Monthly Archives: November 2017

Cross country round two: an acquired taste? Taking on Penistone XC in the fine and fabulous company of TNTers

Digested read: well I did go forth, but didn’t really conquer the XC at Penistone in any meaningful way. Still, showed my face, that’s the main thing.

I’m not sure if this post is more reminiscent of a dog returning to it’s vomit or a bee revisiting a favourite flowering shrub, but whichever you choose I have to ‘fess up this isn’t a freshly written post.  Due to lack of internet (yawn) since 6th November, I’m writing this post on 19th December, so I’m probably giving a less than reliable witness testimony of the event, but here’s hoping you’ll find an emotional truth all the same.

So, since as has previously been established I’m generally conscientious if not keen, I had agreed to going along to the Penistone cross country (XC) event on 19th November 2017 as ballast for the TNT ladies XC team.  That reminds me, I wonder if I should update my LinkedIn profile with my sporting team memberships?  I’m sure there’s a section for it somewhere, although it may necessitate upgrading my membership option.  If I did, I might be able to pop in a note about early membership of the Tufty Club too, I’m sure both would represent a mighty boon to my professional memberships section and therefore help jump-start my currently flagging career.  Food for thought….

The day dawned.   With it came my usual trepidation.  Truthfully, I’m still a bit on the fence about the whole XC thing.  It is definitely a competitive arena, generally friendly, but there is a certain tension given off by being in the presence of others that are clearly there to push themselves to the limits.  I can’t help feeling a bit out-of-place amongst the tiny shorts and spiked shoe runners.  It’s like I’m a different species entirely.

I dug out the instructions for getting to the show ground at Penistone. Good, they looked really clear.  The blah de blah directed:

There is a reasonable-size parking area off St Mary’s Street: coming up the hill fromthe Bridge Inn traffic lights, take the final turn-off from the small roundabout just beyond the railway bridge and follow the road leading straight ahead into a large flat area to park – this is the old goods yard. There is access to the Trans Pennine Trail from here and you can see the Showground.    For Satnav put in:  “The old goods yard Penistone S36 6DT”  When this gets full, there is parking on the roads around the Showground and a small car park down next to The Paramount cinema. Please take care not to restrict access for residents. Tesco will not be over-pleased if we fill their car park, I imagine.

So I set off with a complete confidence which turned out to be entirely without foundation.  I followed the satnav and ended up on what I thought was the right road near a church but seemed to end up in a sort of vortex of narrow impossible-to-park in roads.  I was completely lost.  I ended up heading back to the railway station I’d passed on the way in, and then after loitering there a while worked out how to find the nearest Tesco to where I was using my satnav and headed there instead.  I parked in their car park in direct contravention of the stated parking policy, but this did facilitate nipping in to use their nice clean loos.  There was a queue of XC runners doing the same thing so I knew I was in the right place.  Well I assumed I was, it might be that the good folk of Penistone like to do their weekend shop in their active wear complete with a XC number for extra credibility.  A sort of wannabe runners take on the country look of hunters wellies and a 4X4 outside, even if you don’t have chickens and/or a country estate that you need to monitor.

Comfort break concluded, I bought some chocolate cornflakey things to share with other runners, and then fearful of being caught out by clampers for misuse of tesco parking facilities being a fundamentally law-abiding and compliant individual, I left the car park and tried to find the show ground which I could see from where I was parked.  After a bit of circling around, I ended up in a residential street adjacent to the grounds.  There was a fair bit of space to park.  I hoped it wouldn’t annoy the locals too much, but I couldn’t see any reason not to park there, and I made my way to the show ground.

Hmm, the show ground.  It was a fairly dark and dismal day, and the ambience of the place filled me with foreboding rather than eager anticipation. Whereas the XC venue at the Kimberworth fixture had been unexpectedly lovely and reminiscent of a jolly festival of quidditch and camping, this venue seemed somewhat grim.  I walked past a playground, and the facilities – no queue though, and took in the view of tesco’s car park along the way.

Mud underfoot, it was really cold, the sky was so low I’m pretty sure it was on the verge of falling in, and the scattered tents looked somewhat makeshift and ramshackle rather than proud and majestic.  More start-up refugee camp than splendid medieval tournament tent HQ to be honest.  I felt unsettled.  This didn’t feel immediately like it was meeting my desired fun quotient for a Sunday.  Luckily I’d already had some of that at Graves Junior parkrun first birthday party earlier.  Maybe I’d already had my allocated fun for the day, whole week even – and so it was inevitable all the hours that followed would seem dark and hollow by comparison?

 

I think some of my growing apprehension was because I couldn’t find anyone I knew.  I saw the Valley Hill Runners tent and vaguely sauntered in that direction as I figured I might see a friendly face there, but it was abandoned.   When I say ‘abandoned’ what I actually mean is I wasn’t sure I recognised anyone well enough to say ‘hello’ and those present looked to be in conference over tactics so I slunk away without making first contact.

