Posts Tagged With: Paul Sinton-Hewitt

Bringing the Highland Fling to Frosty Tring, parkrun tourism on St Andrew’s Day. Parkfun at Tring Kilted parkrun

Digested read: it was St Andrew’s Day, and it was parkrun day, the Venn diagram intersection therefore took me to Tring parkrun where they were having a themed, ‘bring a giraffe to parkrun day’.  It was very nice indeed, thank you for asking. Frosty terrain but warm welcome.  Also tea-cakes.

Undigested read:

It’s a long one, brace yourself…

Well, that was splendid.  It’s the simplicity of parkrun which is particularly awesome.  You get to rock up at the most spectacular of locations and be part of pop-up random wonderfulness in an infinite variety of manifestations. But today it was all about a kilted flashmob taking over the winter wonderland of Tring Park all in the name of St Andrew.  Dear reader, I give you Tring parkrun.  Epic.

Granted, I had a bit of insider info that gave me the nod that this was happening, but honestly, if you didn’t make it this year, then next year it could be you – there’s always room for a few more.  Go awn, you know you want to!

Yes please to this:

Tring Kilted parkrun.  Yes it is a thing.  Has been for half a decade now, my, you are late to the party.  You’ll be telling me you don’t know about Dulwich parkrun’s special day either at this rate!*  The exact origins are somewhat mysterious to me, but essentially one of the Run Directors at Tring is Scottish, so when St Andrew’s Day came around (not sure if that was with or without an apostrophe at the time) he suggested a kilted parkrun was the appropriate response.  Of course it was.  So the good parkrunning people of Tring took this directive to their hearts and thus the tradition of Tring Kilted parkrun began.  It is a fine thing, pretty much on a par with Burns night or Hogmanay in Scotland I understand – really and truly though, you have to go and find out for yourself.   This is what philosophers mean when they say travel broadens the mind.  Do your own primary research dear reader, don’t take my word for it.  Apart from anything else, it might well be a lot quicker for you to wait a while and head off to the next available Tring kilted parkrun than to spend the next few weeks and months wading through this blog post.  Each to their own though, and you have been warned.  It’s now contributory negligence on your part if you choose to read on and succumb to the time vampire that is a parkrun themed blog post.  All parkrunners have been there, photo albums are even worse.  Hours and hours dissecting every shot, blurred or otherwise, to relive parkrun adventures after the event.  Sigh, parkrun, the event that just keeps on giving eh…

Now, the pedants amongst you might be fretting at the missing apostrophe, is it St Andrews Day really or should it not be St Andrew’s Day?  Well, the thing is dear reader, this has become a moot point, as the Apostrophe Protection Society is no more.  This is obviously sad, and yet pleasingly, the person who I think practically single handedly fought the good fight, John Richards, resigned from his self-appointed post at the age of 96.  Here he is.  Looking at a very large apostrophe on his computer screen, in case you are the sort of philistine who isn’t even sure what an apostrophe looks like.  Might be your last chance to see one …

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Whilst I have no intention of still working, or indeed even being alive at 96, if I was founder of an apostrophe preservation society then I can think no better high on which to leave than when the numerals for your age look like back to back apostrophes!  Anyway, sad as this is, it does mean you can add or ignore apostrophes with gay abandon.  That battle has been lost.  On balance, I think it pains me, or as I shall be compelled to write in future ‘pain’s me’.  Oh the horror.

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However you choose to express it, the wrong way or indeed what I like to think of as the right way, Saint Andrew’s Day is the feast day of Saint Andrew. It is celebrated on 30 November according to not only Tring parkrun but also wikipedia, so at least we have consensus there. Saint Andrew’s Day is Scotland’s official national day. Did you know it is also a national holiday in Romania?  No, me neither.  Just think, that means if they had parkrun in Romania, then they could potentially have an extra parkrun today – oh only it’s Saturday anyway this year, so maybe that would be a bit of a waste.  I’m sure they have other celebratory days available to choose from if needs must.

Anyway, point is, I have contacts, I have insider info, I have an invite, I shall be there.  parkrun tourism is calling me….  Been wanting to go to Tring for ages, I mean the name is splendid for a start, and I hear they have a better class of parkrunners there.  Nice parkland location too, Tring it on!

It’s easy to over complicate things when choosing a parkrun destination.  Many of us started out innocently enough, venturing away from our home runs only when cancellations forced us to forage for parkrun opportunities elsewhere.  Next came the realisation that e.g. for me, within Sheffield, there were a fair few in reach, and it would be cool to do them all.  Has to be acknowledged though, that the gateway drug to more strategic travel for many of us is the running challenges chrome extension.  Suddenly the opportunity to get virtual badges that only you can see drives a compulsion to seek out parkruns to complete the alphabet (only you can’t because there isn’t an X and you have to go overseas for a Z and also loads of parkruns are going to be changing their names soon anyway…. oops.)  Not gonna lie, that was enough motivation for me to seek to complete, amongst others,  both my pirates and Stayin’ Alive challenges.  Yes, shallow, I know.  But look how fab they are, most decorative – and a correctly placed apostrophe, what’s not to like?

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Even so, the compulsion to complete challenges can become mildly toxic so it was good this weekend to take things back to basics.  The decision to go to Tring parkrun was simplicity distilled to its most basic form.  All I did was start a running blog about 5 years ago and include a post about my experiences of running the Sheffield Half Marathon (my first one) laying it as bait for a Tring parkrunner to stumble across when preparing to run it for myself.  Then there was just the little matter of securing a ballot place for the London marathon, but having to defer for a year, so that the year I did do it, was the same year as same Tring parkrunner also got lucky with the London Marathon ballot.  Unbeknownst to me, said Tring parkrunner would continue to read my blog because we were both training for our first marathon, and it was London.  She’s actually a reet good runner, whereas I’m, erm, what’s the word?  Oh yes, ‘not’.  Then the weather had to make it the hottest ever London Marathon, so that the night before facing London I was having a complete meltdown in my hotel room and did a looooooooooooooooong moany blog post about my angstiness.  The husband of said marathon runner would read my blog post, and then comment on it to share with me that his lovely wife – Tring runner previously referred to – was similarly stressed by unanticipated heat wave following months of training in ice and snow.  From that heartfelt message we bonded for all eternity, and it was basically from thereon in a foregone conclusion I’d be at Tring parkrun one day.  We both did London, we met up at some Sheffield parkruns, as you do, and then one auspicious day, I got the kilted parkrun nod.  The info this was happening, the offer of accomodation, and even assistance in scottish tartan beret making.  It was meant to be.  Like I said, parkrun tourism is just so simple when you strip it back to basics.  From the moment I hit ‘publish’ on my blog post button about the Sheffield Half marathon in 2016, fate directed my path so it would culminate in being part of Tring kilted parkrun on 30 November 2019.  Dear reader, this is how fate works.  You can’t fight it, you have to surrender to it sometimes, and embrace the adventures that henceforth unfold… submit to the inevitable and sometimes your life is the richer for it.

So that’s the backstory, in summary, three years blogging, a couple of Sheffield half marathons and two different parkrunners getting lucky with the ballot for the London Marathon leading to  mutual internet stalkery and becoming new best friends.  Simples.  What could possibly go wrong?  Of course, you could skip some of those stages and just rock up at a new parkrun of your choice anytime, but where’s the fun in that?  And there might not be kilts.  I rest my case.

Now what of the actual run?

Well, according to the Tring parkrun website blah de blah:

Course Description
The winter course is an out and back route on grass and dirt trails. Runners are asked to run on the left. Starting in the valley on the north side of the park next to the A41, the course heads into the NE corner of the grassy part of the park. Passing through a marshalled gate, shortly after turn right and climb a steep leafy path to the obelisk. Turn left here and carry on up to the Summer House where the path loops 180 degrees right to the top of the ridge. Follow this path south-west for 1.5 kilometres until the turnaround point just before Hastoe Lane and then returning along the same route. The finish is 200m beyond the start point. Trail shoes are recommended in winter.

and it looks like this:

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Yeah, whatever, sure it’ll be lovely, now on to think about fancy dress?  Kilted parkrun.  I take it that just means broad Scottish theme – or does it?  I wonder, does that mean deferential and respectful embracing of Scottish culture, or does it mean carb loading with a deep fried mars bar (ingredients mars bar, batter, hot spitting fat) the night before and putting irn bru in your water bottle?

Full woad as in Braveheart perhaps…  the woad would be easy enough

then again, getting the full flame effect as a backdrop would be a nightmare for the RD doing on the day risk assessments, need to think again…

Oh I don’t know, maybe better to go down the Nessie fancy dress option?

It helps that fortuitously in between me excitedly accepting the invite to go and the date dawning, we all became better informed about the Loch Ness monster FACT which is good to know.  They are  Monster eels apparently.  Clearly a conspiracy to keep people away.  Though to be fair, I’d be happy to see a ginormous eel or indeed a swimming elephant whilst visiting Loch Ness, or even Tring – is there a Loch in Tring?  Didn’t spot one on the course map…. mind you, I really like the thought of elephants in captivity, particularly not in circuses, so it would have to be a wild one to be acceptable as a nessie sighting, and I’m dubious there are indigenous elephants in Scotland – or indeed Tring.  They would trample and scare away the native haggis, and as haggis exist, the elephants can’t.  Fact.  I’m not happy about the midges though.  Lawks a lordy, Scottish midges,  now they are monstrous.  Back to eels, conger eels are potentially absolutely huge though seeing conga eels would be even more fun.  Makes you wonder…

Still, given how contentious it is with Nessie and all, perhaps I should stick with the tartan theme, which is towards the lower end of causing offence with casual racial stereotyping and/or cultural appropriation.  Hoping so.  Will be interesting to see if any other eeks nessie substitutes are present – or even a rubber chicken, that would be cool, that reminds me, I really must add Wyndham Vale parkrun to my to do list.  It’s in Australia, might take me a while to get there, even if I set off now…  Though I’ve already got a ‘W’ from Wakefield Thornes parkrun, that was a fun one – but lacking in rubber chickens now I come to think of it, though excellent on space ships.  What you lost on the fowl front you gained on the force front.  You had to be there really, no you did.  Trust me.

Incidentally, another monster at Loch Ness is this 80 mile ultra marathon, bet that’s amazing, but then it would have to be to brave the midges, they are the real monster resident in Scotland!  Looks blooming gorgeous though… seriously tempted. Don’t worry, you don’t have to do the full 80 – awesome as that would be, you can just do a few marathons instead if you prefer.  Go awn, go awn go awn….

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Anyway, you keep distracting me, we are heading to Tring not Loch Ness, and I’m going with the tartan.  I had a chat with Geronimo – oh, did I not mention she’d be coming too?  Well, we did London together, and so she’s part of our Tring twinning enterprise, it was only right and proper she comes along for the ride.  Also, I understand from my Tring contacts that exotic African creatures have historically had a home at Tring park.  I put her through the washing machine especially, she has never arrived at a parkrun more fragrant or more aptly attired…

geronimo

We talked about improvising with green tights to create a nessie creature, but it was a non- starter.  Geronimo felt that would cramp her running style, and she didn’t want to look stupid in the way that the wearing of green tights can so often result in.  It’s a look not everyone can carry off to be fair.  Upshot was that I came to think the tartan is a simpler and safer bet.  Granted, some may see our wearing of the tartan as lazy and casual racial stereotyping, but I see desperate times calling for desperate measures.  If Brexit happens I’ll be wanting to demonstrate my Scottish credentials as best I can, however tenuously, and surely a robust celebration of St Andrew’s Day will smooth the passage towards gaining Scottish citizenship further down the line.  Sporting some tartan along with happy smiles is sure to swing it should the need arise.  Decisions made.  Hurrah!  It’s all going to be just grand.  A wee adventure for the both of us!

Oh you want to know more about the exotic animals at Tring.  Fair does.  I was keen to find out more too.  Basically, my Tring parkrun contacts informed me that Zebras are ten a penny at Tring.  I can now confirm from personal experience that the parkrun route is carriage friendly, it even has a carriage turning circle at the top of the ridgeway which is most certainly a boon for anyone planning on taking their own zebra carriage for a spin along the paths there.   Look, spoiler alert, this was taken mid parkrun, but it I can’t keep it from you anymore, so exciting to be able to share:

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OK, I will concede it isn’t perhaps immediately obvious this is a turning circle for a zebra carriage, but surely you can see it now you are in the know?

