Digested read. Runners are awesome. The marathon weekend in London is lots of fun. Parkrun is awesome. Southwark parkrun laid on a marathon-themed event today. Awesome plus fun plus awesome means it was great. Thank you 🙂 Job done. We’ve had today, who needs tomorrow?
This is the problem with pre-emptive strikes. It’s honestly not that I want to be a doom-monger, but I’m just a bit worried now, that tomorrow will be an anti-climax. The thing is, Southwark parkrun today was epic beyond awesome! With their special Southwark parkrun marathon-themed event they managed to recreate all the fun of participation at the London marathon without the annoying hardship of having to run a bit over 26 miles and get chaffing to boot. Through their innovative and inclusive approach they provided all the cheers, camaraderie, landmarks – even a feed station with a complementary banana at the finish for goodness sake – under the literal and metaphorical parkrun banner, which means dear reader FOR FREE! Gotta love parkrun. It was such a good event, that as someone purely down to support the marathon runners this year, far from having an underlying sense of potentially missing out on the actual running part of the occasion tomorrow, I feel I’ve experienced all the excitement of having done so, and still made it back to the hotel in time for a decent brunch with the afternoon free for extra sight-seeing to boot. It’s true they were not able to deliver on the medal front, but hey it’s still a credit towards your next milestone Tee (worth the wait I promise) and memories as they say, are priceless. Thank you Southwark parkrun team, you gave such a welcome, I loved it.
It was all a bit of a blur at times though, it was so exciting, so that’s why some of the photos which follow are a bit hazy. Think of it not as an indictment of my photography skills, more as a practical alternative to putting vaseline on the lens in pursuit of a flattering shot. Vaseline is in short supply at present, I think there may have been a run on it what with the run round scheduled for tomorrow. Whatever, make of it what you will.
I even made a new best friend! Endorphins can be like that I know, but really, I felt like I discovered a kindred spirit and have the photos to prove it. More of this later.
So first things first. It did take some effort of will to get to Southwark. Once I knew I’d had to defer my own London Marathon entry and decided to volunteer instead, I was looking out for a local parkrun to grace with my presence for the day before. Thanks to the parkrun discussion group I got a tip-off that Southwark parkrun were going to be pulling out all the stops to put on a marathon themed event. This was a brilliant bit of insider info, as frankly I’d earlier ruled out going to Southwark as it is a three-lap route and I think of Southwark as being frankly very urban, so it wasn’t really on my radar. However, any opportunity for a pop-up parkrun party and I’m in. Especially as their lovely volunteer team even replied to my lowering-the-tone Facebook enquiry about the pre-run facilities. I am (over) reliant on my precautionary pee, and figured forewarned is forearmed. Worry not dear reader, there may be nothing in Southwark park itself, but I was speedily advised there are a couple of options near at hand (Seven Hills leisure centre for one). Astonishingly, I didn’t in the end avail myself of these, and coped OK. Good to know I can, without tena lady sponsorship to boot! So warm welcome, and lots of fun. Decision made.
So, I was all set to go, and had worked out tube routes, and even squashed Roger into my luggage for the outing. What is a marathon themed event without fancy dress I figured? Plus I had planned to do the marathon with him, it would be rude not to include him in this equivalent event. This was my theory. The reality of donning my smiley vest and strapping on my horse (that came out a bit wrong, oh well) was a bit different. In the silent isolation of my hotel room (and is a hotel posher than I am) my nerve failed me a bit. It was the thought of having to walk along those long corridors with the risk of another ‘proper’ runner emerging from behind the rack of anonymous looking doors at any moment. Plus the thought of trying to be nonchalant walking the streets and negotiating the barriers at the tube. Maybe this wasn’t after all up there with my top ten best ideas I’ve ever had. …. On the other hand, surely other people would make an effort, and it would be really stupid to have brought him all this way and then abandon him to the four walls of my hotel room at the final hour. That would be shamefully disloyal.
I did peer out through my little eye-hole to check the corridor was clear first, and then stepped out.
The worst bit was leaving the hotel for sure. Picking my way through the lobby, an over-attentive concierge smiled a good morning greeting ignoring the fact I was probably in direct contravention of their dress code in a way that I imagine a skilled butler would feign ignorance of inadvertently observed proof of infidelity in the presence of his employers. Quite a skill, it made me feel even more self-conscious. My breach of etiquette was so extreme, it could not even be joyfully acknowledged. Oh well, I made it out, I’ve done scarier things than this. Once on the street it was weirdly completely fine. Surprise surprise, this is London, they’ve seen way weirder, nobody cares. I was genuinely ignored on the tube. It was even fun, the stations that were so heaving yesterday were pretty deserted pre 8.00 a.m. on a Saturday morning (yes I was way too early to parkrun), and I could even take time to appreciate the architecture of the stations. They have this futuristic alien film set feel, well, the one on the jubilee line did at least..
