Digested read: Thirteenth of Jan – lucky for some. Smiley Paces on tour to Bushy parkrun. The epicentre of the parkrun phenomenon, where it all began, under the mighty oak. Awesome. It just goes to show dear reader, that dreams really can come true! In the interests of accuracy, I feel I should also remind you that it is also true you must sometimes be careful what you wish for, because things don’t always happen quite as you planned, but on this day all was well. Hurrah!
ADVISORY WARNING: I don’t do concise, and this post could be a bit of a time vampire so read on at your own risk, it’s not compulsory. I recommend coffee or wine as an accompaniement, and maybe an energy gel if that’s more your thing and you can safely ingest without heaving. Enjoy, or not, really it’s up to you.
Look at this magnificent tree! Witness to the birth of parkrun, imagine that? And what else it must have seen unfold before it over the last few hundred years. Iconic indeed. I wonder if it is the most photographed tree in Bushy Park? Could be….
The parkrun logo is uncannily similar, almost indistinguishable in fact:
Clever. That’s a campervan cookie by the way. Limited edition.
Anyways, sooooooooooooooo much to tell you about this particular parkrun day, my head might actually burst as I try to organise the memories. It’s sort of like defragmenting my brain I think, putting it down in a blog post. I’m back in Sheffield. A whole week has passed. I’m actually trapped in my house because of snow and ice, and it seems incredible that just this time last week I was on the post run high only ever experienced by those who have been privileged enough to parkrun/walk/jog on such hallowed ground. A week later, and parkruns all across Sheffield have been cancelled due to snow and ice. Cue lots of comedy near death experiences trying to get to said runs on black ice, even though I knew in my heart of hearts they’d have to cancel. Oh well, nothing ventured eh, and that’s another story entirely…
Suffice to say all the stories about Bushy parkrun are true. The park has unicorns in abundance. An arch of rainbows guide you through the finish funnel, and smiling marshals a-plenty cheer you round. Add in to this giddy mix the exotic parakeets, and impressive deer – some with gargantuan antlers that make them too look like mythical beasts – and you can see why setting foot in this Royal Park on parkrun day can indeed feel like entering a parallel universe, our very own wonderland. If you come from Ireland, the organising team at Bushy parkrun will even make you edible shamrocks and Irish themed cupcakes. FACT.
Point of information, the unicorns are quite shy so you sometimes only catch a vanishing glimpse of them out of the corner of your eye, and the rainbows are often tricky to make out through the emotional veil of tears that may obscure your view in the finish funnel. But just because you can’t quite see them, it doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Keep the faith! Also, unicorns can deliver some surprises on meeting. Whether this disappoints or pleases you I can’t say. Did you now they fart glitter and crap rainbow icecream? It’s no wonder they find toilet humour completely hilarious, but that isn’t what you expect from what seems outwardly at least, to be majestic and other worldly is it now?
Even so, I’m surprised they stooped (or should that be ‘pooped’) to product endorsement for toilet accessories, but I suppose you have to make a living somehow. How otherwise do you account for those actors who did the original ‘we washed half of his hair in head and shoulders…‘ adverts for head and shoulders, and now find themselves forever immortalised raining down dandruff in close up. Makes me shudder. Other anti dandruff products are available, with equally crushing photos to accompany them. I’d say the unicorns had a better agent to be honest.
Still, I’m jumping ahead. Let’s start at the beginning shall we? So I was back on marathon training today, inasmuch as I’m sure I’ve heard somewhere that running when fatigued (within certain limits) is a good way to habituate yourself to the mental challenge of pushing through when you aren’t feeling the love at a marathon. I am told that this can often kick in around mile 17, which is pleasing, because normally I find I’ve completely fallen out of love with running after about 100 yards, so that could well be an improvement on my general running mood. Anyway, the upshot of this philosophy, is that, a sleepless night at our Twickenham student house was just the thing to keep me on the programme. Oh, you don’t know what I’m talking about? Well basically, I was here with some buddies from my Smiley Paces Sheffield based Women’s Running Club on a running weekend organised by Run with Karen. We had a session on the track on the friday before and a long run in Richmond Park on the Sunday following, but clearly the visit to the spiritual home of parkrun was always going to be the highlight. I say we were all Smilies, well some of us were, but we had other welcome running buddies along with us too. Londoners and others from further afield who’d joined the weekend of running fun. For the purposes of this blog post I think we can safely say all were either actual Sheffield Smilies or honorary Smilies by association, which amounts to the same thing. Hurrah!
