*All parkrun volunteers are by default heroes FACT, so good to know we must be too!
Anyway, don’t be childish. That really is very immature. Clearly I mean token women and not toking women, as you would know if you bothered to listen and concentrate properly. Those of you sniggering at the back know who you are. Drugs are not tolerated at parkrun (apart from the previously referenced caffeine in chocolate covered coffee beans which is a different thing altogether and a quite legitimate pre-parkrun product. Heavens, it is even a recognised running fuelling strategy inasmuch as there is some serious research relating to the link between caffeine intake and running prowess). Caffeine aside, no post of mine will condone any illicit activities, including that of toking inappropriate herbal substances. Should you wish to relive, reminisce about or simply romanticise your misspent youth you will have to make do with hoiking yourself around to watch tribute bands from the appropriate decade, reading alternative blogs, maybe even surreptitiously sorting through old faded Polaroids (from first time round, not when they were reintroduced as retro chic) and/or gazing wistfully at torn Riz+la packs unearthed from the back of your sofa. You will find such fantasies have no truck with me! I am referring to an entirely more wholesome sort of toking, I mean token women. Glad we’ve cleared all that up. Here we are, looking lovely! Not under the influence or inappropriately giggly at all. Rather a natural high! This could be you too dear reader. It could be you… Read on to find out how.
So, I wasn’t sure about whether I’d make it to Sheffield Hallam parkrun at all today. I was really poorly last week, proper, ‘this is definitely meningitis this time‘ poorly, only it turned out not to be. Even so, once my temperature had abated, and I’d surfaced from nearly a week under the duvet I was definitely decidedly wobbly on my feet. Nipping to the co-op to buy soup reduced me to tears yesterday, so running today, just 24 hours later was never really an option. Not to worry. One of the great joys of parkrun, is that even when you aren’t running you can still have all the fun of participation in the grand collective community event that is parkrun, without any of the unpleasantness associated with actually running the course. Yay! ‘But how? By what dark artifice and mysterious magic is this possible?’ I hear you cry . To which I reply, ‘dear reader, it is simple – you can volunteer!’
So, about volunteering. Ideally, me in a parallel universe, would forward plan sufficiently to get myself on the rota in advance. This isn’t really my forte, forward planning I mean. I like to think it’s because I’m a fun-loving spontaneous sort of person rather than just hopeless at personal organisation. In fact I’ve been turned down from volunteering at Hallam parkrun on multiple occasions because of leaving it too late and being told the rota is full so there is no room at the proverbial inn. This is ironic as often my home run struggles for volunteers, but it just seems that I always try to opt in when everyone else does, the day before a race or whatever. Anyway, it’s been discouraging. Hence, I decided that today I’d just roll up and see if there was a job for me, and if not I could always be an independently operating unofficially sanctioned cheer leader, not too bad as a worse case scenario to be fair. I woke up early, not deceased as a result of my terrible illness, so no excuses, there would be no surrender. Oh no, so I wrapped up warm and headed into the wintry sunshine of Endcliffe Park. Isn’t it lovely though – got to be worth getting up and out for in anyone’s book. (Thanks Douglas Armstrong for the photos today by the way – he and George Carman are sharing the paparazzi load at Hallam these days, we’re pretty blessed with photographers in the Sheffield area – for better or worse, but more of that later…).
By the time I arrived 8.30 ish, there were already a fair few donned in their pink hi-viz, and the run-director was doing sterling work in allocating other roles. Hallam parkrun has just suddenly exploded like an algal bloom in terms of participation, which is great, but does create some logistical challenges. I lingered hopefully on the periphery of his vision until a suitable role was found for me. Previously I’ve been both a marshal on the course, and a bar-code scanner, today though it was a new adventure. Today, I would be token back-up! More accurately ‘Finish Token Support’. Get me and my newly acquired awesome levels of responsibility. The acronym FTS hasn’t entirely caught on, so best I write it in full for now, if I added the initials after my name without explanation I might be expected to deal with enquiries as diverse as those relating to the Forensic Testing Service or Floppy Trunk Syndrome, both of which are currently outside my areas of expertise. Finish Token Support though – newfound competency in that area I think you’ll find!
