*Also gratuitous use of emoticon in title of this blog post
Digested read: took part in the small park BIG RUN again, in the early hours. It was fun.
Undigested read: It’s extra nice, when you get to do something that you allegedly like (ableit often in a type two fun sort of way) – in this case running (badly), as part of an event that is aligned to your values. Even better when it’s local, community based and gives you the chance to do a fun new thing. That is, running round in big circles in a park in the middle of the night, which granted, doesn’t sound like an enormous amount of fun to the uninitiated, but it turns out it really is, especially if you get lucky with the company you keep on the way round. Oh, and another thing which adds to the fun, it’s also a ‘running’ event which doesn’t actually require you to run if you don’t want to. Excellent. Walking is fine, also uni-cycling and stilt-assisted circuits, though I’m inclined to think both of those approaches might have presented a few extra challenges along the way. Possibly a case of ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time’ Still, nothing ventured eh? Or you could juggle, you might need to learn first though as I think that’s probably not intuitive either, but basically each to their own, that’s the main thing.
The event is proactively set out to be as inclusive as possible, and quite right too! It actually put on a couple of ‘Assisted Hours’:
ASSISTED HOURS During the hours of 4pm to 5pm on Saturday and 11am till noon on Sunday we will be offering help to anyone who would like to participate, but feels they need some support to make this happen. We want to help. Please contact us and together let’s try to work something out!
Genius! There were times up that hill that I’d have quite appreciated some assistance too to be fair, but I never thought to get in touch in advance. Looks from the photos that plenty did though and had a hoot going round. This is such a good idea, parkrun in particular is waking up to doing a lot more to facilitate inclusion through e.g. promoting walking, training up guides for visually impaired runners and offering more signed run briefings at its events, but this is the first time I’ve been aware of an organised run proactively offering assistance as opposed to reacting positively to requests for adjustments. It gives such a different feel.
Oh, what’s that, you have no idea what I’m talking about? I do do that sometimes, get ahead of myself. To be fair, I had no idea what small park BIG RUN was until about this time last year, so it’s fair enough if you don’t know what it is. Erm, well it’s small park BIG RUN and it’s becoming an annual event for Sheffield. According to the website blah de blah:
A 24-hour group challenge raising funds for Palestinian women and children Midday Sat 15 June – Midday Sun 16 June 2019 Meersbrook Park, Sheffield.
In 2018 we raised £7,000 the Khuza’a Children’s Play and Heal project and the Sheffield Palestine Women’s Scholarship Fund. Can we do better this year?
We will run continuous circuits of Meersbrook park over 24 hours with at least two people on the course at all times. Entrants will be able to run, wheel, jog, walk, hop(!) shifts from 30 minutes upwards. You can choose how long and at what time you would like to run when you enter. You can run as an individual or as part of a team.
At 12.15pm on Sunday 16th we complete the 24 hours with a free Community/Family Fun Run of one lap. ALL WELCOME.
So it’s a fund-raiser for Palestine on one level, but it’s much more than that, because as the event happens in Meersbrook park, parallel events are taking place in Palestine, so there’s a bit of symbolic solidarity there. As the organisers said: ‘several runs are being organised in Palestine: In Gaza, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Nablus. … It is so exciting to think that whilst we are running here in Sheffield there will be hundreds of people in Palestine running too! In some small way these runs can help bridge the gaps that are put between people.’
The event is definitely about raising awareness of serious inequalities and injustices too. It treads an elegant line between holding a positive and joyful event in Sheffield, whilst keeping the politics of Palestine central in the breadth of activities that happen alongside the event. That included a photo exhibition : ‘building bridges’ photos from Sheffield and Palestine and an opportunity to contribute to a ‘wall of words’
There was also communal poetry writing – a high risk activity in my experience, but conducted with enthusiasm and talent here I’m sure. I just struggle with this idea and need to qualify why… as I’m not just being rude, I’m processing previous trauma. I think I’m over influenced by formative experiences in respect of this. I’ve never quite recovered from attending a ‘hard-hitting’ poetry reading that was to raise awareness around the horrors of and damage caused by drug addiction. Which included the climactic conclusion of a rhyme that was…
wait for it….
