. No pees possible, well not in less you are either helpfully accessorised as is the male of the species, or sufficiently dis-inhibited not to care about dropping your draws and peeing in public. Today I was neither. It just shows though, doesn’t it, how it’s all in the mind rather than in the bladder when it comes to pre-run toileting preferences…
Home for a perfectly cooked Christmas breakfast, courtesy of my hospitable and expert at catering running buddies. Yum, and I thank you.
By the way, apparently, according to parkrun uk nearly 30,000 people around the world got out for a Christmas Day parkrun yesterday with over 2,500 volunteers making it all possible. That’s pretty awesome is it not? Thank you Concord Parkrunners for your festive welcome. It was my first Christmas Day parkrun and I am a complete convert. Best Christmas ever. You provided a home to the homeless and a welcome to displaced parkrun people when it was needed most. Concord at Christmas, what could be more appropriate? I salute you.
Ho ho ho indeed, and Merry Winterval everyone! Same time next year…