Volunteering is a funny thing. All the roles are critical, in that if anyone is missing the whole event comes crashing down. It is an accepted truisim that runners can’t run without the volunteers (well they could actually but they wouldn’t get a time) but it is also true that there’d be little point in all the volunteers turning out without some runners to organise. The yin and yan of parkrun I suppose. I like volunteering, it’s a great way to see the whole field of runners, and it is way more fun than you might expect. Good camaraderie and a whole different way of enjoying the event. However, I have to be honest, I do find some of the roles a bit scary. Shouldn’t really. None are beyond the competence of most, and you don’t ever have to do anything you don’t feel comfortable with. (Unless maybe you are a run director, but they don’t usually dump that on you if you just rock up without warning as far as I can tell). If you are apprehensive about volunteering, please don’t be, you will be welcomed, you will have a laugh, it’ll be fine. In the unlikely event that something should go wrong, really and truly it’s a run not a race, it’s a free event, the world won’t stop turning, the sun will still come out tomorrow, and pretty much any error can be rectified. Worry not…
Even so, I concede, it is curious to me as well which volunteering roles are (to me) stressful, and which are pleasurable. Personally, I’d find the stress of time keeping a bit much. I’d fear sudden tremors might result in my issuing a staccato of multiple clicks at a critical moment, or a temporary seizure would render me motionless and helpless with zero clicks registering just as a whole crowd came stampeding across the finish line like a cast reunion of Riverdance. That would be my scary role – not so for everyone though. Fortunately, the pair allocated this responsibility today had no such reservations. Quite right too, basically you click a button. Not too hard as long as you don’t over-think it. A back up timer does the same, so you aren’t on your own with it anyway. Kudos to those who step up to this role. Each role has particular responsibilities. I like being a generalist clapping and pointing marshal, but even then there is the worry about ‘what if‘ you are called on as first responder in the event of a medical crisis of some sort. In reality, parkrun is a community, other runners are likely to help out too, plus there are radios issued to marshals at the more remote postings at parkrun these days. Even so, whilst not wishing to be alarmist, I couldn’t help but notice in the post parkrun perusal of the photos that some runners ran so fast some of their fingers fell off whilst running. In this instance, I’d have had no idea how to help! I guess they had so many running endorphins and so much adrenalin whizzing around their blood streams they hadn’t noticed yet. Hope they were OK about it when they got home….
Back to business. The fun bit about getting there early is, apart from feeling busy and important in the way that only the donning of a hi-viz can bestow, you get to see others assembling in all their many guises, shapes, sizes and celebratory accoutrements. First timers querying the what and the where and the why of parkrun (amazing there are still some first timers out there to discover parkrun, lucky them) and old timers adorned with balloons. Yay to the centenarians single and dual. That’s some serious running miles you’ve put on your legs. Go you. There were a fair few milestone runners at Hallam parkrun today, to be fair, awesome – forget how long it’s been going sometimes, it takes years to reach triple figures, that’s commitment – and commitment with style and sartorial elegance too if these photos are anything to go by! centenarians I salute you! You are rocking it.
There was a lot of milling about as people assembled. There was the first timers briefing – all those bright expectant faces welcomed into the parkrun family and launched on the new adventure that is parkrun. That’s their Saturdays sorted for the next few decades then, do they have any idea what they’ve signed up to? Then there was the group briefing. It was quite uplifting watching this from the other side of the tape. So much diversity, so many colourful tops, and to be truthful, the runners seemed a lot more attentive than it feels like when you are in the midst of it. I’m quite short, and I can’t always see or hear the briefing if other runners are chit chatting in the vicinity. It seemed orderly from this new perspective. One of many surprises of the day.
It all seemed to be going swimmingly. There was the count down to the shout of ‘awf’, and off indeed they all went. Like greyhounds out of the trap, but with more lycra. I took it upon myself to do some clapping as the front runners came round the small loop chasing back towards the cafe. It’s harder work than you might think clapping when there are 616 runners. But I daresay it will be great for limiting the growth of my bingo wings. As I clapped, and did the odd shout out to familiar faces or running club brands (Go Smileys, Go Vegan Runners, Go random club/event name that I’ve never seen before) the run director and others tried to do an approximate head count to get a feel for the numbers taking part. I didn’t know they did this, I suppose it helped give a feel for what the challenge would be with the finish funnel, and also for how many are out on the course as it comes to a conclusion. Well, those are possible explanations, I think we all know the real reason is the weekly sweepstake on who can guess the closest figure to the actual number of completers. I’m not sure if there is a cash prize for this or if it’s just for glory. I strongly suspect that the run director has a bit of an advantage here though in that s/he has the authority to order snipers on the course and/or disqualify individuals at will. I’m not saying that happens, only that I wouldn’t personally ever bet against the house in such circumstances.
