… and there’s snow fun like junior parkfun!
Digested read: junior parkrun in general is lovely, Graves junior parkrun in particular is exceptionally so. That is why it is my one misanthrope and cynicism free hour of the week. Graves park however is a micro climate of chill and ice-age memorabilia, hence last week it snowed, and this week several hands were (nearly) lost to frost bite. Still, small price to pay for being part of something so joyful. Are you coming to a junior parkrun near you sometime soon? You should. Really. parkrun fun squared to infinity and beyond.
Just got back from my weekly fix of junior parkrun. It remains joyful, despite the challenge of the microclimate of Graves Park which has to be experienced to be believed. Last week, it was my contributory negligence that brought about the white out. I stood in the car park about 8 o’clock and pronounced it to be ‘unexpectedly nice albeit nippy’. What possessed me to think I might get away with so tempting fate by flaunting such a misguided belief in front of its mocking ever-present malign force I can’t now recall. Suffice to say that within minutes, we’d gone from bright winter sunshine to a disorienting blizzard worthy of the best winter-set horror film/ disaster films ever. My bad. Sorry everyone.
You can just make out the hi-vis army through those snow globules in the foreground. There was snow way a sprinkling of the white stuff was going to stop our junior athletes battling round the hill’s of Graves.
To be fair, if it’s going to be cold, I’d rather have the high drama of a snow storm, it definitely makes for a more memorable parkrun, whilst each event is unique in its own way, this was one that will go down in the annuls of Graves Junior parkrun history as particularly epic. Five hardy souls even made this their debut event, impressive. The juniors on the whole are. Little seems to deter them. I think there are a number of possible explanations for this:
- They lack the imaginative foresight to realise just how horrific and cold it will be out there in the elements, with little more than a nylon t-shirt to preserve them from such inclement weather – to be fair, I do the same when entering winter races from the comfort of an armchair at home
- Payback time for when their parents/ responsible adults have dragged them out at an unearthly hour of a morning to do unreasonable things like go to do the supermarket shop
- parkrun is just really fun – you always forget the horrors of taking part as they are lost under a blanket of euphoria at completion
In any event, I overheard a couple of parents/ responsible adults commiserating with one another at the start. One was saying ‘took one look out of the window at the weather and thought, well, parkrun definitely won’t be happening today, had pot of coffee on, and everything lined up for a cooked breakfast…. – and then junior appeared in his running kit announcing it was time to go!’ The other was commiserating empathetically. These two were well aware of the sacrifices parents sometimes have to make for their offspring, to turn their backs on a steaming hot pot of coffee to go and stand on a muddy field in the snow to cheer your junior runner round, that takes real dedication and commitment.
So too from the junior athletes themselves, storming round. There was so much mud, and so much thrill from the sudden appearance of the white stuff, that some juniors appeared to actually run off down the hill, disappearing into the white out going completely AWOL during the warm up. The temptation to just dive right in and make the most of it being an instinct too strong to resist. To be fair I felt a bit the same. Snow is ridiculously fun, when you get to roll around and play in it, and cheer juniors and offer up high fives.
Look at how joyful it was….. in parts.
Still, I’m jumping ahead. First off, there was the little matter of the course set up. I like doing this, you get to feel busy and important, have a march around the park, and greet other park users. I’ve done the role regularly enough that I recognise some of the dog walkers now, and it’s fun just having little exchanges. Carrying the arrows is a bit of a practical challenge, but the really hard bit is disentangling the tape we use to keep junior athletes from getting too close to the edge of the water at the point on the course when they pass between two large ponds. Those of you who have never had to undertake this task, will have no comprehension of just how tangled up and impossible to manage a few metres of many-times-mended and string like plastic tape can be. It’s not good for the ego. It should be a simple thing, but it’s always a challenge. However, successful disentangling feels great, I imagine some people would get the same buzz from completing a cryptic crossword, or doing the ridiculously tricky maths related puzzles on the Today Programme. Aside – what are they all about? I can’t even understand the questions. Has anyone ever solved them other than through chance or googling? Seems unlikely. I don’t know if my incomprehension is a reflection of my stupidity or the fact I have a life. Actually, on reflection, the latter seems unlikely so let’s not go there. Where was I. Oh yes, putting up the course. That was grand, but the tape was wet and my hands got really, really cold as a result. I was wearing gloves, but they were saturated. By the time my arrows were out and I was back at the start, the snow had started to fall. I nipped into the loos to use the hand dryer to try to offset frostbite, but it was only partially successful. Even so, I think I did a grand job with the arrows on the whole. Check this out. You’ve got to admit, pretty darned fabulous directional pointing going on there.