 

seeking a friendly face

 

I didn’t really recognise anyone else, and because the ambience is a bit different to parkrun where it’s quite acceptable to strike up a conversation with pretty much everyone i didn’t know quite what to do.  Where was the TNT tent? Where were my running buddies?  I’m not saying other runners wouldn’t have been friendly, I’m sure they would, but I felt really intimidated, what with being a different species from all these toned athletes sprinting about.   I couldn’t find an obvious organisers tent where I could find out what was going on, and I didn’t even know what time the women’s XC was supposed to start.  I can’t lie, I was on the brink of turning round and going home, figuring if no-one else had shown up, no-one need ever know I’d ventured into this alien territory.  I could gorge the chocolate cornflakey things when I got home by way of comfort food, and chalk up the whole thing to experience.

Just as I was about to act on this impulse, a shout went up ‘Lucy?!’  I’ve never rarely been so relieved to hear a familiar voice.  It was a TNT buddy from before.  Hurrah!  It seems everyone had turned up late for various reasons, including the holder of the tent HQ. She’d spotted me wandering around like a lost soul, and rounded me up to join the little huddle of other TNTers who were up for a run.  Phew, that was something, you are never alone at an organised run it seems.  It also seems to be the case that people really do bond in adversity.  In that moment, she was absolutely my best friend in the whole world, and I’d happily have given her possession of all my worldly goods so grateful was I to have been seen by her and called back to the fold.  Phew.  I say all my worldly goods, but I do have a pebble with a cat painted on it of which I’m particularly fond.  I might have regretted parting with that.

It was all a bit last-minute, and our co-ordinator/ tent holder had been delayed en route (partly by struggling to negotiate the navigational challenge of the labyrinth of confusion that following the parking directions led to) so worryingly we had to use our own initiative to work out where the start was.  Working out the route was even more perplexing to me.  Lots of running round in circles basically.  Big circles, little circles, then doing them again (and again and again for the mens’ races) but without the reward of creating a crop circle at the end of it all.  Hang on, I wouldn’t normally introduce a spoiler at such an early stage, but in the interest of clarity, this is the route we ended up running:

Strava route

So you see it is indeed pretty much a case of running round in badly shaped circles (twice).  I don’t mean to be negative about the route, but l think it’d be tough to argue that the shape is as geometrically pleasing to the eye as either a crop circle or the Nazcan desert shapes of deepest, darkest Peru.  I think Paddington drew them, but I’m not sure.

I think Paddington and I probably would have similar running styles XC now I come to think of it.  It’s a real shame he’s London-based, otherwise he might have been a grand addition to the TNT XC teams.  Oh, and also that he’s a fictional character, since I get the impression XC organisers are sticklers for the rules so that could be a problem.  It would be like Babe at the sheepdog trials all over again.  Might get away with it ultimately if he put in a good performance, but some upsetting consternation along the way could be perturbing.   As a newbie, I don’t want to cause trouble this early on in my Cross Country career, but food for thought…

 

So where was I?  Oh yes,  panicking, then rescued.  We assembled, and tried to pool our knowledge about the course.  Turned out that was approximately zero. There were people running round the fields in circles all around us. The best guess was that at least one of our number said they’d done the event before.  ‘Great!’  we collectively exclaimed ‘what’s the course?’ She froze. Zero recollection.  Couldn’t even think where the start was. The only promising detail was that she seemed very confident that the route would be obvious.  I was dubious, people seemed to be running in all directions and marshals looked thin on the ground. This did not bode well, but hey ho, here we were with a job to do. We would make it so!  Just as we had resolved to run onward, Doctor Smiley/ TNT XC co-ordinator appeared and the sun came out and all was well, just time to pose for a quick women’s team snap:

 

Women's Team XC TNT

and then we headed over to the start.

start

Because I was a bit vague about start times, and the direction in which we were supposed to be heading, and still trying to pump my fellow TNTers for information about what to expect, I found I was quite literally facing the wrong way when the start shout went off!  Oops, that was a first for me, and a new low in my running experiences to dat, as although my running ineptitude can manifest in many forms, I’ve never previously considered that I might be caught out looking the wrong way.  In the circumstances it was fortunate that I realised my mistake and didn’t actually run off in the wrong direction altogether.  Somewhat embarrassing though.  I’m beginning to understand now, why no other running clubs have tried to poach me.  I dread to think how I’d fare in an actual blindfold race.  Memo to self, don’t bother to try to find out.

