Digested read: went to Bushy parkrun. It was great. I got awarded the x-factor. There were some amazing stags around. Plus I got to see the famous Sandy Lane super-marshal in action for myself. Result! Also, debut outing for new trail shoes. Hurrah.
Every time I journey down south, I think maybe this time I’ll try a different venue for a bit of parkrun tourism, but the lure of Bushy parkrun is too strong to resist. Rude not to, when I’m so near. Plus they have the best marshals ever. Then I think, I’ll go, but I won’t do a blog post, because what more is there to add to my previous sycophantic tributes? And then I go, and there is always more to add, because new mysteries reveal themselves if you but choose to look for them. Also, it’s my blog, my rules. Reading is not compulsory. Continue at your own risk.
So this was back on the 2nd September 2017, a fine Autumnal day. I got to the park early, and it really is breathtakingly beautiful. It’s not a natural environment, but in context it is a sort of wilderness, and it is remarkable that even in this busy part of greater London you can find a bit of solitude and sanctuary. At the risk of sounding
more than usually pretentious it does have a dreamlike quality in the mist. The deer are lovely and plentiful, the parakeets squawk and swoop through the trees. Crows stomp about. And what it with those mahoooooosive fish. They are like creatures from a fantasy world. However jaded you might feel about your running, a sojourn to the parkrun mecca that is Bushy parkrun is sure to restore your mojo. Look at what you’ll encounter, probably:
and that’s just walking to the start line.
Generally speaking parkruns everywhere have the feel of a flash mob. You know, arrive 30 minutes ahead and there’s seemingly no-one there but by 8.45 a stream of people start to swarm on the epicentre of the event, apparently from nowhere, as if drawn by an invisible force like in Close Encounters of the Third Kind but with less of a musical back-track in the form of the five-tone motif to accompany them as they converge at ground zero. Bushy parkrun is slightly different because it’s just on such a vast scale. It is like a full on logistical festival set up operation, with a mass of hi-viz heroes marching about with purpose in evidence as you arrive. The construction of the finish tunnel alone is worthy of note. I can get tangled trying to just mark out a few feet of funnel for Graves junior parkrun, here you can but look on in wonder as the volunteers labour to work their double funnel magic. It is a thing of wonder.
Unfortunately, inevitably with an event that has grown this big, you will get the occasional alpha male, strutting their stuff and disrupting the proceedings, completley unwilling to acknowledge the needs of other park users, let alone defer to them. Whilst this might seem annoying, sometimes you just have to roll with it, and recognise the greater presence. Be honest, you’d move your finish funnel to accommodate this guy too wouldn’t you? You don’t need to have read the warning signs to appreciate this is not a beast to be messed with!
I’m used to seeing the deer in Bushy park, but they are still extraordinary every time. They are habituated to people being around, so seemingly completely unconcerned by the comings and goings of parkrunners and other park users. However, you should not confuse their nonchalance with tameness. They are not to be messed with and require a respectful berth. I can relate to that. Like marshals who prefer not to be hugged, just give them some personal space and there’ll be no awkwardness or near death experiences you have to untangle yourself from in the aftermarth of your Bushy park ramblings. You have been warned. And lest you think I jest, I once inadvertently got close to a young fawn hiding in bracken and had to back off whilst pursued by a herd of angry hinds. It was way scarier than it sounds. They are very protective of their young, and not averse to taking decisive collective action to remedy any perceived wrongs. Bambi is not a documentary I’m telling you, and you don’t want to know about the tooth fairy either….
In any event, or more specifically at this one, the team had to improvise a new funnel route to avoid the deer which was chomping acorns and not in a mood to be moved on. And to be frank, why should he? parkrun may feel long-established but it’s a child conceived and given life in 2004, so barely a teenager. The deer on the other hand have been in Bushy park since around 1529, that gives them a tenure of nearly five hundred years – half a millenium – a bit of deference is only fair. I’m not in favour of honouring all establishment creations by default incidentally, but this one, it’s no-brainer. So, the hi-viz heroes here have to think on their feet and improvise under pressure like the most taxing of corporate team building activities you’ve ever imagined. No really. They are up to it though, they are awesome they can do anything. Multi-taskers too, because they work their magic and smile too!
