I didn’t bleed from the eyes. That was the main thing.
I was pretty scared about going back to parkrun. After my sojourn in Cambodia, where running was literally impossible (honestly, it really was) I wasn’t sure how my body would cope with it. I felt like I hadn’t run for so long it would almost certainly implode, and bleeding from the eyes was going to be the most likely precursor to my full-on public physical disintegration. I was also a bit sheepish. I had after all left expecting to lose weight, get in training, blah de blah, return fit, feisty and raring to go with my eyes set on the London Marathon. Turns out that was a misguided fantasy. I had other amazing adventures along the way, but getting miles on my legs in preparation for an April Marathon, nope, that just didn’t happen. I was going back like doing parkrun for the very first time, apprehensive, self-conscious and consumed with self-doubt. Which is both normal, and ironic. Normal, well because.. self-explanatory surely? But ironic, because on the rare occasions when I meet someone who has never heard of or done parkrun I have taken to saying ‘lucky you, you have all the fun still to discover.’ My how those words returned to haunt me, I wasn’t feeling lucky, I was feeling fraudulent. I know it’s a run not a race; I know I can walk/run it; I know it doesn’t matter if I come last… and yet…
and yet… you know what, all of that is absolutely true! It was like coming home to a hug. How I’ve missed you my running compatriots and parkrun buddies. Feel the parkrun love.
What helped, was as I stomped down, remembering my barcode almost belatedly, I almost immediately met a friendly fellow smiley all a-beam, who gave me a wonderful nurturing welcome. You are never alone at a parkrun. Perhaps of critical significance here is that she also had about her person a supply of chocolate covered coffee beans which it turns out is perfect pre parkrun fodder. Sugar and caffeine in concentrated format, even if it did take on a bit of fluff from my fleece before I gave in to the inevitable and instead of keeping it as a post-parkrun treat devoured it as pre-parkrun performance fuel. As parkrun is a run not a race I think you are allowed to take any performance enhancers you like, but remember people, you are only cheating yourself.
She explained she wasn’t feeling on top form, but I was pretty sure she’d be lapping me. I promised however, that in the unlikely event of her collapsing on the course ahead of me I would take it upon myself to retrieve her barcode and get a time for her if appropriate. Essentially that would be if she fell in the finish funnel, otherwise it might not be quite the done thing. You’ve got to sign up to the parkrun spirit as well as the parkrun rules, which aren’t many but are just. I was a bit worried that in this eventuality I might be thought to be looting her corpse if caught, but to be fair, it would be a shame to let those chocolate coated beans go to waste, it wouldn’t be so terrible to pocket a few of them. I’m sure it’s what she would have wanted. I’m not interested in her fancy garmin watch as I have no idea how to operate it, I’d leave that for other looters. Good news though, didn’t happen, she got round just fine. Way ahead of me, of course.
I’ve only been away 3 1/2 months, but along with the familiar things were some changes. Familiar things included the impromptu clothing exchange rail alongside the playground, and flags out for the big event:
There were also people engaged in various pre-running rituals and routines. Rigorous warm ups, preparation of mind and body, and clearing the digestive tract of superfluous wind all were attended too. Each to their own.