It was almost a relief to be underway.  Incidentally, I now realise that there was in fact a pdf file explaining the route – but I couldn’t find a map even retrospectively, so that didn’t really help.  Here it is in case of interest, good luck making sense of it!

xc penistone laps

To be fair, these guides that are intended to be helpful might instil fear in the uninitiated, but I can honestly say that on the day, it was marshaled, and it was ‘obvious’ where to go, albeit sometimes not until you got to a friendly marshal who was pointing the way.  However, you do get a sense of the running round in circles feel to it all that’s 1 small loop, one medium loop and one large loop to be run twice.  I increasingly feel this is not a Lucy-friendly format.  I also had a moment of realisation when running at Penistone, because you are basically running round the perimeter of grassy playing fields, and this necessitates looping through the tent base where other (more serious and better athletes than me) are hanging about waiting for their events to start, I got flashbacks to the humiliation of school sports days.  It just feels quite exposed.  I don’t mind being a shite runner when I’m invisible out on the trails or part of a huge gang of other runners, but there’s nowhere to hide at these XC runs.  It feels like you are running under surveillance.  Although in my head I know nobody is really that interested in what I am or am not doing, and of the minority who are there is only support and encouragement being offered, it does rather play into my insecurities.   I don’t want to let the team down by being caught walking, I’m worried that I won’t know where to go, and I’m worried about falling because that grass gets slippery when you are at the back of a pack of runners who have already run through leaving mud baths in their wake.  XC perhaps epitomizes the truism that successful  running is as much about what happens in your head as in your legs.  I have nothing but respect for those who embrace this as a sport and put themselves through such angstyness year after year.  Horses for courses I suppose.

So, underway, and it immediately felt a bit better.  Yes, I wasn’t going to set any records, but I could put one foot in front of the other, there were a couple of other runners at my speed and it became clear the marshals were going to support us and not let us get lost.  It was hard for me circling back round to the start in a mini loop straight off – you get a tantalising look at the finish but have to run on by.  Through the tent city and then off round and bypassing the fields, down more of gravel path, and up a hill.  I preferred this bit as I felt less watched. However, disaster struck. My dark & White buddy did a face plant in slow motion just ahead of me.  It looked really bad.  At first I thought maybe it was because she was wearing running spikes and this was hard under foot, but in fact it turned out it was nothing to do with that, she had literally just mis-stepped on a stone.    Looked nasty.  I stopped, and so did our fellow TNTer who was also just behind.  A marshal came running to check she was OK and she bravely got to her feet, protesting she was OK. We walked as a trio for a bit, which is how come I was able to clock that the route passed by a somewhat unlikely placed small cemetery!   No, it really, truly did!  It was bizarre, but I couldn’t help thinking that would have been handy had her fall been fatal. We could probably just have rolled her in amongst the graves and her demise would have been all done and dusted in less time than in takes even Jessica Fletcher to resolve deaths in Murder she Wrote.  For the record, I was pleased we didn’t have to take such action, convenient as it would have been, as I am counting on said buddy for Smiletastic purposes, but that’s for a future post.   Anyway, our fallen runner bravely continued for a bit, but then retired so as not to exacerbate a likely injury.

Incidentally, falling over is something that can happen to even the most elite of runners.  I am most grateful to the Smiley who sportingly shared this action tweet of Dr Smiley showing how to fall with real grace at a previous XC fixture. Expertly executed roll I think we can all agree. Here she is,  doctor smiley showing how it’s done.  Most impressive.   Thank goodness for social media and its infinite capacity to recall what might otherwise have been forgotten and consigned to history eh?

We stayed together for a bit, and then as she protested she was OK started off running again. The course was twisty and had a couple of fairly savage hills to be negotiated as part of it.  The marshals were genuinely superb though. Super friendly and encouraging.  I was feeling self-conscious about my manifest ineptitude, but they cheered me on.  I tried to thank each as I passed, sometimes in slightly strangled tones.  They do help though. There was one really muddy bit where I slid about, but hills aside, it wasn’t too bad terrain.  Towards the end of the big loop you end up back in amongst the XC village.  I was spotted by one of the frontrunner team who gave me a cheery shout.  Thank goodness I was actually running at the time, always a worry to be caught out either walking, or worse yet, collapsed in a star shape or sobbing on the ground when you are supposed to be taking part in an organised running event. Well, that’s my experience anyway.

Past the finish again, ooh, the temptation to join that funnel of people who were all done was pretty strong, but one of the marshals at the finish tape spotted me and gave me a sympathetic but firm look indicating in a glance that I’d be welcome to take that path at the alloted time, but there’d be no sneaking through any earlier – so round I went again.

 

I did find it a bit of a slog, it was cold, and I’ve not been running regularly so that made it harder.  I am desperate to get back into a decent running routine, but life is a bit all over the place just now.  XC feels to me quite a solitary discipline ultimately.  It’s very much a team in terms of the being part of a gang at the start, and the party at the tent flaps afterwards with shared goodies. Plus as the women and men’s teams run at different start times and come through the camp you can shout support at each other as they pass, but you are on your own for the actual running bit.  Maybe that’s what I find hard.  Participants are focused and giving their all whilst running, you can’t really be having a chat with other runners on the way round, it wouldn’t feel quite the done thing.

Eventually, I made it round to the finish, and parasitising supportive cheers from valley hill club members, smiling with relief I stumbled back to our TNT gang.  There  a few more were gathered in a chilly huddle, ready to support the men who were shortly starting their event.  Or possibly already had, I can’t remember!