Whilst they were doing anything, I ambled about. I had my precautionary pee, and watched people doing various warm up routines and marshals heading off to marshal points or mustering first timers for their briefing. What a place for an absolute debut at parkrun eh? You know they have a ticker tape and glitter gun at the end of the finish funnel every time right? It’s quite something to behold. All biodegradable so as not to damage the park obviously, but impressive all the same.
As 9.00 a.m. came round there was the Run Director’s briefing, they have a loud-haler to help with this and even speakers, which are held aloft by high-viz wearing disciples of parkrun. At times, it does feel like I imagine an evangelical rally would. I am a parkrun believer, but have to concede it may appear to have some cult like tendencies when viewed from the outside. The wide-eyed intensity of the converted parkrunner is evident wherever you look, everyone is seemingly unconditionally euphoric at just being here together. Me too. There is periodic clapping and whooping as parkrun milestones are celebrated. Unnerving to the uninitiated but joyful to those of us already enfolded by parkrun lurve. You just want to share the joy. Everyone should do this!
There was still scope for some comedic element at the RD briefing though, which is always most pleasing. Two incidents spring to mind on this occasion. Firstly, the overheard conversation as we were mustering on the start line. I paraphrase, but it was along the lines of ‘it’s not that I mind being overtaken by Mo Farah per se, it’s just that I was on my bike at the time!’ Made me laugh anyway. I’ve never seen Mo in action here, but he does train regularly in Bushy park apparently, he’s probably running too fast for me to focus on him as he speeds by. Then there was the phone call received by the RD on his ‘event phone’ – which is a bit like the bat phone only a mobile I suppose – mid briefing. He paused his briefing to take the call, it was THAT important. Turned out, some recalcitrant runner had apparently dropped his/her barcode en route to the start. They had to do the walk of shame to collect it from the RD before we could start. Still, a walk of shame is but a small price to pay to be reunited with your barcode. No barcode, no result, no exceptions. Even if it was recorded on strava later, without a barcode and time that parkrun didn’t happen. FACT. It disappears into the abyss of ‘unknowns’ never to be restored. I think that might also be where single socks end up. The single socks that aren’t removed by RSPCA inspectors that is. It did look a bit like a lizard to be fair, but I’d have been mortified as well…
So then, eventually, we were off. I was towards the back. I haven’t done a lot of running lately, and I’d decided in advance this was going to be a leisurely yomp with photo stops. As indeed it was. I snapped some marshals on the way, it’s quite freeing not to worry at all about speed and just consciously soak it all up.
There were also some participants of note. Bushy parkrun seems to have quite a high quotient of Visually Impaired runners who take part with guides. Different techniques of communication seem to operate. But it is poetry in motion as team work. I wonder how long it takes to build those partnerships.
Other notable participants included the milestone runners. One brave soul was galloping round in possession of a balloon. This is game on two counts in my opinion. Firstly, because running with a helium balloon is way harder than you think, and secondly, because non-parkrunners and new-parkrunners will wish you a happy birthday, which is fine if you are over fifty, but less so if you are decades under. I know this, because I have seen traumatised parkrunners in Sheffield expressing disbelief that their post parkrun demeanour was so aging as to put twenty years on them when well-meaning passers-by have wished them ‘happy birthday’ assuming the balloon is for something as trivial as that rather than as massive as the point at which you claim your milestone tee. Can’t lie though, I find that funny. Nice balloon choice though. Respect.
The high point for me though was coming round the corner to the Sandy Lane gate marshaling point. Here was stationed parkrun super-marshal my mum! Resplendent in hi-viz, with a neighbour buddy alongside. It was really fun to see them both. Also, to hear the little chorus of greetings for her as parkrunners sped by. ‘Morning Elisabeth‘s echoed around. It was glorious 🙂 .
I lingered a while, making the rookie error of hugging a non-hugging bystander, but hey, you live and learn. It was an ambush hug anyway, all over before he even realised what was happening. We spoke later, I apologised. It’s sorted. Sorry though, but a bit of feedback, you need to work on your hostile body language to avoid future unsolicited tactile encounters, but I’ll wash off. You will survive. There’s even a song track on that theme I think – check out your old vinyls, you’ll know it when you see it.
