I do like to be beside the seaside. I really truly do, and it’s been properly aaaaaaaaaaaages since I got to go there. Like everyone I’m skint, so mini breaks aren’t really compatible with my income, and anyway, with my mobility a bit hit and miss long drives and random parkruns are, erm, let’s go with ‘contra-indicated’. Set against this, I feel I’ve missed out on too much in the last few years. I knew that a parkrun friend would be celebrating her 250th parkrun this bank holiday weekend at South Shields parkrun and that’s an official parkrun milestone, big deal as clearly an actual thing. Should I go or shouldn’t I? On the one hand, long drive, expensive trip with an overnight thrown in, and I can’t even run when I get there – oh and social awkwardness, paranoia and angst on unexpected arrival. On the other hand, you get to see the actual sea, and touring is always fun, even when of type two, and 250 parkruns? Well, that’s a lot of running around, it ought to be celebrated. South Shields parkrun has been on my wish list for literally years. What better time to schedule it in my busy parkrunday diary. This parkrunday dairy is not an actual thing and a chart but probably should be. I’ve seen analogue parkrun charts that would look great on any fridge. I’ve so many parkruns on my wish list I’d have to be immortal to get round the all, but no harm in chipping away at the top contenders a bit more proactively, if not now, then when? But the cost, the drive, aaargh, what to do?
Fate then lent a hand as I got a lucky break with two days of extra work. One was a midnight wrap and the next day a 6.00 a.m. call meaning heading off at 4 in the morning to get there, so no sleep to speak of, but a bit of a cash windfall further down the line. Plus I got to play the part of nosy neighbour which I was basically born to do, and partake of some unusually fine onset catering, so a good way to end the week. I would make it so! South Shields parkrun here I’d come!
Only I nearly didn’t. On the Friday before my body went into rebellion. My face swelled up like a blooming asymmetrical chipmunk, only resulting in me looking significantly less adorable, cuddlesome and cute than I imagine chipmunks to be (I realise I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in real life) and significantly more like child’s recreation of a random star wars alien using plasticine, marbles and Picasso inspired placement of facial characteristics. Which, in case it isn’t already abundantly clear to you, is not a good look. Not one you want to leave the house with, plus everything hurt. Honestly, random grapefruit sized swelling. Is that too much information? Well, best abort now if you think so, because more follows, I also developed a huge abscess which sprouted up on my back like I’d been cursed or something. I could have wept. I think I did. It’s not fair, my body just can’t do anything more than potter about it seems. A couple of long days and it’s like my body just shuts down in protest. Everything malfunctions, I just can’t do stuff like I did before. I felt proper poorly. Maybe I should accept fate and just cancel. I was very self conscious too, I looked ridiculous, everything ached, this was sub optimal in the extreme, and although being half a hamster may offer comedic value for the viewer (as in comedy horror genre rather than pure comedy), my first hand experience tells me it’s miserable being the purveyor of such comedy gold. I’d rather be bland and in sound body, abscess free given the choice. No choice had been given however, praise be for the NHS.
Emergency appointment and penicillin script later, I was feeling more positive. I saw the nurse prescriber and it turns out she is a parkrunner too! She went to her first parkrun as part of the GP Practice parkrun initiative I think, although not officially part of the scheme, the practice are trying to encourage people to be more active and we the converted know that parkrun is fab for that. So although ironically her attendance was really aimed at encouraging patients to get involved, she now finds it’s she herself who got hooked in. Hurrah!
Anyway, it meant she sort of got where I was coming from with my tearful presentation and admission that I just wanted to go and do a parkrun, and some magic medicine to make me ok. I knew the infection wouldn’t clear on its own, and with it being a bank holiday weekend was worried about going away at all and most certainly without being seen by a medic first. Talking about mutual parkrun passions was a tonic in itself, and having a prescription gave me confidence the infection was in hand. Besides what’s the worst thing that could happen? People pointing and laughing at me is familiar territory, and what’s a bit of sepsis set against the joy of participating at a parkrun. Small price to pay.
Eventually, I hit the road, only about 8 hours later than planned. I figured as long as I didn’t eat anything the swelling would subside. I’d booked a single night’s accommodation at Athol House on Westoe Road The drive was uneventful, good even, and as I neared my destination I could hear seagulls, and then I felt properly excited. Seagulls mean the seaside don’t they. Or a massive rubbish dump to be fair, or both, but in this instance, it was the sea. Hurrah!