I don’t honestly know if there are specific rules in the parkrun code regarding the inclusion of exotic animals at parkrun events, but for the record, Geronimo was made welcome, as a giraffe respected in her own right.  This was especially pleasing, as I do worry that once she’s spotted in a forthcoming feature film next year people might treat her differently.  Her meteoric rise to inevitable stardom is a foregone conclusion, hence it’s all the more important to treasure these personal memories before she becomes famous and potentially relationships shift.  Here it felt the welcome was authentic and genuine, and equally offered to all incoming parkrun tourists and regulars alike.  You are curious about her stardom?  Well, I can’t say too much about that just yet – confidentiality clauses and all that –  but I will say she could be upstaging big names on a big screen near you come summer 2020, no-one parties like Geronimo under a storm of confetti at a street party in Sheffield.  I’ll say no more…  I think we just all need to apply a bit of common sense, but those confidentiality clauses are a bind.

Clue though:

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Nope, that’s it, nothing more, my lips are sealed…

So back to kilted parkrun day.  As has already been established, Geronimo likes to party, so she came sporting a kilt, and that made her a shoo-in for a VIP welcome.  I daresay other African mammals would also make the cut, but contact the core team via the facebook page in advance if in doubt. This is the usual turn out convention with zebras at Tring – looks like the ‘one dog per runner’ rule is upped to four zebras per participant max here…

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I’m not sure of the ethics of riding an endangered giant tortoise round the route, although the photos would suggest it’s been done before.  Presumably this would have to be recorded as an ‘assisted run’ and only one barcode allowed.  Actually, that’s not true, I am pretty sure of the ethics around this.  It’s a terrible idea, let the poor animals be.

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Depressingly, most of Rothschild’s eclectic menagerie collection ended up being stuffed and displayed.  That makes me sad.  Then again, some of his impulses were around conservation, and much of his collection ended up in museums contributing to research.  It’s complicated.  You can read more about him and his life – including how he got given a museum for a 21st birthday present one year, as can happen apparently… here.  It does however explain the sign about wallabies roaming in Tring, I know wallabies aren’t from Africa, it’s the ‘exotic’ species link I’m making here.

and probably also explains why no-one really batted an eye about a giraffe rocking up at Tring parkrun, though they did like her fine tartan beret, as indeed they should.  It was a gift from the good Tring parkrunners who hosted me too.  Their hospitality was beyond compare…

Speaking of which.  This visitation was not so much ‘parkrun tourism’ as parkrun mini-break.  I set off from Sheffield on Friday afternoon, and arrived at my guests abode late afternoon, in daylight and in time for pre-parkrun faffery.  parkrun is even more fun if you prolong the experience with pre and post parkrun related activities.  In this case, we had to check out the various fancy dress options, experiment with tartan ribbons, and especially pleasingly for me, be the recipient of a fine parkrun tartan beret.  I had been alerted to this development in advance, and it was tailor made using a panda as a model.

parkrun beret modeling

They aren’t from Africa too, and this particular panda isn’t really into parkrun, but was happy to contribute to the success of the occasion by offering up a head to aid beret construction.  That’s one of the many things I love about parkrun, there is scope for everyone to be part of it, even if they aren’t running or even rocking up on the day.  It’s a community bigger even than the impressive Saturday morning attendance stats suggest.  Hang on, I’ll check it out – right, these are the summary stats as of today, 4 December 2019 (yes, that’s after the date of this blog post I know, so shoot me, time travel is possible in the land of blogs, you just post for whatever date, past or future – you don’t seriously think I’d have written all this on Kilted parkrun afternoon, as well as having post-parkrun eggy bread and going through all the photos?  Quite.)

Number of events: 156,628

Number of runners: 2,240,488

Number of runs: 32,284,453

Number of locations: 684

Number of clubs: 6,667

Number of PBs: 5,540,683

Average runs per event: 206.1

Average number of runs per runner: 14.4

Average run time: 00:28:46

Total hours run: 1,767 Years 233 Days 16 Hrs 33 Min 28 Secs

Total distance run: 161,422,265km

Wowsers!

No wonder it’s changed so many lives.  Hurrah that Mr P S-H, got awarded the he RSA Albert Medal this year, it’s given annually for innovation in the fields of creativity, commerce and social improvement.  You can watch the full presentation and his speech here:

but come back and do that later or you’ll never even get to the start line of Tring parkrun, and never find out if it was a Braveheart-esque line up on a big long start line like William Wallace and the massed Scottish armies, or a more sedate trot out as if on a carriage ride pulled by zebras.  However, you can snigger at the childish observation of Danny Norman of With Me Now who boasted that he got to touch Paul S-H’s Prince Albert.  (Chortle).

Hang on, there’s an official press release thingy parkrun Founder wins prestigious award  with a more formal portrait.  And the medal is so very fine, it even comes in it’s own box I see!  Now that’s class!

official photo RSA

Lots  of teeth in the pictures, most impressive.  I admire teeth, and intend to hang on to mine for as long as possible.  Not in a creepy way, if I do lose them I won’t be threading them on to a necklace, but you are unlikely to meet anyone as obsessive about brushing their teeth regularly as I am…  Anyway, stop distracting me with teeth talk, even though it is true that the best Batman and Robin episode ever was the one where Robin had to save himself from falling to his death by hanging on to a rope with his teeth because his hands were tied behind his back, and Batman said in the closing moments ‘and remember Robin, you owe your life to dental hygiene‘  He was so wise…  And ahead of his time too, oral hygiene prevents heart attacks too dear reader.  Actually, this isn’t a complete digression as Batman and Robin were both present at Tring parkrun too – how else do you explain the cape?

Can’t wait for the next With Me Now podcast, it’s going to be epic, even if it might be light on tooth care. Then again they all are, the podcasts, with or without oral hygiene segments, frankly, I could stay in the house til spring now, just listening to the WMN back catalogue and venturing out only to attend actual parkruns in between listening to, and poring over accounts of ones that have already passed…  I have to catch up on Free, Weekly Timed too, being a late adopter there.  In fact, that’s my Christmas Day indulgence sorted.  parkrun podcasts and a sofa post Christmas Day parkrun, and I shall be living in an earthly paradise indeed. Ho ho ho.  That’s lifted my Christmas spirit, can’t wait now.  Not many more sleeps to go…

Anyway, back to arriving at my hosts.  Fancy dress sorted, parkrun tales shared, just the little matter of carbing up nicely the night before.  We had vegetarian haggis with neaps and tatties which was excellent.  And then we had Scottish cranachan recipe courtesy of Mary Berry  fortunately, my host used the pictorial directions in the recipe dividing up the pudding into three portions… it was only the next day she noticed that the quantities were intended to serve 8.  Still, parkrunners like a challenge, we managed to polish of the lot, and very nice it was too!  Delicious in fact.  Great way to set ourselves up for the Scottish delights that would unfold before us on the morrow…

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and so the morrow came, which is actually today – if you believe the post date for this blog, or a few days ago if you are pedantic and want to know in real time what the timelines are.

Bracing.  That was the word.  A deep, picturesque frost – in fact, loads of parkruns in Sheffield and elsewhere were cancelled due to ice, so I got lucky in having already made it safely south.  Hot coffee was quaffed, and last minute parkrun faffing commenced.  My hosts with the most drove me through pretty villages – used as a backdrop for many a midsomer murder episode apparently, and towards Tring.  Now dear reader, Tring parkrun has many excellent attributes, but it is not blessed with conveniently located loos.  My regular reader knows I cannot countenance undertaking a parkrun without a precautionary pee, fortunately my hosts catered for all needs, so it was that we did a Tesco detour en route.  There are loos in the public car park apparently, but the Tesco ones are nicer, and have a handy tampon/ condom machine too.

Precautionary pees completed, off to the parkrun venue.  Apparently there are a couple of different car parks, but I didn’t pay too much attention to this, as I was chauffeur driven.  We arrived nice and early, passing the not at all conspicuously attired parkrun carpark marshal(s) already mustering and in situ extra early to keep parkrunners safe and on track.

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It was cold though, not gonna lie, was glad I’d not gone for the bare-legged kilted option, though kudos to my travelling companions who did.  Brrrrr.  Next challenge, fancy dress sorting.  This is what goes on behind the scenes quite probably at a parkrun near you.  I think the degree of self-sacrifice (baring legs in the cold) and creativity that goes into making the parkrun fancy dress transformations  happen adds to the parkrun magic, but look away now if you don’t want to see the smoke and mirrors lifted…

I think she was helping to put the kilt on… not sure.  You know what, the parkrun code requests that we all respect everyone else’s right to participate in their own way, so let’s do that, and not worry about the particular dressing/undressing car park shenanigans shall we, each to their own.

And that was it. OHMYGAWDTHISISSOEXCITING!  Kilts on? Check.  Barcodes present and correct?  Check.  Laden with shortbread tins of tunnocks teacakes?  Check  Ready for action dear reader,  Bring.  It.  On.

Last minute check round for anything left behind.  What’s that – a pair of gloves, bound to belong to a fellow parkrunner, my contribution was to scoop these up and take them along too.  Truthfully, I wasn’t much practical assistance to the Tring parkrun experience, unless you count enthusiastic and appreciative participant, which I do.  My hosts were doing a great job with their jenga balancing skills being tested by a quantity of tins and flasks of hot coffee, would have undermined their confidence if I’d thought to offer to help… probably.  Almost certainly, that’s why I didn’t risk it.  Anyway, I was too distracted by the stunning location and sights and sounds of the venue to focus on being useful.  And we’d not even left the car park for goodness sake!

In fact, the set up team, who’d been out even earlier, took some amazing photos of the frost-scaped early morning.  Reet nice out as we say up north!

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You leave the car park through a pretty gate, and turn right following the sign to Tring park (a clue for the observant amongst you) and head along the path towards a spectacular curly bridge.  Not hard, and the chances are there’ll be other parkrunners to follow.

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Don’t forget to admire the wildlife murals, they are to an impressive standard.  There was even artwork on the curly bridge, but I didn’t take a photo as I was clinging to the handrail to avoid skidding on the icy steps at the time.  If you are braver, or there is less ice, you could look for longer.

It’s super exciting when you get to the curly bridge, because it’s quite an architectural feature in its own right, but it also opens up the most fantastic views across Tring park and you get the fun spectacle of watching from above as ant sized parkrunners start to congregate.  They weren’t actually ant-sized FYI – well not unless there are some exceptionally large mutant ants in these parts, they just looked tiny because they were far away.  I’ve been through this before.  These are small, these are far away a la Father Ted,  Yes, she is carrying a bottle of irn-bru.  The coffee in flasks story was just a cover…

Rather epic isn’t it.  And VERY EXCITING!

So we trit trotted over the curly bridge, you can tell you are in the right place because of a strategically placed ‘caution runner’ signs.  Always a relief and frisson of excitement as a parkrun tourist when you espy one of those.  We tagged along with the gathering throngs.  It was not only beautiful and atmospheric, but also a lot of fun, as we started to espy other kilted parkrunners striding towards the gathering point.  My pictures make it look a bit bleak, but honestly it wasn’t, it was just lovely, and perfect… if a tad bracing for my liking – and I still had my fleece most definitely on at this juncture.  Pity those sporting naked legs.  I mean, kudos for honouring the kilted spirit but brrrrr.

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There is a pleasing mini optical illusion as you approach the clan gathering point.  You think it’s flat, but actually, the path – which is basically cross country rather than a formal walkway as such – ‘suddenly’ goes down into a dip.  These means even though you feel like you are basically walking on the flat, you unexpectedly (to me, you’ll know so I suppose I’ve potentially ruined the surprise for you now, oops) find yourself at what is the brow of little hill, and unfolding before you in a big reveal was the encampment!   So exciting.

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It’s hard to describe the scene, but I won’t let that stop me, why let a picture be a thousand words when you can type considerably more than that and gift your reader confusion wonderment?

It was like espying an arctic research station, or a first human settlement on some remote planet, or possibly even a festival tent, the first marker of a party tent for those that come.  It was epic!  Look at the early picture of it put up in the dawn light.  I say put up in the dawn light, but it looked quite complicated, they had probably been working on erecting this for many weeks, I doubt the cows hanging around were all that much practical assistance to be fair.  Good job.  This photo is amazing, it captures the Brigadoon like way that Tring parkrun sort of materialises out of the mist.  They do have regular results listed on their official parkrun page though, so I’m pretty sure it appears more often than one day every hundred years (imagine how annoying that would be, particularly if the one day that Tring appeared it was neither a Saturday nor bonus parkrun day. Oh, the horror!).  Still, wouldn’t hurt to check their Tring parkrun Facebook page in advance if you are making a special trip, just to be on the safe side.