‘Youths clad so you cannot tell their sex
and smelling all of cop-y-dex’
It was read out in a particularly laboured way to get the rhythm and rhyme emphasised to best effect by a woman with a completely deadpan expression. I have never been in such pain drying to suppress laughter. I applaud the earnest endeavour of the writer(s), but it didn’t for me at least, conjure up a vision of brutal realism and horror, thereby eliciting the intended response of shock and repulsion that would motivate me to action! It wasn’t just the laboured rhyme, it was that I associated copydex with primary school and smearing it on your hands so you could peel it all off again – that worked on tables too by the way – very therapeutic – and not a glue you can readily associate with the worst ravages of solvent abuse. That recitation has a lot to answer for. Poetry can indeed have punch, but my first thought now is always of crying with suppressed laughter at the back of a freezing cold community hall, horribly traumatised by the realisation that my corpsing was massively inappropriate but completely beyond my control. Nobody likes to be powerless… that’s why what is happening in Palestine matters.
There were also as plenty of pithy information posters around the course that gave a snap shot of the reality of life in Palestine.
And alongside that, during the daylight hours there was live music along the course, a community choir for the final flourish. No, it isn’t Garfield’s choir, though I’d love to see that there too next year if there is such a thing, which there really should be if there isn’t already.
Some took on the running challenge to extreme, treating the endless circuits – it’s a one kilometre loop but involves a steep hill – as punishing hill reps. One hardy soul kept going for the entire 24 hours, doing a personal ultra. Some just did one loop for fun, others carried flags or banners along the route, keeping the politics central to their participation. You can run as an individual, you can run with friends, you can be part of a 24 hour relay, passing on a baton, or sash or just a winning smile as you hand over to the next participant. You can run/walk/jog/juggle for just one half hour slot or as many as you like; you can chat your way round or use the time for silent contemplation. ‘The choice is yours’ as Our Graham would say…
So basically, you can engage with event as you choose.
Imagine a Venn diagram, and the outer circles are politics; running; community; festival; solidarity with Palestine; music; craft; personal challenge; team challenge; bunting; lanterns; inclusivity and lots more probably, and where they all overlap with one another in the middle, that’s small park BIG RUN. Oh hang on, forgot one of the most important circles of all – no, not the circle of life, the one with cake. There was lots of cake too, apparently, but a daylight thing I learned too late!
So are we all on the same page now, in terms of understanding what it’s all about? Hope so. I took park in small park BIG RUN last year, entering at the last minute on something of a whim having been very confused about exactly what it was. I enjoyed it a lot, and resolved to come back and do a night time spot this year. So that’s what I did, and no regrets… oh, well that’s not strictly true, it’s a lovely event, but it would be so much better if it didn’t need to exist wouldn’t it? That aside though, very nice indeed thank you for asking. This is little gem of an event, and it seems to be growing organically. It was noticeably much bigger this year compared with last, and slicker with the organisation too – not that it was bad last year, it just has evolved more since. Run by a team with principle and passion and it shows, in the friendly vibe evident
on the day even in the middle of the night. And what’s more, that was also all going on in real time in Palestine. I know, how cool is that. small world BIG RUN to borrow a phrase. Here are smiles from Ramallah, that’s pretty amazing is it not.
And here are some pictures from Nablus – looks like they had serious fun day and night too!
So that’s the background. What, do you mean, you are horrified that’s only the background? Are you implying I’m going on a bit? Don’t get all accusatory with me! I never claimed to be concise, you could have stopped after the digested read, if you are still here, even if only lured on by the photos, then that’s contributory negligence. Fact.
So onto what happened next. I’d have got to this point a lot quicker if we hadn’t had that little squabble about how long I was taking by the way … just sayin’.
