Digested read: me and my companion animal the unicorn Sophie joined the festive fun at Concord parkrun today. It was the perfect winterval celebration. What’s not to like. Note to self. It was all very jolly and jingling, but unicorns aren’t really the best running companions to be honest (though they have lots of other qualities), so I think she might be happier to stick to supporting and marshaling duties at parkruns in future. Yuletide felicitations everyone. Ho, ho ho / bah humbug etc.
What could be more festive than being sat in front of the telly drinking tea, eating my way through a pack of orange club biscuits and watching ‘My 600lb life‘ on Quest Red whilst waiting for the pinger to ping and announce to me that Christmas dinner is done. You don’t know? Taking your unicorn to a Christmas Day parkrun, that’s what!
Further more, these activities are not mutually exclusive. You can do both. I am the living proof. Let me elaborate …
First, a bit of a history lesson for you. So, it’s hard to imagine ‘t’was ever otherwise, but there was a time when Santa couldn’t bring you what you most wanted on Christmas morning, not because he was off shift by then, or because he doesn’t exist, but because Christmas parkrun wasn’t a thing. Later, when parkrun was a thing, parkrunning on Christmas day in particular, generally wasn’t. These were dark and sad times, but we knew no other reality, so made the best of things, or not, depending on the dynamic of the human relationships that surrounded us. Now however, in the season of goodwill, Christmas Day parkrun is not only a hypothetical option, but an absolute reality for the people of Sheffield. Dear Reader, I bring you Concord parkrun, spreading the Christmas joy, by opening their proverbial doors to parkrun tourists from near and far. Mostly near I think, refugees from the other Sheffield parkruns that have yet to run on Christmas Day. If I have correctly interrogated and understood the Concord parkrun stats page, then it seems they have been hosting this Christmas spectacular for every year since 2012. It is definitely become an established part of my Christmas ritual in Sheffield. By which I mean I first went to the Concord Christmas parkrun in 2015 and it made my Christmas. I resolved that henceforth, in perpetuity, I would always go to parkrun on Christmas Day if I could. Last year I couldn’t. But I did today, and as Mr Loaf says, two out of three ain’t bad. Christmas Day parkrun is a splendid thing.
Incidentally, there is one at Poolsbrook on Christmas Day also this year, but I’m saving that destination of choice for the New Year’s Day Double. Poolsbrook parkrun put on a good show for today though, so respect to them when they’ve not even made their second birthday yet. Bodes well for parkrun’s ability to replicate itself. They plotting a new Junior parkrun for 2018 too, so watch this space. Oh, you know what, I might as well give them their own star billing, here they are, looking festive. Santa’s little helpers in all their glory. You can see how we compared with our Concordian efforts for yourself by reading on. Or sated, conclude your reading of this post now, the choice is yours dear reader and yours alone. Go with your gut instinct, usually works, though of course I don’t know what you’ve ingested on Christmas day, might be playing havoc with your normal peristalsis cycles, so you could be getting atypical signals. Can’t help you there, just do what you think is best, and remember, it’s all at your own risk. I know, elf and safety is critical whatever the season, it has to said…
Anyways, back to Concord. Are we nearly there yet? Nope, but let’s get the basics out of the way first shall we? With regards to the course, the website blah de blah states:
The course consists of two counter-clockwise laps, all on asphalt paths suitable for mobility aids including wheelchairs. The course starts with a flat of 500m then a slight downhill of 500m levelling out at the far end of the course. Passing through a gate and returning with a slight uphill of 400m before levelling out to complete the lap. On the second lap the finish is 400m before the start line, ensuring a total of 5km.
and according to Strava, when run, it looks like this:
Fess up time. I
stole/ borrowed shared this from my sloth buddy and (newly appointed) marathon run mentor. I can’t upload my own strava as no internet. I’m using a dongle for rubbishy internet of a sort, but can’t use two devices at once. Then I thought (because occasionally I do) ‘why not use someone else’s strava’ and I chose this particular one because it was just so exciting meeting an Endurer Dash buddy and also, the photo we casually posed for together can’t now be found, so this little thumbnail advisory picture of the running man himself will have to do as the photographic evidence that we were indeed both there, same time, same place, same mission. Yay! Grand to see you out there. Storming it. As indeed we both were (ahem.)
But we had to all get there first.