For the record though, even though I was probably too excited to sleep anyway, the plastic mattresses in the student accommodation were not cool, in both the literal and metaphorical sense. Just a bit of feedback for our host venue, maybe they were also not the ideal choice for a group of largely peri and actually menopausal women. There is a skill set for sleeping on these things that I have yet to acquire. The slidy nature of them means that if you have any part of your body in contact with the sheet whilst moving your position the entire made-bed construct disassembled as duvet goes in one direction and sheet in another. the only way to avoid this is to become airborne pre any such adjustment, but this requires violent moves likely to put your back out, comedic value and cross training possibly yes, but compatible with a good nights sleep no.
In other news, on top of the sleep deprivation, I was also really stiff today which was a shocker as the track session was only about 4 miles. This either shows how effectively you can work out on a track, or shows that trying to run with ‘good form’ for extended periods is catastrophic. Purists may argue this shows how terrible my running form usually is, since evidently making an effort to run in unfamiliar ‘good form’ sprint clearly nigh on crippled me. An inevitable and totally forseeable consequence of being required to use muscles that I have never previously found need to call upon during my half century plus years of existence. Personally, I prefer to think it shows there is some merit in loping along, and for my own preservation it was to be a loping gait that would be in evidence as I romped round Bushy parkrun …. unless I happened to spot a photographer or something, clearly that requires any runner to adopt their own variant of the ‘photographers pose’ whereby you either pull a ridiculous face or ape perfect running form for the microsecond of the shot. However, I’ve done a fair few runs at Bushy parkrun now – though not with a mass of other Smilies before – and not ever seen a photographer out on the course, so that tends not to be an issue. Plenty of atmospheric shots though. Check out the Bushy parkrun Flickr account if you are ever incapacitated for many months and want to pass the hours, days, weeks and months fantasizing about this parkrun paradise. 20,000+ and counting. That’s a lot of photos.
On the plus side, I wasn’t alone in finding my limbs weren’t at their best and the night had been spent entirely devoid of sleep. Giddy with excitement, we cavorted and guffawed as only a collective gathering of Smilies can. Then we trotted out to the front gate of the Twickenham campus of St Mary’s University where we were staying…
Here we were honoured to be met by parkrun royalty times two. Not only parkrun founder Mr P S-H himself but also, the power behind the throne and one of the original volunteers without whom parkrun would never have continued as it has, the lovely Jo S-H. How exciting!
I’d love to say we were all nonchalant and blasé about the whole thing, but we weren’t. I certainly wasn’t. I was completely starstruck, again. Not so starstruck that we didn’t manage to nab a group photo. So that was the main thing. However, the unexpected highlight was that Mr S-H asked for me by name! I know, how amazing is that!? Granted, this was nothing to do with my own intrinsic merits, because they are known to be negligible, it was entirely because of my genetic association to Elisabeth, the landmark honorary parkrun marshal who happens to be my mum! For months now she has cheered on runners at her spot on the Bushy parkrun route which is at the Sandy Lane Gate in Bushy park. She is a legend in her own right. Generally speaking I don’t approve of nepotism, but then I’ve never had the chance to benefit from it before. Turns out i’m quite fickle with respect to my moral compass. I’ll take glory by association. happy to step up and milk it. Wouldn’t you?
We were on a deadline though, as we all had to get to Bushy park in time for awf. Plus, I wanted to meet up with the lovely other Paul, Paul Killick, who’d set in motion a magnificent train of events that led to my mum getting lots of extra christmas cards, with his ‘meet Elisabeth‘ Facebook post. Long story.
The original Paul, honestly, gets confusing, you’d think it would be a lot easier if everyone had the same name, but it turns out that’s not so. Anyway, founder Paul, he made to set off at a fair old sprint, deliberately going extra fast to see our reaction. We had originally talked about jogging down to the start, but that was the night before. With the reality of stiff joints that plan was rapidly abandoned. Our reaction was three-fold. Firstly, we did laugh appreciatively. Secondly, no-one was going to be duped into unnecessarily running anywhere at this stage, even with Mr S-H (well, we’d got our photos now, so job done), limbs aching too much and we had to save ourselves for parkrun. Thirdly, on my part at least, ‘oh my he can shift‘. I hadn’t realised he was so super fast. Maybe it’s partly to do with having extra long legs, or maybe the South Africa connection, or maybe he just wanted to escape from us? Surely not? Who’d ever want to ditch a load of Smilies? He ran like something with very long legs that might run very fast across the plains of Africa. Giraffes have long legs, but I’m not sure they can run all that fast and elegantly. My experience suggests giraffes have limitations as running buddies.