What happened next is that a few months back, small park BIG RUN came up again on the Sheffield running community’s radar. Last year only a couple of groups got it together to organise relays of runners to cover the full 24 hours, so there would always be someone on the course from their team throughout. This year there was a positive flurry of team entrants, including…. drum roll… one from my very own Smiley Paces. Yay! Go us!
Of course, teams don’t just materialise by magic, sadly. It takes a fine organisational mind to step up and show leadership. Cometh the hour, cometh the smiley, I give you exhibit a), our leader.
Now there’s a look that oozes leadership and inspires confidence if ever I saw it! Hurrah!
I say ‘leader’ but really that might be pushing it a bit. A leader only if you believe in the ability of a leader to herd cats. A leader in the sense of being a facilitator, enthusiasm generator and clearer up of confusion perhaps, but not really in the sense of being able to influence the direction of travel of any individual member, or being worshipped by followers. We are an idiosyncratic lot we Smilies. And all the better for it I’m sure.
So the gathering of a team began with a shout out for anyone interested, and then evolved into the creation of a shared google doc on which people could sign up and bagsy preferred time slots. Now, not going to lie, this was problematic. Problematic for all sorts of reasons. Firstly, Smiley Paces members are all lovely, so there was a lot of unhelpful politeness. ‘No you take that slot, I really don’t mind’, ‘don’t worry, I’ll take whatever slot is left over, so I’ll not sign up til everyone else has‘, ‘you first’, ‘no you first’ and so on. Resulting in a collective holding back and indecisiveness that took a while to be overcome. Then, there was the information technology divide between those for whom a spreadsheet acts as an erotic stimulant in much the same way as catnip does to cats, and those for whom the very thought of a spreadsheet brings on cold sweats and shudders. For the former it is a case of ‘Bring it on!’ Because spreadsheets means super-charged fun, and that reminds me, must start an excel sheet on how to prepare for the party to mark International Spreadhseet Day‘ – which is 17th October for 2019 by the way.
For the latter, being expected to contribute to a shared spreadsheet engenders much the same horror as if they were being told they’d have to perform open heart surgery on a loved one without so much as access to a YouTube video in order to advise them how! It seems that, magnificent as my fellow Smilies are, in some respects it is a miracle that they are able to pursue challenging careers and indeed, even live independently and dress themselves if the messages following this post were anything to go by. ‘How do I open the document again?’ ‘I’ve accidentally signed up my dog for 12 hours can you edit it?’ ‘ooh, I think I’ve signed up twice by accident’, ‘well I thought I signed up, I definitely signed up for something, wasn’t it this – oh crap’. You get the idea I’m sure! This is where leadership was needed, in the sense that ‘you’re the leader you have to sort it for me‘ not so much in the ‘you’re the leader, it’s fine to delegate’. Still, all worked out in the end, somewhat amazingly. All slots covered, and eventually the penny dropping that this was but the first stage in the process, you were also required to enter the event online as well. We were all set. Hooray! We got there in the end. Only a couple of people signed up without having bothered to check out the route. There was one comment along the lines of ‘what there’s a hill?’ the night before, which turned out to be a serious enquiry and not a hilarious and spontaneous spew of sarcasm. Ooops, oh well, you live and learn eh? Not just any old hill either. One well worth of the descriptor of ‘hill’, and one which rewards the upward climb with a fantastic panoramic view of Sheffield at the top – if you can but see it through your still bleeding eyes after making the effort to run up it…
I enjoyed the event last year, but this year decided I fancied doing a night time slot, as I wanted to see the beautifully crafted lanterns created to light the course in all their glory. I also wanted to see the sun rise over Meersbrook park. That would be glorious.