I was up in the dark, eager with anticipation, and also needing a bit of extra time to get me and Sophie kitted out for our run. She’s only really had the one outing so far, to Graves junior birthday parkrun, but that was only marshaling, and I’d promised I’d take her out for an actual run on Christmas Day. Seemed like a good idea at the time. I was feeling somewhat dubious about my promise this morning to be honest, but she was up and ready by the door waiting at 6.00 a.m. No backing out now! Could hardly rain on that parade, besides, it seemed like a good idea at the time… I mean, running 5k with a unicorn, what could possibly go wrong?
The first challenge of the morning was heading out the door. Astonishingly, the streets were pretty deserted – I’d expected a mass migration of people heading over to Concord – honestly, what else was anyone going to do today? I hardly saw anyone, apart from a car taking advantage of the empty roads to speed to its destination… spectacularly scraping its undercarriage on a speed bump as it did so. Happy Christmas, ho ho ho etc.
I arrived at the logistical operations centre from where communal transport was to depart. Three of us set off from transport HQ, scooping up another couple en route. For your information, unicorns aren’t entirely practical accessories in a car, although she did function as a personalised air bag, I think having her face squashed against the window wasn’t the best of preparations for a run out. Next time, I think I need to organise proper transport for her, to ensure she is able to optimise her performance. I think there are specialist companies that can do this. … anyway, one of our number had apparently cut it a bit fine with his timings, so had to run in his jimjams, but then again, if you can’t spend all day in your festive themed pyjamas on Christmas Day when can you? Good call.
On a more serious note, it is a demanding and busy day for many, so all time-saving tips are helpful. A fair few runners today therefore chose to run in their special yuletide outfits to save having to change again later. Good call. Classy choices. I appreciate it when people make an effort on these occasions. Lucky it’s been quite a mild one though, is it not?
So, on arrival, we found the car park pretty empty, and at first I thought there weren’t all that many people around, which would have been a shame, as Concord parkrun is surely a Sheffield running tradition these days. In fact, people rapidly started to gather, so I was back into ‘oh my gawd I’m so excited to see you‘ mode, as familiar faces a-plenty came into view. I was especially pleased to see my sloth endurer dash buddy, who I’ve not seen for ages. He can’t possibly have been avoiding me, it must be that we move in different orbits these days, what with all his hard-core tough mudding and my… well, my not tough mudding. So much so that we not only did big hugs and much whooping, but even posed for loads of pictures together, because these days, if you aren’t photographed together so you can tag all your other mutual friends and acquaintences then that social interaction never happened. No idea what happened to those snaps, it’s not like he’d have deleted them on the quiet in the hope that no-one need ever know I’d cornered him, and due to his gammy leg he was unable to get away before the photoshoot that put us both in the frame same time same place … we will just have to settle for our memories on this occasion. Don’t worry, there’ll be other opportunities for a re-shoot in 2018 I’m sure!
There were some more succesful pre-run group shots though, yay!
Collectively we must have tested the logistical operation of the Concord team – the usual average attendance is given as about 53, though actually I think that’s the mean, it’s been creeping upwards to 80 or so in recent months. Even so, the two-hundred plus turn out is a massive surge in attendance. The record attendance at the event before today was 259 for Christmas Day 2016. Today though (cue drum roll, but you’ll have to do that yourself as I don’t have it in my gift to activate that sound effect through this blogsite), the number was smashed out of the water. A nice round 300. Isn’t that spectacular? Imagine that though, having to cater for 300 guests for Christmas Day, with just six unknowns (does that correlate to gate crashers or welcoming strangers into your home to spread the yuletide joy) whatever. Impressive turn out, and impressive event management, so we are all marvelous. Thanks especially to all the volunteers who turned out to make it so. I’m sure you must have been on the ‘good’ list for Christmas. Hurrah! Thank you too to photographer for the day Ray Hibberd, from whose Facebook album for Christmas Day at Concord I have borrowed freely. 🙂
As we were a bit early, there was time for mutual appreciation of outfits, and much milling and seasonal mingling.
There was also an opportunity for comparison of Christmas morning experiences, past, present and yet to come. I was taken by tales from parents about how you cope with offspring who are terrified of Father Christmas. Not unreasonably, children who you have spent the rest of the year warning not to talk to strangers, aren’t to be so speedily hoodwinked into allowing a strange bearded man to enter their room at night just because it’s Christmas eve! Various strategies have been employed over the years apparently, house lock down, stockings by the fire-place rather than the end of the bed were all options. My favourite though, was the deal whereby one parent had a personal arrangement with Santa that they’d meet him a bit down the road for the present exchange so he’d never have to enter the house or even work out quite where said child lives. It just goes to show, with a little planning, it is possible to make reasonable adjustments so events can be inclusive for all, worth remembering I think.