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In fact, this domed cathedral was the VIP tent.  It covered a table groaning under the weight of Scottish consumables, and was adorned with flags as well as being awash with good will.  In fact, as you will appreciate, all parkrunners are equally important, so everyone could access all areas, and very nice it was too.  My hosts added to the weighty load of the table, whilst I helpfully lurked and took photos, and wondered at what point I’d have to take off my fleece.  More dedicated sports people warmed up for parkrun with traditional sword dances, as you do.  Impressive.

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People continued to arrive, all smiles and kilts.  Happy parkrunners a-gathering on an auspicious and frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! Cèilidh!  I do like it when people make an effort, and I also like it when there are photos to document such dedication that can be endlessly looked at later.  It extends the timeline of joy that parkrun offers up, beyond the Friday night anticipation, the Saturday morning big event into potentially many months of memories and reflection and sometimes laugh ’til you think your knickers will never dry shared recollections.  I wonder why tena haven’t been approached as parkrun sponsors?  Other incontinence product manufacturers are available.  Only a matter of time surely.  I mean, they may not be so necessary if you are wearing a kilt and adhering to tradition in terms of what lies beneath, but pads could be a boon at non-kilted parkruns, particularly for those who lack strength with their pelvic floors.

There may have been a certain amount of posing, and those swords were most certainly a boon for creative play.  Every parkrun should have photo props methinks.  Game changer!

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I say I took photos, and indeed I did, but I also foraged for some subsequently, and so many of the better shots are not attributable to me, but to the Tring parkrun official photographers, for which many thanks.   They were fab.  All high vis heroes are.  Obvs.

Where was I? Oh yes, mingling at the start.  Another innovation at Tring, is that they lay out a huge blue tarpaulin on which you can leave all your stuff.  I feel they missed a bit of an opportunity to transform it into the Scottish flag the St Andrew’s Cross through the simple effort of tippexing a white saltire onto it, but maybe they didn’t have enough time after spending ages putting up the VIP tent.  The idea is that this keeps your stuff together and dry.  Hang on, I’ll find a pic:

Hurrah!  It’s the usual ‘leave at your own risk’ system, but you’d have to be a bold thief to take on the collective might of the ferocious-looking battle-ready broadsword- brandishing core team left behind at the pod to keep order whilst parkrunners did their thing.  Well, they were gathered around the finish funnel area nearby in their high-vis vests, which amounts to the same thing.

I still had the pair of gloves I’d picked up from the car park so tossed them in the middle of the tarpaulin where hopefully their rightful owners would discover them.  I mean surely only parkrunners would be roving round the carpark at this ungodly hour, carelessly dropping their gloves for others to find.  I did ask half heartedly around for glove droppers, and tried to discreetly look for gloveless hands turning blue with cold amongst those gathering in the hope of using my Miss Marple skills to find the person who had suffered this loss, but my efforts came to nothing.  …  Oops, hope there isn’t some poor random dog walker even now checking round their car puzzling about where on earth else they could have dropped their favourite woollen gloves on their sojourn to Tring park…  Oh the angst.  You have no idea!  At least the gloves were getting their own micro adventure I suppose, but at what cost.

What next?  First timers’ briefing I think.   There was a fair few of us from near and far.  Some who like me, had been wooed over by the prospect of kilts as well as the intrinsic glory of Tring.  Wave to the Poolsbrook traveller, who I didn’t meet on the day but found out we were fellow travellers from the north after the event.  Hello, next time maybe?

There were even a few first time everers!  What a one to choose for your debut.  I like to think they will have gone away believing kilts to be not just de rigueur at Tring, but actually compulsory at parkruns everywhere.  People came from near and far, with and without kiltery, which just goes to show, if you build it they will come!

The briefing was welcoming and succinct, something about a hill, and the route was described, and the ridgeway, and things to look out for.  Hills don’t particularly phase me, not because I’m fast, but quite the opposite, I’m really slow, and hills legitimise me walking, so all good.

Then there was a little bit of anticipatory waiting.

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At some point I availed myself of the thistle on the cheek temporary tattooing service, so that was good …  Actually, can we just pause for a moment to appreciate the magnitude of that particular offering.  Someone had the initiative, foresight and creativity to bring along with them a thistle stencil and a sponge preloaded with face paint or indelible ink, I forget which – purely for the purposes of helping fellow parkruns really rock the Scottish themes.  That’s awesome.  For this great public service fellow parkrunner – and your most excellent plumed hat, I thank you.  He got about 40+ marked up pre-parkrun I understand, and you can see his handiwork captured in some of the photos.  Grand is it not?  You might have to squint a bit to see them, but trust me, there are there, twice in one case, check it out!

He probably would have got more, but his efforts were interrupted as we were corralled for the mass walk to the start, which was just a little way on, up a slope.  The walk was lovely.  It was fun as a collective activity, and also fun because there were coos along the way.  Coo marshals shooed them to one side.

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The cows were calm, photogenic and placid. Unlike Sheffield cows which may be photogenic but need to be given a very wide berth.  Not phased by the parkrunners at all, which was a relief.  I also took a mandatory selfie.  Has to be done.  And I had by this point removed my fleece.  Kill me now.  It was very cold indeed.  I thought my nipples would freeze and fall off, they didn’t on this occasion, but it was touch and go I don’t mind telling you.

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Then we were gathered at the start, where by complete coincidence there was fiddler and an accordian player on hand to provide musical accompaniment to the run.  I mean, honestly, what were the chances of that, and how very fine!

It was apparently the Run Director’s event debut, you couldn’t tell, it all seemed very slick to me, clearly a well oiled team runs this show, or well lubricated by early morning seasonally appropriate Scotch Whisky on this particular occasion at any rate…

We were gathered in a semi-circle for the briefing, cheers for milestones, cheers for volunteers.  To mark the occasion, there was also the official kilt wearing shot, and the kilt lifting one too.  Has to be done.

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and then suddenly, there was the countdown and we were off!

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Up a hill, to the accompaniment of this: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=419351318973065

As usual, I just slotted myself in at the back.  I like to pootle these days, partly dodgy back, partly being unfit anyway but a great deal of liking to take my own time and take in the view.  The view from the back can be glorious, it is often the fun factory of a parkrun, and what’s more, on this particular route, being out and back, you get to see everyone at some point anyway.  Hurrah.

You head off up a fairly gentle incline, and then along a flat bit known locally as cowpat ally.  It was so cold, the ground was pretty much frozen, so no mud bath or slurry pit sliding required today.

Rather you could skip through, and cheerily greet the marshals on the gate in situ to see you safely through into the wood and the first of the proper uphill up to the ridgeway.

Well dear reader, I can report that it is indeed a hill.  Quite  a long one.  It’s picturesque (my signature word of the day forTring parkrun it seems) in the wood, and sheltered too, but it is also quite a long heave ho up the woodland track to the obelisk.  A full kilometer I think, but I didn’t check.  I did have a vague moment of clarity when I recalled my host telling me that when she was trying to get her husband into parkrun she deliberately didn’t take him along to Tring for his first one for fear of putting him off forever.  Hmmm.   Possibly a point.  I paced myself by walking.  Works for me.  As others peeled off ahead, you could see them through the trees.   There was also a lurking photographer at a corner spot, to capture the action.  All details attended to at this parkrun.

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It’s quite hard taking photos in the wood.  The trees are magnificent and tall, and bright sunshine above tried to break through their canopy.  You are heading towards the obelisk.  I do like a landmark on a parkrun, and this one was particularly fine.  It was so high the top was way up in the winter sunshine, so with the dark at the base it took on a near mystical quality.  This spot has its own regular marshal to keep you in order.  He offered smiles and words of encouragement on both the out and back.  Sometimes there is even music from speakers here apparently, though not today.  There is a story about that I gather, but I didn’t get to hear what it was.

From here, you do a zig towards the summer house, and then a zag back upwards to the ridgeway.

Lots of friendly marshals along the way.  Well, maybe not lots, but certainly sufficient, and they all had interactive settings so you could engage with them en route.  You could even pose for photographs with them, or get them to take photos of you and your new best friend you’ve just made at parkrun.  Inexplicably, some parkrunners just sprint round the whole course without stopping to pose for pictures, but perhaps they haven’t yet realised this is a viable option.  Maybe one not absolutely compatible with getting a pb, but then again, I pbed automatically on this route because it was my first time, just putting it out there as a thought.

Once you are on the ridgeway, breaks in the tree line now and again give amazing views, which once again are alas, hard to photograph, but you might get a broad gist from these two – it’s the same site, but with different emphasis on foreground in one and view in the other.  I tried dear reader, I tried:

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As I was having a leisurely event, I paused to try and photograph some runners at the carriage turning spot.  There being a distinct lack of zebra drawn carriages along the way today, there was plenty of room for runners in both directions.

Onwards, and a bit further up was another view point, and the uncontested winner for top trumps cameras in situ too.   Size might not be everything, but sometimes you have to acknowledge it can impress, as with the obelisk, so too with this lens thingamajig.  And you have to concede it is quite something to be able to draw attention away from the eye-catching redhead in full pelt as well as full tartan sprinting by in the foreground.

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Oh look more runners coming by – including mein hosts!  Hurrah!

Though if they are coming back the other way, maybe time to get a wiggle on myself.   It’s reasonably flat and sure footed along the ridgeway, and after a bit, you reach a turn around point, where you are invited to run round, if not the actual marshal, then the cone at this point.  It doesn’t specify how many times you should run round the cone, as many as you like, I was running a bit late, so just did the one, but others may have done more.  One enthusiast apparently overshot the point entirely, and had to be wrestled back by the marshal and spun round to head back to the finish funnel.  They are alert and primed for action at a moment’s notice these marshals.  Quality effort.

Coming back along the ridgeway, you see the views again, better actually, as the light was less whiting out and more illuminating.  Oh look, tailwalkers.  Always a welcome sight, and companionably putting the world to rights as they went along by the look of things.

I noticed more details on the way back.  There are little footpath signs and a Walter’s Wander walk of sorts.  I tried to get a parkrunner bordered by the cut out sigh, but never a parkrunner en route when you need one, maybe you can photoshop yourself in some time later.

And then check out this view – you can even see the finish area and the Rothschild stately home too, if you aren’t so worried about the prospects of getting premature wrinkles you can have a good squint.

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And friendly marshals again.  Still friendly and supportive second time round.  Marshalling in the cold of a crisp winter morning, and greeting all parkrunners with equal enthusiasm takes tenacity, stamina and grace, all were in evidence today, for which I thank them all.

And check out the summer house, spectacularly lit by the sun.  Great place to sit and watch the parkrun whizz by methinks.

and from the summer house, you can see the obelisk ahead, homeward bound now, and some proper downhill coming too, the yin to the yan of the up.

It was quiet by now, and I was nearly caught by surprise by a stealth photographer still en route, but he caught me and Geronimo in full flight.  For the dubious amongst you, and I think there may be a few, surely this shot is absolute proof that running with a Giraffe is not as much of a help on a run as you might think.  The psychological and emotional support of having a companion animal along with me cannot be overstated, but in terms of six legs better than two, maybe not quite so much of an asset as you might imagine!

tp geronimo go

Actually, it might be time for some gratuitous parkrunning action shots, courtesy of the official photographers, a little interlude, before we come to the climactic finish.  Running with a buggy must have been tough.

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So after smiling and waving at the photographer en route, you charge on down the hill, depending on your courage and your faith in your trail shoes, and back out of the wood and into cowpat alley once again.  As I passed through, a runner who’d already finished was coming back the other way, holding refreshments I presume for the marshal(s), who must have been getting cold by now.

The light was beautiful, and the scenery lovely, and my erm, let’s go with ‘sedate’ pace meant I had it pretty much to myself too.

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The pictures don’t really do it justice I’m afraid, but think of them as but a spoiler, something to whet your appetite so you make the effort to go and see for yourself.

After a little while, again the finish funnel comes into view just as you are coming over the brow of the hill.  There is the usual glorious sight of welcoming volunteers, a well staffed finish funnel and a few parkrunners who had stayed behind to cheer the final few through.