Once all the runners had heave-hoed themselves past the playground, attention turned to funnel creation. Now, it wasn’t all that long ago when the finish was but a flag and the funnel an understated strand of plastic tape, and that was about it. Over the years it’s grown into an increasingly elaborate construction, with twists and turns and marshals in place to try to enforce ‘no funnel ducking’ regulations (to mixed success). However, latterly, participation at Sheffield Hallam parkrun has exploded. Like an unexpected and unexplained algal bloom, runners have just appeared as if from nowhere. Such enthusiasm is great, but has created some logistical challenges, not least, how to stop a pre-finish bottleneck. There have been some weeks where runners have been backing up way down the course, which is stressful for marshals and runners alike. It is a run not a race, but who are we trying to kid, everyone likes to know their time as accurately as possible really don’t they.
Anyway, it seems that last week (when actually I hoiked myself over to Graves parkrun so didn’t witness it for myself) a new initiative was born. A new funnel design was engineered, implemented and made its impressive debut, it was a success, as evidenced by the somewhat triumphalist expressions of this ‘made it happen team’ on 18 March – unfortunately, the photo doesn’t include much in the way of clues as to how they achieved this, only their delight at having done so. Their idea may have been genius, but it wasn’t documented for posterity. No worries, the wheel could be reinvented. Why not? What could possibly go awry?
I can report a fabulous four-lane funnel was duly created. I can take little (actually none at all) credit for this. As planning conversations were earnestly debated and structures moved about I hung back. It was one of those time-sensitive scenarios when you don’t really want to ‘help’ as you might unwittingly jeopardise all the progress that had been made to date. I favoured hovering around in earshot, ready to leap into action by twisting red and white funnel tape around a pole at a moment’s notice, but resisting the urge to offer unsolicited assistance which quite clearly would have been in direct contravention of the ‘too many cooks’ ruling with which we are all I’m sure familiar. Amazingly, it did come to take shape. I salute the run director for managing to keep together (just) an outward disposition of cheery calm whilst this challenge was undertaken and completed It is worth being reminded from time to time that the RD role is quite a responsibility, and we are lucky to have a team willing to step up to take it on week after week. Anyway, the upshot was the creation of a thing of simple beauty. I tried not to worry too much about my overall incomprehension about how this might work in practice. It wasn’t the time or place to be voicing doubts. Anyway, as has already been established, I was finish token support only, support. The proverbial buck was not stopping anywhere near me. (Collective glory by association though, count me right in!)
The funnel established, there was some time before the runners started crossing the finish, so I was able to do some quality bonding with my Finish Token erm, well ‘Supervisor’ I suppose. Pleasingly, she seemed to have at one time at least, shared many of my anticipatory neuroses, but had prior form in this role. Thus she had lots of useful advice and strategy pitches from which I could learn. Also lots of reassuring damage limitation pointers in case of need. (Abandon dropped finish tokens, they can be removed from the results later – always check you are taking tokens from the correct end of the pile, that kind of thing). Key points, in case you fancy this role for yourself. The finish tokens are all threaded carefully in number sequence on a piece of cord. This is kept safely in a snug little hi-vis bag. The accepted wisdom is that you leave this bag on the floor at all times, removing only a small pile of tokens at a time, in order to avoid a token spillage catastrophe. This approach required some modification as we realised we were going to have to migrate between finish tunnels in this new incarnation. Not to worry, we were a team, we would overcome. I have to be honest (I don’t actually, but I just can’t help myself), the thread of finish tokens we dragged around behind us reminded me of nothing more that a trailing tapeworm being ejected from a dog’s bottom. I fully appreciate this analogy is both unwholesome and unwelcome, but it also happens to be absolutely true. Once seen, never forgotten. Trust me on this. I will spare you a googled stock image picture to prove my point.