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We shared provisions, and stood to watch the men running by, which they did loads of times.  They were like they were on a running carousel, I don’t know how many laps they did officially, but unofficially it was dizzying just watching them.

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No wonder at least one of them had to stop for a refreshment break and pep talk before continuing.

 

refreshment stop

 Once the hardship of running was concluded, it was nice to chat to my new TNT gang, and there was a multitude of biscuits and other goodies to be shared.  For future reference, there was also a sports club of sorts where you could have got a hot drink and for non-veggies a bacon sandwich.  For our club there was an impromptu knobbly knees picture contest (pick your own winner, I think it was an unofficial contest, and there may be sensitivities around the placings – it’s always hard with these more subjective competitions) – good turn out though!  🙂

knobbly knees competition

So as the day got darker and the races were finished and the chill set in, we all started to depart our separate ways.  For various reasons many of us had come on our own, I’d come from Graves junior parkrun, others had also had busy mornings pre XC so it was a bit sad saying farewells at the showground and missing out on the in the car going home debrief.  Ah well, there will be other XC opportunities for such race dissections I’m sure.

Oh, if you want the results from the day, the final Penistone XC results for 2017 are here.

There you go, my observations (belatedly) on my second XC experience.  I’m still a bit on the fence about it all to be honest.  I get why other people enjoy it.  I like the social being part of a club aspect, but I feel a bit overwhelmed by the inherent competition which is understandably the focus of it all.  I guess it’s a confidence thing.    I certainly couldn’t imagine rocking up on my own to do a XC event, whereas I would a bigger race or a new parkrun quite happily, then again, as XC is inherently a team thing, I’m not sure you ever would.

I had wanted to complete the season – there was final winter fixture in December, but alas I didn’t make it due to a knee/ calf/ shin thing going on.  That was a darned shame, as I feel I have unfinished business.  I don’t know if TNT will still exist as a club in its current form next year, so whether or not I’ll be organised and proactive enough to seek out another group to have another bash in 2018 remains to be seen. Still, where would be the fun in life if we knew exactly what the future held.  It will be good to be able to maintain some element of surprise right through to the end of next year!

So, thank you TNT buddies for making me welcome and Elder Smiley for recruiting me in the first place.  Thank you XC organisers, marshals and fellow runners for being open to a wide-eyed newbie.  I’m glad to have given it a go, but I hope if I do again I’ll have upped my game a bit to reduce the stress.  At least I’ve now understood the importance of catering on such occasions.  Can’t believe I missed out on mince pies and Amoretti for the pre-Christmas XC shenanigans.   These XC clubs have really cracked the motivational and team building aspects of running, or TNT have anyway.  Bravo.

Plenty of time to up my game before next winter, so will I be there next year?  Well, let’s say the jury’s out, which is a pretentious way of saying I haven’t decided yet.  Then again, one should always leave one’s reader wanting more, apparently…  I understand The Guardian believes XC to be running in its purest form:

Foul-smelling mud, biting wind, freezing rain and dangerously uneven ground – the English National Cross Country Championships has it all. What’s not to like?

and the thing is, I actually agree with that statement, so I do have the potential capacity to enjoy it, it’s the running round in circles aspect I wrestle with.  Now maybe if it were more point to point?  Maybe if I did some different courses?  Just think, I do all that, and one day this could be me!  Now that does look like fun!

xc running in its purest form

Hurrah!

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Graves Junior parkrun’s first Birthday Bash – setting the standard for pop up parkrun partying

Digested read: it was Graves junior parkrun‘s first birthday this weekend.  Hurrah!  Fancy dress, cake and brilliant sunshine – what’s not to like.  A fine time was had by all. Apart from the llamas.  They weren’t too impressed.  Same time next year?  Be there.

apricot tee

It turns out llamas don’t like unicorns.  In my defence, I didn’t previously know this, otherwise I might have chosen a different companion animal to accompany me to Graves junior parkrun’s first birthday celebrations at the weekend, but some things you just don’t know about until you experience them for yourself.  In my defence, most reasonable people would surely agree that is quite niche knowledge, obscure even for winning pub quiz teams, and I will take on board their feedback at future events I promise.

So, let’s start at the very beginning – a very good place to start.  Sunday 19th November 2017 marked the first birthday of Graves junior parkrun, and their fiftieth run.  I am really hoping by know everyone in the whole world knows about junior parkrun, but just in case you don’t, junior parkrun is basically spin-off from the original 5k parkrun phenomenon, which has now evolved as a force to be reckoned with in its own right.  The website blah de blah describes it thus:

junior parkrun is a series of 2k runs for children aged between 4 and 14. They are held in areas of open space around the UK. They are open to all, free, and are safe and easy to take part in. If you are not a junior please come along to one of our weekly Saturday parkrun events instead.

Registered parkrunners do not need to register separately for the junior events. However, if you are not already registered with parkrun you can do so here.