I drove straight past the guest house initially, and it was later than I’d planned when I arrived and initially it all looked a bit dead, the road was quiet and shuttered up at the end of the day, although it was just along from a really spectacular municipal building of some sort with a mahoosive statue of Queen Victoria at its front. It didn’t look promising and my sat nav was annoyed with me again. I’m getting to really resent my sat nav, she’s such a back seat driver. I parked up on a side road – loads of parking, and then took my spotted handkerchief of belongings to the front door. Up some steps and rang the bell.
It was answered by such a nice host! A really warm welcome to immaculate premises, newly refurbished. A room with en suite shower, which I never got to use, a fridge, a TV as big as a, erm, something very big, wardrobe maybe, and a double bed. I was given keys and told that if I got into any trouble at all during my stay, day or night, just to give him a call and he’d come and get me – charge for it, but rescue all the same. It was really nice actually, as a single traveller I do think about my safety in a background noise sort of way, so it’s good when that’s pre-empted. Would totally stay there again. Hopefully will do soon, I ‘need’ to do Jesmond Dene and there are lots of other parkruns around there too, not to mention GNR next year potentially. Oooh, so exciting!
There wasn’t anywhere around obvious to get something to eat, but then again, couldn’t really eat anyway, so I just spent an hour trying to find my mobile phone which I managed to lose on arrival but had actually just chucked onto the bed and thrown my coat on top of it. And so to bed, because the earlier you go to bed on parkrun eve, the sooner parkrun morning comes around. Also, I was shattered.
Then it was morning, and parkrun day! Hurrah. My host was busying himself in the kitchen downstairs and I had coffee – could have had a full cooked breakfast but I never eat before parkrun and then there was the hamster transformation risk factor to take into account. I wonder if what I was experiencing is an insight into what it feels like for werewolves as they enter the early stages of their nightly metamorphosis? Must ask the next werewolf I encounter and swap stories, could be interesting… My host was good company, filling me in on the history of South Shields and its marine engineering links and all sorts really. Very companionable. Seemed a waste to just stay the one night. I could even have come back for a late breakfast I think, but opted instead to head to the seaside ASAP.
It was about a mile away, and an easy drive. The post code I had weirdly took me to the overflow carpark not the Sand dancer pub, but it wasn’t hard to find. There was loads of parking when I went, I suppose it was pretty early still, and there were a few parkrunners mingling about, I couldn’t tell if they were tourists or team at this point, but the apricot tees acted as a beacon so I knew I was in the right place, or alternatively, wasn’t the only parkrun tourist in the wrong one. Oh, and little factoid for you, which I found on the interweb so must be true – ‘People from South Shields are sometimes referred to as Sandancers. This is a colloquial term is presumed to originate from the town’s beach and history with the Arabic peoples dating from a 19th Century music hall act of the same name’. I didn’t notice people dancing on the parkrun route particularly, but I was quite far back, maybe all the locals were sand dancing towards the lead of the parkrun pack?
Oh look, the seaside! It was a massive sandy beach as the tide was quite far out. Breaking waves on the horizon. A tractor thing was harrowing the sand to clean it all up. There were cliffs to the right, a ruined priory to the left, ferries and boats out to see. The sun hitting the sea looked glorious. Me and the wonkies (well I could hardly not take them with me could I now) had to venture down to the sea. I love the sea, I’ve missed it. I’d have liked to have gone for a paddle, but wasn’t sure if I would manage that and didn’t want to get into difficulty before I’d even done the run. I rather regret this now, but I’ll just have to go back. It looked like this though.
Not too shabby eh? Looking lovely in the morning light. Sigh. I do love the peak district and feel like Sheffield is home, but ooh, the sea, just love it. Puts everything into perspective. I’d love to spend more time by the sea. That reminds me, need to find out how to get a Vera gig, that really would be living the dream… Oh, unless it’s a documentary, maybe not so high up my wish list to be featured then. Falling from the clifftop onto the beach mid parkrun under mysterious circumstances, would totally distract from the 250th shebang, and not in the parkrun spirit at all. Apart from anything else, just imagine the paper work.
Back to the actual seaside, and being there. For real. At last.
I was SO EXCITED.