Antelope maybe? Oh for goodness sake. I don’t know! Stop hassling me about my african animal analogies, pick your own, let’s get back on topic.
Point is we got our celebrity meet and greet, and then headed off through Teddington to Bushy park. It was nippier than I’d expected, so we walked briskly. Smilies and non-smilies sharing running and life tales as we did so. I love hearing people’s stories. Every one of us has many to tell. Inspirational stuff.
We arrived into the park to find a dark and dank day, but the park is always glorious. It was exciting to see it through new eyes as well. First time in the park for some, and it is I suppose huge and unexpected if you haven’t been there before.
I was relieved to spot Paul 2, (other Pauls are available) quite easily. There aren’t that many 500 parkrun milestone tees around, plus it helped that the two Pauls knew each other anyway. I’m afraid (only not really) that there followed an enormous amount of gratuitous posing for photos in all possible permutations of Pauls/ Smilies/ me and Pauls/ Smiletastic Smilies (Smiley sub-group) and so on. In our defence, I don’t think we are the only parkrunners ever to have seized a photo opportunity at Bushy parkrun. Also, no regrets. Enjoy:
I was a bit giddy with all the excitement to be honest. I wondered if I was a bit too huggy what with being so hyped. The weird thing is, I don’t think I’m an especially tactile person. Generally speaking I like my personal space, I will edge away from others when sat at cafe tables lest their elbows intrude on my brunch plate. However, parkrun seems to unleash my inner huggyness. I love everyone at parkrun, they are all my best friends forever, and I think that affection is entirely genuine, I’m so grateful to the community that is parkrun, and Founder Paul for setting it up and other Paul for being so lovely to my mum. Even though we haven’t met before I feel like I know them because of the common parkrun thread. It restores your faith in humankind. There really are more good people in the world than not. Within parkrun at least, all seems well with the world….
Even though we were all a bit giddy, we weren’t so giddy with excitement that we couldn’t see a Smiletastic opportunity when it presented itself. For those of you that haven’t been concentrating, Smiletastic is a winter running challenge amongst we Smiley Paces. Points are awarded for actual running related activities within teams, but also for ‘smiletastic spirit‘. As we were a cross team alliance of Smiletastic Smilies on this London running weekend, we decided to go for a cross team shot. I love this photo, and not only because it did indeed deliver some Smiletastic bonus points! Gotta love a Smiley!
Pleasingly, after we had been photographed in all possible combinations, a nearby runner, also a parkrun tourist quizzed me about who we all were, so that a fun. I only wish I’d anticipated this question so I could have come up with a better cover story. Oh well, next time. Bushy parkrun runs like a well oiled machine, not just the logistics of it all, but maintaining a community feel, and producing a weekly run report so everyone stays informed and involved. So we learned we Smilies and are visit were to be a feature in that week’s Bushy parkrun report – 13 Jan 18. How exciting is that! It is only a matter of time before Smiley Paces goes viral in its own right… granted, our visit of what was by comparison just a handful of Smilies at about 12 or so of us, was superseded the following week by a contingent of 100 visitors from Tralee parkrun, but I’m sure all parkrun tourists are made equally welcome. Thank you Bushy parkrunners all, for the warmth of your welcome. Just shows, everyone’s a winner at Bushy parkrun.
Despite all being winners, I needed to fit in my precautionary pee. Fortunately, there are loos a-plenty at Bushy park. I jogged off to the toilet block, leaving fellow smilies still trying to capture their elusive perfect selfies. Good work people, good work.
Despite the normally ample amount of toilet cubicles. The queue was long, very long. I put this down to maybe a larger than usual parkrun turn out because of New Year’s Resolutions being put into action. However, this queue wasn’t moving. On the plus side, I got to meet a woman who it turned out had been at the second ever parkrun, and so had bagged a 15th finisher place at Bushy parkrun. This pleased me greatly. I felt I really was mingling with the stars. Now 15th finisher at parkrun would have a time between 17 or 18 minutes. That’s super speedy. I felt this merited a selfie, if only to while the time whilst waiting for the queue to move. Check me out, hobnobbing with even more parkrun celebrities. That’s the closest I’ll ever get to being in the company of top twenty finishers anywhere, let alone at Bushy parkrun!
