The implausible and seemingly impossible delights of running continue. Believe it or not, I wasn’t going to do a post this week. Thought my reader might be bored and have something better to do, but then you know how it is. ‘Events, my friend, events…‘
Glorious Graves, providing a perfect parkrun party for their fourth anniversary. Despite a week horribilis, parkrun will party on, possibly even newly appreciated and newly reborn! Well, we can live in hope…
The forecast for today was actually snow at one point. However, on waking, no snow was in evidence, in fact it was looking nice out. Deceptively so. I broke with tradition and decided that my luminous lime green Sheffield half marathon finishers T-shirt should get an outing. Just so you know, this will for sure be its only ever outing, as it is profoundly unflattering even by my standards! I was like something out of Cinderella hoiking it on, not Cinderella herself as such, all petite and fragile, more an Ugly Sister, heaving technical tee over my head with as much grace as they achieved trying to squeeze into her dainty shoes. Still, more fun to play baddies anyway. The shirt does fit, it’s just erm, well let’s say ‘particularly unforgiving‘ in the way it caresses my contours. Frankly, I’d rather my contours were covered with a poncho than lovingly defined in lime hi-viz, but who listens to me. I decided that if I was ever to wear this shirt, it would be today. It is a running fact, (in my world) that at the parkrun immediately ocurring post any particular event you can wear the T-shirt freebie acquired at said event. Just to be absolutely clear about this, I’m referring to running events, not apocalyptic ones, that would be in bad taste.
Birthday party also means in my world, and thankfully that of Graves parkrunners too, fancy dress and potentially cake. Thus, double bonus, Roger can come too. Yay. Graves do a good party usually. Even when they can’t. One of my runs there was on New Year’s Day in fancy dress, even though they’d had to cancel due to ice. Still fun. Those fairy lights with their own battery pack are a great boon for festive running outfits. Party invite looked like this:
Whilst getting ready, I managed to annoy myself by listening to Radio 4. Specifically, Thought for the Day was sort of about parkrun. It was one of those really generic pieces, sometimes they are funny when they make really tortuous and obscure links from topic to topic in desperation. At best trite, at worst beyond offensive… You know the kind of thing ‘The other day, as I realised too late that I’d run out of toilet paper, I reminded myself how important it is that we develop resilience, so we can cope with unexpected catastrophes. This experience brought me closer to today’s refugees. They like you and I, have to cope with unforeseen trials and tribulations….‘ blah blah. Maybe that’s a bit unfair, occasionally there will be a genuinely thought-provoking one… Today’s though was just annoying. Fence sitting, lots of mealy-mouthed obscuration of what he really thought. But I was suspicious. He was talking about parkrun, and the outcry this week over the decision of Little Stoke Parish Council to impose a charge (£1 a week) on parkrunners to pay for use of the public facility at this time in order to contribute to upkeep. Pah, as if – basically it is not only a lazy and shameless attempt at profiteering but an ultimately futile position. It is against the founding principle of parkrun, so if it went ahead, parkrun can’t, everyone loses, they don’t get their money anyway, and the run stops.
There is so much about that position that makes me mad I hardly know where to begin. However, gist of my EXTREME ANNOYANCE, with the unfunny joker on thought for the day, is he was basically saying it is reasonable to ask a commercial organisation to pay to use facilities in order to help maintain them for the public good. He said this whilst strongly implying parkrun is one such commercial organisation. WHICH IT ISN’T, and totally failed to understand the points. Just like Jeremy Hardy on the News Quiz yesterday. I used to like him, now he is not my friend. Sad, but true… Go to News Quiz Episode 1, series 90, 18 minutes 30 seconds in if you want to raise your heart rate for training purposes. The link will only work for a bit, so sorry if you are a visitor from a future time and it doesn’t work. Still, on the plus side, time travel eh? That’s pretty cool! Leave a message from the future back to us in the past. You’ve had a lucky escape though if you are a parkrunner. It would put you in a bad mood.