I was a bit vague about how to get to the actual park once I got to Canada Water. However, with the wit of Jessica Fletcher, I used my initiative and espying some people in running gear ahead, trailed them at what I hoped was a respectable distance. I was still feeling a bit shy about turning up in fancy dress and didn’t want to attach myself to other runners who might not embrace the opportunity to be associated with Roger and I. Leaving the station, I continued my pursuit, other runners started to emerge from side streets and other station exits, and soon there was quite a merry trail of us following on behind the unwitting leaders. We had to hope that they were indeed parkrunners, not bound elsewhere. I mean I could cope with ending up at a boutique coffee shop say, but I’d be less impressed if I accidentally had to do a British Military Fitness Bootcamp say. I just don’t feel burpees and Roger are natural bedfellows. Not that I’ve tried to be fair, but it’s an educated guess.
Eventually, I was swept up in the increasing mass of runners, and struck up a conversation with one – along the lines of – hope we are all following the right person, and the proverbial ice was broken and it was all fine. Lots of tourists, plenty of people supporting or running the marathon tomorrow, a growing sense of excitement. Phew. It was going to be fine. The only slight potential problem, was that having abdicated all sense of responsibility for navigation, and being highly suggestible, I didn’t want to abandon the herd and get lost. I therefore walked on by the Seven Hills Leisure Centre and Peeing Point without making use of its facilities. I figured we were ridiculously early, it would be OK to pop back later, and I’d rather find out where the start was first.
Well, dear reader, the park itself is unexpectedly large and glorious. Mature trees, great signage, immaculately maintained with mowed areas and mini-wildernesses of bluebells and cow parsley in full flower. I was really impressed. It was nothing like I expected. One of the great joys of parkrun tourism is that it takes you to places you might otherwise overlook. Granted, the sun helped, but honestly, it was gorgeous, and, it even has its own athletics track! Who knew?
Now, parkrun is incredibly friendly, and you are guaranteed to have something in common with everyone there, obviously. However, I was lurking a bit at the perimeter, acutely aware of being the only one in fancy dress, despite the increasing volume of people closing in on the rendezvous point like the cast of extras in Close Encounters drawn to the mysterious site where UFOs are to land. It’s really quite hard to look nonchalant in such circumstances. Fortunately, this is where my new best friend came in. I think it was she who initiated first contact with a photo-op and well, it sort of grew from there, due to our mutual awesomeness I imagine. She is, like me, gifted in the art of simultaneous broadcast, so we pretty rapidly downloaded each other’s stories and found common ground. I felt vindicated in bringing Roger along too, whether or not some may espy him and regard it as an assisted run. They obviously haven’t been paying attention to his leg length, which does not work in my favour to be honest. The thing is, we may have been in splendid isolation, but were it not for Roger, she might not have struck up in conversation with me and the world would be a duller place, so Roger is staying. He will continue to run with me in future, and one day, when I’m race fit, I might even be able to reduce the length of the added panel that allows me to accommodate him round my ample frame! (I can but dream).
Key points, she totally gets fancy dress, and recently herself sported a giant daffodil at a Macmillan support run cavorted with grace as an escort to the final finisher. Respect. She has a highly developed appreciation of running for fun, enjoying the moment kind of experience. However, importantly tomorrow she is running for Pancreatic Cancer UK raising funds and awareness for a brutal and too often over-looked cancer with particularly grim stats linked to it. So big shout out for Pancreatic Cancer everyone! Well, not to encourage it obviously, that would be ethically dubious, but for getting the information out there, and encouraging people to keep it on their radar. There are lots of worthy causes represented tomorrow I know (I’m cheering Shelter, but I’m delighted that mental health has finally come onto the agenda with Heads Together as the official charity for the 2017 London marathon even if not everyone can carry off a blue headband with elegance and grace ) but nevertheless, I urge you to have a shout out ready for any in this particular purple army should you see them along the way. We do not have a finite number of cheers, the more we chorus, the more others join in and raise the volume! Despite the photo below, don’t count on there being angels dancing attendance to help the charity runners round either. I have a feeling that ultimately the London Marathon will be a personal journey for all who embark on it, but oh my, those crowds will surely be willing them round and no-one, but no-one should lack a multitude of cheerers to provide virtual wings when needed to help every runner dig ever deeper as the going gets tough. It’ll be fine, it’s just one foot in front of the other at the end of the day…. (eek). And just so you know (I didn’t) there is a cut off time for the London Marathon, this means that those who complete outside that time don’t get an official time (I do sort of get that) nor do they get a medal. This latter point seems harsh to me, when people who are taking part are doing so in the face of enormous personal physical, practical or emotional challenges, surely a medal can be put aside for them and held by the relevant charity for issue on completion of the distance? It’s not like they’re trying to get qualifying times for Boston or anything. So, extra credit for any participants who embark on this challenge knowing they probably won’t make the cut off, especially as it is from the gun time start not chip time start which loses you a chunk of time too. That really requires mental as well as physical fortitude and resolve. Respect. I’m volunteering cheering for Shelter at mile 25 until three officially, but I’m going to try to stick it out as long as I can to cheer as many of the final few back as I can. It might be a bit tiring standing around cheering and clapping but hey, compared to the effort of running 26 plus miles, that’s pretty small-scale hardship in the grand scheme of things surely? I know when I’ve finished last at fell races (which has happened more than once) I’ve really appreciated being cheered in. Payback time.