I will admit though, the day before my enthusiasm was waning a bit. Partly because in Sheffield we’d had a solid few weeks of rain of near Biblical proportions. Not so much ‘singing and dancing in the rain’ rain, as ‘we’re all going to die’ rain. Didn’t honestly fancy running in that. Then I also had a bit of a wobble, when I spotted through a handy ‘heat map’ of volunteers and runners for the event, that for the 3.30 a.m. slot there were likely to be very few people about. I suddenly thought maybe running in the dark in a park I don’t really know, on my own might not be so appealing after all. Oh well, committed now. Alarm set for 2.20 a.m. and early to be I went.
‘What the f*** was that!’ It was my alarm going off at stupid o-clock. I don’t know if anyone is able to quite explain this to me. But how come, whilst I’m a perpetual insomniac who makes Lady Macbeth look like she suffers from narcolepsy I still managed to be sound asleep at the moment my dual alarms starting screaming at me. Being woken in this way wasn’t good. It didn’t feel like I was about to embark on a grand adventure, it felt like this was a terrible idea. I didn’t dare go back to sleep again, so got up and then blinking into space realised I had no idea what to do next. Normally, if I was pre-run I’d have something to eat and some tea, but my body clock was having none of that. I had a quarter of a cup of coffee and felt sick. How do those all-night ultra runners do it. I can’t even dress myself at that time of night it turns out. No really, top went on inside out at first attempt. How the Nicky Spinks of this world navigate the Lakes on no sleep is beyond my comprehension. Fortunately, I didn’t have to navigate the fells of the Lake District, I just had to navigate the registration process for small park BIG RUN.
No traffic on the roads, I found easy parking right next to the park, and through the railings could see Meersbrook Hall brightly lit up and all inviting. A short walk down the drive and there were welcoming folk around and in the reception area of the hall collapsed runners who’d finished their rounds as well as suitably appointed loos (i.e. toilet paper in evidence) so no fretful angst about accessing the necessary facilities for my precautionary pee. Also, and this is VERY important, I learned from one of the posters on display there that it turns out, the land at Meersbrook belonged to the Gotham family in medieval times. No way. The actual Gothams of Gotham City for sure – you don’t know any other Gotham’s do you? Well then, it must be so. Without Gotham there would have been no Batman – unimaginable, so it must be that Meersbrook Hall is ground zero for super heroes. What could be a more apt venue for this event showing solidarity with Palestine. Everyone involved a hero today! And just shows, getting up in the middle of the night can be most educational. Hurrah!
So it was, I arrived at about 3.15 a.m. announcing to the impressively WIDE AWAKE night-time marshals, that I was there for the 4.30 a.m. slot.
They blinked back at me, unsure how to break the news. ‘Erm, you are actually quite early‘ one ventured. I looked back confused. ‘Ah, no I meant 3.30‘ I said. Having identified that not only was I unable to dress myself, or drink I had lost power of rudimentary cognition as well. Oh well, hopefully my legs would still work. Sighs of relief all round.
I was furnished with the Smiley baton – a thing of beauty, and personalised for smilies in perpetuity by dint of being infused with the perspiration from the palms of each previous runner. Not just our running memories, but our actual sweaty DNA is held within that twig. A heart warming thought if ever there was one. Shame it got lost at one point and so was bereft in the registration tent awaiting a new claimant. Actually, that baton had quite a few adventures over those 24 hours, but more of that later. Let’s just say though, like the ravens in the tower of London, we now dare not lose it ever again…
It was pretty dark, but not pitch. I had my head torch with me, and could see runners’ head torches bobbing about in the gloaming. Eventually, I espied my team buddy, Smiley Elder, desporting herself with a headlong sprint downhill to the finish as she completed her 90 minute slot at full tilt, shin splints notwithstanding. Honestly, it’s a complete mystery why her injuries persist so unreasonably. Some people are just unlucky I guess.
Not seen her for far too long, and it was nice to have a quick hello and photo op before she trucked on back to Wolverhampton. There’s smiley dedication for you. Right there.