I will try hard to resist a general rant, but for a very measured argument against the charge see Chrissie Wellington’s blog – running free. There is also a QALY benefits analysis by Mike Weed (not the point, but if needed) and mental health benefits of participation in parkrun too. Others have waded in with why charging for parkrun is a terrible idea . There is even an Early Day Motion on the topic ‘this house is disappointed at the decision of Stoke Gifford Parish Council to begin charging Parkrun (I’m going to let the use of the capital ‘P’ go on this occasion, hard as it is), parkrun has never been more in the news. I am going to gloss over the fact that even Katie Hopkins is apparently on side for this. Oh well, we will find out to what extent the saying ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend‘ is actually true..
Ironically, this has created a surge in welcome new registrations. There is an online petition in support of parkrun (they don’t do anything, but do provide a psychological lift…) It has also got ugly at times, with so many people not understanding why the issue of a ‘simple charge’ is not simple at all, but strikes at the heart of what parkrun is all about. Before I get too depressing, it is worth noting there have been moments of welcome humour too. This notice was spotted at Little Stoke today, implementation of fee for using the children’s playground. After all, why should non-users be expected to subsidise toddlers on a swing, think of all that wear and tear on those climbing frames. Well, I’m assuming it’s a joke… though maybe that is the official parish logo, so if you are going out to play, best take your credit card with you. Particularly at Cleethorpes too, they are getting in on the act.. Thanks Steve Green – loving your work with the pay machine, apologies whoever took the other shot, can no longer find the link – oops.
parkrun central have tried to keep it dignified, a stance I favour too, in theory, but in practise? Well, let’s just say it’s hard not to harbour vengeful thoughts, counterproductive or otherwise.
Anyway, upshot of all this, best way to support parkrun this weekend, is to bloomin’ turn up, be part of that community, and really appreciate what a rare and potentially fragile initiative it is. We must not take it for granted. It is therefore not out of self-interest, but for the greater good, that I shall pick a parkrun to visit where there is a high probability of cake as well as camaraderie. Graves parkrun, I’m on my way, ready or not…
I don’t know if Roger fully appreciated all of this political and personal background (the personal is political and vice versa) to be honest. But he seemed pleased at the prospect of another outing. Not that I anthropomorphize inanimate things, obviously. However, I do find it quite companionable jogging along with him. I like the way his head bobs up and down in front of me, and I especially like the way he covers my stomach (though the side view is more problematic to be fair, but I try not to think about that).
As always, I got to Graves early. I ventured out of the car to get my parking ticket (80p for two hours, but a notice tells us there is to be a price rise at the end of April I think). It was freezing, I nearly had to abort my mission. This run was now not going to happen in a T-shirt, the jacket was going on, and quite possibly my buff too! More suitably dressed, I braved the cold, got my ticket, and taped it to dashboard with some sellotape I had brought with me especially for that purpose, in a not-entirely paranoid attempt to stop it blowing away when I was compelled to exit my vehicle later.
I sat and shivered for a bit. Where are all the people in fancy dress? Then, finally encouraged by seeing one arrival in fancy dress (presume she doesn’t normally don a suit and draw on a fake moustache for parkrun) ventured out of car. Many of the photos that follow are from Keith Turton by the way, thanks, very public spirited.
It was as always, super welcoming at the start. They are pathologically friendly at Graves anyway, but it helped to see familiar faces too. There was Dr Smiley/ Fighting Feather team buddy still wearing a pot on her leg, but hopefully for the last time today. She was on duty as back up timer and armed with a tin of jelly babies that was almost as big as her. The tin, not each individual jelly baby. That would be stupid.
Pleasingly, there was also a banana, which as you know is the runner’s friend. People may scoff, (laugh as opposed to eat, but both uses of the word are apt here) but great choice of outfit on a nippy and breezy morning, no drafts would be getting through that.