Mind you, some Santas can be quite terrifying, not the real one I daresay but his body doubles. Our very own Sheffield runderwear ambassador has espied one this very morning whilst out walking her dogs. A santa suited man doing multiple drive-bys of a particular house – presumably to be a well-timed surprise with a live appearance on Christmas morning, but maybe a ram raider, hard to tell. Here are some santa-suited runners from today. If you are still off work, and a bit bored now that your food coma have faded and the needles have fallen from your tree, you could mark them out of ten for your own amusement. You can use whatever criteria you like, but I suggest approachability; ho ho ho quotient; authenticity of outfit; contemporary interpretation of outfit; vividness of red; quality of trim/ facial hair. Note, points should be deducted for any real fur, there is no need in this day and age, really not. Did you know nowadays even faux fur might be real? The irony that as real fur becomes unacceptable, it is sold as fake, fake news indeed.
Before the running though, the briefing. And the barking. There were some very excited hounds at this parkrun. It helped build the excitement as they were gathered at the back, beside themselves with eager anticipation, just like the rest of us. It was grand to see lily the wonder dog again, first sighting of her this year by me I think, though of course she is a regular fixture at Graves parkrun. Our paths just haven’t crossed for some reason. Grand to see her out and about, again, I like that she never disappoints in her choice of outfits, and can be relied upon to dress appropriately for any and every occasion:
At the RD briefing, we also learned that two amongst us had pulled off an impressive double whammy, having perfectly timed their running rendezvous to ensure they both marked their 250 milestones on Christmas Day. Brilliant. Just a shame that all Christmases from hereonin will be somewhat anticlimactic. Oh well. Still good job, well done Craig and Claire, I did applaud you, but honestly, not quite sure who you were. Bravo though, and good luck with topping that next year…. Still, you’ve got time to plan I suppose. Maybe Lapland will have launched a new parkrun somewhere by then, so you could take a husky ride to the start of that. Just a thought. You’re welcome. Lapland is the largest and most northern part of Finland by the way, in case you were wondering if it was a real or fictitious place. Reindeer are real not fictitious as well. One Christmas, when I was away traveling I was sharing tales of native traditions with both a Finnish and an American fellow nomad. The Finn explained that reindeer is commonly eaten in Finland, less so than in the past, but definitely widely available. I thought our poor American friend was going to implode. She definitely went into existential meltdown. For her this revelation encapsulated a moment of both complete joy and utter despair. Joy because she’d previously thought reindeer were mythical creatures only to discover in the same breath that people willingly tucked into them as their primary protein source. Just another smorgasbord opportunity, not a creature to be treasured at all. We never discussed the flying ability of reindeers, mind you. You might think it impossible, but then again, we were once told it’s impossible for bumble bees to fly, despite the evidence to the contrary. Don’t think they can run though, so that’s a shame for the Bee team taking on Smiletastic in 2018… as part of the Smiley Paces running challenge to kick off the year. In any event, I think we all know reindeers can definitely fly – better than most turkeys, which is why Santa has come to rely on them as a sustainable form of transport as well as a handy snack to act as a savoury antidote to all those mince pies and glasses of sherry. Jerk reindeer anyone?
Anyway, back to empathy for Americans (stay with me dear reader) – can you imagine that, finding out that reindeer are both real and a legitimate food stuff on the same day! It would be like finding out they eat dragons alongside the lava bread for breakfast in Wales, or that minced Nessie meat is a key component of haggis on the banks of Loch Ness. Which I don’t think they do… More a burger staple. What is it with having live animals celebrating and endorsing the consumption of their own kind by the way? Never understood that. Does Babe appear on sausage packs? Mostly nope, but bet his relatives do. Sad but true.
Fortunately, although we in Sheffield know unicorns are real (ref Round Sheffield Run route – look out for them particularly in the Whitely woods and Ecclesall Woods sections), as fas as I’m aware people haven’t identified them as a legitimate food source just yet. Just as well, it’s not a thing to be done at all.
So after the appreciation by way of applause, we were off, to the baying of hounds bringing up the rear. They were raring to go, it helped build the anticipation. We must have been a festive sight, charging off into the park, following the tarmac road with the instruction ‘if in doubt, keep right’ ringing in our ears. The dogs tore off with enthusiasm as you can see
between you and me, my own enthusiasm levels diminished quite rapidly. The thing is, *spoiler alert* it turns out Sophie is really rubbish as a running companion. What may have seemed like a good idea at the time, was all too soon established to be patently not. Probably my fault for not having briefed her properly, and also for being too short. The thing is, well, lots of things actually. For starters, all those limbs and wings take some co-ordination. It must be a bit like trying to run a 6-legged two wings race. I should have guessed this, it was hard enough for Paul and Harry when they did their three-legged walk challenge. I should have made the connection, but I suppose I thought with the wings we’d be flying round, not hindering one another.