Then onward again, and to the finish funnel. Here though, I had a new first. Oh. My. God. I was only chosen of all the runners assembled on the day (and that was 1316 according to the run stats, with a further 59 volunteers) as the person present most in possession of the X-factor! No really, they gave me a placard (well smallish sign) especially so everyone would know (as if it wasn’t immediately obvious! Pah). It was like being given a big kiss – in a good way, not like creepy sexual assault. It made me very happy indeed.
Pretty awesome eh?
I had to surrender it eventually though, all good things I suppose…
I also am now in possession of some of the secrets of the double funnel, but it’s sort of a rite of passage to discover these for yourself. So I’m not saying.
I bimbled through the funnel, chit chatting to other finishers. It was lovely. Then we were spat out the other end to a team of token women who again were doing sterling work to keep the queues moving.
Everything about this parkrun is on an epic scale – check out their token sorting system. I’m sure they had a time and motion expert in to advise on that one.
There was a table laden with cakes and champagne to celebrate some special milestones – there were a couple doing their 250th for starters. There was a first timer nearby who asked me if they always have champagne at the end. I like to think they probably do. Stands to reason with that many runners, there is always surely something worthy of a sparkling celebration coming round. I’m surprised they haven’t sorted out a system to have the prosecco permanently on tap. Bet there are event planners amongst the Bushy parkrunners who could sort that. Chocolate fountain too, and maybe a decent latter – though there is the cafe for that of course I suppose.
It felt like a mini-bereavement walking away from all that good will. I lingered a bit at the finish, cheering in some coming in behind me, before wending my way back out of the park.
Even heading homeward, there were more sights to see, the returning marshals, purposefully marching as only marshals on a mission will.
I also took great delight in watching what were in reality probably BMF (British Military Fitness) people being put through their paces, but who I like to think were fellow parkrunners doing a supervised finger search for a misplaced barcode. That’s the parkrun spirit in evidence, looking out for each other, even when it is at back-breaking personal cost! Looks like that guy in the middle might have found it actually. Yay! High five to him next time you see him out and about!
So just a pony left to remark upon, and some ducks. Gotta love a duck. Spoiler alert, I don’t think that was an actual police horse.
And suddenly that was it. parkrun done and dusted for another week. Oh, and I got to debut in my new trail shoes! Maybe they are what clinched me getting the x-factor? I’ll never know. I do know though, that despite being Teddington born and bred, I must now have morphed into a proper Sheffielder. ‘But why? How do you know?’ I hear you cry. Well, because I subsequently was talking trail running shoes with a fellow runner from these southern parts, as you do, and they were talking about preferring to run off-road locally. And I said ‘but where can you do that?’ and they looked at me like I’d lost the plot or something (which in fairness I often have, albeit not on this particular occasion) and said ‘in Bushy park.’ With a slight incredulity in their intonation. And the thing is, I realised I have at some point recalibrated my definition of off-road, as I have my definition of ‘hill’ since moving to Sheffield. Off road to me now means bog and gritstone and heather bashing, not just absence of traffic. Bushy park is beautiful beyond measure, but fairly firm under foot as a running circuit. Trail perhaps, ‘proper’ off road, I’m not sure I’d categorise it that way myself. Gorgeous though, and a worthy destination for a special parkrun pilgrimage. There’s even a monthly Bushy junior parkrun now I think, so pick your weekend carefully and it could be a full on family affair where appropriate. First Sunday of every month at 10:00am according to their website. That’s a break from the norm, but hey people, this is Bushy parkrun remember, they wrote the rule book, they can do as they please!
Here are my new shiny shoes. I think I like them. They are nice and roomy for my wide and be-bunioned feet, with good grip. Not a massive amount of cushioning, which was noticeable on these hard compacted trails but no regrets. Innov 8 parkclaws since you were asking. And no, I didn’t take this photo by accident. Honestly, what some non-runners will say eh!
So thanks again Bushy parkrun people for your fab hospitality. It was a blast. I have treasured memories to tide me over ’til next time. Happy running in general and parkrunning in particular ’til then. 🙂
For all my parkrun blog posts see here – you’ll need to scroll down beyond this one to get to the others.
For all my Bushy parkrun blog posts see here – scroll through for the historic ones. Enjoy, or not, reading is not compulsory.