So that’s good.  It even has its own junior parkrun code. This however needs a bit more work because it doesn’t pay nearly enough attention to either the desirability of fancy dress nor the extreme abundance of hilarity at these events, and the superior cake concoctions sported by them at anniversary celebrations say.  Perhaps it is to maintain the element of joyous surprise for those new to the fold?  Who knows.

junior parkrun code

Personally, I originally got involved as a volunteer to ‘give something back’ to parkrun as I enjoy the Saturday 5k events, but the phenomenon we know and love isn’t sustainable unless runners step up and volunteer from time to time.   Getting involved in a new, local junior parkrun seemed to me a great way to salve my conscience and volunteer without forfeiting my Saturday run.  However, now I no longer give a toss about ‘giving back to anything’ I volunteer because it is a weekly fix of joyfulness that acts as an antidote to any stress or unjoyfulness which you might currently be experiencing.  Thus, my volunteering is shallow self-interest with the collateral benefit of chalking up some marshaling credits along the way.  There is no martyrdom required to sign up to volunteer at junior parkrun, more an unseemly scrabble to nab a spot so as not to miss the boat – though to be fair, ‘my’ junior parkrun never turns a volunteer away.  It’s the perfect start to any Sunday I promise.  Nothing is more hilarity inducing than an hour or so at junior parkrun, guaranteed – or your money back!*

Anyways, if there is one thing more fun than a Sunday morning at junior parkrun, it is a Sunday morning at junior parkrun on the occasion of their birthday celebrations!  Specifically, last Sunday was Graves junior parkrun’s first anniversary.   What a year it’s been.  Although I’ve not been involved from the outset, I’ve been turning up for long enough to see it grow and flourish.  A birthday party was bound to be a lot of fun. Really, a LOT.a

Naturally, there was much excitement at the prospect. Anticipation grew as the event date grew closer.  Cake was promised. Fancy dress too!  Strictly speaking, the fancy dress was optional, but in my world that’s ‘optional’ as in, ‘well you don’t have to, but I’ll be so grief-stricken and disappointed if you don’t make some sort of effort a little part of my heart will wilt and die forever‘ which translates as ‘really it is‘.  So just to be absolutely clear, whilst the fancy dress was strictly speaking not compulsory, in my world it was.  Hurrah!

The night before the run, when a reminder post went up on Facebook, eager marshals responded with enthusiastic use of emoticons and gifs by way of expressing excitement.  That was so much fun, the build up was almost (only almost) as good as the celebration itself.  We were reminded again of the promise of cake and encouraged to don fancy dress.  The photo chosen as an ideas generator has some slightly startling components, but I’m confident most people would have got the idea.

fancy dress run

I responded with, I felt, some lateral-thinking genius using a rainbow unicorn gif (thank you Facebook) as a subliminal clue as to my fancy dress intentions for the morning.  Not the most subtle of responses, but then again, perhaps not everyone is familiar with the importance of semiotics in everyday life.  Will my use of imagery be seen and understood I pondered, as I wondered if anyone had correctly interpreted this. However, the next person who did likewise put a shark gif up, which briefly raised my  hopes before I forlornly lapsed into disillusion as a quick reality check indicated that clearly such a costume would be impossible.  Unicorns may be thought to be fictitious creatures, but there are loads on the Round Sheffield Run, skipping along the arches of the rainbows that line the whole route – sharks on the other hand, well, they are marine creatures, and wouldn’t do well out of the water surely.  Oh well.  I’m sure someone will be donning fancy dress, surely not only me…

Nice gifs though..

Sorry I am too much of a cheap skate to get you a paid package that will enable the shark gif to be seen in all its glory, but you could always follow the link here and be amazed…

I barely slept on Saturday night I was so exciting.  I imagine it would be like trying to get to sleep on Christmas eve if I lived in a parallel universe where I joyfully looked forward to Christmas Day.

At last, the morning dawned.  Cold, very cold, but bright sunshine.  I wore a ridiculous amount of clothes, but needs must, and after eyeing her for a bit and wondering if her eyes were maybe just a bit sinister, I squashed my new companion animal into the car and away I went.  This was to be my unicorn’s first outing in public.  Shhh, don’t tell anyone, but I acquired her ages ago as a possible marathon running buddy.  However, even I have to concede, that whilst she may have many desirable qualities, suitability as a running outfit does not appear to be one of them.  She went back into her bag, and until now, there hasn’t seemed to be the right time to take her out and about. Graves junior parkrun birthday bash though – what could be more perfect!

DSCF0197

Hmm, I’m still not quite sure about the eyes….

