So heading down to parkrun today, despite distinctly inclement weather I was feeling pretty curious about what might greet me. After all, new year, new start – should we be bracing ourselves for a mass of new faces, each one of which was committed to joining parkrun as their new year resolution, or would the peak in numbers show itself next week, when things are more ‘back to normal’? I too am hoping to run more this year, but I’m calling it an aspiration rather than a resolution, don’t want to set myself up for early failure, I get demoralised enough as it is.
I set my Tomtom going as I left the house, so I can start logging that extra jog to the start, a gentle jog it’s true, but a jog all the same. I also wanted to see if it works if I pause it mid-run so to speak (i.e. when hanging around at the start) or if it goes into meltdown at my inertia. For the record this worked just fine, and I also discovered it’s a respectable 1.5 jog down to the start, so if I add that in pre and post parkrun I will start upping my distance.
I was late leaving for parkrun anyway, so the jog was a necessity rather than a choice. I found the ‘amenities’ were in darkness when I arrived, power cut? Temporary electricity failure? This rather ruled out using the disabled loo, as it is a door opening directly onto the occupant. However, I can report that enterprising Smilies (we get everywhere) had used a sanitary disposal bin unit to prop open the main door to the official ladies, which meant although you were very much in the gloaming, it was definitely doable to make use of the facilities … much to my relief!
Lots of people were gathered at the start, and there was a large crowd for the first-timers briefing. I met my running buddies various, and was persuaded out of my jacket. I really, really wanted to keep it on today as rain was threatening, and I was feeling pretty knackered after running exploits of the last few days. Cheetah buddy was, as always, right though. I would have been too hot with it on, rain or not. Cheetah buddy was also an official bag lady today too, as she produced a plastic bag from nowhere, to help me protect my back pack from the elements. After all, no point in that getting wet as well as me.
Once gathered, the race director’s briefing was delivered with uncharacteristic clarity, and took a poignant, but important change from its usual tone. It was an appropriate start to the event, but a sad start to the year, as a formal announcement was made in relation to an awesome and inspirational local runner, and fellow Smiley, Jenny Chambers, who died on Christmas Eve. I wasn’t sure whether or not to mention it here, as there is nothing funny or winsome about this. It’s just incredibly sad, unjust and will leave a terrible gap in the world where she should still be. I decided I would report on this in the end, because the person in question was an incredible talent, wise, funny and always willing to share her running insights as well as exploits. She touched more lives than she probably ever realised with her passion, ability to motivate others and genius for inventing fiendish (but effective) running drills. She came up with wonderful challenges, and was just as happy to support and encourage novice newbies like me, as the superstar experienced runners like herself.
The last time I saw her was just a few weeks ago, the day before the Percy Pud 10km. She had come down with one of her Smiley compatriot friends after Parkrun to say hello to fellow runners. She was full of encouragement when I confessed I was doing the run the following day but felt woefully ill-prepared. I had just done parkrun even though Percy Pud was imminent, because my running is so pitiful it makes no difference whether I rest the day before or not! My memory of her will be of her laughing as she pointed out that it didn’t matter at all, I could simply claim that I was only denied a PB at Percy Pud because I made the rookie error of not tapering properly in advance of that event. It is hard to believe that was such a short time ago. Even then, when she must have been so very ill, she was still interested in encouraging others, and able to raise a smile and offer advice to a nervous novice. She bore a horrible illness with much fortitude. I am so grateful to Jenny for encouraging me, welcoming me to the Smiley fold, and for being such an awesome role model not only in running but in life. She will be very much missed, but she will not be forgotten, her life has made a huge difference to many of us.
Her life did matter, and the sense of loss is huge. I didn’t know her all that well, but she certainly impacted on me. At the risk of sounding sentimental, I’d say that as long as you remember people and talk about them they remain with you in a way. In that sense, Jenny will no doubt outlive us all. At times when the experience of her absence will feel raw, I hope it is some comfort to her family and friends know what a powerful and enduring legacy she will leave behind. Go Jenny!
As a tribute to Jenny, following the news, there was collective enthusiastic applause for her, which seemed really apt. A sincere recognition and celebration of her life and accomplishments. Her death was not unexpected, and members of Smiley Paces have already planted 100 daffodils along the parkrun route in celebration of her one hundredth run. It will be lovely when they come out in the spring to think of her as we run past them, and have her still cheering us round in a way too. When she could no longer run due to her illness, she still regularly volunteered at Sheffield Hallam parkrun, I can’t imagine there are many (any even) runners in the area who wouldn’t have come across her, and had their lives touched by her in some way.
