This is what we looked like smugly breakfasting at the end of our parkrun double challenge, we were too wretched and disorganised to manage a ‘before’ running shot, you can draw your own conclusions about the extent to which we had positive predispositions prior to parkrun from that telling omission…
So, for those of you who have been sleeping through the whole parkrun phenomenon, let me explain the basic principles. This is the one day of the year when parkrunners can clock up not one, but two parkruns on one day. EVEN THOUGH it isn’t a Saturday! This is because it is the only day of the year when some parkrun venues lay on an extra event (they being ever so obliging and keen and it being a bank holiday), and uniquely can offer a time other than 9.00 a.m. as the start. This created the joyful possibility of finding parkruns that are close enough to one another that you can complete one, and make it to the next in time for the later start. To assist with the calculations for this, someone, somewhere came up with the ingeniously enticing parkrun New Year’s Day 16 double finder . This meant in advance of today I and other similarly optimistic and misguided runners could fondly imagine bouncing out of bed all bright-eyed and bushy tailed on a crisp, clear, sunny, new year’s morning and tackling two consecutive 5km runs with boundless enthusiasm. I can confirm that as is often so, the reality of what I felt on waking didn’t entirely conform with the fantasy previously envisaged. No regrets on completion, some regrets on first waking to be honest, but more of that later.
So we had some collective discussion as to which of the parkrun possibilities would be lucky enough to welcome some Sheffield Hallam tourists to their territories. An early contender was Clumber Park then Rother Valley, but in the end, following a personal recommendation from someone who’d done it last year, the winner was (drum roll) Pontefract (9.00 a.m.) to be followed by Nostell Priory (10.30 a.m.) The point being that despite my surprise apparently Pontefract is a lot nearer than you think to Sheffield (I maintain it isn’t really but there you go) and that even allowing for sedate runners such as me, the distance between the two venues is distinctly doable. 8 miles by car, but only 4 miles if you choose to run it cross country instead (of course I didn’t).
So, as is usual for me, but very annoying, I didn’t sleep well, waking dehydrated and feeling rough in the small hours, I couldn’t get back to sleep, though on the plus side it did mean I was up for a coffee at 6.30, without this pre-run caffeine fix I’d never have made it round. I then got an early morning text to check I was still committed to this collective endeavour (pah, as if I wouldn’t be!). My cheetah buddy and her loving spouse had again been thwarted on waking as their road had been plunged into a power cut of many hours duration. So she was stumbling around a darkened house, and in danger of not even managing to make a cup of tea to help them out the house. (Ignition not working on the gas either, calamity – don’t worry though, she and he are pretty resourceful, and had matches on hand to facilitate the making of hot beverages, as well as head torches to facilitate manoeuvring around their home). I had but to wait in situ on a pavement and my lift came as if by magic hurrah!
It was really cold out, brrrrrr, cars were covered in thick frost and the pavement was decidedly slippy. The sky was a miserable dank grey, and there was a distinct oppressive doom and gloom feeling to the day. Not how I’d imagined it at all. The car that came to scoop me up breezed into view, pre-steamed up windows from the occupants already in confinement. The driver was a regular running buddy, who had bought her teenage son along. He is very tall, but as the late addition to the outing, somehow was concertinaed into the extra ‘kiddy seat’ in the boot of the car. It was a miracle of contortion that he made it in there. Not a regular parkrunner I can honestly say I’m not sure what possessed him to make his double debut on limited sleep and on ice, but it was good to see him all the same. My suspicion is that having made a new year’s resolution to do more exercise (though he disputed this) by doing two parkruns straight off, he would effectively have finished his resolution by noon. That’s a result surely. Also present cheetah buddy and cycling spouse (also an awesome runner, a quality we exploited later) and a further parkrun regular who I have my eye on as a potential hobbiteer for 2016. The other female runners are fellow Smiley Paces members, and I felt shamed that I’d not thought to wear my Smiley vest too – partly out of club loyalty, and partly because it was freezing, and it would have been a great excuse to don an extra layer without hearing cheetah buddy’s voice in my head saying ‘step away from the fleece‘. I long to keep on more clothes than I should when running, she is always right about it being more comfortable to run with fewer layers, but I need her to encourage/ remind me to do so with ridiculous regularity. She has clearly done a course sometime about how to motivate people, as she is very good at offering vocal positive feedback when I spontaneously (but reluctantly) peel off outer garments prior to a run without prompting. It is also really true, that I am quite literally hearing her voice in my head telling me to do so as I strip. I can tell she’s proud of me – and her influence on me that has made it so – when this happens.