Let me replace that in your mind’s eye. My regular reader will know I am particularly partial to a nice duck shot. This one is classy indeed. I thank you Dougal (other photographers are available) for this offering, George may have pretty capacious shoes for you to fill, but you did pretty good today I’d say. Got to appreciate a finely turned out mandarin. Bravo.
So, back to finish tokens. The plan was this. Basically, we took it in turns to distribute tokens. The first person would take a batch of say 30 tokens and give them out, as they got to the last couple they’d shout and the second person (me) would step in with the next 30 tokens and the first person would step back and collect their lot ready to go. Easy. However, a bit like rubbing your stomach and patting your head, to mix things up a bit, we also had to migrate between the finish funnels. The new system is that finishers fill up one lane of the funnel, and then once they are all squished in, someone at the finish point directs the next lot of finishers into the next line and so on. It sounds really complicated, but worked surprisingly well. The only challenges were newcomers looking bewildered in a ‘why can’t I have a token now’ sort of way as they stood at the end of the lines waiting for us to get to them, but I’d say it was a success. I felt we were a good team, and it was fun having a volunteer buddy. Plus we could even enjoy the looks of suffering on the first finishers, noting that just maybe they work way harder than I ever do out running. I can just about cope with getting out of breath when I run as normal now, but some of the guys in the finish funnel were practically crawling up towards us and dry retching as they did so. Nope, that doesn’t happen in my world. Impressive to see, but not my running aspiration, though it does remind me I probably need to push myself out of my comfort zone quite a bit more to improve.
It is a great boon of volunteering to get to see the speedier runners who have normally gone home ages ago by the time I get round, but it isn’t only they who impress. There are the buggy runners, the team players, the juniors, including some real tots who were full of smiles at their achievements. It was also fun for me as I’ve been away for ages, so it was great to see and greet pretty much every runner and see so many familiar faces. It did get pretty busy at some points, but not so busy that I didn’t get some extra hugs and high fives from friends old and new. All very affirming. There were runners coming back from injury, milestone runners, runners in new gear, runners in old gear. The whole continuum was out there. It is genuinely inspiring to see.
I also think we need to celebrate the slower runners and remember how important we are too – these guys look all speedy and at the front and everything, but they are only running that fast because they are being chased from the back. And if they get close to lapping us – well, we are giving them a target to chase aren’t we. They’d be nothing without us to chart their progress by (eh hem). Seriously though, it’s the inclusive nature of parkrun that is so awesome, I love that it’s an event that has such a broad continuum, inspiration comes from both ends of that colourful spectrum of lycra!
Is it a bell curve? Anyway, after a flurry of activity, it levelled off a bit as the main bulk of runners had passed through. Time to chat with other runners and the photographer for the day alongside the runderwear ambassador who had knocked out another PB. Almost getting dull, she’s done that week after week for ages now! We were debating the merits of being photographed at parkrun, and the extent to which it is motivating and helpful. In summary, it is a marvelous thing to have photographers at parkrun capturing the occasion and sometimes the hilarity of our running endeavours. All of us admit to a sort of addiction to reviewing post-run shots be they from parkrun or any other event. The issue is our general appreciation of all the photos juxtaposed with our inner cringing at any that might be particularly unflattering of ourselves. It’s a fine line. This led to speculation about whether or not there may be a gender issue when it comes to photos.