And that was it, I was launched, onto the 1km circuit. You know what, the park felt lovely and calm. There was no rain, and there were people around, not many, but enough not to feel spooked. Volunteers walked the course in reverse whilst runners ran round. I half wondered if some of the volunteers might have ended up doing more laps than those allegedly running, as I only ever broke into a jog when I saw the photographer up ahead, it was hard enough being awake at that hour, let alone actually sprinting about. Also, it was quite meditative doing some solitary laps. The lanterns were plentiful and gorgeous, it does create a magical feel. It was also quite exciting spotting the imaginative creations from the solitary (I think) penguin to the impressive prehistoric looking fish – it reminded me of what I think an angler fish looks like, though I’ve never actually met one. With each circuit I noticed different creatures. I was also very taken with the pig. Pigs are one of my favourite animals ever, well warthogs specifically, but I’ll still always perk up at the sight of a pig. Brilliant creatures. … well I think it was a pig. It might have been a dog actually, oh well, it was a pig to me in the moment. So be it!
I kept my head torch on for the first lap, but really there was a surprising amount of light in the park. There was a noisy chorus of birds, I mean like REALLY LOUD, and the place looked gorgeous. I exchanged pleasantries with other participants and marshals. Agreeing with one at least that we should promise ourselves to be out in the open and see this time of day in a park or rural space at least once a month from hereonin. You know, I might actually try to do that. It was pretty special. The sun started creeping up and reflected back off buildings or back lit the tree line. The early hours weren’t spooky at all, rather quietly meditative.
I say ‘quietly meditative’ but actually, after the first couple of laps, which went quickly, what with all the marshals to greet and sights to see, I was joined by another fellow Smiley for the sunrise stint. Here we are together:
No, not just out for a stroll, actually power walking for Palestine very purposefully up a steep hill. I can’t remember exactly why I’m gesticulating wildly, I like to think I was waving at someone not annoyingly emphasising a point, but I am known for my delusional tendencies. What we can be confident about, is that as endurance events go, I think we did pretty well, managing to talk without pausing for breath for the next hour at least. It was sort of like simultaneous broadcasting, which is a bit like circular breathing. To the untrained ear we might have seemed to be talking over each other, but actually it’s a time efficient way to communicate if you can speak and listen simultaneously, and we had a lot to cover what with pond talk, gardening and running related topics to catch up on.
Lots of lovely marshals, and lots of lovely views:
And then, just when you thought it couldn’t get any better. Another Smiley! Honestly, we are like buses, suddenly three at once, and with what joy!
So then we had even more walking and talking and the route got busier and there was even an official photographer about. Also, to my enormous joy, a couple of party goers, giddy from a night out were making their way home through the park. One wearing vertiginous silver platform shoes, and both clutching tinnies and sporting slightly slurry, but warm and open grins. They were fascinated by this spectacle of runners in the park in the small hours, and plonked themselves down on a bench to cheer us all by as they finished their cans and enjoyed the view. It was brilliant, a really encouraging and mutually unexpected encounter. So much good will in the middle of the night.
Some running occurred, but also quite a bit of important peer networking. Also, a debate on how easy it was to convince smallish children who’d been ‘made’ to marshal the day before in torrential rain that type 2 fun does still constitute fun, and whether or not it is quite fair to explain to them the full horror of life in the Gaza strip as an example of what some children have to contend with. It’s complicated….
My favourite shot of the night though is this one:
We all know the camera never lies, and clearly this photo shows me cheerily sprinting up that hill, leaving our leader – and one might have thought the more resilient runner for dust. She maintains she has only been stopped by an over-riding compulsion to guffaw, brought on by my shameless ‘look, there’s the photographer‘ alarm call, which as all runners know, is a cue for making it look like you are really going for it. Irrespective of who you choose to believe, I still think even if her version is true, she had fair warning and despite this instruction didn’t follow it, so, whilst I’m not entirely unsympathetic, sometimes it’s important for individuals to just own their actions, don’t you agree?
Also, that hill though, it’s ridiculously steep. Some people got more representative shots than me, hang on, I’ll see what I can dig out:
If you are a Sheffield local, it’s the one your run down like pyroclastic flow as part of the Round Sheffield Run. Yep, but going upwards this time, that is against gravity and, I would argue, defying the laws of nature too!