The journey to Pontefract was on deserted grey roads. Navigation seemed to be operating somewhat on a ‘just in time’ and ‘need to know basis’, I was quite pleased it wasn’t my responsibility. I did feel that Pontefract is in fact quite a long way from Sheffield, and had I been driving on my own I would have been in fear of falling off the end of the world at any moment, like those early voyagers, bravely setting sail, even though they believed the world was flat. Well, almost like that, apart from not being in a boat, not being in the sea, not being made to eat ships biscuits and it actually only taking about 45 minutes or so to get over there, otherwise though, identical. On the more unexpectedly positive side, I learned that we were at the birthplace (or was it spiritual home) of the haribo, who knew? (Well, everyone else apparently, but then I’m vegetarian so it is more of academic than practical interest). I also learned what a Pontefract cake is, so it was quite an educational morning.
Honestly though, I was less worried about falling off the edge of the earth, and more worried about whether or not I’d get an opportunity for my precautionary pee … particularly because due to a change in routine, it wasn’t so much a precaution today as a necessity. Fortunately, although I was the one to cave in and admit to this requirement, others were all takers for finding some conveniences too. There was a bit of debate about whether there might be loos at the course, but the consensus wast that it would be too high risk a strategy to go there and find out there weren’t so we instead did a quick detour into the McDonalds on the roundabout just opposite the entrance to the racecourse. We trooped in en mass. One of our number worried about the ethics of this – should we feel obligated to buy a coffee or something. Personally I don’t. I consider the only benefit the McDonald’s franchise has brought to the world is the provision of clean toilets in unexpected locations, so I am happy to exploit this feature. This is unlike me as normally I can do the British apologetic guilt thing of saying sorry for being alive or having the temerity to allow my foot to be stamped on even though I am standing still.
Comfort break concluded, we piled back in the car, the driver didn’t speed away without her darling son as we feared she might reversing out of the parking bay, but it was actually forward planning, not abandonment, so no need to involve social services. And into the venue. Yay!
Much excitement, there were loads and loads of cars queuing to get in. This double parkrun day malarkey has clearly built up some momentum. We parked up a little way off from the start, and followed the migration to the start, dodging cars at the weirdly confusing roundabout thingamajig that you had to cross to get there. The first surprise though was the ice. Just walking to the flags that signified the start it was pretty slippery. I was very glad of my trail shoes, but even so still a bit nervous about the grip underfoot. Loads of people were milling about, and there was a good welcoming atmosphere. Chatted a bit to other runners, whilst trying to hang on to my jacket for as long as possible – though with awful inevitability it was eventually prised away from me. It was fun spotting other tourists though. I had a bit of vest envy at some folk from Nostell Priory who had specially printed ones saying exactly that ‘Nostell Priory Tourist’ how brilliant is that. Maybe, incredible as it sounds, a parkrun tourist tee, personalised with the name of your home run could be an even more desirable as a Christmas gift than a snow flake made of tampon applicators? Food for thought, certainly.
Thank you Stephen Wong for the photos by the way. Fabulous capturing of the event. For those who like to know such details, the usual Pontefract parkrun course is described thus:
the route is … contained within the parkland on the inside of Pontefract Racecourse which at 2 miles long is the largest flat racing circuit in Europe. However, the course itself is not entirely flat; the highest point is by the Grandstand and the lowest in the north east corner by Park Road/railway bridge.
The start is on the track around the inside rail of the racecourse close to the south eastern corner of the boating lake and takes in an anti-clockwise circuit of the lake before returning to the track for a full circuit of the racecourse (clockwise). This is followed by a second circuit of the boating lake, but this time in a clockwise direction. The finish is on the path around the lake, close to the start point.
The bit that I register is that you basically get to run round a race track. Anyone that has previously encountered prancercise , or ever been a seven year old girl (or boy to be fair, though I suspect that that is less probable), playing horses in a garden somewhere, cannot fail to be wildly excited at the potential for pretending to gallop around a real race course, where actual horses have been. (Sort of, you are actually on the inside of the railings, but that’s being pedantic). Today, the ice was such, we did an out and back route rather than the usual looping the loop variant. The race briefing was friendly, but a bit tricky to make out. I did get that there was some co-ordination with the Nostell Priory dessert run, (this Pontefract parkrun being either the starter or main course, depending on your eating habits), the essence of which was obey the marshals on arrival at venue two. Clapping was offered up to volunteers, warnings given about mud and ice, and then ‘aaaaaaaaaaawf’ away we went.