Hi viz heroes may have been all a-shiver, but the juniors were undaunted by either the snow, or the warnings of mud.
There was the gathering for the run briefing:
This concluded, then the warm up commenced:
The start line up took place on tarmac rather than the grass, for fear of a mudslide. It was really exciting, you could hardly see the youngsters through the snow as it started to really fall in earnest. There was a sort of survivalist euphoria to it all. Plus, cheering and clapping others is a great way to keep warm. Plus, how could you do anything else in the face of all that collective, youthful enthusiasm. No room for cynicism here. Junior parkrun is my cynicism free zone for the week. Always joyful, normal (for me) misanthropic cynicism can be resumed subsequently. Meantime, look at them all go:
And yes, one runner was clutching a balloon, because it was his birthday, and that’s what you should do with your birthday, run round in the snow with a bunch of friends and a purple balloon and a broad smile. Excellent decision there, excellent.
Not all were enthusiastic about coming out to witness this though, some stayed in bed, or their nearest equivalent, and who can blame them really. They did have a squint out through the windows though. Taking an interest in their own way. I do like goats. Intelligent, and independent.
So, as surely as junior athletes will run around. They will ultimately finish and enter the finish funnel, all ready to welcome them into its snowy armed embrace.
So last week, as well as being busy and important with pre-course set up, I had particular shared responsibilities for the finish funnel. I’ve not been to any other junior parkruns (I know, serious omission) so I’m not sure how it works elsewhere, but at Graves, we have a couple of people in this role. One at the entrance to the funnel to ensure 1) NO ADULTS in the finish funnel (every week they try to muscle in, every week, such is the allure of that cone lined entrance), 2) to try to ensure runners know to do two laps (really hard to tell sometimes how many they’ve done – hope over experience), and this week 3) try to ensure runners slow down so they don’t do a body-slide/ face-plant on the mud as they sprint into the finish. Quite heady responsibilities. We also have another funnel manager to try to keep everyone moving down through, and, ideally, a third, to chivvy the lines along and encourage young runners to locate their barcodes, or attract the attention of their associated responsible adults who are supposed to be looking after it for them. You have to multi-task in all these functions, as you must also cheer, congratulate and clap each runner in. High fiving passing runners is also an option whilst waiting for the first finishers to complete.
In my defence, it was a bit of a mud slide. Inevitably perhaps, I was an epic fail at the ‘preventing junior runners from falling in the finish funnel’ competency. I’m still very much at the ‘working towards’ spectrum there. However, in my view, you might as well have tried to catch a speeding bullet in your teeth (don’t try that at home people), standing in front of a full pelt junior is likely to result in mutual instant death on contact, better to just shout and wave them down frantically and hope for the best. I did feel a bit bad about the number of fallers – and not only because I feared being sent to a parkrun junior marshal re-education camp for having so erred in my duties – but then again, it all ended happily. These young people are way more resilient than you might think. And let’s keep this in proportion, it was in single figures! My heart was in my mouth throughout, but if anything, the mud sliders were proud of their whole body mud-casings and wore such a coverage of dirt as a badge of honour. I suspect those driving them home in the car afterwards would have been less impressed by the quantities of wet earth that transferred from ground to garment and garment to car upholstery. Another volunteer reported to me (much to my relief) that as he was packing up, he overheard one junior parkrunner report excitedly to their accompanying adult that ‘the absolute best bit was when I did an amazing mud slide right through the finish! Did you see me? Did you? Did you see?‘ judging by his clothing he most certainly did. So whilst I was shamed by my inability to hold back the tide, it seems all lived to tell the tale.