My breakfast buddies had also succumbed to parkrun tourism and joined the migration from our usual Sheffield Hallam home parkrun to be enticed over to Graves for the party. One of them was especially well-connected, and took time to introduce me to one of the run directing team who she used to share a flat with back in London years ago apparently. Small world eh? I like these kind of coincidences, I find that pleasing. A further coincidence was that he was also called Roger – ‘like MY Roger!’ I exclaimed, introducing him to my pony with a bit too much noise and enthusiasm. Afterwards, I hoped he wouldn’t think I was just being sycophantic, deliberately pretending my fine steed was named after him to gain some sort of unspecified advantage from being part of the in-crowd at Graves. It turned out though, that Rogers are ten a penny at Graves, so he didn’t bat an eyelid. Phew…
A few other runners appeared in onesies – it’s been too long since I’ve seen a tele-tubby, not entirely sure which one it was, but looking good. The harlequin morph suit was a brave but pleasing choice. Not everyone can carry that look off cycling to a park, but this runner/rider can. Took the precaution of disguising himself with a wig though, didn’t fool us, we know him from Sheffield Hallam Parkrun too.
Amongst the many was the inarguable eyesore of a multitude of hi-viz half marathon T-shirts, that looked like an alien algal bloom taking over the park. A great many were in evidence, worn proudly by people a lot hardier than me braving it without their jackets. I was not budging from my earlier decision to wear my jacket over my finisher top as the wind whipped through the ‘Conquered the hill’ tee.
I was initially a little regretful that I missed the chance of being snapped in it in all its glory on the way round, but having seen the photos of the end, I made a good call. This must be one of the least flattering tops in the history of event T-shirts. I shan’t be wearing it again. However, I will achieve immortality on the internet by posting a photo here, what was I thinking? Hopefully, you, dear reader, will be distracted by the juxtaposition of giant with Lilliputian, and not dwell on my barrel like appearance amplified by luminous lycra… Also, meet (some of) my breakfast buddies, hello! And, remember height isn’t everything you know. I get more leg room on planes for a start.
I’ve got a headache from the light bouncing back off all those tops bobbing up and down even now, just from watching others running in tem, and I strongly suspect I’m now contaminated with radiation from wearing the darned thing just for a morning. Surely a risk assessment is needed before encouraging runners to don these tops on mass again at any events in future. Easy and forgivable mistake to make once in all the excitement of post half-marathon highs, but not one that should be repeated in my world or lifetime.
Back to the parkrun. Lingering was eventually ended by a call to join the run briefing. This is always something of a highlight at Graves, the bar has been set high – (no pressure future run directors at that venue then) . They have adopted many clever innovations, not least, it is generally audible, as well as welcoming and imaginative. This time it was all about the Fours. Not as in golf, and ducking out the way, but as in how the number four was eerily appearing everywhere in relation to parkrun as a sort of oblique tribute to Graves which was celebrating its fourth birthday today. New runners signed up this week? 14,000 new people have joined parkrun UK in the past seven days. Number of parkrun events across the UK? 487. Co-incidence? I think not, very spooky. I am humming the theme for The Twilight Zone in my head as I type… They tried to find someone doing their fourth parkrun today as part of milestone shout outs – but didn’t get lucky on that one which was a shame.
There were welcomes though for tourists, claps for the 50 and 100 club entrants, pretty much everyone in attendance got a personal ‘hello’ one way or another. All delivered from the lofty heights of a park bench by a duo, one in the more traditional Run Director outfit, the other dressed as Wonder Woman.
I’d like to think she is always so dressed, but I think it’s unfair to create that expectation for future visitors, so will concede she had dressed for the special occasion. I love that they do the run briefing so well at Graves. It is this warm and funny welcome, almost as much as the resident highland coos, donkeys and llamas that makes Graves my favourite of the Sheffield parkruns.
Scanning crowd the crowd during the briefing, I saw my favourite thing ever (after being high-fived by Harry Gration, and bearing in mind I do excite quite easily), a knitted parkrun hat! It was sported by a guy in a suit with a spotted bow tie. Looking great, that is the sort of mark of respect parkrun merits. I’m having my own hat like that one day. I wouldn’t go so far as to steal his. Well, I like to think not, but then again, let’s say if it were to ever appear to be insufficiently appreciated by its current owner, perhaps because they recklessly abandoned it in a public place for example, temporarily unguarded, well then obviously it would be coming home with me for its own protection…
My breakfast buddies were also present. One had made an effort with fancy dress, combining it with political point, well done. Not sure how she fared with the stethoscope surely offering up a strangulation risk on the way round, but I do think such verisimilitude shows an appropriate level of commitment which I like to see.