So what was in store:
The South Shields parkrun website course description blah de blah says:
The run starts on the sea front promenade outside of the Sanddancer pub. From the start follow the promenade towards the Leas. At the gate at the end of the promenade run directly across the grass and join the coastal path next to the large rock. Follow the scenic coastal path up the Tarmac bank and along the cliff tops all the way to the Minchella & Co ice cream hut at the bottom of Marsden bank. Turn right onto the Coast Rd and trace the route of the last mile of the Great North Run along the pavement. The finish is on the Leas opposite the Bamburgh pub.
Wait, hang on a moment, what’s that you say, you get to do the last mile of the Great North Run. O.M.G. Do you have any idea how devastated I have been to have to pull out of the Great North Run for this year. Unbelievably I got lucky in the ballot, and then, well, what with nearly dying and everything, and being in a wheelchair and all, even walking has been sub-optimal to be fair and training not even an actual thing and eventually reality check got through and I pulled out. Strictly speaking, I’ve deferred but you have to pay again to enter next year, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to run again by then or not. Not gonna lie, might have screamed into the void and shed a few tears, but now I find I can do the good bit for free, just by turning up at a parkrun, what’s more accommodation will be a lot more reasonably priced, and frankly who needs the Red Arrows when you can be flanked by marshals? Quite. This was going to be fabulous. Also, the Red Arrows are a bit crap at the moment aren’t they, only seven instead of the usual nine, hardly worth craning your neck to look up into the sky for. Nope, don’t need the GNR, I’ve got the parkrun. #winningatlife
After a bit of a beach potter, and getting my leggings and wonkies and back pack all covered in sand, back to the car. Off in search of the loos – they were adjacent to a sort of public amphitheatre space, I don’t really know quite what I’d expected from South Shields but it certainly has all the facilities, and lots to look at, even a life guard hut of they type that I thought only existed in Baywatch and a certain genre of American horror films like The Sand. This is yet another thing I love about parkrun touristing, it’s very educational, edutainment at its very best. Oh and just to be clear, despite what you might think from watching the Vera documentaries, South Shields beaches do not have killer sand. Fact. Really confident about that Fact claim. It’s proper lovely out there.
Finally, after much pre-parkrun faffing; and exploration; and precautionary peeing; and getting properly excited when the car park machine attendant helped me out and when I said thank you replied ‘nee bother’ in a proper geordie accent proving this is an actual holiday; and sea gazing; and photo taking; and concrete mural gazing I made it to the parkrun start. People were now a-gathering, and I had the awkward paranoia about how to join in. I wasn’t sure if I’d be recognised out of context, and I hadn’t said I’d be coming, but then I espied some familiar faces, and hurrah, they seemed genuinely pleased to see me, as I was to see them, and it was all lovely and worth while, even without having yet embarked on the actual parkrun, it was all going to be fine! Oh, and what’s more, they have a gorgeous canine barkrunner about their person too! Brilliant. Maybe didn’t catch him at his best angle first off, but it’s the thought that counts
Even though I’d arrived a good hour early, I’d been so caught up in my faffing, it was almost start time. I parked at the start, but the finish is actually somewhere else, a good km away I’d say, and there is a good pub there for post parkrun shenanigans, so if you are visiting it probably makes more sense to park at the finish and then walk down to the start, but hey ho. I was walking anyway, so decided I’d wear my fleece and carry money for afterwards, but it would have been a pain if I’d been planning on a speedy one. It’s not that far, but beyond my limits of activity for the day at the moment to nip back at the end of the parkrun. As it happened, we got a bit of rain anyway, so I wasn’t entirely inappropriately attired. First though, first timers briefing. A small but perfectly formed gathering of first timers listened attentively.