I found the start a bit scary to be honest. It was narrow and I got a bit boxed in, plus I had a few skids on ice early on, and it never really opened up for me. However, it was still fun to be going, to have made it out and be underway on part one of the New Year’s Day challenge. You could tell a fair few, well more than a fair few, were up for the double. There were some superheroes on hand, always good. A few canines, some doggedly determined slow and steady runners further back. All shapes and sizes, which is what I love most about parkrun. A few buggies, one of which got spectacularly muddied on the way round. As we approached the turning point it was a bit of a heave up hill, and then the faster runners were crashing back towards us. This was good to see them in action in all their rippling lycra, but it was hard to have to head off beyond them before returning homeward myself. I find out and back routes a bit demoralising, but others in my party preferred this. I suppose it gives certainty, a known destination to aim for and a clear end point in sight throughout. My problem is that I still in my heart of hearts almost subconsciously can’t see the point of running, so when my eyes can see you are just going to end up back where you started, my brain makes the very rational and compelling point that it would be a great deal easier to just stand still here and wait for everyone else to come back. Circular routes, whilst a literal manifestation of ‘running round in circles’ bizarrely don’t impact on me this way because you can’t see the end until you come upon it. Irrational I know, illogical certainly, but true for me all the same.
Honestly, I found it tough, but there were some joyful sights to help us round. Cheery marshals at the turn around point, grimly determined faces of other runners suggesting I wasn’t alone in struggling a bit, and a particularly welcome high five from a child spectator at just the moment I was flagging most. It seems it is really true, that such contact can help you speed up after such encouraging tactics on the way round. The other thing that helped me pick up a bit of speed, was my slightly too close proximity to a rather loud and phlegmy runner just behind me. For most of the return run I was in constant fear of a mighty gob of spit ending up in my pony tail . In fact I can report I returned with my hair still both spotless and spitless (though rather windswept), so whoever this unknown runner was, he had a better aim than I gave him credit for at the time. I should have had more faith. Actually, I had quite a bit of mud splattering most of the rest of my body parts, but that’s OK, cleansing even!
Pontefract delivered up a quality event. A photographer was even there to capture most of us in action – ready or not. Go Smilies, and go male relatives of Smilies to, awesome are we all! In fact, it turned out the photographer was doing his own double shift, as he materialised with his magnificent equipment in evidence at Nostell Priory too.
Inevitably, I was the last of our part to make it back to the finish funnel. There was a bit of an optical illusion at the end, I’d swear it kept moving away as you approached it. Still, one bonus of my slothly movement is that the others were there to greet me, and had even had the foresight to reunite me with my jacket. Yay, so happy!
We waved what I hope were cheery and grateful goodbyes to our Pontefract hosts and it was back in the car to join the convoy of vehicles heading off for part two of the morning’s challenge. Personally, I think if this double parkrun day phenomenon continues to grow it would be a great innovation to have some sort of magnetic flag with the parkrun logo that you could plonk on the roof of your car to indicate you were part of this running convoy. Maybe something for tribesports to think about as part of their new sponsorship deal? I’m just saying.
Sooooo, venue two, Nostell Priory. We were quite literally in convoy as loads of vehicles were making the same trek. Shamingly, as we sat in the car steaming up the windows and stationary in the queue waiting to wind our way to the rather gorgeous National Trust property, we spotted little groups of runners. They had managed to complete the first run, and find both the time and energy to run the 4 miles to the next, and I noticed one woman in red who subsequently stormed home at the Nostell Priory parkrun way towards the lead. Impressive. We had some discussion about whether or not these runners would feel justified superiority as they ran past, or might be looking longingly at us roasty toasty in a heated interior. It was nippy out, but they looked hardcore, probably don’t even feel cold. Here she is – caught on camera, still giving it her all.
There were some pretty efficient logistical operations going on when we arrived. Marshals were directing parkrunners to a different area to park up, and even though we’d grappled around for a spare barcode to display to get free parking, in fact our bedgraggled appearances and lycra adorned bodies were enough to gain admission and recognition for our status as runners. It seemed crowded, but well organised. Lots of volunteers and friendly marshals. Proper loos, with a helpful National Trust staff member even nipping in periodically to check the loo paper supplies had held out. That’s quality. Although queueing for the loo was annoying, it was also companionable. We took the opportunity to snuggle together for bodily warmth and hear details of the course from home run regulars. Also met the lady in red who’d run from Pontefract, and another runner who was sporting shiny new trainers – first outing of a Christmas present, pretty sure they would have been muddied well and truly by the end of today!