It being a birthday, high jinks was in order, and the plan was to run the route in reverse. Hooray! It is amazing how much fun and how disorienting this is in fact. Oh just realised, some people like to have the course info blah de blah but it doesn’t seem appropriate here as we ran it the other way, suffice to say figure of eight, run it twice, lots of hills (up and down). I think we may even have surprised the livestock with our early arrival and coming ‘the wrong way’ through the animal park. Certainly the donkeys (I like donkeys) with their big fluffy ears looked interested to see us. They don’t seem remotely bothered by everyone shooting past. I know they must be used to it, but even so. The pig didn’t even bother to come out from its straw bed to see what was going on, and the deer carried on grazing. They must have seen it all. More than even the researchers for Jeremy Kyle, they were unphased by any outfit. If you aren’t a Graves regular you may be confused at this point, basic info, you run through a lovely venue, including past loads of animals. LLama, alpaca as well as those already mentioned. Worth coming just for the novelty of that- don’t be put off by the strava segment references to things like ‘killer hill to cow poo corner’, they are named with affection and good humour, nothing more. No slurry pits along the course – it’s not an OCR (Obstacle Course Race) type scenario.
At the briefing, we’d been warned to take some care on the way round, as recent rain has made the course a bit slippery in places. I’m sure he said ‘especially by the cricket pitch’. Really? There is a mown area in one part, but it’s on a pretty steep slope, not really ideal for the playing of cricket I would have thought. Still, Sheffield folk need to see quite a bit of gradient before they’ll acknowledge anything as being a ‘hill’ as such, maybe it’s my latent nesh, soft southerner coming out. Anything less than 45 degrees is regarded round here as ‘flat as a mill pond!’ Anything more, well ‘it’s only a hill’ oh how many times have I heard that in the last seven days! Half marathon supporters mean well, but those hills aren’t really ‘onlys’ in my world! OK, so confusingly, this is a later edit, so new photos added in from Grave Parkrun facebook page – photographer was Gail Moss, all great shots, for which I thank you. Though if the photographers keep supplying such fabulous photos I’ll have used up all my free memory capacity on this wordpress site so that’ll be the end of the blog. Oh well, cross that bridge eh… This start one, and the montage further down are her work. Remember though, if planning a visit, this is the route in reverse, if you come back some other time as a tourist, you’ll be running in the opposite direction. Basically make sure you concentrate and keep quiet during the run briefing – which it is only polite to do anyway, as I’m sure you know!
Loping round I started with enthusiasm, but quickly ran out of steam. Blimey, it was weird, I wasn’t breathless, and my legs didn’t particularly hurt, it was just there was nothing in the tank. I felt a bit sheepish walking for some sections, but then I caught a blinding glimpse of my half-marathon tee and thought ‘I’ve nothing to prove!’
Some fun interactions on the way round. Hello to my photographer friend who introduced herself and who let me use her picture in my last blog about the Sheffield half. The man in the spotted bow tie with the amazing hat with the parkrun logo specially knitted in. We joked lightly that he mustn’t leave it unattended, but I possibly came across as a bit too serious in my thieving intent. I couldn’t talk and run anyway, so he sprinted off. Story of my life that, being left behind. Oh well.
I was also massively impressed by the runner who had fully taken on bord that #DFYB Don’t forget your barcode. I commented to him to this effect, only to be met with the unexpected response ‘you won’t believe this but..‘ Turns out whilst he hadn’t actually completely forgotten his barcode, he had left it in the car. He said it was OK, he’d stop of and retrieve it during the second loop. That’s the spirit! I wonder what would happen if you tried to scan it that size? I hope someone gave it a go!
I don’t know if it’s quite fair to say the views are better when you run the reverse route, maybe I just paid more attention to them because of the novelty, and the glorious sunshine bathed everything in sharp spring light that was deceptive. It ought to have been warmer, but my it was cold! The views though were stunning. How lovely a sight is this:
A stream of runners ahead, cattle to the left, llama to the right, me in the middle with Roger giving it his all, his little head bobbing up and down in front, it’s very comforting. I tried to thank the marshals on the way round, even the one who thought Roger was a camel (she corrected it to ‘horse’ second time round, hope my assertive reply didn’t tip over into an aggressive retort earlier..) The marshals had done good on the fancy dress front. Well, I say that, I assume the ‘Where’s Wally’ outfit was fancy dress and not homage. There were a fair few wallys (I’m not being rude, I’m being factual) out there, it was amazing!!