What was less usual, but exceedingly glorious, was to be serenaded by the duo who were there from start to finish.  It was a.maz.ing!  Only problem is, I want live music at all my parkrun finishes now.  And not just live, but bespoke, so themed to each and every occasion.  Is that really so very much to hope for?

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Also, and this is a bit weird, it was like entering a different world on the return leg.  Sunshine had melted the frost and the grass was green and the shadows just as atmospheric but the scenery quite transformed somehow.  I had my barcode wristband thingy scanned in record time.  I treated myself to one of the anniversary wristbands, but it’s not had a great success rate scanning, two out of five occasions used it didn’t record for some reason.  No worries today, see, everything about this parkrun was practically perfect in every way!

So that was my parkrun ended, but it wasn’t the end of the fun.  So much still to do.  Specifically, to play with the swords, too good an opportunity to miss, particularly when you’ve come dressed for it especially.  You know, I think that’s one of the most brilliant things about parkrun, yes, yes, we all know it’s good to exercise and be part of a community blah de blah, and I am 100% behind those aspects too, however, maybe for me the bottom line is something about it creating a space where we have permission to play.   Being able to participate in parkrun in your own way includes joyful scampering about.  Where else would it be completely acceptable to mess about with swords in some country park somewhere and be confident that parkrun friends would join in and someone would have the wit to photograph the occasion for posterity – even direct the participants to ensure they captured the perfect shot!  I can’t quite decide which is the perfect one though, so you’ll have to look at the slide show for a whole load of them, and other posing too.  It’ll be fun, it was for us, you can have fun by association, or simply think yourself accursed you were not here, though it was St Andrew’s Day remember, and not St Crispin’s.

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No animals or parkrunners were injured or distressed in the posing for these photos.

Still time to linger, avail ourselves of refreshments, enjoy the view and welcome back the volunteers and tail walkers.

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However, all good things must come to an end.  Eventually everyone was accounted for, as the last of the marshals came in en masse

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Then there was just the little matter of taking down the VIP zone.  That was quite technical, and involved a great many people helping, and me circling around unhelpfully whilst I fretted about the gloves.  Remember them?  Well, they were still on the tarpaulin so not reunited with their rightful owner then.  Oh lawks a lordy, someone, somewhere has probably lost multiple digits from their hands because of me ‘helpfully’ removing them.  Just as I was falling into near despair at this thought, I vocalised my dilemma, only for someone to pipe up ‘oh, they are mine!  It’s OK, I had a spare pair!‘  Phew, it ended happily dear reader.

So too with the tent deconstruction, with some expert supervision, it was dismantled with exemplary teamwork.

I commented to anyone in earshot that this was the sort of high performance practical problem solving that would make me confident that Tring parkrunners are also able to fold up their collapsable start sign and even parkrun flag.  Awkward.  Apparently not.  One amongst our company disclosed they actually have the Tring parkrun start sign very much open on their kitchen floor, steadfastly refusing to be packed away despite having watched youtube tutorials on the theme.  It may even have been the cause of a blip in usual domestic harmony.  Oops.  Assume nothing dear reader, learn from me.  Mind you, those bannery things, they are tough!  Here’s Great Notley parkrun, grappling with the pop up so we don’t have to:

and that was that, everybody started to disperse, and where once there were runners, now there was nothing but footprints and the echo of laughter.  We took away photos and memories.  Some departing were noticeably more laden than others!  Bravo volunteer heroes, above and beyond on so many levels.  Your labours were very much appreciated.  Best kilted parkrun ever!

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Yes, I did notice it looks a little bit like they might be trying to dispose of a body, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.  Even if they are, I’m sure they will have had their reasons.  Talking through the run briefing does really need to be stamped out, I didn’t notice any of that at Tring, and perhaps this is why…

Oh, an in case you are regretting having missed it, you can relive the glory of the run through this actual footage of the kilted parkrun, or possibly the kilted coaches, but it looks broadly similar, so you’ll get the idea.  That’s a fancy dress haggis chasing them down at Tring by the way.  They aren’t real, that would be silly.  Real haggises (haggae?) are much, much smaller, but equally ferocious, and don’t wear fake tartan hat/hair combos, obvs.

kilted coaches haggis

You’re welcome.

Back to the carpark – remembering to check out the lovely wildlife pics again:

Time for a quick pose by the gate – one for the family album surely, or at very least their fridge…

and alas, that was that.  Just the mud on the shoes remaining to prove we’d been there.  I’m not one to bear a grudge, but couldn’t help noticing my toesies were a lot muddier than Geronimo’s.  Still, we’d both had a fab morning out so no cause for complaint.

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So basically, this was indeed the best parkrun ever… until the next one.  That’s the funny thing, it was completely brilliant, but I never fear anticlimax at my next parkrun, because all parkruns are uniquely wonderful. Just as the capacity to love is infinite, so too is the capacity of parkrun to engage and enthrall… worst case scenario is type two fun – only fun retrospectively, but that’s still fun is it not, and parkrun is always parkfun, or your money back!

Also, for me, the awesomeness wasn’t even quite over yet, as it was back to mein hosts for post parkrun eggy bread – which I’ve not had in years and years, and steaming hot coffee, and a de-brief about all the fun we’d had and a sharing of some of the photos too.  Perfect end to a perfect parkrun.  Post parkrun brunches consolidate parkrun fun and parkrun memories.  It was just brilliant.  I felt like I’d been not so much on a mini break, but on an actual holiday, maybe in part because I had.  This might be the way forward for parkrun tourism, groom befriend people over the internet for a period of a few years and then turn up at their houses wanting to stay the night so you can run at their parkrun the next day.  Only moving house will prevent this occurrence from happening again.  Actually, now I come to think of it, there was some mention of a potential move further down the line… no surely not, had to be bluffing, and anyway, just a coincidental mention.

So sadly, the time came where I had to leave.   My hosts cheerily waved me off cheerfully.

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Possibly a little too cheerfully at seeing me go now I come to think of it, but then again they had to crack on with the rest of their busy day.  You can see they are just itching to get on with their spontaneous outburst of Scottish Country dancing, and that shortbread wouldn’t be eating itself now, plus there was scotch to be drunk also.  I think they keep the Drambuie back for bathing in.  It lightens the legs.  No rest for the wicked as the saying goes…  Just another typical parkrun morning, paying homage to their wannabe Scottish heritage.  Honestly, when they aren’t indulging in Scottish themed consumables, they are running up tartan accessories and working on their highland flings.  I know, I’ve been there.  …

celebrating guests departure

So thank you lovely Tring parkrunners all, but especially thank you to my virtual and now actual parkrunning Tring friends, we have officially bonded now, we have shared a kilted parkrun together, this can never be undone, not that we’d want to, because it was brilliant.  Exceeded expectations even, which is saying a great deal as I’ve been excited about it for ages and ages!  🙂

Incidentally, if you would like to triangulate my account of this Tring parkrun with another, then dip into the very fine debut run report for event #276 Highland (Fl)Tring!!!! which you can access here.  Recommended.  Full exposure of Tring parkrun.  There are also a gazillion photos (yes, I think it is an actual number) with albums aplenty included kilted parkrun album part one, Lucy’s perspective (yes, that’s me!)  and the final collection – like I said, really a lot of photos, but you can never have too much of a good parkrun thing.  FACT.  Also, what’s new year for if not for reminiscing about the high points of last one, all those pics could come in handy.

Same time next year anyone?  Or just get in the habit of wearing a kilt anyway, they are surprisingly warm to run in apparently, and handy if you need an al fresco precautionary pee I understand.

So keep on having parkrun fun y’all, here’s to new parkrunning adventures for all of us, wherever they may lead us.

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 you might be needing to get on with your life again now.  You are needed in it.

*Oh you want to know about Dulwich parkrun. Well, turns out it may be Dul by name but it is far from Dul by nature (see what I did there, gawd I’m hilarious sometimes, great punning action).  They only do a Eurovision Song contest themed parkrun every year.  That’s my 16 May 2020 parkrun destination sorted – hopefully it won’t be negatively impacted by Brexit.  Do love a parkrun that sets its own traditions. Colwick parkrun has its Hawaiian shirts, Tring parkrun its kilted run and Dulwich parkrun the full European spectrum.  Choose your parkruns wiseley dear reader, and your grand tour will be most enlightening, educational and – best of all – entertaining.  Start making your bespoke bunting now…

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The Spirit of Bushy parkrun. 15th Birthday Brilliance at Bushy parkrun.

Digested read:  I went to Bushy parkrun for their 15th Birthday Bonanza.  It was epic.  There is however a darkside to parkrun I discovered.  But in a good way…

LC the awards

Undigested read:

Well, yes it was ‘epic’ but I’m hardly going to leave my account at that now am I?  Have you not been concentrating on my previous parkrun posts?  Concise isn’t really my thing, but on the plus side, that’s what scroll buttons are for, and you can always just whizz through the photos if you prefer.  On the other hand, if you are up for the account then best to strap yourself in, it’s going to be a long one.  Maybe get some tissues to go with your pot of tea/bottle of neat vodka and/or other assorted victuals, it was after all quite an emotional roller coaster of a day.  A good one, but overwhelming for sure, and reliving it all, might just trigger a purely reflex reaction of general teariness.  Or it might not.  I don’t know, maybe you dear reader have a heart of stone, but keep the tissues handy anyway, just in case a friend needs them, or you are coming down with the first cold of autumn, it would be the right thing to do.

So, where to start?

Well, let’s start with a swirly scene dissolve sequence to signify traveling back in time, because, my perspective on Bushy parkrun’s 15th Birthday (which by happy and fortuitous coincidence just happens to be actual parkrun’s birthday too – what were the chances of that?) started a few weeks prior to the day. 

I got a message.

Not from some weird spirit or voices from the sky, or even from deciphering the imagery in my morning bowl of porridge, rather more prosaic.  An actual message through Facebook.  Not just any old message, but one from the epicentre of parkrun.  One from the Bushy parkrun Event director himself!  So actually, pretty awesome, and way preferable to hearing voices in my humble opinion.  It said, basically,

…  we have a little* prize giving every year on our anniversary, this year it falls on Oct 5th. One of the awards we introduced a few years ago was Spirit of parkrun and we would love to present it to Elisabeth this year … do you think we’d be able to get her across to the start area for the presentation?

For clarification, this Elisabeth. That’s my mum.  I exist in the parkrun world only as ‘Elisabeth’s Daughter’, it is my tenuous claim to fame.

Oh.  My.   Gawd.  This was amazing news.  She’d be beyond ecstatic, and I’ve been wanting to get her to see the start and finish of Bushy parkrun for herself for years.  This would be a great excuse to get her over there and ‘make it so’.  There were a few logistical challenges to work out, but I could go down from Sheffield, and there would be a veritable parkrun army of well wishers on hand to help if needed.  This was going to happen.  It couldn’t be a surprise as I needed to work out the details with mum, but it was going to happen.

I replied with what I hoped was an appropriate level of effusive enthusiasm, both on my behalf and mum’s too.   She was chuffed, delighted, totally up for it.  I could not wait.  How as I going to keep it secret when I was bursting with wanting to share.

‘I’ll have to think about outfits for us both too’ I said

‘Outfits?’

‘Fancy dress outfits, it is going to be fancy dress right?’

‘Erm…’

Not fancy dress then.  Lucky the topic came up, it was only because I made a chance remark about I found out.  It just never occurred to me that it wouldn’t be fancy dress.  I had just assumed it would be because I understood that is the default parkrun party celebratory way. It shows yet again, everyday is a learning opportunity.  Mind you, it would have been hilarious if I’d rocked up with mum and me in complementary themed fancy dress outfits.  Not gonna lie, there’s a teensy bit of me that wishes I hadn’t been disabused of my misunderstanding, it would have been a classic.  And you know what, if we had, it would have been fine.  There’s usually a few people sporting fancy dress at any given parkrun anyway, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t have been us on this particular day.   If junior parkrunners can turn up at parkrun in minion onesies just because they felt like it, why not us too – apart from the fact I don’t have a minion onesie – but otherwise my point still stands.  Still, maybe just as well, finding something to go with her traditional Happy Birthday parkrun sash  might have been a challenge.  I got on with ordering that, and asked her what colour she wanted.  ‘It has to be orange that’s the parkrun colour!’ well apricot technically, but good call.  All those months and years of watching parkrun have not been wasted, she has totally internalised the parkrun palette.  It’s not only the high fives she’s nailed since she became an honorary marshal on the Bushy parkrun course.

kudos to parkrun

The semiotics of parkrun eh?  Someone should write a book on that – or maybe do a podcast.  Perhaps a niche OU sponsored variant special edition of With Me Now – a With Me Know broadcast has a certain ring to it?