So a few laps as a cheery threesome, and then one peeled off to go home, and our leader decided to up her game and do some running, so I finished with a couple more laps on my own, just enjoying being alive and out on a beautiful morning, and enjoying a rare moment of positivity and calm in troubled times. Basically dear reader, it was reet nice out.
I tried to get some atmospheric photos, they don’t really do it justice, but here they are for posterity in case of interest.
And then, after a couple of hours, I decided that was me done, though really, it does have a meditative quality, and it isn’t boring at all, I could imagine doing more laps, and – though I reserve the right to change my mind – at that moment, I had a brief fantasy of thinking how fab it would be to do as one did and just start at noon on Saturday and keep on going as long as you could. So much to see and think about, it would be quite amazing.
Then again, the prospect of a cup of coffee was also quite amazing so back to the support tent where we’d been ticking off our team laps – as had other teams, Good Gym for one, and Striders for another – others too – and said my farewells and home I went. Past the slumbering supporters and newly arrived, admiring the huge flag that had appeared – or maybe just come into view with the dawn – whilst I’d been out
running on the course.
It was a bit sad leaving, as the fun was continuing. I actually felt really wide awake as well, which was strange, but also cold, despite my fleece, so time to go home. However, my leaving didn’t mean the event was concluded, oh no, Sunday morning was one big crescendo to the grand finale.
People gathered for a communal final lap, and for a link up with Palestine, and songs, and cake, and choirs, and poetry reading and basically a bringing together of all involved. Thankfully the weather was fair, and the mood buoyant. It looked great in the pictures which I pored over afterwards. Look how much fun they had! Serious fun though, in every sense. This is fun in a serious cause.
and here are some stills of fun being had at the opening of the event, as well as the final fun run lap:
Basically, a grand event, in a fine cause.
Alas, inevitably there were a few quibbles. I could of course let these go, but then again, wouldn’t want resentment to build up over the next year for things unsaid. Firstly, never got to see these:
Now don’t get me wrong, obviously, participating was it’s own reward, but for those amongst us who need a bit of external motivation, cake promises and subsequent placement (or absence thereof) is a serious matter.
Gripe two. Who nearly lost the Smiley baton? I know it all ended happily in the end, but to think it was abandoned in the park and a party of small children had to be despatched to retrieve it cannot be Smilies finest hour. No worries, we can learn from this, and we shall never speak of it again. That seems fair.
Otherwise, all pretty much perfect in every way. Hurrah! So all signing up for next year yes? And remember, marshalling is fun too – even in the rain – especially so, extra kudos to those that do!
So thanks to everyone who made this happen, and for keeping the message alive year on year. Putting on the event was a labour of love, and very worthwhile, I’m already looking forward to next year. It may only be a relatively localised initiative, but it matters, and the power in linking up with parallel events in Palestine is for me at least, genuinely thought provoking and moving too.
Oh, and for the record, the 24 hour smiley team clocked up approximately 269 laps. Not everyone recorded every lap, and you’d be amazed how hard it is to count and run. No really it is! I’m not even exaggerating for comedic effect! Not that the numbers matter, it was the opportunity to maximise participation that was the main thing, and a fine bonding experience it was too! Special thanks to our great leader, who made it so!
Lots of ace photos from the day by the way. Many are brought together on the small park BIG RUN Facebook page under albums. I’ve borrowed freely from them, alongside using some of my own. Thanks for everyone who came, and snapped and shared. Special thanks to Trevor Pollard for the atmospheric black and white ones, and to Kev Donnington for his colourful capturing of a fab event. Cath Ager took loads too, thanks all for documenting the day(s). If anyone spots a photo on this post they want removed, let me know and I’ll do so. 🙂
I’ll end it there. Same time next year?
For all my small park BIG RUN posts see here. You’ll need to scroll down for older entries.