Despite my apparent bravado, on arrival at Graves park  I was relieved to see the RDs out and about in fancy dress along with their child labourer assistants.  It set the mood.  Even so, I decided to have my pre-event pee sans unicorn as don’t think this magical ethereal creature particularly needed to see the interior of the Graves park municipal toilets.  Also, I have a feeling unicorns poo glitter, and I don’t want to encourage that in case it ends up in the sea. I left her in the custody of a conveniently located Pippi Longstocking, who took her unicorn chaperoning responsibilities very seriously, carefully standing over her and stroking her mane.  When I returned, she asked what the unicorn was called.  I had to admit she didn’t yet have a name, so I asked what would be a good choice. ‘Sophie‘ apparently. When I asked why that name, it was explained ‘because Sophie is a very good name for a unicorn‘.  You can’t argue with logic like that.   Thanks Pippi!

unicorn guardian

I felt much happier once Sophie was so named, we partnered up and headed off to set off the course.  It was good fun.  Even at 8.00 a.m. in the morning fancy dress can bring joy.  As I ambled down the path I came across a little crocodile of beavers all with hi-vis jackets and toggled scarves round their necks. It seems they had come en masse to take part in the Birthday celebrations.  How splendid is that.  They were really excited, and so pleased to meet my unicorn too.  This was getting off to a grand start!

 

I can’t lie though, Sophie and I didn’t meet with universal approval as we did our walk round.  As I was wrestling with the twisted plastic string that we laughingly refer to as ‘tape’ to cordon off the lake area, a very unimpressed labrador approached me with real hostility, much to the embarrassment of its owner.  I’m sure the dog wasn’t inclined to animosity in general, but it was mightily suspicious of Sophie.  It was actually quite funny, like I’d been caught out by the fashion police for some massive infringement of rules regarding what one might legitimately wear in public. This hound was NOT pleased.

The next hostile encounter was with one of the llamas.  I love llamas, alpacas too, but I have a particular soft spot for the llamas. They always look slightly horrified by human activities, and definitely give off an air of some considerable disdain even when they are really just having a good look.  However, I realised quite quickly that one that looked up from eating as I approached, and then came over to the fence to have a good stare was actually outraged by our audacity in being in the vicinity of her pen.   I started to approach to see what might happen, but got scared away but the head being drawn back and some noticeable pouting.  I decided not to stick around to be spat at – though weirdly, and just between you and me, I was quite chuffed to have got such a strong reaction.   Sophie was certainly making a stir, even if not meeting with universally uncritical acclaim!  Whilst I most definitely did not set out to alarm a llama, I was pleased to have learnt this new thing about them. Llamas do not like unicorns. Who know?  Or maybe they just didn’t like this one.  I didn’t hang around to enquire further…

alarming a llama

We carried on without much further incident.  The pig didn’t care.  It takes more than a unicorn to put this one off its stride.

By the time I got back to the starting area, loads of people had started to gather, and there was a really good vibe, lots of smileys started to appear with offspring in fabulous fancy dress or at the very least fine fettle, and you have to appreciate a Smiley.  Here’s one, with their (self-described) matching rainbow puke tops.  The thing is, I honestly don’t even think that descriptor is derogatory, just factually accurate.  If you were to ingest a rainbow and then regurgitate it, I’m positive this is exactly the effect that would be achieved. That may even be what they do as part of the manufacturing process to achieve this stylish finish.  I might google it later and see what I can find out…

rainbow puke styling.jpg

Anyway, they were pleased to see Sophie, and encouraging about her debut appearance at this auspicious sporting occasion:

Sophie funtimes

So it seems that although I’d been a bit worried she might seem a bit sinister, in fact nope, Sophie was a big hit.  Despite the placid looking labrador growling at me during set up, and a llama building up to spit at her, reactions were mostly good.  One child actually said to me (true story) and what’s more spontaneously and without any accompanying adult – ‘I just want to say to you that you are amazing because you have come to parkrun with an actual unicorn’.  Maybe I should go everywhere with a unicorn in future.  Whilst I may have little or no intrinsic merit, perhaps I can work round this to some extent by milking the glory by association angle of proximity to a unicorn. It is more achievable than having a personal daemon a la His Dark Materials, which is surely the apex of companion animaldomness.

Pleasingly, Sophie wasn’t even th only unicorn present.  We sort of found each other out, like the fellow ethereal creatures we were.  The other unicorn was on cake duty.  A very important job.

unicorns find one another

Over time more and more marshals appeared, many in fine fancy dress formations, some quality effort went into outfits for the occasion.   Frankly, I think the adults were just as immersed in the joys of fancy dress as their junior charges… self-evidently more so in many cases!  See if you can spot the family resemblance between some of those attending.

even better, amongst the arrival of the great and good was

wait for it….

A shark!

I couldn’t have been more delighted if a bare-chested Paul Sinton-Hewitt himself had rocked up astride a real unicorn of his own! (You know, like Putin is prone to doing, charging around on horseback, only marginally less ludicrous).

shark attack

More accurately, a man being eaten by a shark.  Hurrah.  He should have just swum faster (a fact he himself acknowledged whilst leading the warm up).  Great costume, though just to be clear, sharks are more at risk from us than we from them many are critically endangered, in fact.  Little known one.  Did you know the writer of jaws has dedicated much of his life trying to restore the reputation of sharks in the wake of his book/ film?

 

It was great, such a fab turn out.  Most regular volunteers had turned out, along with the core run director team, and as for the juniors, they rocked up in great, joyous hoards.   A record attendance indeed.  Fab.U.Lous!