Re the keeping it a secret bit, I did try really hard, but I may have sort of accidentally told a couple of very exceptional individuals who weren’t in the Bushy parkrun circle ‘in total and absolute confidence‘ as in ‘this is a secret but not a secret, it’s only ever to be divulged on a strictly need to know basis‘.  You need to understand this was basically a necessity for health and safety purposes, I’d have imploded if I’d had to keep that to myself, and with my brain splattered around the interior of my Sheffield home, and my undiscovered imploded carcass adorning my hallway in a star shape, who’d have taken mum to the start line in Bushy park?  Precisely.  I know, unthinkable!

The excitement continued to build as the countdown continued.  Little teasers appeared on the parkrun uk Facebook page.  The 15th anniversary commemorative barcode flatband, the poster for the first ever Bushy parkrun time trial was dug out from someone or other’s attic and reposted for the digital age.  Also, some uplifting videos reminding us why we do parkrun, not that we all need reminding necessarily, but it’s still nice to hear other people’s stories. 

Whangarei parkrun excelled even themselves by having their very own darkrun by way of celebration. This was run as a freedom run, simultaneously with everyone taking off on the start line of Bushy parkrun at 9.00 a.m..  That was 9.00 p.m. in New Zealand, hence they were in the dark, but a select group darkran/parkran and celebrated with cake and probably fizz as well.  It is the parkrun way!  I really want to go to Whangarei parkrun one day, they positively ooze the parkrun ethos.  Darkruns are catching on over there thanks to them!

sept5 18A small group gathered for Whangarei darkrun and I understand a thoroughly enjoyable event resulted. Denise very kindly provided a celebratory cake. The night was made memorable by a visitor from Hamilton , Joseph Morgan, who ran the course in 16:01 which would be a course record. Of course it being a Freedom Run and an unofficial event it will not take the official title, but nonetheless it is a stunning time and we congratulate Joseph. Incidentally his brother Adam also ran and was not far behind! (Apologies, the picture is badly cropped, but you get the idea!)

sept6 19Whangarei was also the catalyst for a South Island darkrun at Pegasus which was very successful and included a live link with Market Harbororo parkrun in the UK . Quite a day down there with the celebration earlier in the day of the completion of 500 parkruns by Steve Darby, the first time that has been achieved by anyone outside the UK.

It isn’t even the first time they’ve done this, here are the original darkrun crew from 2017.

Whangarei original darkrun

That’s dedication isn’t it.  High Five to Whangarei parkrun!  And to Pegasus parkrun too!  I wonder if there is a Running Challenges badge for nabbing parkruns linked to mythical beasts?  There should be, gap in the market I’d say.  Greytown Trail parkrun had a darkrun too.  Double the parkrun fun all in one day!  Yay.  Like the New Year’s Day double here except only one counts, they are 12 hours apart and one is in the pitch dark and a freedom run, but otherwise identical.  Bound to catch on. Not.

greytown woodside trail parkrun darkrun

Mind you who expected 13 on 2nd October 2014 to become 1838 13 years later?  That’s right dear reader.  Nobody at all.  Can you tell which starting line up is which?  Go on, be brave, take a wild guess…  Maybe New Zealand freedom darkruns of the future will have similarly grown exponentially.  Only a matter of time.

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Anyway, where was I?  Stop distracting me with all these questions about darkrun, fine innovation as that is.  Oh yes, I was indulging in the anticipatory build up to the big day.  My Facebook feed was full of it, mind you it is always full of all things parkrun, no idea what the point of Facebook is otherwise to be honest.

The actual anniversary was 2nd October, though the nearest Saturday/ parkrunday was 5th october, and parkrun UK reminded us of this with some handy stats.

birthday stats

Time ticked by, and eventually, amazingly there was just one more sleep to go.  I had a nightmare drive down from Sheffield, a record 8 hour drive due to the M1 being closed in a couple of sections.  However, you have to think of those who never made it to their destination at all, and I did, so let’s keep perspective eh?  Quick visit to mum, she had her hi-vis all ready, and her birthday sashes too, looking good.  One more sleep.  Not that it was a sleep really because I was SO EXCITED!  And also, had to invest time in excited texts and messages with parkrunners and supporters various to check out who was going to be there for the big celebration.  Turns out, it was basically everyone in the whole wide parkrun world, so I could have saved myself the trouble of contacting people.  Joking apart, it was brilliant to be sharing the anticipatory excitement, and many  of the Bushy parkrun team touched base too, offering support on the day as needed.

And then it was tomorrow!  Which was, in case you haven’t been concentrated, or maybe just skipped ahead parkrun day and Bushy parkrun’s 15th birthday!  Yay!  Let’s get this party started.

Over to pick up mum, and she was pretty much in readiness, with her hair done specially and so it was just a question of gathering up everything bar the kitchen sink ‘just in case’ into the car and – after texting to say we were en route –  off we went round to the carpark near the coffee shack and the Bushy parkrun finish line.  I knew there was a couple of disabled parking bays there, but we went early because it was going to be rammed.  It was about 8.10 a.m. as we were driving along Chestnut avenue, we could see some runners whizzing about – with the benefit of hindsight, I wonder if this was some of the original golden barcode bearing parkrunners, who I gather met and ran the original route, started by Paul S-H himself after he’d given the traditional run briefing apparently.  It was on the With Me Now, special Bushy parkrun Birthday Edition broadcast – more of that later.  There were some humungous stags about, it is the rutting season, and they had to cancel Bushy junior parkrun because of them potentially charging.  The threat is real, but I think even a rutting stag might give way to 1800 plus runners.  This roaring beastie was snapped in Richmond Park.  Respect.

jules cox photo

Photo taken by https://www.instagram.com/julescoxphotography/ following the British Deer Society Code of Conduct: https://bit.ly/2Eqr0EK

You could see from a distance the car park was full, and as we cornered there was a TV van, and hundreds of people purposefully setting up for the occasion.  It was amazing, and we’d not even parked up.  I could feel myself filling up, this was going to be quite an extraordinary day.  The scale of the event takes your breath away. I’ve run at it loads of times over the years, but this day was something else.

exciting!

Mercifully, the disabled space was free, and we pulled up.  Mum was soon safely out of the car and into her wheelchair, sash straightened, hi-vis on,  and into the collective embrace of parkrun.  Honestly, it took seconds for her ‘regulars’ to spot her and come rushing over.  Although mum has got to know people at her corner, obviously there are limits to how long they can talk for as inconveniently they are mid-parkrun and have to press on.  It was just brilliant that many came across for ‘proper’ hellos and yep, the photos started.  I wonder if this is what it is like being in the entourage of a famous celebrity, you are just stunned by the attention, the paparazzi, the fan base.  It’s overwhelming.  Actually scratch that.  What am I saying ‘I wonder if this is what it is like being in the entourage of a famous celebrity’.  No need to wonder dear reader, that is exactly what I was.   And it was great.

I left mum surrounded by well-wishers taking selfies.  I was filling up already and we’d not even left the car park.

and rang the RD who was organising the awards ceremony.  They had two RDs today, one doing run stuff and one doing awards stuff.  The team at Bushy parkrun is amazing.  It’s huge, but still friendly, and the whole event runs like a well-oiled machine.  A well oiled machine fuelled by cake and prosecco and the positive endorphins that fly around the park I think.

I headed to the big birthday balloons, which are mandatory for Bushy parkrun’s birthday as it is a parkrun rule that Paul S-H has to be photographed alongside them. In years to come this may no longer be environmentally acceptable what with the plastic and helium and all, but this impulse was nevertheless indulged today, and, I’ll let you into a secret, quite a few other people embraced the photo opportunity they presented too.  The pictures tell their own story.  Here’s the starter though:

Paul and balloons

Despite getting my contact on the phone, I had a little trouble spotting him because firstly, I was looking in completely the wrong direction, and secondly, he was in disguise not yet wearing a high vis.  However, we made contact, and I got a lovely welcome, and directed to where the awards were to be presented.  It wasn’t too far, and mercifully the rain of the last few seemingly months had stopped.  The compact path was pretty good, I’d been in a panic about whether the wheelchair would be robust enough for it, but all was well.  What I hadn’t factored in was how slow progress would be as it was like doing a royal walkabout wheelabout.  So many well-wishers.

By the time I got back to mum, she had been located by the Bushy parkrun team who were in on the awards and around to help.  Happy reunions, they were awesome, not only because all parkrunners are awesome anyway, and they were great company, but also because they helped make the magic happen by clearing routes, sourcing balloons and selfie-frames and carrying out all those individually small but cumulatively huge and magnificent gestures that made the morning get better and better!  I now realise, my whole life would just run so much more smoothly if I had a couple of attentive and proactive personal assistants to accompany me about my daily business.  It was fantastic!  Thanks team Bushy!

We passed the film crew – it was going live on the BBC apparently, later I had a moment of disappointment at having missed it, but then again, that’s ridiculous as WE WERE THERE ACTUALLY EXPERIENCING IT ALL FIRST HAND which is way better.  Anyway, I was still sulking after the One Show coverage, so annoyed about how negative the guests present were about it afterwards, totally missing the point.  Oh well, let it go, their loss after all.  Poor people not yet inducted into the way of parkrun, their lives must seem strangely pointless without it…  They deserve our pity not our hate.  It must be awful for them.  I’ve moved on already.

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Next challenge, was to make it down the long path, but there were lots of micro-adventures and distractions along the way.  Photo ops and greetings too.  Our Bushy parkrun snatch squad managed to requisition the balloons so we could take pictures in all possible combinations of groupings.  It was hilarious.  You’d be amazed how much fun potential is contained within a couple of balloons.  Awesome.  That was going to be hard to top…. 

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Hard, but not impossible it turns out.  It turns out, that this yellow brick road was studded with ever escalating awesomeness along the way.  I say this, because ‘suddenly’ out of the autumnal mist (I might have made up the bit about the autumn mist, but I like to think it adds atmosphere) not one, not two, but THREE Pauls emerged.  This was amazing, the holy trinity of Pauls.  All of these Pauls are important in different ways.  One founded parkrun, which you might have heard of, one was responsible for posting a picture of when he delivered a Christmas card for mum and she shared with him what parkrun means to her which set in motion many more Christmas cards, and one is another Bushy parkrun stalwart, Bushy junior parkrun instigator who has proactively offered support to mum in practical ways.  The problem is, that up until now, they have never been gathered together in one place.  I don’t know if that’s because like the royals who travel on different planes, they daren’t risk all being taken out simultaneously by a rutting stag or falling tree; or if it is because time and space will invert and collapse if they are all seen at once; or – and I’ve thought about this a lot – if it’s because like Superman and Clark Kent, they are actually all the same person.

superman and alter ego

Well, you do start to wonder.  I’ve invested quite a lot of time and effort trying to explain to my mum who is who (or should that be who is whom?  My grammar fails me), but they’ve all sort of merged into one multi-talented, multi-faceted, interchangeable Paul, and it’s hard to differentiate one from the other.  I mean she knows each individual identity, but as soon as we have any conversation in which I refer to a parkrun Paul, it becomes immediately confusing trying to explain which one I mean.  Similarly when looking at pictures, all Pauls can seem pretty much the same if you only see them one at a time apparently.  In my defence, I mentioned this to the partner of one of the Pauls and they agreed that this was a valid point and they felt the same on occasion, that they seemed interchangeable at times and it does get confusing,  so it isn’t just my mum.  Anyway, today was the day that kept on giving, because they all came, and they all posed, and it was THE BEST THING EVER ALL DAY (until the next best thing ever all day, because like I said before, it just kept getting better).