The race briefing was pretty comprehensive and very jolly, though it was cold. There was recognition of both volunteers and the National Trust for hosting, and usual rules of engagement were given. Warnings of mud, and something about checking the electric fences for voltage by lobbing a small child at them. I wasn’t sure if you could use any child of your choosing, or whether you were supposed to have brought your own for this purpose. In the event I just used the gap in the fence to go through them rather than trying to scale it with my bare hands. There was also something about not driving off too soon at the end of the run if other parkrunners were still on the circuit because of the risk of running them over. I know, health and safety gone mad! There was particular congratulations to a runner on achieving their century, they were punished for this achievement by being made to run with a balloon, I am thinking this is becoming almost as obligatory as running with a barcode – and if it is, I think I broadly approve of it. Maybe it should henceforth be incorporated in the code of conduct for parkrun.
After the pre-race briefing, we made our way to the start. Slightly disconcertingly, I’d swear there was a ‘Birnam wood to Dunsinane’ moment when the flag that designated the start point, and I’d thought was firmly planted in the ground, appeared to magically relocate as we approached it. It stopped eventually, and we were once again underway.
Oh, hang on details of the Nostell Priory parkrun course blah:
This is a 2 lap course, starting 100m down footpath adjacent to the Stables and Courtyard leading to car park (approx 5 min walk from car park).
Follow path down to wooden gate, bear right up roadway towards church, keeping to your left, turn left to follow roadway towards car park, turn left again and follow pedestrian footpath back up towards Priory House. Follow footpath down towards the wooded copse, turn left along the unmade road then left again after about 200m into a barked footpath alongside lower lake, through the copse to road, turn at junction to return on footpath up (climbing steadily for about 400m) to House then back down and up (about 100m steady climb) towards the Church. Repeat as at start. Retrace steps for second lap but instead of turning left onto unmade road, do a u-turn (clearly marked and marshalled) and return up pedestrian footpath to the Priory House. The finish is at the right hand side of the House and is about 150m away from the Stable block with the nearby entrance to the courtyard for toilets and café.
Main point though is that it was really well marshalled, so you just follow the person in front or the direction someone in a fluorescent jacket is pointing. No navigation necessary. I really liked this course. It was loopy loopy, which we have already established I like, plus glorious views throughout. I found the terrain more reliable in that there was not so much ice, and I liked that the slightly undulating landscape and doubling back on yourself route meant you could see other runners moving across the landscape. Lovely friendly marshals, and the added bonus of spotting other runners who’d already been at Pontefract. There were the superheroes again, but also persistent plodders, supporting families and capering canines. Also spotted were fellow tourists from Sheffield Hallam, pleasing to have the company. Lots of lovely photos courtesy of volunteer marshals and National Trust car park attendants as well as the aforementioned public spirited Stephen Wong.
Stand out moments, oh so many, and I’m tired what with all the running around and now all this typing. Besides which, you’d have to be a pretty dedicated reader to still be sticking with me at this point. Dedicated, or possibly still sufficiently hungover from last night’s excesses that a bit of mindless reading offers welcome excuse to procrastinate over more worthwhile tasks. I’ll press on anyway, as I’m trying to build up my endurance for 2016. I liked the assault on the senses as you went round. The woodland trail was soft under foot, and the distinct aroma in those parts was not in fact a build up of body odour from people rotting post the first run of the day, but a rural blessing of natural fertiliser I’m sure. You had a handy church with associated graveyard en route. Useful for offering up a prayer before hand for the religiously inclined, or for laying to rest those that didn’t quite make it having underestimated the effort of undertaking parkrun on no sleep, no food, dehydration and little training.
The hills weren’t too bad, but they were deceptive, finishing on an upward incline. I wasn’t keen on being made to do the run of shame passing the actual queue of those who had already finished and were now waiting for their barcodes to be scanned, nor on having to run past the finish and then double back to it again. I think a discrete screen to hide this sight from slower runners like me would help morale at this point! On the other hand, lots of clapping from brilliant marshals helped speed us round, and there was an unexpectedly shortened loop at the end, which helped lift spirits just when most needed!
Special mention should go to the woman who must have sprained an ankle or something on the final loop, and was being escorted back to the finish by a volunteer marshal. She was limping stoically, whilst the marshal was cheering her along saying reassuringly ‘it might not be a pb today, but we’ll get you to the finish and you’ll get your time‘ to which the limpee responded in an inspirational display of positive thinking ‘actually, it’s my first time on this course so I’m guaranteed a pb.‘ I know, awesome! Plus, it sort of embodies the parkrun spirit, not so much commiserations that you have possibly knackered your ankle and shall henceforth walk with a limp for the rest of time, but necessary focus on reassurance that your barcode will be scanned and your run will count. It’s not just a run, it’s a percentage of a milestone T!