The fearlessness of the photographer also has remained as potent as ever in my absence. Standing your ground in the face of this stampede takes some courage. What some will do in pursuit of the perfect shot eh. I know there were more plaudits for the woman at the BBC who kept her camera rolling whilst Mt Etna hurled molten rocks down on her, but I think on balance that was all very commendable and everything, but she couldn’t have anticipated the danger she was in (apart from by having set foot on an active volcano I’ll concede) whereas our resident photographer wilfully placed himself potentially in harm’s way. Way braver (or more reckless). Maybe it’s to sate some appetite for an adrenalin surge. Whatever, the photo is still pretty impressive. On your marks etc:
More of a surprise was the extent to which Hallam parkun has grown. A week later and it made 782 runners, which is amazing, but also increasingly problematic. We are a bit busting out at the seams these days. Bottle necks are occurring, and it takes a while to get across the start line. This didn’t especially bother me, in fact it took the pressure off, but it does concern me inasmuch as I wonder if it is really sustainable . You can’t turn people away from a public event of this kind, but begrudgingly I’d have to admit it is on the edge of what can be accommodated. Time to do some more parkrun tourism methinks…
Anyway, as well as the first familiar face of the morning, I also found that I was rewarded for my persistence in seeking out a precautionary pee by finding another smiling smiley to greet me with a hug as I emerged from the toilet cubicle. Life is better with hugs. Gotta love a smiley with arms open in welcome. I wonder if all running clubs are as literally as well as metaphorically embracing? You do hear the occasional horror story of ultra-competitive running groups, but I’ve been blessed by running into (ok stumbling across) a super friendly Sheffield set. Go Smilies! Go everyone!
It’s not only Smilies who are awesome though. I was also blessed by finding myself in the most excellent company of who else, but the Sheffield Runderwear Ambassador. Phew, a running buddy for my return run. We plonked ourselves towards the back for a steady not too crowded run round and it was great. I’d never have been able to run the whole thing without the supportive companionship of a human metronome who would tolerate no slacking. She didn’t just motivate me, but shouted out supportive comments to others as they passed us, or seemed likely to let us catch them. It was all endorphin induced wonderfulness. I did find it hard, but I was also pleasantly surprised to find that I could run the whole thing. It’s definitely easier out of the heat and humidity of Phnom Penh and also the public accountability of running with others does help me to keep going. On my own I just default to walking so easily. Shows yet again, how much of running is all in the head. Also, how much of running can be enhanced with a good running buddy. Thanks comrade, for welcoming me and getting me round, reluctantly or otherwise!
Also, and in direct contravention of my no talking rule, we were able to have a bit of a catch up as we went. I heard more about the run where I missed out on Jess and Paul turning up at Hallam whilst I was away. I was devastated about that. Truthfully though, sad as I was to miss the Sheffield Olympian that is Jess, I was more sad at missing Paul to be honest, he has after all changed my life. Jess remains an absolute local icon of course, but I’ve seen her loads of times hanging out in the woods, when we’ve enjoyed training together. If by training together we mean me hopping on one leg acting as nonchalantly as it is possible to be on one leg mid a running drill whilst she happens to be out for a stroll in the general vicinity of Ecclesall woods with her young son. I like to think that counts, I really do. That’s me, hanging out with professional sporting icons in the UK as well as overseas. (I told you about training with the Cambodian professional football team I’m sure?) Anyway, one upshot of Jess’s presence at Hallam was her legacy gift of powder pink vitality endorsed volunteer tabards. Why not, they look fabulous.
Anyway, it was surprisingly great to be back. Mostly I enjoyed the view from behind. It’s all reassuringly familiar. I wasn’t in fact last, not that it would have mattered if I was (it is a run not a race after all as previously stated) but even so, I was relieved to find that I could still run the whole thing, albeit incredibly slowly. I can still feel the sludge of Phnom Penh pollutants slopping around in my lungs. It’s like sump oil sludge, I’d swear I can feel it. It isn’t quite the souvenir I’d had in mind for my return trip, but let’s hold on to what memories I can, they will ebb and fade away soon enough alas.
So finally made it to the end. More hug exchanges. I do like that in a post running high you can get away with hugging pretty much anyone, it’s most affirming. In fact the whole thing was pretty darned fabulous. I saw so many familiar faces marshaling or running. It may possibly be true I got a teensy bit distracted going round at times. It’s only polite to wave at everyone you know on the way round, and then, by extension it would surely be rude not to wave at other people just because you don’t know them don’t you think?