Another happy surprise was spotting Regal Smiley and family en masse.  This was despite her having done a pre-dawn run earlier.  I’m not proud to admit that when I’d seen her post her intention to go and run 10,000 miles and then run 10,000 more at 6.30 in the morning with a fellow Smiley buddy DESPITE having previously given me her personal assurance that she’d not miss the Graves junior birthday bash for the world, I thought dark resentful thoughts.  Anticipating being stood up, my first instinct was to indulge my passive aggressive tendencies with a carefully crafted Facebook message along the lines of ‘hope you have a lovely run I’m sure it will be charming and just as much fun as a birthday party and well worth standing up your so-called friends/Smiley compatriots for and you won’t be (made to) regret your choice for all eternity at all.’  Mercifully, lack of internet access rather than self-control prevented me from commenting.  She only did BOTH the early morning run AND made it to the party.  Impressive. Thank goodness she’ll never get to know about my shallow bitterly judgemental assumptions, I couldn’t bear for them to end up in the public domain!  That was a near miss indeed and no mistake!

Regal Smiley

Mingling was fun, so many awesome people to meet and greet! Bullseye too!  Love Bullseye.   Love junior parkrun!

It was a busy morning, as I still had to go and check out the under the gazebo action.

Oh.  My. God

Best cake ever.  It comprised a model of graves park, including such details as the lakes (granted, not easy to miss) and not only some of the animals from the park, but also an aerial view of the finish funnel, complete with the Graves junior parkrun idiosyncracies of arrow shaped entrance (keeps adults from crowding the finish) Genius.  Also, HUGE.  Be amazed dear reader, be amazed.

happy birthday cake

After much mandatory milling about, eventually we were mustered to gather together for the pre-event briefing

The briefing was noisy – partly due to extra numbers, including a lot of first timers but also noisy due to general excitement levels. Super heroes whizzed among us, and tutus bobbed up and down and donkies mingled with Frankenstein’s monster.  It was fun. Fancy dress is always fun. Don’t let anyone ever persuade you otherwise.  There was much thanks to milestone volunteers and celebration of juniors reaching their marathon and half-marathon wrist band goals.  All good, much cheering and clapping.

There was indeed a record turn out of runners and volunteers, which helped fuel a great party atmosphere.  To be fair, there always is a great atmosphere at junior parkrun, but this was a high even higher than usual, I promise!

There was even a game and enthusiastic rendition of ‘Happy Birthday‘ though I have to be honest, there may have been a slight scanning issue with the ‘happy birthday dear…. graves juuuuuuuuuuu-nior’ versus ‘dear graves junior parkrun’ which was a bit of a mouthful, but all very much in the spirit of self-conscious communal singing I feel.  It would hardly have been a birthday party without all of that.

Then, quick about turn, and everyone was soon into position and whisked up into a frenzy of physical activity for the mandatory group warm up… The warm up was possibly the best ever, not only for the inherent hilarity of watching a person being eaten by a shark lead it, but for surprise addition of a music tape accompaniment AND the inclusion of a freestyle dancing section. Genius.  Also, lest we forget, the old ones are indeed always the best, so good when we did our ‘bottom kicking’ exercise, squeezed between the fast feet and the high knees, it was grand to be reminded that you were only allowed to kick your own bottom for the purposes of this exercise, however great the temptation to go off piste…  Some tellers just own their material – no-one else could ever do it justice!  All engaged with gusto, a warm up just as warm ups should be!

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From here, a count down, and then a mass migration to the start line.  Anyone else got the herding cats knack?  Just wondering…

start line

Lined up for off, human cones angles taking on a new level of interest with fancy dress options in hi-vis in abundance, but it didn’t really make us any more effective as a funnel the excited young runners ignoring us as much as always.

human cones start line

The official photographer for the day showed new levels of courage to the point of recklessness standing in the path of the runners as the shout went up to off.  I mean, photographers take their lives in their hands doing it at senior parkruns across the land, but my experience of marshaling suggests adults will on the whole take evasive action if meeting an obstacle such as a paparazzi in hi-vis.  No such instinctive avoidance reaction appears to kick in at junior events.  Those juniors will crash into anything.  The frissance of danger as you stand in formation to create a human shield lining the start funnel of junior parkrun only adds to the sense of occassion. I’m sure that adrenalin rush contributes to the post junior parkrun euphoria most marshals seem to experience as they skip away at the end of our near death experience of a Sunday morning.  I’ve survived that, I can survive anything, I am invincible!  (It fades quite quickly to be fair, but it’s fun while it lasts!)

He may or may not have been trampled, only if photos appear covering the period after the immediate start appear will I know if he survived. Still, if not, I daresay it’s what he would have wanted.  Isn’t that what you are supposed to say in such situations?  I think so. I’m sure he wouldn’t have wanted to put a damper on things on our birthday after all. (Spoiler alert, he made it.  Phew.  Great shots too, thanks Dougal pics🙂 )

Finally they were off, at a fair old sprint. They were even nippier than usual, no doubt hurried on their way by the prospect of cake in abundance at the end.