I got overtaken by armoured gladiator and superheroine, but promised to watch their backs as they passed. I must have done this really well, as they both were alive and kicking (not literally as far as I observed) at the end. You’re welcome! He had impressive shield carriage by the way, I reckon he must practise in this outfit quite a lot. A commitment I applaud.
Also out and about was the grim reaper, I’ve always thought that was just my imagination. You know, thinking death was on my heels every time I headed out running – but here that nightmare was made manifest. Perhaps I was a bit more burnt out than I thought after last week?
I love the interaction with people as you go around. I guess faster runners get an adrenalin kick, but they miss out on the over heard conversations and companionable chit chat en route. Parkrunners are fab. Amongst the throng, I heard just behind me two women encouraging a younger male runner – he was struggling a bit, but still breezed past me. I exclaimed ‘you’re doing great, you’ve overtaken me and I’m riding a horse!‘ I’m not sure he entirely appreciated it, but I thought it was fun. To be fair I am thinking I might be a bit on the heavy side for Roger, especially after the half last week, but he was uncomplaining. Possibly because he’s a stuffed animal, I don’t know…
Here are some more atmospheric running shots, just so you can either know what you’ve missed, or nostalgically look back on a lovely morning. depending on whether you were there or not on the day! Check out that car number plate by the way, a caption writer’s gift! (OAP if you need help spotting it!).
So, eventually I limped in, not my speediest run round, but I’d had fun, and was pleased I’d ventured out at the end if not always en route… I was pleased to make it through the funnel and stop my watch. Runner’s brain kicked in, and I got confused when asked for my time and finish token number (they do this to double-check accuracy on finish funnel – impressive attention to detail). There follows a smorgasbord display taken from the late addition photos thanks to again to Gail Moss you can find plenty of others on the Graves parkrun facebook page Fabulous 4th birthday photos
I found my breakfast buddy mates (yes, they both finished before me, but let’s not dwell on that). I had a panicky moment of seeing proffered cake float past. Seemed rude to chase it. Loads of regulars had brought a massive bounty of culinary delights in celebration of their fourth birthday. Don’t worry, I caught up with it in the end…
So, I lingered at the finish to cheer home the last few runners. Awesome efforts all round. It is a brilliant parkrun this one, real encouragement for everyone. The grim reaper also got into position to chase a few stragglers home. There may be a later edit if photos of that activity appears, it was hilarious!
All done, adjourned to cafe. I think it’s the Rose Garden Cafe, but can’t be bothered to check. Oh no, wait, I will, it will be annoying otherwise – here ’tis:
It looks lovely from the outside – albeit this is a summer photo nicked from their website. It is roasty toasty cosy inside which is great. Welcoming to parkrunners, also great. Not so great for quality coffee to be honest, and food is in the ‘cheap and cheerful’ rather than bistro category, worth lingering for, as long as you can cope with the shocking acoustics, really hard to hear in there. Nevertheless, me and my breakfast buddies adjourned for the post run debrief, and to witness the Birthday Awards. You will be relieved to hear that birthday cake was circulated again, so I did get to have a chocolate cupcake courtesy of the Graves parkrun bakeoff team. These, as the awards, were brilliantly done. Maybe it’s a surefire sign of my middle age, but I actually felt quite emotional bearing witness to this ceremony. There was so much good will in the room. An outpouring of appreciation and affection. There isn’t enough of that in the world.
Facts and figures were offered up. I’m sure their official report will capture it better than me, but twice round the world is the mileage of Graves attendees over the past year for starters if I was listening properly. There was appreciative applause in all directions, not only for the points winners (impressive as that undoubtedly is). This impressive awards ceremony was punctuated by astonishingly loud shout outs of numbers for food orders which were brought out at intervals from the kitchen area. Nothing will stop the well oiled machine which is the Graves Park Cafe from running smoothly it would seem, hilarious, but true.