Eventually, it became apparent that the long and slowly moving loo queue was due to some large-scale catastrophe within the toilet block. Almost every cubicle was out of action, but not due to broken loos as such, but due to all the doors being off their hinges. Whether this was due to wanton vandalism or interrupted maintenance I have no idea. What I do know, is that as the clock was ticking fast, and we were all conscious of parkrunners gathering at the start line, a sort of free-thinking collective action came about. Women threw inhibitions into orbit and soon each cubicle loo had a parkrunner in situ, pulling a Paula caring little who saw what. To be fair, we were all women, we’ve all seen it all before, and anyway, each of us was far too preoccupied with taking up our own squat opportunities to care one iota what anyone else was up to. It was quite liberating really, all these women in free flow and why not. It is hardly a shocking or unknown revelation that women (and people even) in general do pee in general, but parkrunners in particular need a precautionary pre-parkrun pee. All the same, it did have a comedic element. The unicorns would have loved it (see toilet humour appreciation reference above). Is it wrong that it briefly gave me a flash back to the more depressing and shocking sight of seeing women standing displaying their goods in the narrow windows of the red-light district of Amsterdam. I’m inclined to think that the toilet block cubicles of Bushy park were more of a niche area of interest, and anyway this was no shop window, just doing the necessary…
All this broken doors shenanigans delayed me getting to the start. I rushed across, and the briefing was already underway, the lead bike off ahead. (Photos
stolen courtesy of Bushy parkrun)
The start line is truly amazing. It’s huge, and wide. A guy was balancing half way up a tree to observe the field, I wondered if he might be armed with a loudspeaker to help parkrunners hear the briefing, but I couldn’t tell. Maybe he was just stuck up there actually, now I come to think of it. Hope he’s managed to get down now. Anyway, it was inspiring to see so very many people, gathered together for this amazing, yet intrinsically ridiculous undertaking. I didn’t label my photos all that well, so some might be mixed up, but these are basically all capturing the parkrun start line, some more re-imagined than others, granted… 🙂
In amongst the mass of people, I felt very luck to happen upon a little trio of Smilies, but I was too late for any in the starting throng line up shots. Here’s one someone else took earlier though. They are looking suitably excited and shiny eyed with eager anticipation don’t you think! Well, I say shiny-eyed, bit manic would be more accurate, but you get the general idea. Bushy parkrun was a bit overwhelming, it was bound to test our ability to use facial expressions to convey euphoria to the very limit, maybe slightly over-cooked here, but great shot all the same people.
All too soon, the shout went up and were off. A veritable stampede across the ant hills as 1300 plus runners head out on their 5k circuit. Considering how many runners there are, it is a pretty polite start. By the time the path narrows, runners have strung out, and as it’s a single lap course you don’t have to worry about being lapped. A rare joy for me!
You probably can’t tell by looking at me when I’m running, but I do love taking part in parkrun. Overhearing conversations. Some are sharing running stories, others catching up on gossip, some updating others on quite personal stuff. People look out for each other too. I didn’t witness this myself, but one of my fellow Smilies said as she was running she commented out loud that her hands were freezing, and another runner immediately offered her the use of her gloves. She was really impressed and touched, to be so trusted that she’d get them back. I maybe shouldn’t have pointed out it was probably partly because she’d identified that this Smiley could be outrun, also we are quite distinctive. None of this is to take away from the selfless offer though. Love parkrunners!
I was excited about seeing my mum. I’d nipped round to see her the night before to make sure she was tooled up with a Smiley placard, and she’d had all her parkrun kit carefully laid out. She doesn’t have a barcode, but if she did, she’d not forget it! #dfyb. I’d briefed everyone I’d seen to shout hello as they passed, but as I was approaching her corner, I couldn’t see any Smilies. Catastrophe! Then, just as I was losing hope, a gaggle of them appeared out of the mist. No idea how they came to be running behind me, that never happens, must have been an anomaly in the line up at the start. I have
never rarely been so over-joyed to see my running buddies!
We descended en masse. Of course we had to capture the moment, although afterwards I did wonder if I’d been quite fair to interrupt my fellow Smilies run as we paused for (blurry) photos. Still, this picture rivals that of us with Mr S-H himself, here we had another example of parkrun royalty but this time one proactively endorsing Smiley Paces. That could be argued to trump our other example of association with parkrun celebrity, though not in the Donald sense, obviously, that would be horrid.
It was very grand to get some Smiley shots and witness some shouts and high fives being proffered as other runners streamed by.
I felt quite emotional. Sleep deprivation has a lot to answer for. As I ran on, the other Smilies now streamed ahead. I overheard new conversations about my mum. Other runners commenting on how amazing it was she is there week in week out, and being just generally lovely. It’s hard being in Sheffield with her in Teddington, I find it immensely reassuring to know that from parkrun there is this outpouring of goodwill towards her.