Here they are a-gathering 

And they did attract a lot of attention:

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and it was so exciting there might have been so over excited and opportunistic photo bombing going on.  I was trying to play it super cool alongside parkrun royalty myself, but not sure I totally nailed it on this occasion:

Despite the mass of people, there was time for some proper conversation too.  This photo is another BEST THING EVER that happened on Bushy parkrun’s birthday.  Thanks Wendy Stokes for the pic.  It is taken from her awesome run report for the Bushy parkrun 15th Birthday event which is a must read too.  Here are two icons of Bushy parkrun sharing words of wisdom.

sharing words of wisdom

It was basically like a ‘Who’s Who’ of Bushy parkrun.  Like I said before EVERYONE was there.  Oh, and then we found the selfie frame. This was just the beginning, gets even more genius later on…  I’m not sure I’d properly inducted mum into the joys of selfie frames at this point, but even though it looks marginally like elder abuse to the ill-informed, all these photo based activities were in fact consensual.

and we continued our slow progress to the area near the start where a table was set up in readiness for the awards.  But more friends emerged from the throng.  This one is my namesake, and, although it’s a bit tricky to pinpoint exactly at what point Elisabeth was first noticed by the Bushy parkrun community, her formal recognition was as a result of this member of the core team, saying very sensibly, well, if she’s there every week anyway it’s high time she had her own hi-vis.  And someone, not sure who, maybe a team, maybe Lucy herself, duly walked down to present her with her very own marshaling tabard many moons ago.  From thereon in she was an honorary marshal for Bushy parkrun.  I remember that day, because when I spoke to mum in the evening afterwards she was so thrilled to have been recognised and welcomed into the parkrun community. It was both a small thing and an enormous thing at the same time.  I might have got something in my eye that evening too.  Honestly, I do like Bushy parkrun, but the allergens there are so powerful they could bring tears to my eyes even over a phone line to Sheffield.  I know, almost unbelievable.  I do have a tendency to be allergic to things, but it’s still quite bad. I think it may be that sadly I’m allergic to unicorn hair or something, there are loads of unicorns in Bushy park, so perhaps it’s that.  Anyway, high time we got a picture of these two together.  The start of the chain reaction that culminated in today. 

One day, I’m going to use my hallway wall to create an incident room time line of the sequence of events that led to the naming of Elisabeth’s corner and the celebrations of today.  Like on Vera, or maybe Sherlock Holmes, the new version with Benolin Cumbersnatch, I like the idea of those hi-tech interactive glass boards to work with.  It’s higher up the food chain than post it notes, though I do like Vera, maybe she could be my consultant…  Also, on reflection, I get quite excited by colourful stationery, and this would be a great pretext for getting a stash of new highlighter pens and novelty post it notes so potentially something like this:

investigation wall

but with more hi-vis, milestone tees, fancy dress, christmas cards, and TpoT orange beanie hats.  A project for another time, you must be on your second pot of tea/ bottle of vodka by now, and we’ve not even made it to the start line yet…

More and more friends emerged, some pre-arranged, some by happy chance.  Many were delighted to see mum at the start, if a bit perplexed as to what the implications for this might be when they got to Elisabeth’s Corner and found her absent.  I was kicking myself for not having thought to put some sort of hi-vis substitute in place for the duration, that could have been hilarious.  What about her parkrun public who count on seeing her at the half-way mark to give them the necessary energy boost to make it round to the end?  Oh well too late now.  Hello best ever photographer for taking fab photos of mum over the years (sorry I don’t have the skills to quite return the favour), hello pioneer parkrunner – congratulations on your 250th milestone and well done for having a balloon – nice to see a fellow Smiley here,  hello everyone! 

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While we were having our micro-adventures trying to get to the start area and the presentations table, others were similarly migrating across the park.  Not least, David Moorcroft, who was to be presenting the awards.  One of my favourite posts from today (of which there are a great many to be fair, often the one I’ve most recently looked at) is this one, of a cheery parkrunner welcoming a newbie to her home parkrun.  ‘Do you run much/ at all?‘  Oops.  Only not oops at all, because she was appropriately welcoming and that makes her a winner to me.  Yay!

do you run much.png

It is amazing, everyone of the 1838 runners plus volunteers and parkrun entourage had their own physical, mental and emotional journey to get to the start.  It can be both the simplest and hardest thing to rock up.  If you listen to the With Me Now parkrun special edition podcast, you might like me, be surprised to hear from others how it took a bit of courage to turn up the first time, and sometimes still does.  But it’s always worth it.  You just start by reaching out and saying hello, or not even that, just turn up and observe from the sidelines if you want, you are still significant and a part of parkrun for doing so.

Anyway, on the subject of ‘oops’ as we went towards the start, mum struck up conversation with David Moorcroft.  She had no idea who he was at this point.  Sorry.  Thought he was very nice and friendly though, which is actually more important and more of a compliment isn’t it.  She was querying why his N was the wrong way round on his tee shirt.  I’ve clearly not kept her up to speed with the merits of the COИTRA brand.  Oops.   A few people were sporting the raspberry tees today by the way, they were really nice.  I’m tempted, but then I’ve just splashed out on my apricot tee…

contra.png

En route I spotted another familiar face – a splendid individual to whom I am still grateful for securing us extra Smiletastic points during a running challenge on account of her dragonfly necklace.  Long story.  Smiletastic can be quite hard to explain… We first met when I was on a running weekend including a track session, Bushy parkrun (obvs) and a recovery run round Richmond park too.  Also, and this is crucial, a meal out, during which she wore said dragonfly necklace, and through some shameless meddling with the points allocation system, nabbed our Smiletastic Dragonfly team some extra points.  Yay.  We even requisitioned it for a photo op, and one of the Pauls took the picture too, proving they can be handy accessories to have around in all sorts of unexpected contexts.  Also, I think it must have been quite a novel experience for him standing the other side of a camera lens, so everyone’s a winner!  I’m actually quite surprised he knew how to operate it at all.  We probably had to direct him… 

We were pointing at the dragonfly brooch.  Don’t be childish.

Anyway, as well as her being intrinsically awesome, and getting us smiletastic points, on this occasion she introduced me to the RD for Colwick parkrun, another of my favourites, who was touristing at Bushy parkrun today.   I went to Colwick parkrun earlier in the year, but this RD was away then for some reason, so it was nice to say hello.  It’s a great run, if you go, you have to wear a Hawaiian shirt, I mean the RD was trying to convince me that’s not strictly true, but trust me on this one.   Love the parkrun network, it reaches everywhere.  Finally, we found ourselves at the front of the presentation audience, my lovely Bushy parkrun assistants having cleared a way through the throngs to secure us prime position.  Having contacts does help.

And then the awards commenced.  The RD did a lovely intro – encouraging us to look at our watches around the 13 minute mark and note where we were and that back in the day David would have been zipping down the finish funnel at just that point.  David Moorcroft added some heartfelt comments too, he was a great choice.  Fortuitously, a friend took a video of the start and some of the early awards, they are also documented in the aforementioned run report, so I’ll resist the temptation to go through it all again here.  Just take it from me that it was all heartwarming, celebrating and sharing the joy of parkrun.  A very special morning indeed.  I freely admit I was quite overcome, but for the record, the photo below, which I’ve included in the interests of transparency and because it meets the comedic element criteria which overrides my default reflex of deleting unflattering photos, is the face I pull when I recognise a parkrun face in the crowd.  In this instance the amazing Waterworks parkrunner who became my best friend when we bonded pre marathon at Southwark parkrun.  She’s not only awesome in her own right, but appreciates the importance of fancy dress on any and all occasions.  Of course it was emotional seeing her, even though I’d known she was coming.  I can’t help having a slightly manic and over-excitable disposition on occasions so I may as well embrace it.  I may look pained and in shock, but it was coming from a happy place.  Just shows how hard it is to read emotions.  No wonder social interactions can be so fraught, it’s a complete minefield.  You can never really tell what someone is thinking, just have to go with your instincts and hope for the best. 

And you can click on the link to see for yourself if you want the full immersive experience.  And let’s face it, why wouldn’t you?  Hope the link works.

So the various awards were dished out to worthy winners all, and it was lovely how the parkrun family came together to celebrate diverse achievements.

But then, the for me BEST BIT OF THE MORNING EVER was coming with the final award.  The RD did an awesome build up, not naming mum but referring to her as ‘this person…. more famous that Paul Sinton-Hewitt‘.  Credit where credit is due, this RD knows how to work a crowd.  He spoke of how she’s at her corner week in week out – ‘but she’s not there today‘ a gasp of horror from the assembled company… to be replaced by a cheer of relief as he added ‘because she’s here at the start!’.  It was just the best noise in the world ever, real affection.  And then when she was presented with her award, the applause went on for ever.  Well, nearly for ever, I mean we still had to stop to have parkrun happen at some point – and then she held her award aloft and a great collective whoop went up.  Best thing in the world ever!  It is- quite a solid chunk of glass with a personalised inscription on it  and has considerable heft, anyone would be delighted.  This moment gave rise to my favourite photo of the morning EVER, until the next picture popped up in my newsfeed obvs.

mum and david moorcroft

But you know what,  you don’t have to take my word for it, you can see if for yourself in the clip below.   The volunteer of the year gets his recognition first, and then it’s the final award of the morning to my mum about one minute in.  Not a dry eye in the park I can tell you.  Those blooming unicorn allergens eh?

It all went off to perfection.  All the award winners were present, the day stayed dry, and now it was time for the run.  As people dispersed snatched a few more hellos, and a little bit of trophy admiring (more of this later).  I took the opportunity to go in with a big hug of emotional gratitude to David Moorcroft, he looked a bit startled.  It was only as I walked away it dawned on me that although I was meaning to just express appreciation for the brilliant way he gave out the awards to everyone including my mum, he would have had no idea at all who I was and what I was doing.  In the circumstances he handled it well, all the same, I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise for scaring him and potentially invading his personal space.  The irony is I’m not even all that huggy generally speaking, but something about the whole parkrun/ running vibe that stimulates this impulse in me.  I think it does for others too.  We’re all on hugging terms here… but even so, note to self, maybe check first next time.

and then positioned ourselves in a good spot to watch the start.  It was the first time mum had ever seen this, and what a day to choose.  Some good parkrun citizen had the wit to take a video of the start line.  It went on for ever!  Mind you, even the stills are quite impressive:

AB start

It’s an extraordinary sight to see a whole sea of people moving like a tsunami across the grass and towards the ant hills.  Amazing.  Here is another video clip of the start from a different – more courageous angle some would say

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Wow, a lot of people pile past pretty speedily – and then they are gone, winding their parkrun way out of sight

Bushy parkrun around they go

see them run!

SG parkrun surge

Time to turn about, and make our way to the finish funnel, or more specifically a new, one time only honorary marshal point from where we could cheer the parkrunners in.  Time for a bit more trophy admiring en route though, and a proper chat with parkrun supporter friends who’d come especially to see mum’s prize giving.  That was fantastic, it is wonderful to share such moments.  Mum was really taken with the way running gear adorned the railings round the trees.  Funny the things you notice being there for the first time.  One of the hi-vis heroes sped off as she was in charge of spot prizes for the finish funnel.  I’m not quite sure what the prizes were – a lifetime of free parkruns maybe?  But what she’d done was use the letters that they give out to organise the funnel, to spell out Happy Birthday Bushy parkrun, and whoever got one of the letters appearing in the phrase would get a prize.  Presumably not necessarily in the right order, the turnout was certainly great, but they weren’t expecting that many on the day!  Genius idea.  As someone who has no chance of ever winning a prize on account of my athletic prowess at any organised run, I’m a massive fan of spot prizes!

We found a good spot, and a non-running parkrunner to share it with.  She was doing the Kingston Half Marathon the next day, so tapering ‘us too!’ I said, a bit too forcefully, I think my ploy was well and truly rumbled. 

If you want to experience the actual run, number one option is to come and take part in it.  However, an acceptable position two, is to take a bit of time to watch this brilliant youtube video which basically summarises the whole event.  To be honest, I could have saved us all a great deal of time and bother by just putting this link up in the first place, but where would be the fun in that.  My blog post might be uncomfortably long, but it is a much more effective procrastination tool, so basically you make your choice and you take your chance.  Nevertheless, I offer up Here we are running’s take on the morning.  It omits my mum, but don’t worry, I think it’s fair to say I’ve more than compensated for that oversight, so no hard feelings eh?

I sat and watched this YouTube video with my mum.  She’s never seen the course from a runner’s perspective and was completely rapt.  Recognising parts of the park she used to explore a lot.

So after not very long at all, first the lead bikes came into view.  I don’t know why they have two, I mean it’s sensible to do so, but wouldn’t it be more fun if they whizzed round on a tandem.  Or even a rickshaw – now that would be prime position to have a ride in the back of one of them.