We were distracted by the need to take lots of selfies, until we were interrupted by the first of two first-timer briefings. The Southwark parkrun course was explained, three laps is the main thing, and expect business, so many newbies perhaps a bit of confusion so might not be a PB day. Oh you want to know the course – well, it’s on their website, but to save you the arduous task of following the link the blah de blah follows:
We are a flat 3 lap course run entirely on tarmac.
The first section of the lap approaches the art gallery and then navigates around the children’s play area before circling the duck pond. The route then continues with a 300 meter straight under the canopy of large oak trees. The final third of the lap follows the perimeter of the park past a nursery school and a running track before re-joining the route back at the start line.
I just follow though, so really just blinked through the briefing in relation to that bit, and then I concentrated on practising counting to three, as it’s a lot harder than you might think to keep count when running laps.
More people gathered, there was another first timers briefing, and then the actual race briefing during which we learned exciting new things. Such as, present today was another celebrity, world record holder for fastest marathon runner in a spider man suit no less. I’m impressed. He was giving out finish tokens so we’d all get a moment of celebrity endorsement of our own at the finish. We heard that runners and volunteers had gathered from all over the world and it was looking like a record turn out. There were a couple of milestone runners, but also, and this especially pleased me, some absolute first timers to parkrun. What an introduction!
We also discovered that this parkrun has taken to setting up it’s very own cheer station along the route for the marathon and today was an opportunity to practise encouraging techniques. Oh my, they so have it nailed! I was especially taken with the morphing of the tail runner into a sweeper bus. Clearly genius. Also, as it was recognised that this would be the day before a not insignificant run for some, walking along the bus route was positively encouraged for any who needed to save energy and legs for their big day.
I got distracted taking my blurry photos. It’s a new camera I hope it is user error not machine error. I’d rather I was crap than the camera to be honest. I’ve already had to ask for a replacement battery as the one sent with it was a dud.. hmmm. Oh well, who cares, more important things happening today. Not least admiring the ever swelling crowd at the start. This was going to be epic!
As often happens when I am over-excited and distracted, I nearly missed the start. All that companionable chit-chat and I was faffing as the countdown completed. Didn’t matter, today was never going to be about whizzing round for me anyway.
We set off, at more of a lumbering trot than a gallop, but underway. In fact, the pep talks from yesterdays expo, were pretty apt even here. You do get swept up, it would be easy to push off too fast just with shere joy at being there, even for me at Southwark parkrun I had a bit of an extra spring in my step, it’s amazing what a bit of collective mutual affirmation can do. Life felt good, people are great, fancy dress and Roger’s company was a brilliant idea once again. If it’s good enough for Spider man, it’s good enough for me!
Well, dear reader, the course did not disappoint. Quite apart from the unexpected loveliness of the park with mature trees, blossom, its own lake resplendent with water fowl, there were hoards of enthusiastic marshals. Not only were they very good at directional pointing and clapping (core skills for the role to be fair) they also had a fine selection of motivational signs and strategies. Offers to stop your Garmin in the event of collapse (always a boon), power boosts (surprisingly effective) and even a dance station were available to the runners:
Added in, were handy milestone markers and critical landmarks en route. This was way better value than the hop on /hop off buses which may be ubiquitous in these parts, but remain eye-wateringly expensive.
It was all awesome. I did stop and start quite a bit, because those photos won’t take themselves, but today wasn’t about speed for me (who am I kidding, it never is) it was about taking it all in, loving and living the moment. Having said that, my strava says otherwise. I actually got a PR for fastest 1km EVER today. Impressive I think. Albeit it was because I kept it going whilst in the tube. Had I but thought to book to spend some time on the London Eye later, the elevation would have been even more spectacular. Memo to self for next time.