I loped onwards, in my own inimitable way. Thanking the marshals as I passed.
Eventually, the finish came into sight. Other runners that had already finished were cheering others in. I saw Paul S-H who called out that he’d managed to exchange a high-five with my mum en route. It would be fun one day to observe her from a hide as she marshals, and count the interactions she has on a typical parkrun day. Tricky to co-ordinate though.
Into the funnel – which as anyone who has been to Bushy parkrun will report are a thing of wonder. More chatting – I found myself between two bushy parkrun regulars, one explained how first time her son offered my mum a high-five she had tried to shake his hand, I was able to tell her that since then she’s had training in this skill and is most adept at it, which was readily acknowledged. The other told me she and her friends refer to her at this spot as their ‘half point highlight‘ which I though grand. I’d love to be the highlight of someone’s parkrun! I felt a glow of reflected glory. Maybe I should print out a load of photos of her, and get her to sign them, I could bestow them on any worthy beneficiaries at will. Of course there’s always a risk they’d end up on Ebay, like the black market in Blue Peter badges, but I like to think parkrunners are an honourable lot, and would treasure such an artefact as beyond price. Did you know that one blue peter presenter had their badge rescinded for taking cocaine? Richard Bacon had to actually hand it back! The shame. That would never have happened in John Noakes’ day!
So through the finish tunnel, and back into the arms of chilly but still smiling smilies.
Obviously, no parkrun would be complete without a companionable post parkrun brunch. We decided against the Pheasantry cafe, since lovely as it is, it would be just too crowded, instead we were heading back to campus. However, I took a Smiley detour to check in with my mum. More photos:
Then a romp back to the St Mary’s campus canteen, for a pretty impressive brunch. Good value, though I can’t lie, I was gutted there were no veggie sausages today. Or the next day, seemingly it’s always a case of veggie sausages either yesterday or tomorrow. Sad but true. Still, it wasn’t the venue or the food particularly that bonded us. It was our Bushy parkrun adventure.
You will have to take my word for it that we were a lot cheerier than this photo makes us look. Smiley Paces club membership is conditional on being able to smile at all times, but with genuine cheer, unlike the ironically named cheerleader troupes who often have smiles that appear to be quite forced.
We were also very taken with the rotating tray clearing system. I’ve rarely been so excited since I first encountered the famous Sheffield Arts Tower paternoster lift. Technology eh? Amazing! As if we hadn’t encountered more than enough wonder for one day!
Some might think Smilies are all too easily amused. I prefer to think it just goes to show we can see the wonder in the world all around us!
Oh, and just so you know, Smiley Paces got star billing in the Bushy parkrun run report for 13th January 2018. Well I say Smiley Paces, really I mean my mum did, but she does officially endorse our club, so that amounts to the same thing! And no, it isn’t elder abuse to get your nearing 90-year-old parent to brandish a sign supporting your running club, just to be really clear there. Nepotism possibly, but nothing worse than that!
So there you go. That was our Smiley pilgrimage to Bushy parkrun done and dusted. We had a lovely time thank you for asking. Would recommend. But you know what, the really, honestly and truly fantastic thing about parkrun, is that even if you can’t get to Bushy Park, you can recreate the parkrun magic anywhere there’s a parkrun. Currently that means across 17 parkrun countries all over the world. Nearly 500 different events in the UK alone – probably more if you factor in junior parkrun, which you should, because that’s even more hilarious hard though that is to believe – and as of today (22 Jan 2018, I lied in the date published field above) 1,348 separate locations.
So thank you parkrunners in general and Bushy parkrunners in particular. Everyone who takes part in whatever capacity makes it so. If you have already embraced parkrun, yay, go you, happy parkrunning til next time.
If you haven’t? Well, you are lucky indeed, because you have yet to discover one of the wonders of the world, and if you just give it a try, it will open up a whole new world of community loveliness that might be life enriching and at the very least, will put a smile on your face and increase your brunching opportunities henceforth. Got to be worth a punt, surely.
Go on. What’s the worst….*
Sign up to parkrun here, remember, fear of missing out is a terrible thing.
*…. the worst is that parkrun is a sort of gateway drug for not just other running activities, but community engagement, volunteering and a move from life in black and white to living life in glorious technicolor. You wont mind though, that’s the funny thing. Go on. Feel the fear and do it anyway.
For all my parkrun related posts see here. Scroll down for older entries.
For all my Bushy parkrun related posts see here. Scroll down for older entries.
For all my Run with Karen related blog posts, see here. Scroll down for older entries.