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Right behind the bikes, the front runners, they are insanely fast, and giving it their all.

After the run I was asking mum what her main observations were from the day, there were lots, she’d had a great time, but one comment that made me chuckle was that she said she noticed the runners looked a lot more tired at the end of the run than they did at the half-way mark.    Good point, well made!

She was in fine form cheering and clapping with considerable stamina.

It was lovely to see the reactions of parkrunners.  Not all had heard the briefing so some were concerned that she hadn’t been at her usual spot of Elisabeth’s Corner.  I resisted the temptation to pretend we were still at the halfway point by calling out ‘well done, just one more lap to go!‘ as I think that joke has been done to death and isn’t always as funny as you think when you are actually running.  I have learned this from bitter personal experience.  You have to appreciate the runners who are fleet of foot and speed by, but it’s extra fun if you are cheering and people wave or high five.  My mum was ecstatic when she spotted one of her ‘regulars’ and there are loads of them.  You can’t not feel good giving out high fives and cheers at a marshal point, it’s just the best.  Especially brilliant was seeing happy parkrunners who’d obviously been worried because she’d not been at her usual spot.  Such an outpouring of affection.  People do care about each other, more than we maybe realise, but perhaps we need to give ourselves permission to express it somehow, and that’s what parkrun does.  Allows us to see the best in others and ourselves.  Giving and receiving a high five is quite an art though, some of those parkrunners could take you out with one, I should know, I’ve been almost flattened by the force of a four year old high fiving at full velocity on the course of Graves junior parkrun.  I wonder if RDs do a risk assessment for shoulder dislocations as part of the generic parkrun preparations?  Note to self, must ask.

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In the midst of all this clapping, and cheering and high fiving, we had a visitation from Danny of With Me Now, who – quite rightly – had worked out no account of a visit to Bushy parkrun would be complete without including the infamous Elisabeth.  It was quite a trick to pull off though, interviewing her when every other runner was shouting greetings, and parkrunners were in need of their long awaited high fives to get them through the sprint finish!  In the circumstances he did really well.  And mum showed off both her trophy and birthday sash.  Listening to the audio later, it was really comical and appropriate that the conversation was constantly interrupted by mutually appreciative shouts.  It was great, and another pleasing micro adventure to add to the morning’s tally.  Plus, more photo ops, some classics here, mum has totally nailed selfies now!

Front runners called out breathless greetings, but her ‘regulars’ less focused on a time, stopped for a catch up, and some finished their parkrun first and then came back for a proper talk, to admire her trophy and yes, get a photo too of course.

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And then, much excitement for me as my Waterworks parkrun buddy came into view.  She, like me, has a propensity for collecting new best friends on her parkruns, and did not disappoint today.  This was a parkrunner making the trek from Burgess parkrun I think, with a cohort of others donning Uganda tops because it is Ugandan Independence Day next Saturday.  I so wish I was near enough to Camberwell to join them for that parkrun, I bet it will be epic!***  They clearly have plans for the morning.  Anyways, once they joined us obviously that was more photo opps, and then others joined in, and so the picture party continued…  The Ugandan Runners were the subject of one of the Jessica’s parkrun heroes stories.

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This new temporary Elisabeth’s Corner turned out to be quite a prime spot, but eventually as the runners thinned we tore ourselves away. I generally do like to wait for the tail walkers to come through, but I was also mindful that I wanted mum to experience the cake and prosecco celebrations and see the finish funnel in action too, so time to relocate.  That took time too, as we had to stop to have the trophy admired and catch up with a whole new set of Bushy parkrunners, some of who were now departing.  A few select individuals got to hold the trophy – under supervision –  it has considerable heft, and it is very satisfying to feel the weight of it in your hands. 

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There is a special place in my heart though for this parkrunner:

DSCF6368

He normally runs, and when he does always greets Elisabeth on his way round.  However, today he couldn’t – injured I think – so had gone to her corner to keep her company for the morning.  When he found she wasn’t there, but was at the start, he’d come up to find her (and yes, probably other people too) all of which was of course really welcome.  However, when we got chatting about our parkrunning stories, he confessed he was aware of the original time trial 15 years ago, and could have gone, but it was 9.00 a.m. on a Saturday morning and he just didn’t fancy getting up and over there at that time on what might have been a cold day.  He was very matter of fact about it, but I couldn’t help thinking on his behalf ‘oh, what might have been!’  Just shows people, you never know what opportunities have been lined up for you, you just have to learn to spot them and embrace them so they don’t slip through your grasp.  Look around you RIGHT NOW, there’s probably an opportunity waving at you even in this instant!   Thank you for sharing your story nearly parkrun pioneer!

Finally, we were within reach of the cake and prosecco offer, which was extensive.  Obviously this was a particularly special occasion, but I reckon on any given Saturday there will be cake and prosecco at parkruns everywhere.  It did make for a party though, and such an abundance of offerings.  Little individually wrapped cupcakes, themed homemade cheese biscuits of 1 and 5.   A fresh bottle was duly popped and bubbles flowed, more parkrun friends old and new appeared.

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The trophy was much admired, but it was also carefully inspected by those in the know who were carrying out quality control spot checks.  Apparently, one year all the awards were engraved with ‘Busy parkrun’ instead of ‘Bushy parkrun’, in fairness, it is very busy, so you can understand the mistake, but they didn’t want a recurrence.  This is mum’s reaction to hearing of this past calamity.  Serious business, the administering and supervising of awards production.  This award passed its inspection with flying colours.  Hooray!

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Astonishingly, not enough photos had been taken of the morning yet.  There were still queues of people trying to get the perfect balloon/ parkrunners combo for their social media accounts.  This has to be the most photographed and documented parkrun of all time.

All the fun of the run wasn’t over yet though.  I was worried mum was flagging a bit, and so one of our entourage went in search of coffee.  I got distracted by – I don’t know – spotting another parkrun friend probably, and when I got back, With Me Now were trying to get the perfect shot with a WMN selfie frame.  They were doing ok.  Bit of negotiation and shuffling around secured the backdrop of The parkrun Tree.

but then I had a genius idea if I say so myself.  In my great and unmatched wisdom I proposed we go for a tunnel of selfie frames.  It took a bit of team work, but oh my, this is the best thing ever. In a way it makes it even more fun that you need at least five people to capture this effect!

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and then, someone – my Belfast Buddy in fact – in her great and unmatched (except by me) wisdom suggested that I get in shot too. And the result is this, another of my absolutely definitely favourite pictures of the day.

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Thanks to With Me Now for the picture, which, in their great and unmatched (except by me and my Belfast Buddy) wisdom, they used as the clickbait for their special edition podcast.

What’s the plural for genius?  Genii, yep, probably, we are all that.  Magical presences certainly.

Still time for more mingling.  You know what, I discovered it’s a great boon to hang out with parkrun royalty, I’ll take glory by association.  Loads of people came to say hello and introduce themselves, which was wonderful.  So many parkrun doors thrown open to me because I’m Elisabeth’s daughter!  I explained my origins at Sheffield Hallam parkrun by pointing to my newly personalised apricot tee – though in reality, it would be even better if it just said ‘Elisabeth’s Daughter’ rather than the more prosaic ‘Sheffield Hallam’.  It was noticeable how in many introductions people basically pointed to their boob area to indicate their parkrun of origin, it’s like a sign language for parkrunners.  It works well if you are indeed wearing a bespoke apricot tee, less well if you are just wearing a random running top – people have discovered this to their cost.  Also, on my last parkrun visit, a parkrun core team member who will remain anonymous, lamented how they were so proud of their new apricot tee they got a friend to take a close up of the Bushy parkrun strapline under the parkrun logo.  Let’s just say the resulting photo was not really ‘appropriate’ which might be why prodirect use a photo of a flattened t-shirt for promotional purposes, rather than an extreme close up of a female parkrunner’s assets.

apricot tee

So here are more parkrun people, sharing the Bushy parkrun party.  In possibly the weirdest ever twist of fate, we also met some people walking their dogs, one of whom I was at junior school with and haven’t seen since I left around forty-four years ago, that was bizarre.  With her was the parent of my bestest friend from that time too, see how parkrun brings people together!  I had not expected that.

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Inevitably this account is very much focused on me and my mum, or more accurately my mum and me, but for the record, she wasn’t the only celebrity present.  Here are more, including the parkrunner who has done the most parkruns of anyone on the planet – 741 and counting.  Also, I feel I should have given the deer in the park higher billing, they are amazing at any time of year, but this Saturday the stags in mid rut were particularly impressive.  The deer certainly need to be treated with respect though!  Don’t know if they remembered their barcodes.  Plus a pic of a parkrunner I’m more used to seeing in fancy dress, who was today doing her unofficial milestone 350 run.  Yay!

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At around this point, as if by magic the coffee appeared.  I wasn’t sure how mum would be able to juggle a cup of coffee and a flute of prosecco, but not to worry dear reader, she quaffed her remaining half glass of fizz in one go and freed up her hand for the caffeine fix.  A very fine cup of coffee it was too.

All good things come to an end eventually, but luckily we have not only memories on this occasion, but actual silverware.  Here it is for one last time, with the backdrop of the famous parkrun tree where it all began.

Totally the spirit of parkrun, I’m sure you’ll agree.

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And the morning was nearly over, the last few parkrunners peeling away, the course dismantled, prosecco bottles drained and cake tins emptied.  The Bushy parkrun core team were so attentive and asked if we needed any help getting back, which we didn’t.  I’d felt we were so welcomed and looked after all day, it was a blast.  As we made our way back to the car, the contrast between the scene a few hours earlier and now was extraordinary.  All was quiet and calm and clean, nothing but footprints was left behind** and nothing but photographs were taken away.  A lot of photos though,  No really, a lot.  Think of the biggest number you can imagine, ok, got that?  Is it huge?  Well, I’ve news for you, you are not even close 🙂  What’s more, every picture holds a memory.  A.Maz.Ing.

Another parkrun done and dusted, and added to the annals of parkrun history.  I wonder what the next 15 years will bring?

Even though it’s another whole week before parkrun day comes round again, the good news is you can continue to indulge your parkrun passions by checking out the awesome Bushy parkrun Big Birthday Bash run report (thanks to Wendy Stokes) for Event no 809, 5 October 2019 here

If you prefer your parkrun fix to be delivered by audio, then immerse yourself in the With Me Now podcast link which is here, or you could check it out via the With Me Now Facebook page post if you prefer.

And no doubt there will be a squillion other photos and posts out there on the interweb too, yours for the finding, plus the personal reflections of the 1838 parkrunners and multitude of volunteers, spectators and cheery melee of others who joined the occasion.  Quite something it really was…

So thank you Bushy parkrun for putting on such a show, not just on this special day, but delivering the parkrun magic week in week out.  It was just the best day ever.  Mum loved her trophy, but more than that, she loved meeting and mingling with so many fantastic parkrun friends.  All parkrunners are equally epic, what a wonderful shared adventure it is for all of us.  For me and mum today, entering Bushy park, was like being drawn into a collective supportive parkrun hug.  Best day ever!

Bloody unicorn hair.  Leaking eyes again.

And when you’ve finished reliving Bushy parkrun’s Birthday Bash, you can prolong the parkrun party for longer still by reading all my parkrun related posts here.  Or not.  It’s up to you.  You’ll need to scroll down for older entries though.  And maybe you have a life.  There is life outside parkrun so I’m told, which might be true, but it’s also true that parkrun is a little microcosm of life as it should be, which is sometimes a great deal preferable to life as it is, though on the plus side, parkrun also perhaps shows us what might be possible, and brings together the positivity that is out there in the world if we are but open to it.

Incidentally, Mr S-H said something – I think on the podcast, about how every week he gets hundreds of emails and messages from people talking about what parkrun means to them, and the funny thing is, that almost none of them mention the actual running!  Rather it is about the community cohesion, the coffee, the coming together, the sharing of adventures, the mutual encouragement, the being outdoors.  The run is the glue that holds it all together, or the catalyst that sets the reaction in motion, but it’s all the things that spin outwards from it that makes parkrun the global phenomenon it has become.  And better yet, anyone can join in, how fabulous is that?  There’s a research report just come out about that wider impact too, volunteering is even more fun than running for some it seems.  So we have the yin and yan of parkrun, it needs the runners and it needs the hi-vis heroes and wider community too.  That’s the open secret.  Yay!