I’m sure a fair few of us had a lump in our throat as we applauded. She wasn’t just an amazing runner, who shared her wisdom and gave an enormous amount of time and expertise to others. She was also to me something of a role model for the strength of her friendships with others, and her sheer bloody minded determination to carry on for as long as she could without being defined by a cruel diagnosis that came seemingly out of the blue.
Here she is in action, surrounded by fellow Smileys on her 100 th parkrun in June 2015. For the record, I was there, but even though she was ill, I still couldn’t up with her on the run round. She was the original FGR!*
So when the shout went up for off, I was in reflective mood, I expect others were too. It just seems so unfair. However, it seems the rhythm of running can be strangely healing too. Soon I was back in the moment of my home ground parkrun. Enjoying all the newbie faces that had indeed put in an appearance as a follow through to a resolution quite possibly made drunkenly on New Year’s Eve. There was a great cross section of people, and the photos suggest they were having fun, despite the inclement weather, smiles were in abundance, and all comers represented and taking parkrun on.
Early on, the first mini-circuit in fact, a runner took a spectacular skid down a muddy bank, aided in his body slide by an incredibly innocent and cute looking dog. A number of us stopped with concern, but he protested that he was fine (the runner, not the dog – though to be fair the dog did look fine, just a bit confused) but it’s hard to tell. Embarrassment on falling can stop people accepting help when maybe they should, so I was a bit unsure whether or not to believe him. I broke my knee once, running into a brick wall (long story) and was too mortified at my stupidity at having done so, to fess up straight away how bad it was due to the humiliation factor as to how it had come about, I therefore instinctively mistrust fallen runners who say they are ‘OK’ could be worse than they let on. He did seem to sprint off all right though. Later on it was good to see this runner subsequently immortalised on film, apparently running just fine, but my that was a great deal of mud he got to take home with him. Good that the dog stayed clean though. Hopefully that was an enormous comfort!
Really good to see lots of familiar faces and returning runners, getting back into the swing of parkrun for New Year. In addition, lots of new comers, first timers, all ages, all shapes and sizes. I love that, not only because it means I am temporarily shunted up the finish funnel,(relatively speaking just because more runners are behind me, not because I am actually any speedier) but also because it is that inclusivity which got me addicted in the first place. I love it when you can see others getting the same buzz at giving it a go and finding they can. It was also good to be reunited with familiar faces too, and a happy band we all seemed.
Photos were atmospheric and grainy due to damp conditions we were told, but pleasingly our photographer was still able to offer up a great duck shot. You’ve always got to appreciate a good mallard I think. There is something profoundly reassuring and comforting about them, and no, I don’t know why exactly. Maybe it’s a nostalgia for an imagined childhood innocence which probably never was. Also, they feature in one of my favourite ever cartoons. I couldn’t find it on the interweb so you’ll have to imagine it for yourself. Essentially, it’s two waterfowl on a pond in a London Park. Referencing a then new and recent debate, (which is still depressingly ongoing today) on the justification or otherwise of proposed military action by the UK, one says to the other ‘so are you a dove or a hawk?’ To which the reply is simply a non-plussed ‘neither, I’m a duck‘. It tickled me, but maybe you need to actually see it for yourself to get the full effect. I can comfort you with an actual duck shot though, so all is not lost. Love the reflections.
I found I was doing the same yo yo routine with a fellow runner that we’ve been teasing each other with over the past few parkruns. As we approached the end flag we made a conscious decision to motivate each other to a sprint finish and cross the line together. It was quite clever of us to manage to communicate and agree this level of co-operation as we are both in agreement that we can’t actually talk and run simultaneously. Nevertheless, we achieved our pace for pace conclusion to the run (it’s not a race) with gusto … though bizarrely our times were recorded as 6 seconds apart – I blame funnel duckers (beware spoonerisms when saying that out loud). I really must start wearing my Smiley Vest a bit more, unflattering or not, it would present a more united image on occasions of significance such as this!
So that was the first home parkrun of 2016, done and dusted. A poignant start to the year, but a positive one too. Yay Sheffield Hallam parkrun.
And as for you dear reader, consider finding a way to tap into the Smiley spirit. If you are not blessed with a community of actual Smilies of your own, may you find both your own inner Smiley within, and seek out an alternative virtual network that can provide some approximation of Smiley all-round loveliness without. That shared community might help to support you in achieving your running and friendship goals for 2016 and beyond, more than you yet know!
Next stop, brunch, naturally. Life goes on, and so it should…
*FGR – Very good runner!