and then it was mustering to the start
Then the actual run briefing from the actual run director and the actual 250th celebrant who was doing BSL interpretation. It’s great that this is becoming so much more routine of late. Or maybe I’m just more aware of it. I host people who work at the Crucible Theatre sometimes. At the moment they are rehearsing for a production of Much Ado by Ramps on the Moon, a company which ensures ‘every performance features the use of integrated creative sign language, audio description and captioning. Ramps On The Moon is the pioneering initiative committed to putting deaf and disabled artists and audiences at the centre of their work.’ One tenet they adhere to, is that for theatre to be regarded as truly ‘accessible’ you should just be able to rock up, without any warning, for any show and be able to engage with it. Not just the one tokenistic BSL signed production on the first Tuesday matinee of alternate months or have to book 6 months ahead for the one touch tour they are offering which require you to turn up three days early for the performance you’ve actually booked to see so you can make sense of what is being described to you on stage. This is interesting to me, it makes sense. There isn’t equality of access when so much forward planning is required. Sometimes adjustments do require forward planning, but sometimes relatively simple things can make all the difference. BSL at parkrun briefings as standard is brilliant, and I think for those parkruns fortunate enough to have BSL users amongst their numbers it is increasingly common to do just that. Have it as a default option and not only put it on because they know in advance someone might require it – commendable as that is. Oh I digress, sorry, never happened before though so…
Where was I? Oh yes, run briefing proper. I’d been advised that I knew the RD already from somewhere or other, but nope, didn’t register him at all. And with his commanding authority at the briefing I surely would have done? We were reminded of the course, of the last mile being that of THE ACTUAL GREAT NORTH RUN, to watch out for other users, dinosaurs, sand dancers probably, I forget the details. Milestone shout out for our BSL apricot wearing 250th celebrant and standing ovation for the volunteers. Well, we were standing already to be fair, but standing and clapping is a standing ovation as far as I’m concerned and the main thing is they were properly appreciated. They went through the route again I think, or maybe not, but at some point, someone said basically keep the sea to your left and you’ll be fine, marshals will stop you getting lost. Not wishing to be overly picky, but wishing to avoid future trauma for others, I must point out this is only is sort of true. In fact at some point it does actually swap since you cross a grassy bit and come back the other way with the sea on your right. If you miss this turn (admittedly hard to do on account of the outstanding directional pointing on the part of the marshals) you could in theory end up doing a complete round coastal run, and if I’m being completely honest, I’m not sure the batteries on the timekeepers phone would hold out long enough to guarantee you a finish time. So, consider that you’ve been warned. All parkruns will endeavour to remain til the last parkrunner is safely home in normal circumstances, but if you take a route detour of approx 2700 miles give or take a few then you do risk them stepping down in your absence. Good to know. Keep your wits about you out there.
And then we were off!
I say ‘we were off’ but really I mean everyone else was off, and I took some not very good pictures and then pootled in behind. It’s a lovely parkrun this one, but also somewhat weird. By this I mean the route on the promenade tarmac is, well essentially a rather bleak road run, but if you turn your eyes to the left you get this staggering coastal view. Although I do feel bereft at not being able to run, it is true that when you walk you see so much more. You soon move off the tarmac and up a bit of hill onto the cliff top proper. Guided by the first of the marshals who guide you way
Looking out you see breaking waves and boats and rock pools and also unexpected (to me) bits of coastal history, the gun thingy, notice boards explaining some of the history of the leas and the rock formations and nature. Barriers advise you to keep away from the edge of the cliff, with a running total of those who failed to follow that advice and no doubt perished for it. Harsh, but fair.
There was another walker early on. Turned out he was one of those who originally set up this parkrun. Even measured and designed the course. Unusually perhaps, the South Shields authorities were incredibly keen on hosting parkrun, did all they could to accommodate it, and even suggested the GNR stretch I think, if I recall correctly, so this was perhaps one of the speediest ever course approvals. It’s great when new parkruns are so welcomed. He soon disappeared off ahead, and I was left for a mindful walk. I could hear the tailwalkers companionably chatting together a bit behind me, and now and again got a glimpse of parkrunners on the horizon or on my right as they’d turned around and were zooming down the home straight to the cheering welcome of the finish funnel.
After a good stretch of the coast, you cut across a grassy section as per the course description, towards the GNR section. What the course directions omitted to mention, was that at this critical point would be a gorgeous troupe of marshals to cheer you AND photograph you en route. The quartet included fine mini-marshals, with their own bespoke high vis which is one of my favourite things. Upshot was, that I was in the giddily joyous situation of photographing them, photographing me. It was all very jolly, and very friendly. I was conscious of being a long way behind everyone else, but it didn’t feel uncomfortable at all, it felt fine.
parkrun photos are always grand aren’t they, but this photographer papped some real classics, how smiley and cheery and flying feety were all the parkrunners today! The sea air clearly does wonders for your parkrun times. Yay for parkrun pictures to capture the parkrun memories of seaside days and adventures.
One of the stood down marshals came past on his bike, all smiles, and before I knew it, I was on the homeward stretch of the GNR. By now it was drizzling a bit, and most people had dispersed, so it was cheering when some of my parkrun buddies came back to join me for the final march in. In fact others came back to join the tail walkers too, and there was barkrunner joy as well as parkrunners reuniting, definitely a back of the pack party going on there.