It occurs to me that ‘serious runners’ scrutinise photos of themselves running to help them improve and perfect their running technique. Gait analysis, ergonomics (or is it egomaniacs? I get confused). Well, anyway, I might review photos of me running at some point in a systematic way, but you have to agree, that even the most cursory look does help. I can’t altogether ignore the possibility that if I maybe looked in the direction I was running from time to time instead of veering from side to side hugging people, and did a bit less waving I too could probably shave a few seconds off my parkrun finish times. I could, but waving is a lot of fun, so I wouldn’t reject my approach to running out of hand. Food for thought all the same.
So, once I’d been spat out the funnel and had my barcode scanned by the amazing volunteer team I went to cheer home the final finisher who was beaming broadly as the resident paparazzi papped and the finish token regal smiley applauded her in. She was flanked by two powder pink tabarded tail runners, it was very festive and good for the soul. I love parkrun it is such a celebration of all that is good in the world, and lord knows we need to remember those things in dark times….
Next stop was breakfast. We couldn’t get into Made by Jonty, so had to branch out and try new breakfast options, hurrah, seven hills bakery. It was absolutely heaving, but it was fab, we had a huge smiley table which was grand. One half of table was holding a strategy meeting for their badgers, which must have resulted in some puzzling overheard conversations for other diners. ‘Can’t wait to see your badger‘ being shouted across the cafe as some departed was a high point. The assembled quartet had computer print outs, probably a minute taker, and I’m pretty sure they would have got out an easel with flip chart paper at the very least had space allowed. Oh, is it not obvious? Smiletastic has come round again. Smiley Paces running club winter team challenge basically. The teams this year are hedgehogs, badgers, deer, squirrels possibly road-runners definitely not roadkill. The stakes are high, planning is everything.
Smiletastic was stress inducing last year, but I missed out on in this year by selfishly going to Cambodia with a complete disregard for what that mean in relation to my participation at my running club. Some amazing challenges have been undertaken, and some pretty spectacular shows of strategy have been employed throughout. Who knew running could be so creative? Is it bad that I found I’m enjoying the tension quite so much even as a spectator? It’s all the suspense but none of the stress endured when you an actual participant. The strava art for roses was quite good, but nothing beat fashion week for team endeavour. What fabulous smiley fashionistas are. An embarrassment of talent is displayed by Smiletastic participants, or is it just an embarrassment? I get confused. Themed gatherings occurred all across South Yorkshire, and as far afield as peru I think. Yep, I think that’s right. Or were they maybe dressing up for world book day? I wasn’t here of course, what with being in Cambodia and everything (have I mentioned that enough recently) but I tried to keep abreast of key developments from afar. Below is the relevant evidence of endeavour on which you can feast your eyes.
Anyway, you have to agree the photos were pretty cool. Though I’m worried that posting a photo of yourself chewing on cacao leaves using the ‘its for altitude sickness‘ defence will carry little weight with Elder Smiley when she comes to hear of it. That’s surely contrary to any drugs policy worth noting, you can se from the picture it’s clearly having an affect on her physiology, though to be fair it may not be an advantageous one… Also, what with my chocolate and fluff covered coffee bean comsumption earlier on, I’m probably in no position to judge. We can share a guffaw though, surely?
So breakfast and reunions concluded, home for my post run bath. I can’t tell you how lovely it is not to be sitting in a pool of my own sweat all the time, running is cool indeed. The only downside of being back in a colder climate is I’m back to needing to pee all the time, no longer a perpetual battle against dehydration, more a battle to plan the loo stops. I’ll acclimatise it’ll be fine
Then in the evening, a Facebook post on Sheffield hallam parkrun page and I get a mention welcoming me back. Don’t you love parkrun. I have a community, a tribe if you will, that noticed I was gone and has noticed I was back. I like to think in a good way, not like finding your mysterious rash has cleared up and then annoyingly reappeared again just after you’d started to feel confident that you’d never have to worry about it again. There are many things I like to think. We all need to inhabit a nicer parallel universe from time to time. Try it, it can be way more fun than the scary reality!
Sometimes it’s nice to be home. Thank you running buddies. Thanks for the unconditional, non-judgemental welcome back to the fold. I love you all!