Lots of shots of us tourists in action, we do all (with one notable exception who actually had stopped for a bit of a nap on the way round apparently) look like the second parkrun of the day was taking its toll, but how smug we felt afterwards!
As regular readers will know, the real purpose of being a parkrun regular is to be part of a post parkrun breakfast club. We were a bit worried that there would be uncharacteristic pressure on the cafe to accommodate us afterwards. Given depleted reserves, sleep deprivation and serious sugar drops this was a truly terrifying prospect. We thus nominated our faster runner to head straight to the cafe on completion and get our orders in. Everything panned out perfectly. It was nippy waiting in the queue post the finish, but companionable too. I met both a Nostell Priory regular and a refugee from York parkrun which is completely underwater at present. Those floods are pretty horrific, puts my complaints about cold hands and feet (oh have I not moaned about that yet? Take it as a given) into perspective. Very efficient management of the finish, I was scanned and shot out the processing funnel into the warm embrace of my Sheffield Hallam parkrun companions. I retrieved my backpack, which I’d stuffed behind a handy iron gateway, and then followed the seductive beckoning of our lead runner to a cosy corner of the cafe where steaming latte and superior scones awaited me. Even better, once we’d stuffed our faces with this lot, my proffered fiver was declined, both for reimbursing the purchaser of refreshments and for a contribution towards petrol. I should mention though, that there was some debate about who this really was. Fleet runner, who had placed the order but – allegedly – is usually without his wallet, or cheetah buddy who often ends up picking up the tab, but on this occasion reunited fleet runner with his own money instead – but only after she’d already footed the bill. Child of driver, though by far the most photogenic amongst us, had suffered a serious stitch mid run and even had to sit down for a bit before recommencing. (Still made it back ahead of me though, despite apparently having paused for this mid-point nap). He seemed to recover though, and also had a useful feature of apparently radiating heat which made him a most useful accessory to sit next to after a run. Is it inappropriate for a 50 year old woman to snuggle up to a teenager for warmth? I’m hoping not. I also had a go at putting my hands in fleet runner’s brand new OMM jacket’s pockets, which I know sounds sleazy, but it was in direct response to an invitation, and you wouldn’t believe how lovely and snug it was in there. Amazing.
So plied with coffee and cake (technically scones for most and a flapjack for one) we were able to play around with posing for selfies, and enjoy all our running endeavours retrospectively. Result. Warmed and refreshed, back to the car, pausing on the way for compulsory posed photo within handily placed posing frame. Thank you passing stranger who obliged as our very own David Bailey stand in – no charge either:
Journey home was mostly uneventful. Apart from two of my companions remembering that they’d left a visitor slumbering alone in their darkened – and to her unfamiliar – house midst a power cut. At first they presumed from a status update on facebook she must be alive, but in fact that had been posted 19 hours before so it would be quite possible they’d return to find her lying dead on the stairs or something. You never can tell.
So fond farewells, protestations of thanks, and back to our respective homes for hot baths and power naps – or in one unfortunate case for a further outing involving a bracing family walk. Personally, much as I like the great outdoors, I was very happy to leave it to its own devices for the rest of today.
I must publicly thank all of my running buddies for today: our nominated driver; the logistics co-ordinator; the orderer and purchaser of refreshments; the motivator; the radiator. I have yet to work out what it is I contribute to the fold. But maybe I can make the others feel good for their charitable acts. Someone has to be the beneficiary of all that outpouring of generosity of spirit, maybe that job is down to me?
Finally, may I say thanks to today’s hosts. You were fab. Specifically to the volunteers, who made it all possible, may I too thank you here. You are awesome, and look fabulous in those purple 25 shirts too! Thank you for your labour throughout the year, and particularly today, thank you too to all those parkruns who have hosted tourists over the festive yuletide winterval break. I can do no better than this open letter to parkrun volunteers beautifully expressed.
Talking of beautiful expressions (I know, tenuous link alert) after yesterday’s crafting with tampons feature, I’ve decided to go a bit more high-brow with my referencing for the new year. Check out Margaret McCartney making the case for the all round medically proven brilliance of parkrun participation. If you don’t want to read the article yourself (even though it is on the bmj website and would do wonders for your credibility if ever the authorities were to seize your computer for some reason and examine your previous browsing history) it basically says parkrunners gathering are like a pack of yelping dogs. Recognising the gleeful combination of social interaction and exercise, they get horribly over-excited the prospect of a communal run. All true.
So if you have, thanks for sticking with me.
For all us parkrunners out there, bring on tomorrow, it’s officially back to parkrun day. Yay, we can do it all over again, this time with feeling!