Supported in by my entourage, the finish funnel came into view in no time at all. Most other parkrunners had taken refuge in the Bamburgh pub at the finish line, but there was still a quorum for cheering and timing and scanning and results processing, and we did some more mix and match phots to capture the occasion. It had to be done. This, incidentally, is the actual finish area for the GNR. Don’t let on, but it’s actually a bit underwhelming on account of the fact it’s just a vast open bit of grassland, so you have to use your imagination to fill in the buzz of the crowd, the jangling of finish medals and the sound of celebratory claps on backs echoing around the area. Fortunately, I have a very vivid imagination, so that was not a problem for me. I got a genuine high from doing this bit. It was in a small way compensation for missing out on the Great North Run itself, and technically, as final finisher at this parkrun (before the tail walkers admittedly, but that doesn’t suit my narrative so I’m ignoring them) I am first finisher at the 2022 Great North Run. My logic being that parkrun is cancelled next week (probably) due to prep work for the event, and so the next run to take place finishing there will be the event itself. I’m not one to brag, but just putting it out there. I finished first. I imagine quite a few of you will be seeking out selfies with me in due course, I get it. I may not have sought out this degree of fame, but I accept it.
Then took sanctuary in the pub, which was noisy but spacious, with plenty of room for 250 milestone celebrations and general post parkrun parkfaffing. I had a chat to the RD and finally made the connection! Oooh, I do know you, you are the unicorn man! How I was supposed to recognise him without his inflatable unicorn and in the disguise of an RD high vis I have no idea, but now it all makes sense. Of course he is the unicorn man, he has the watch and accessories to prove it! We both listen to the With Me Now unofficial parkrun podcast and even met at the recent listener meet up at PERRY HALL parkrun, my bad. His inflatable unicorn is tapering ahead of the Great North Run, well, this is what I choose to believe anyway. It was all very jolly. There were even group photos and cake, though I skipped eating on account of my inflatable jaw. Isn’t that joyful though, parkrun friends all together, gathering from near and far, it is a wonderful thing the way parkrun continues to bring people together. Aw.
Oh and did you spot the genius ‘ask me about volunteering at junior parkrun’ badge what a great idea! I love the different ways parkruns do things, that’s such a simple thing to try to get people on board, and we do need volunteers desperately. Endcliffe parkrun had to cancel for the first time ever due to lack of volunteers this week, it’s heart breaking, that’s a huge parkrun but has only a handful of regular volunteers who inevitably reach burnout, myself included if I’m honest. Oh well, maybe it will be a wake up call for more people to step up in future. There is still this sense that volunteering is ‘giving up a parkrun’ whereas it really isn’t. It’s just spending it in a different way. A new kind of joy and one that delivers virtual badges on the Running Challenges sticker chart. I mean, what’s not to like? And if you think volunteering at a Saturday parkrun is fun, wait ’til you turn your hand to junior parkrun! It’s a distillation of all that is glorious in parkrun, with extra high fives and fancy dress!
parkfaffery concluded, stories shared and then people started to peel away. There is loads to do in South Shields, but I was flagging so needed to get home. This is definitely one to come back for though, it would be super fun to actually run it, fast and flat, but with compensatory views on route if you picked a day with an icy headwind to slow you down. Even in the wind though, there is something energising and life affirming about being by the sea and at the mercy of the elements – especially when you know there’ll be a warm put to welcome you at the end should you survive it!
I knew I didn’t have the stamina for a full on day out, but I did have a mini explore on the way back to the start where my car was. I had a peer into the rockpools, checked out the big guns and just breathed the sea air.
Like I said, not too shabby. Oh, and if you want to look at some decent photos from the Bank Holiday parkrun, check out the Facebook post with the official ones, aaah, aren’t they splendid!
and that was that, time to go home and dream of parkruns again until next time.
So once again, congratulations on completing your 250 milestone, hope by now you’ve ordered you milestone club tee. Oh, and extra kudos for planning it so you did your 250 on the day when PSH and JSH both nabbed their 500. You are basically milestone triplets! Good work. Check out the results for that weekend from Dietenbach parkrun and allow yourself an aaaah moment. Lovely isn’t it? Don’t you wish you were the photobomber though #lifegoals
Thanks for sticking with me. It’s good to know there is parkrunner support right to the end!
By the way, you can read all my parkrun related posts here. Or not. It’s up to you. You’ll need to scroll down for older entries though and forward for more recent ones. Your choice. 🙂