As they sped off, I got my job allocation for the morning. Bar code scriber.  At this particular junior parkrun we write down the names and barcode numbers of any juniors who have brought along non-scanning barcodes, but also if someone doesn’t have a barcode with them we note the finish token number and record it as a no barcode/ unknown runner,  as this helps with processing the results.  Without wishing to go all Donald Rumsfeld on you, basically if the RD has an idea of the known unknowns there is less angst about missing places.  Apparently.

 

I love cheering round  the juniors, but it was quite challenging this week what with there being so many of them. When people have made an effort with fancy dress I always try to give them a personalised cheer ‘keep going wonder woman’ or ‘great effort donkey’ or whatever, but it was hard to keep up with so many glorious costumes resplendent in the sun.  Top effort from everyone, lots of smiles today.  Hurrah!

As the juniors strutted their funky stuff, whether or not trailing breathless adults in their wake, volunteer marshals moved into formation.  Impressive eh?

volunteers ready

The park looked magical, almost too bright.  The event seemed to go really quickly.

There seemed to be lots of unknowns – this was a shame, particularly as many of those were first timers, especially the beavers, who had come en masse but not necessarily registered.  To be fair, I was disappointed on their behalf, but none of them seemed especially bothered, then again cake is a great comforter in such circumstances, and there was indeed plenty of cake!

I can report the day had a record turn out of 188 junior participants.  Pretty fine eh?  Had the field exceeded 240 then the finish tokens would have run out although there was an emergency plan that could kick in! That would involve the scanners starting to handwrite the details of the final finishers. We were spared that today, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before that threshold is indeed crossed.  An exciting prospect, and it would be grand to share the joy even more widely.

The run/ walk/ jog concluded by all, as always, the course disassembled as if by magic.  Never was there a better manifestation of the principle that many hands make light work.  Struck in and instant.

There followed a bit more lingering than usual, enticed by cake which tasted even better than it looked.  I reckon the star baker must have been working on it the whole year, but apparently not, although it did take best part of a long, long day to concoct the extraordinary confectionary creation.

I met some beavers again, on the conclusion of their run. They were so excited, and all full of what they done and they’d clearly had a lovely time taking part, though some of the bounciness could possibly have been attributed to massive sugar highs I suppose. One wanted met to guess where he’d come ‘sixty-second’ I hazarded.  Aiming for mid-field not wanting him to feel deflated if I was too far out.   Wrong.  In fact he was first, but out of the beavers.  He seemed to have memorised where every one of them had come in relation to one another which was pretty spectacular to be fair!  I congratulated him because that is indeed great, but it’s also great to participate wherever you come in the line up I reminded him.  He didn’t believe me.  Fair enough, you have to respect everyone’s right to participate in their own way.  I might seek but to complete events, he was clearly out to compete!

As people started to disperse, a random dog appeared and kept sneaking cake bits from table.  A few minutes later a mortified owner rushed over apologetically, explaining he will always beeline for a gazebo associating them with food from camping trips. As she explained this the dog espied a jolly hat and set about savaging it and galloping away with it being ripped about in its jaws. It was too funny to mind about, reminiscent of the infamous Fenton/ Benton ill-disciplined dog in Richmond park video for them as you as can recall that epic viral display of dog-owning mortification.  Order was restored eventually, but not sure the hat made it, hope Santa has a spare.  If not, no worries, there’s probably still time for his elves to rustle up a new one.  Just as well!

happy dog

It was all good-humoured, and I think it’s fair to say a grand and glorious time was had by all.  However, all good things, and eventually party-goers and parkrunners alike dispersed our different ways. However, Graves Junior parkrun had indeed offered up a fine morning of celebrations.  We couldn’t have asked for more. Even the weather gods were kind to us.  What a great climax to an awesome parkrun year!

And so we all vanished again, into the wintry mist.  Job done.

Happy Birthday to us!

More proof, if proof were needed of how the parkrun spirit extends to celebrating in style.  Graves junior parkrun’s birthday bash was executed with considerable aplomb.  That’s the fiftieth run. parkrun/walk/jog/marshalers are good at pop up parties it seems.  If further evidence is needed, check out this Red Arrow display on the occasion of a Bushy parkrun runners 500th run, that’s pretty impressive as a way to mark the acquisition of a milestone tee…

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even so, I feel confident Graves Junior parkrun has done a fine job of flaunting its partying potential, Red Arrows are impressive certainly, but Graves has more llamas, and unicorns too apparently, so we can respect and rejoice in the right of each parkrun to celebrate their own milestones in their own ways.  Agreed?

Good oh.  So now just party on and let us eat cake!

Nom nom nom nom nom.

So, same again same time, same place next year?  Also every Sunday in-between.  Just so you don’t miss out!  See you there.  🙂

 

For all my parkrun related posts see here – scroll down for older entries.

*did I mention that all parkrun events are free to participate in, just #dfyb don’t forget to bring along your printed barcode if you’d like to know your time.

 

 

 

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