So that was last week. This was this:
Almost balmy comparison… you would think? Only it wasn’t. Still epic though.
Today we were back on the grass for the start. 108 runners lined up and came shooting down the ineffectual funnel of human cones in place to channel them onto the tarmac.
They break out like beads on a broken necklace hitting a dance floor. Chaotically shooting off in unexpected directions. You may think watching the Winter Olympics on telly is exciting, but let me tell you, it has nothing on this. The thrills, the spills. I looked on in horror, as not one, but two young runners slipped over, creating a sort of domino effect as other young runners tumbled into, and on top of them. There was quite a human pyramid formed at one point. Various nearby adults stepped in, scooped up children miscellaneous – any child would do – and plonked them back up on their feet again, and no sooner had the pile up happened, than it was cleared away. I don’t have children, and it is a complete mystery to me how they survive such apparently powerful collisions. It’s like they are made of rubber, or teflon coated or something. They just seem to be, on the whole, a lot more resilient than should be logical or plausible let alone possible. For my part, I’m getting a little less panicked at witnessing these tumbles now. Today though, watching the pile up pass without injury but with much excitement, I felt like I’d completed a certain rite of passage, and passed into a new realm of understanding. I felt the same many, many years ago, when I was in an office working alongside a number of women all of whom had children. One relatively new mother was completely distraught because she’d dropped her young child the evening before – or more accurately, allowed the infant to roll off a sofa or something, the child was not hurt but she was badly shaken by the incident – the others in the office were ‘comforting her’ in a raucous ‘is that all?’ expressing incredulity sort of way. Cue, long conversation where each colleague in turn recalled far worse accidents and incidents they had experienced, along the lines of ‘I remember the first time I dropped my child/ left it on the bus‘ kind of tales, and there was much crying with laughter of helpless recognition. Not that it was good these things had happened, far from it, but in a fraught, sleep-deprived world of doing your best, often on your own, no care-giver rears any child in an incident free cotton-wool encased world. Just as well, otherwise how would the offspring in their respective charges cope with doing a mudslide at parkrun? See, sometimes the most unexpected of things can be a boon to our life experience in the long run. Phew.
Today I was on barcode scanning scribe duties. This is a great role, as you get to carry a clipboard AND wear a hi-viz, so you look properly busy and important. It all goes in a bit of a whirlwind of activity. By the time you look up from writing down the ‘unknowns’ who didn’t bring a barcode, and the unscannables (barcode didn’t scan) it’s game over, and packing up underway all around you. Within minutes it is as if we were never even there. A.Maz.Ing.
We all had cold hands though. The race directors hands were so cold I had to help him unclip some paper from the clip board. He was properly near having frostbite. Still, like I said to him, if he did lose both hands due to that it would have been but a small price for someone else to pay to spread so much joy in the world. Any follow-up news article in The Sheffield Star say, could truthfully include the phrase ‘much comfort can be taken from knowing he lost his hands doing what he most loved doing‘, because they often say that don’t they? Then we could do some crowd-sourcing to get new prosthetic limbs – or better yet, nominate some juniors to make him some personalised parkrun one’s out of papier-mâché and half chewed sweets. That would be touching. I expect he’d get a thank you for your contribution to parkrun/ get well soon card from Mr S-H himself, and that would completely make up for it. So you see, no great drama, just great opportunities.
Incidentally, papier-mâché might not be fully functional, or water resistant, but they can look pretty cool. This was what google images was made for! You could have a hand for any occassion. Almost aspirational!
And once again, all run, all done, ’twas as if we were never there.
Love Graves park, its micro climate just adds to the sense of adventure 🙂
See you there same time, same place, some Sunday soon.
Go awn, you know you want to. After all, there is snow fun like junior parkfun! Promise, or your money back! 🙂
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