There were prize winners aplenty – though I couldn’t help wondering if some were the sort of parkrun equivalent of ‘imaginary friends’ as a suspiciously large proportion of the award winners appeared to be absent. Generous audience participation/ heckling from the floor suggesting redraw the winner for e.g. most points, or to collect on behalf of others were brushed aside. The team at Graves may be cheery, friendly and positive, but they are no fools it seems!
Amongst the prizes was one for most inspirational parkrunner. This went to another Roger (that is what I mean about Rogers being ten a penny round here). I don’t know what else he’d done, but the picture he had done of Lily alone would merit such recognition. I didn’t have my camera with me, but I really hope someone did. It was the most fantastic painting of Lily, the whippet, resplendent in her parkrun 100 bandana/neckerchief. Amazing, just amazing. If you tune in regularly you should know Lily by now, but in case not, here she is in action today. I love Lily. Actually, she also won an award, fastest canine, well deserved too! All the awards and other good stuff is in the event run report for their 4th anniversary parkrun at Graves.
So then award ceremony concluded, I wiped a tear from my eye at the all-round loveliness of it all, and got ready for depart. But, GUESS WHAT, nope, you won’t guess, not unless you were here in which case, that isn’t really a guess, it’s more insider dealing. Well, there was still one more award to come.
It was an award for ‘Best Fancy Dress’, and, to my utter astonishment, it went to Roger and me! I was beyond ecstatic, this is my first ever running prize. I felt a little bit guilty, because Roger is real, so technically, it isn’t fancy dress, but seemed rude to quibble. I honestly thought nothing could top the feeling of getting a high five with Harry Gration, at the start of the Sheffield Half last Sunday, but apparently it can! Roger and I have had public recognition, how unexpectedly glorious is that. Once again, it the seemingly impossible has come to pass. I was ridiculously excited. I felt ninja all over again! Me and Roger together are clearly a force to be reckoned with. Our prize, well, public adoration (the writer of their run report came and got my name, I mean it doesn’t get much better than that) and also some sports themed wine gums. I appreciate that attention to detail… Just hope the gelatine wasn’t equine in origin…
Touchingly though, even when the awards were sort of officially over, the sly parkrunners of Graves had clubbed together to acknowledge their run director team with these brilliant certificates. It genuinely brought a lump to my throat, I don’t think I’m particularly hormonal, I was just feeling the love. Graves parkrun community, you are awesome, officially, and I should know, I’m an award-winning runner, albeit only for fancy dress!
So finally, a woman from Athletics UK or Run Britain or something – oh in fact England Athletics, I checked, came along to address the group about new running paths that are being put in around Sheffield as part of their Outdoor City project. I felt a bit sorry for her it was rather a ‘follow that’ moment, but heartening all the same that there are proactive initiatives to promote running (bursaries for run leader training as well as new local paths) against the backdrop of recent events at Little Stoke. Plenty of scope for hope, let’s embrace that for now. Outdoor city run routes are appearing in abundance we are lucky indeed!
So for now ‘that’s all folks’, thank you Graves parkrun, you are just brilliant. Had a fab morning, long may your reign of excellence continue.
There may be more photos to follow, or there may not, it will be a surprise! Boo! For now, you will forgive me if I need to celebrate my winning streak with a bottle of Tesco Prosecco (can’t go wrong for £6.49) and a David Bowie archive footage experience on ‘yesterday’ TV, I know, I’m wild.
Thanks Graves parkrun for hosting today, but thank you too, to everyone in the parkrun community that makes it the phenomenon it is. I wish I had some clout, I’d love to share with the world what a force for good parkrun is, it certainly has changed my life. We all have our stories. Why anyone would seek to crush that is beyond my comprehension. Let’s not let Little Stoke parkrun die in vain, let’s keep the vision more vivid and alive than it ever was. Free, forever, for all.
And yes, that prosecco has gone to my head, and I am a bit pissed right now (not in the American angry sense, but in the British, slurring sperch, temporarily disinhibited, uncharacteristally affectionate way). Just slightly tipsy really, it will pass,) but it doesn’t mean I’m wrong, au contraire, I’m so right it hurts.
Keep on running y’all, in your own unique ways!