One thing though which was unique to this parkrun for me anyway, was because of the three loop model, you get extra shout outs when people lap you. I can report that even here, miles away from our mother city, the Smiley Paces vest worked its magic. I got some ‘Go Smiley’ shout outs. How awesome is that. It was worth squeezing into after all despite the less than flattering silhouette. I also got some recognition from fellow Sheffielders who had also made this London pilgrimage. It was just brilliant. There were a couple of Sheffield half finishers T-shirts from different years. In fact, I’m sure this parkrun was proof of that six degrees of separation thesis or whatever it is. My new best friend used to share a house with (or work together or something – on reflection, I was probably too self-absorbed to be listening properly, but why let the truth get in the way of a good story after all) a Steel City Strider, and she’s an American living in Belfast, so there you go. Spooky!
I also got some shout outs of camel woman. Less brilliant. Especially now I know camel toe is a thing, which I didn’t until relatively recently. As an aside, did you know in Cambodia you can buy undergarments to replicate this look. Why indeed? I don’t understand this world I really don’t. All in all though, maybe I have to accept I need to do something about Roger’s forelock, it doesn’t do him any favours, and I do think it is lack of this that creates the animal identification confusion. I wonder how he’d feel about hair extensions? We shall see. One for another time.
Even though I was slow, there were some speed merchants optimistically haring round, I would have thought the crowds would have worked against that, so many of us doing the course for the first time, but it was fun to watch them shoot past. I’m not a fan of multi-lap routes, but one bonus is seeing the elite athletes in action, and on this route, on occasion you could even high-five other runners coming towards you.
The course completely disoriented me, but towards the end I ended up alongside a Southwark regular and we chatted for a bit. He was telling me more about their cheer station and how the parkrun has grown, also more about their very own superhero spiderman, of who they are rightly proud. He also said that apparently a big group from Sheffield was down the other week en masse, celebrating a wedding I think. I wasn’t sure who they were, but my money is on Graves parkrun, I just think from other parkruns people might identify themselves by running club allegiances rather than parkrun attendance, unless it was the Monday Mobsters. Aaargh, I don’t know, I daresay I can find out, there are ways and means after all… Ooh, and better yet, I got an extra selfie shot, this is what happens if you parasatise someone elses pacer. Result. Hope you have a great time on SUnday guys. I’m sure you will continue as team awesome. Just shows, everyone needs a trusty running buddy eh?
We finished in a sprint towards the funnel to great cheers (not me in particular, everyone finishing got huge support) then into the finish funnel and our celebrity greeting. Perhaps I should have felt a bit sheepish (in an equine-related way) me and Roger clip-clopping in to be faced with a ‘proper’ celebrity, spiderman. Indeed, there he was, the world record holder for the fastest marathon in a sprayed on lycra spiderman suit. I was impressed, obviously, but less so now I’ve discovered we in Sheffield have our own record-breaking ghillie suit runner. It puts things in perspective. Naturally I got a selfie though, spurred on by missed opportunity to get one yesterday with mankini marathon man. I know, you had to be there – I’ll blog about that later, I’m behind, but talking about behinds, this was his. For the record, I did ask about where the number goes, but never got a satisfactory answer.
I was emboldened by post running endorphins and also my new best friend’s ability to negotiate these with calm. I offered to take one of her with him too, and because I have no idea how to operate a smart phone asked her to check I’d captured something useable. Well, my reader, you will be delighted to know that through happy accident and my near-terminal ineptitude I’d actually taken several hundred inadvertently, so capturing a really good one. This is apparently the secret of good photography, just shoot at everything and the occasional inspirationally pleasing shot will rise to the top. Excellent!
I lingered a bit at the end, and it was fantastic to catch up with some Sheffield migrants. So shout-outs to Graves parkrunner, yay; friend of fellow Smiley (Wingerworth Wobble RD, you know who you are) and those who donned half marathon tees. Great to see the Steel City Spirit made it to Southwark. More (blurred) selfies followed. I even had a couple of shout outs by name, which was truly bizarre and unexpected. Maybe my new best friend had given a tip-off elsewhere on the route to other runners, I was pretty distinctive to be fair.