We just never seemed to synchronise. Her hooves kept scraping the top of my trainers and causing them to come undone. Three times I had to stop to retie my shoes, and that’s harder than you might think to do with a unicorn strapped round your midriff. I was in constant fear of a tarmac directed faceplant, the only brake on my fear being the cushioning potential of my companion unicorn. Sort of the yin and yan of a catastrophic incident in the making being potentially both the cause of my falling and the instrument of my protection. Then her head and neck kept sticking out at a weird angle, making it look broken and giving her a rather sinister appearance. When her hooves weren’t sabotaging my laces then her legs had an alarming tendency to gravitate between my own legs in a way that not only considerably hampered progress, but gave me the weird sensation of having wet myself, which I don’t think I had. That reminds me though, I wonder whatever happened to the Smiley elder in search of a pee point at the outset? All the facilities were closed, and she didn’t seem persuaded by my observation that this is why skorts were invented, and also there is a Smiley precedent for just doing what’s necessary without bothering to seek cover or even drop your knickers first. That story though is for another day… ‘The post event photos suggest she made it round though, so she must have had some solution presented to her other than the nuclear Paula Radcliffe option. Personally, as I have a bashful bladder at the best of times, that tactic of last resort would never be available to me.
As if all that kerfuffle wasn’t bad enough, I also felt compelled to hang on to my Santa hat, which frankly was doing its darndest to abandon me. It wasn’t the most elegant of runs. Any vision of floating by in a magical mist of unicorn fairy dust (no she isn’t a my little pony) quickly evaporated. This was a test of endurance, a mental battle, particularly as turns out (I’d forgotten) Concord is a two lap course.
This is the reality of my progress, hanging on to my accessories for grim life, teeth gritted, head bowed into the wind ‘I CAN do this, I WILL do this, parkrun IS FUN’ my mantra of choice as the entire field overtook me and sped ahead. I gave up any pretence of giving chase to anything. Watching other runners disappear into the distance. ‘Oh well, maybe it will be type 2 fun‘, I thought to myself as I staggered onwards.
Mustn’t grumble though, Tough Mudder fancy dress options can be even more challenging, I think it was fancy dress, not an actual T-Rex, but then again, I wasn’t there. They are also very good at fancy dress in Wigan I understand. Note to self for next year perhaps.
On the plus side, there were friendly marshals a-plenty to offer encouragement and support on the way round. These included those with bells to ring. A Valley Hill Runner – this is my new favourite club by the way, I mean Barnsley Harriers are all lovely of course, but not in evidence today. However, at Hallam parkrun earlier in the week one of the VHR runners sought me out and explained the password that would have got me a free pass into the Valley Hill Runners tent at the XC course when I was lost and lonely and afeared because I couldn’t find my club anywhere. Apparently, they’d have fed me buns, and offered moral support too, so I need never be alone at a XC event again if I can’t find my own club gazebo for whatever reason. Isn’t that nice? Anyways, one of the VHR crew was marshaling, albeit disguised in a santa suit, grand to have new friends. The VHR had also written motivational slogans in chalk on parts of the route. I parasitized some of them to help me round, no harm in that surely, I doubt they’d have begrudged me such succour in my hour of need.
As I trudged along towards the back, other marshals cheered me on. One near to the railings at the start had a dog with her. This dog took extreme exception to Sophie for some reason. The same thing happened at her inaugural outing at Graves Junior parkrun’s first birthday bash. She seems to have something of a Marmite effect on those who come across her. The marshal was a bit apologetic and embarrassed, but I have to concede, same thing happened again as I was walking home through the streets of Nether Edge later. Another dog went into a frenzy of barking and straining at the leash to get at me the entire time I was within his sight – and that was from the opposite side of the road. This is another reason why I think running with a unicorn is a lot nicer as a fantasy than as a reality. The constant fear of being hunted down stalks you.
There were some bright moments, the en route selfie with my Hallam buddies (also never to be seen again, maybe they are saving it to capitalise on at a later date if I ever become famous or infamous. They can sell it to the highest bidder, legitimising their claim that they were with me at the beginning when it all started, before going on to the established go to script about ‘well, she mostly kept herself to herself‘ etc. I can’t begrudge them that opportunity.