Now, we all know Regal Smiley exercises considerable power of veto (which is not the same as editorial control) over the issue of which photos make the cut when Glorious George is operating the camera. She has long been acknowledged as the real power behind the lens in that respect. She has learned to pronounce on the acceptability or otherwise of photos, with a skill, speed and judgement that is usually only associated with those who appraise diamonds for a living. She can tell practically without even looking, whether or not an image is fit for public circulation. It’s about assessing whether the subject would, having seen this picture let loose on the world, ever be able to leave their house again without disguise, let alone continue to go running. I cannot be alone in silently thanking her for undertaking this task so selflessly on behalf of photographed runners everywhere. Today’s photographer does similarly jettison photos that are likely to mortify the object of his art, which is good to know but not the point. The point is we were debating whether or not there was a gender thing re vetoing of photos. Is it the case that relatively more men take some perverse pride in the gruesome ‘and here I am retching over the finish line‘ snaps whereas women may be more likely to favour shots at the less gurning end of the continuum? This was one view mooted. I don’t like to generalise, but I think there may be something in this. On a good day I can guffaw along with everyone else at the comically bad running shot of me in action (and there are many of these), but there are some that are so unflattering (at least I hope they are unflattering and not reality of my appearance in motion) that I’d not only never run again if they made it into the public domain, I’d never leave the house again either. Fine line indeed. OCR (Obstacle Course Race) photos are particularly trophy-orientated in that respect. ‘Look at me experiencing high voltage electricity charge through me whilst I battle through a pool of crushed ice‘ for example. Honestly, it’s not a look everyone can carry off, yet Facebook profiles are littered with such snaps. And I can see why, totally, I’m perhaps as delusional as everyone else…
Anyway, there were plenty of happy sights to behold going round today though. Not an arctic enema or mud slide in sight today at Endcliffe Park, as people sprinted round. Joyful, each in their own way. You’ve got to look on and smile at this slide show. There were some amazing photos of juniors running too, some really adorable tots going round today, but I haven’t included those shots as I’m not sure it’s appropriate to do so, but if you saw them for yourself you’d have smiled too, maybe you did and you did. I hope so 🙂 Run Happy indeed!
It’s great to see how each and every one of us is motivated by our own personal goals – cake, running down cancer, or the simple joy of running for its own sake. Each to their own. The volunteers had their own stories too I’m sure. I’d love to do that one day, get every participant’s back story for a single event (runners and volunteers) I think that would be awesome.
I’m pleased to report that today at least, nobody vomited at the end of this parkrun. Elsewhere, it was a different story – at least one smiletastic contender (the winter running club competition for the Smiley paces Sheffield Women’s Running Club) threw up fairly spectacularly at the end of her tourist run at some random parkrun somewhere. I know this, because she tried to claim a bonus point for this on the basis that this surely was evidence of near super-human effort in running. I’m not sure on this one. It might be of course. But it might also be the aftermath of an inappropriate Bacchanalian frenzy the night before or just picking up some sort of unfortunate streptocooccal infection. Even if it wasn’t, there was an absence of proof provided either in photographic form, or in carefully bagged and tagged forensic form. Whilst we must be thankful for such small mercies, it is a tricky area to judge on therefore. I’m glad it’s one for elder smiley to arbitrate on and not me. On the subject of Smiletastic (yes we were) the photos suggest badger action underway at Hallam too – but, whilst not wishing to absolutely cast nasturtiums (but also not wishing to allow such a fine opportunity for a malapropism to pass unused), I suspect a bib-mule in action here – what with smiley paces being an all women club, but then again, perhaps it’s all gamesmanship in action. Who knows, the stakes are high as smiletastic 2017 reaches its climax for sure! Far be it from me to judge, I am but a witness to history…
Anyway, back to funnel practicalities. Erm, well, it was sort of complicated and simple. Complicated to explain, perilous at times, but yep, it did sort of work, this four filtration funnel system. The photo doesn’t really help but here we go. Poetry in motion we were, go us! Loving the Strider Bobble Hats too. Classy.
Whatever the role volunteering was pretty awesome today. Look at this cutey getting her love token at the end. Gotta love a parkrun that let’s you be part of this!
So if you have come to see that you have been missing out and are now craving a slice of the action? Get yourself on the volunteer rota and you too could be rocking the hi-viz and counting down to your own purple T delivery day. Yay! Better yet, one day you might even be in possession of a clipboard! I know, there is no greater authority on earth than that! I can’t promise it would be every time, but it is a real possibility once you’ve proved yourself.
Oh, and don’t you just love Endcliffe Park? We are lucky indeed. The backdrop to a glorious collective endeavour.
So that’s it really. Hallam parkrun event 335 put to bed. All it’s mini-adventures complete for another week.
Tomorrow is the Longshaw 10k. I’m still not up for running so will head over and volunteer instead again I think. Why not, sunshine is pretty much promised. I’ve just got to remember the clocks will change (in the correct direction) and all will be well!
See you there.
For all my parkrun related posts – including Sheffield Hallam parkrun click here