By the time I came through the funnel, what with having to stop and take photos en route and everything, the volunteers had run out of finish tokens. By an extraordinarily smart bit of initiative, they were instead giving out raffle ticket numbers. You took these to the volunteer scanners, and one was on hand with a sheet of barcodes so they could scan the corresponding one, really clever. The organisers were apologising for this, but really, they did an extraordinary job in the face of a tourist take-over, and mingling afterwards is part of the fun. Well it is on a sunny pre-marathon day at least, less so in horizontal hail to be fair, but that was not the case today! I enjoyed the mingling, seeing some of the coveted cow buffs was a pleasing boon. They wear them like a (not very) secret sign to other 20+ tourists, sort of like a benign variant on the freemasons I think, well, I hope they’re benign, I guess from the outside there is no real way of knowing, we have to take these things on trust. Turns out this group included run directors and parkrun ambassadors, all in all, quite a glitzy gathering at Southwark today it would seem!
There was no formal prize for the raffle tickets, but it did entitle you to a fruit of your choice from the feed station, so I had a banana. Great innovation too. Generous lot at Southwark. Hope we haven’t bankrupted them all for their generosity. It was appreciated though. A lot, by me certainly, but others too I’m sure!
I joined the finish funnel to cheer the final few back. It was a glorious sight. Bringing up the back was the sweeper bus. Brilliant. I really hope that particular innovation catches on. And shortly afterwards a declaration of what had indeed been a record field of 475 I think. There was brief speculation about rounding up ‘a few randoms’ to get them through the finish to break the 500 mark, but that didn’t happen. It’s only a matter of time though. Could double again this time next year with the good press and good will generated from today I’m sure!
So it was one big party really. I said thanks to the run director and left a bit forlornly, after this morning, I feared everything else will be an anti-climax. The rest of this London Marathon weekend will be experienced in black and white after the full (unexpected) 3D colour of Southwark parkrun. Sort of a reverse principle of the original Wizard of Oz film. If you are old enough to remember that film you will understand the reference, if not, just know there was a time when films were made in black and white. Only to morph into colour half way through as confidence in the film soared led to a similar soar in budget. Really, go watch it for yourself and see….
I left all a marvel at the park, and as I peered back through the railings for a final farewell, there were my fundraising buddies waving goodbye. Next time I see them, hopefully it will be in the final miles of the marathon. Wow. That’s quite something..
So many runners, so many stories. ‘Just’ 475 here today, multiply that to get to 39,000, that’s a lot of tales to be told.
On departure I somehow got a bit disoriented. I lost my nerve as everyone else seemed headed in the opposite direction, though on reflection, maybe they were heading to the cafe whereas I was heading to the tube. Long story short, I ended up hooking up with some hapless Southwark parkrun locals who misjudged the situation by making eye contact with me. Emboldened by this, I asked them for directions and it turned out they were heading to Canada Water tube too, so I asked if I could walk with them if I promised to keep a respectful distance. I concede though it is a bit hard to look inconspicuous when you are wearing a pony, but they were gracious enough to make the best of it, and you know what, I don’t think it was even remarked upon. We spoke instead of parkrun and expo and marathons. They weren’t running in fact, though as London locals had been to the expo, and one of them had recently done the Manchester marathon so awesome runners also. It’s extraordinary who you can meet along the way at parkrun.
Tube ride home was fun. I had completely forgotten about Roger by that point, but he led to me striking up a conversation with a lovely father and son combo on tube en route to the Natural History museum to see dinosaurs, which coincidentally I did later too. Londoners have a reputation for being less than friendly, that wasn’t my experience today, though it may be that most of the people I spoke to were tourists to be fair, but hey ho, let’s not quibble. The Southwark parkrun team weren’t tourists and they get ten out of ten for friendly, fun-filled hospitality.
I made it back to the hotel in time for an enormous brunch. Opportunism played a part there. Note to self, never eat again. I’m not even carbing up! Well I am, but don’t need to, and probably actively shouldn’t. My hotel room I found had already been made up in my absence. Truthfully I was a bit disappointed by this discovery, as I hadn’t yet had a shower, and this meant I’ll shower now and then again tomorrow morning pre marathon cheering duties, and I’ll have to do so without having had my bathroom serviced in between! I know, what hardship. I’ll have to fold the end of my toilet paper into a triangle all by myself! Seriously, what hardship indeed? It’s ridiculous, nobody services my bathroom for me at home, ever, I only do it myself in extremis. It will be fine. So I’ll have to hang up my own towels, people running tomorrow for all their myriad of reasons will face moderately bigger challenges than that and overcome them.
So that was that. Southwark parkrun done and dusted. Thank you awesome parkrun people. Don’t worry too much though people. You can re-live it all through flickr account of the Southwark parkrun marathon mania here. I’ve stolen these shots just for starters:
So now, are we ready 4 London?
Steady …. (see what I’m doing here?)