There was also a Christmas Day volunteer photographer, snapping us in all our glory, he managed to make me look magical at least. A unicorn, for christmas, what more could one want – a think of beauty indeed! (Her not me).
Well actually, what more you could want would be a bike. Another traditional christmas gift. This parkrunner was so excited at getting one, he couldn’t wait til after parkrun to try it out. Which is why it’s so very important to respect the right of everyone to participate in parkrun in their own way.
There were festive costumes and smiles a-plenty. I got to see some of these as the faster runners looped back whilst I was still running out. There were even a few friendly high-five exchanges to be had, some shared a bit more self-consciously than others, and there may have been at least one swerve away, like when you go in for a hug and realise you shouldn’t and have to pretend you were heading somewhere else entirely. There was plenty of family fun and buggy runners too. Cue a little slide show I think, you can check out your own favourite ‘aaaw‘ moments, spot those holding out for type two fun, the ‘oh yes we are having fun yet’ parkrunners as well as the deeley bopper challengers. You may even see some flying feet if you are particularly observant. 🙂
Because I was distracted by my unicorn, it was only looking at the photos later that I realised I missed spotting this fancy dress offering on the day. Total respect:
And we had a few naysayers too, also seasonally apt. No Christmas would be complete without the bah humbug contingency after all:
Finally, finally I made it round. By mutual agreement I think it’s safe to say Sophie and I wont be running together again. I’m glad we did it once, but hey ho – or ho ho ho as is more traditional at this time of year – there is no need to repeat the indignity and peril of the occasion in future.
The marshals were still in good voice, and there was no queue for the scanners. The runderwear ambassador ahead of me commiserated with the unicorns flying legs issue. If only I’d conferred with her in advance she could have warned me of such hazards. A relative of hers who shall remain nameless but is RD at Hallam, did the Trunce in a fancy dress costume with an elaborate tail one time. Long story short, it ended up reversing and sprouting up between his legs as he ran, the only way to keep it safe was to hang onto it. This caused both hilarity and consternation to the runner behind, who every time she thought of overtaking, was confronted with the sight of him clutching an enormous erect phallus, and she was unable to pass. A potential ‘me too’ moment indeed, were it not for the fact his awkwardness far exceeded her own. That’s what I love about parkrun we can pool running knowledge and experiences and learn from one another. If I could just remember what the darned creature was called I’d find a picture of it. Then again, maybe best not. Might add it in later…
Edit: It was a pokemon character, pikachu – you’ll see the issue I think
NEWSFLASH – you want more, I give you the photographic proof:
Sometimes there are no words…
So a bit more post run mingling. A cheer for the final finishers, and that was that. A great way to start Christmas. Well that’s what I thought, others pointed out that their Christmases had actually started with excited wake up calls at 2.00 a.m. so they were well underway whether they wished to be or not.
Fond farewells, tinsely embraces were exchanged and all back in the car for the journey back to our own stomping ground, so I could have a dog bark ferociously at me on the way home. So thanks everyone who shared in the parkrun spirit and made the Christmas Day walk/run/jog/ volunteering parkrun possible. Best part of Christmas for me is this parkrun outing, you get to see all your friends, have a bit of a trot out, and all done and dusted so you can vegetate in front of the TV later on with a cup of tea (ahem) and an easy conscience. Hurrah!
In the interests of fair reporting, I should point out that there are of course other sporting events available on this day, though why they would take precedence over a local parkrun I can’t imagine. Christmas day sea swim at Porthcrawl anyone? To be fair, I can only assume this crowd go for the swim option as they didn’t know about the Christmas Compendium to find a parkrun on 25th December, because they look like definite parkrun material. parkrunners working towards triathlons perhaps – or undertaking a searun in the inexplicable absence of a parkrun option locally. I wonder what time the swim started, maybe some of them did a parkrun first anyway, duathlon option, now that would be grand… Loving their work though. Most festive.
So there you go, something for everyone, here’s hoping this parkrun malarkey is a Christmas tradition that endures… so now it’s a question of who’s going to make it to the New Year’s Day Double? Oooooh the excitement. I can hardly wait!
Happy running til then dear reader, hope you are having a good one. If not, at least by now you’ve made it through to the other side, and as long as you have a barcode, all is well with the world, hope reigns.
Oh, and entertain yourself with Harrogate parkrun’s barcode exploits, most festive, and impressive. I thank you.
For all my parkrun related posts see here – scroll down for older entries.
For my Christmas related running reports see here.