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Even people disappointed by finding out this week they did not get a ballot place in the London Marathon can find solace here.  All welcome.  Volunteers as well remember, the parkrun community has a wide reach.

youre in

#loveparkrun indeed

(No idea how to use hashtags, but that seems about right eh?  🙂 )

*The occasion wasn’t all that ‘little’ to be honest, but I suppose it depends on what you are comparing it too.  Anyway, I’ll let that go.

**actually, one poor runner lost their garmin when it broke somewhere round the start apparently, so that might have been left behind by accident.  That’s a shame, but unusual to be fair.

***Yep it was, check out this video clip courtesy of Ian Feeley who was there, and keep an eye on the Burgess parkrun Facebook page too, as surely more pictures will follow… AND they got a mention in parkrun uk newsletter assante marshal for 16 October 2019 – well worth a gander

PS to save you the effort of googling it, the ‘Jog On’; podcast referenced in with WMN podcast is Ep 36, Darren Wood – the most parkruns ever.  You’re welcome

PPS Mum, if you are trying to find the podcast it’s here.  CLICK ON THIS LINK FOR THE WITH ME NOW BUSHY PARKRUN SPECIAL EDITION.  It should just start playing by magic.  🙂  It’s like a radio programme, so the screen might go blank.  It’s about an hour long.

Are you still here?  That’s amazing!  Well done.  You get the prize for making it through to the end.  It’s a virtual prize, not an actual one, but you’ll know you did good.  A round of applause from me (I’m clapping you now) and free parkruns for life!  Congratulations.

🙂 x

As a reward here is are some early morning photos in Bushy park, taken this very week, though not by me.

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Quite a special place eh?

Categories: 5km, parkrun | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Feeling the parkrun love – back to Bushy parkrun to join the TpoT troupe. #parkrunfriendsarethebest

Digested read: back at Bushy parkrun this week to meet up with Tralee parkrunners on Tour.  It was jolly nice.

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Undigested read:

I wasn’t going to do another blog post about Bushy parkrun, because, well you know, maybe cyberspace is already awash with enough parkrun accounts, and then I went and you know how it is.  The fabulousness of the morning unfolded and it just seems a shame to let it pass undocumented.  Reading this account is optional after all, and I like the idea that I can capture my fond memories of the morning before they fade away entirely. Also, I really, really wanted to share this picture.  I don’t know who drew it unfortunately, but apparently a GP, presumably from Durham as Durham parkun originally shared.  So many truths within, perhaps not quite all universal ones – personally I’ve abandoned any aspiration to a new pb, and my alarm goes off way earlier than 8.10 – but the other aspects of the parkrun emotional rollercoaster I can completely relate to.  Particularly the axis (can’t remember if it’s x or y) that charts the shift from being ‘bitter and resentful’ to ‘loving life’!  So true!  Thank you J Stutchbury(?).  Great name by the way.  When I’m a best selling author I’m going to name a character after you.

parkrun emotional rollercoaster

Where was I?  Oh yes, heading off to Bushy parkrun.  The reason for this particular sojourn was to coincide with the pathologically lovely TpoT people!  That’s Tralee parkrunners on Tour for the uninitiated.  I have the extreme good fortune to have become an honorary member of this group that oozes parkrun love and general all-round fabulousness.  It was they who invited me to join them for my first bit of international parkrun tourism at Hasenheide parkrun last year.  The Tralee Troupe have tourism down to a fine art, cheap flights from Kerry airport mean they seem to relatively frequently take flight en masse and descend on parkruns the world over.  I wasn’t sure if they should be more accurately described as a troop or a troupe.  According to the interweb, troop apparently usually refers to a group of soldiers or people more generally, whereas a troupe implies a traveling contingent of theatrical performers.  I rest my case.  Any parkrun contingent including a juggler in their midst surely qualifies as the latter?  A toupee is something entirely different, and arises from either a typo or a spelling error, so hope we’ve cleared that up.

tpot juggling still

The real miracle is how they can literally remove 100 parkrunner regulars who head off on these trips, but still leave behind a fully operational parkrun with 200 plus people running the parkrun show. Awesome!

Hooray.  I have the official orange beanie that marks me out as such.  Not going to lie, it isn’t the most flattering item in my running wardrobe, but it is among my most valued ones, who doesn’t like glory by association?  I’m super chuffed to get to be an acknowledged part of such an awesome parkrun troupe.  Strictly speaking I think I must be on probation at the moment, as I’ve not actually yet got to run at Tralee parkrun itself.  One day I hope to actually go and run on their hallowed course at Tralee, and that will make my membership truly official. They haven’t actually said it out loud, but I know in my heart of hearts I can only ever be considered to be on probation until I’ve joined the Tralee parkrunners in all their glory in their native habitat. It’s little wonder that Tralee parkrun is most definitely at the top of my parkrun tourism destinations for the future.  I’ll need to renew my passport first mind

Oh, here is the picture of me modelling my TpoT hat.  ‘nuf said. When I’m a best selling author I’m not using this shot to illustrate my author’s bio, but I can still be weirdly fond of the beanie all the same.  After all, who wouldn’t experience a little puff of pride and pleasure and a frisson of joy for being able to sport such a beacon of shared identity and gain glory by association with surely the most famed of parkrun tourists anywhere!  If I’d given it a bit more forethought, I’d have adopted a t-pot pose for the picture as well, but not quite sure how that would work doing a selfie, which is not my area of expertise at the best of times, maybe the world has had a lucky escape on all counts!  I’m not saying I won’t try some other time, but some things are best not shared aren’t they.  We can take social media too far…

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Where was I.  Oh yes, staying in Teddington, up early to allow sufficient time to get into my new sports bra – which I’m testing out for Brooks – it’s a juno, and doing ok.  Having wrestled into this, I headed off to Bushy park via my mum’s.  She was taking her honorary marshaling duties very seriously, and had all her kit laid out in readiness, including a bespoke sign for the TpoTs and her fine orange beanie, also gifted to her by the lovely folk of Tralee, partly as a ninetieth birthday present and partly to allow her to demonstrate support to the parkrunners on the move.  Hurrah!

It was blooming cold in the park, but really beautiful.  I’d been really worried about the ice and forecast of arctic conditions, but in fact, although there was some ice around, it was limited to patches and the roads were clear.  Mum would be making it through the magic gateway…

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The sun was popping through the trees, and all looking fabulous as always. I love this park.  It’s extraordinary how it continues given the amount of people and dog walkers and everything else that use it every day.  Even so, you can feel like you have the whole expanse to yourself if you time your arrival right in the early mornings.

I borrowed some pictures from the Bushy parkrun facebook page, well they were quite fabulous. Some are mine, general rule of thumb is where a shot is blurry and erm, idiosyncratic, it’s probably mine, if it looks like a vision of heaven and is perfectly focused and composed, then it probably isn’t.  You’ll work it out.

I was distracted by squawking parakeets and silhouettes of stags in the park and the sight of seagulls standing around on ice and swans thrusting through it like ice breakers.  Eventually though, I saw a beacon approaching.  A fellow TpoTer.  These hats may not flatter, but my they do mean you can spot a fellow sporter of one at a thousand paces. Very handy.

I always get a little frisson of excitement arriving at Bushy parkrun.  The set up is so impressive.  A team was putting the finish funnel up – it is a thing of beauty, and elsewhere token sorter tables were being erected and other bits of purposeful blustering about were going on.  It’s the same but not at every parkrun.  Familiar elements but writ large here.

I dumped my backpack on a handy tree railing:

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and then I soon found myself meeting and greeting my Tralee buddies, not seen since Berlin Hasenheide parkrun yet I feel like I know them, it was a grand reunion. There were so many of them.  I don’t know what the collective noun is for a group of Tralee parkrunners but it’s probably a magnificence of parkrunners I think.  That will serve for now at least.

Everything about Bushy parkrun is epic.  Today, there was (obviously) a flash mob, singing and dancing to celebrate a fellow runner’s 500th run.    They were wearing face masks and everything, which sounds a bit weird and stalkery when I write it down, but in context was both appropriate and brilliant.

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I don’t know why I was surprised. This is the parkrun that once had a fly past for someones milestone tee!  I’m sure I’ve seen a video clip somewhere, though I’m darned if I can find it just now… maybe one day.

It was a busy morning, what with various people trying to rendezvous with each other.  One of my Tralee buddies was lamenting that he couldn’t spot a friend he was trying to find, as although he’d promised to wear his 250 milestone tee in order to be distinctive, but frankly, here at Bushy parkrun they honestly aren’t that much of  a rarity!   In better news, I was able to reassure that yep, mum was coming. The cold wouldn’t stop her, but ice would have, but I’d checked her route from the nursing home and astonishingly it was clear.  Hooray.  It actually turned into the most unexpectedly glorious of mornings. At least one errant parkrunner is known to have come to regret rolling over in bed and going back to sleep on parkrun morning…

dont miss parkrun

I suppose as long as you learn from your mistakes, that is the important thing…  Like the running cup from lidl, and are those the Kingston phone boxes I see.  That’s pretty cool actually, but not as cool as parkrun obviously.  Fortunately there is always next Saturday.  Unless you live in Durham and a forest has been planted over your usual Durham parkrun route whilst you were sleeping.  I mean trees are good, and planting them is excellent, but a bit of communication might have helped all round…

Mr S-H was present, which was a surprise, as I’d have thought he’d be much too busy with his contra range right now. I understand he personally supervises every item produced, with some enthusiasm, if the photos are to be believed.  I reckon he might even iron on those spots himself you know, bet that bit is quite rewarding.  I have one of the sage base layer tops, it’s roasty toasty.   It’s official colour is ‘green marl’ by the way, but I have no idea what that actually means, except it probably means sage, just so you know.

personally made by psh himself

Maybe he was there because his better half was part of the fame-inspired flash mob.  (Cheery wave, I would have said hello, but you were mid star-jump at the time) wearing the face mask didn’t fool me.   Or maybe they were both there, with dog, because, well you know, parkrun is fun.

I was distracted by so many people to talk to, and such a hubbub.  The ground was declared to be icy in parts, so after the first timer’s briefing

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marshals were dispatched to their marshal points, and

then we were all shooed a bit further over than usual for the Run Director’s briefing. They had slightly shifted the start to avoid a HUGE icy patch just before the ant hills.  This made the pre run understandably but uncharacteristically chaotic and I couldn’t honestly hear properly. I improvised and clapped along when it seemed as if audience participation was expected and then joined the mass scamper of the start when the parkrun was declared underway.

Considering how many runners there are, it was a good natured start.  I started a bit further forward than intended, so it seemed as if pretty much the entire field got to overtake me. Oh well, one day I’ll cause a sensation by overtaking someone, even if it is only because they have to stop to rescue a puppy from up a tree or something.

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Being in among so many runners is uplifting though.  I love that you get to hear the chit-chat of other runners, putting the world to rights, comparing running goals or injuries or good-naturedly trying to shove their 500 milestone running friend into an icy bog.  What larks eh?

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She survived the support of her friends and made it through to the finish funnel and reviving prosseco though, so don’t feel too sorry for her…

survived the ice

On the way round were excellent marshals, including mini marshals with bells, warning of ice, and wearing their own special hi-vis for the occasion.

However, a special mention should go to the especially heroic paramedic ice marshal, who, disappointingly, wasn’t actually made of ice, but who put himself in harm’s way, by standing on a huge skiddy patch of treacherous ice, just before you turn sharp left beside the cricket pitch, shooing people away. That’s parkrun dedication.  And I thought standing in a line of human cones at the start of Graves junior parkrun was scary!  I’ve never seen a braver marshal than this top man today.  Hurrah to you my friend. There should be a special chrome extension badge for your profile for brave parkrun duties ‘above and beyond’ if I had anything to do with it.  I think something like this would be appropriate:

pow badge

I trotted on through the cold, admiring my fellow runners legging choices and taking in the views:

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As I approached the half way point, I was wondering if my mum would have made it out in the cold as planned.  Good news, I could see her bright orange hat like pulsing outwards like a radioactive beacon.  I was very pleased.  Even more pleased to find as I approached she already had a Tralee parkrun acolyte with her, and what’s more, she was successfully brandishing the signage I’d supplied for this purpose.   Nicely tooled up. Result!  🙂  The bikes aren’t hers by the way, in case you were wondering…

mum and TpoT signs

Though no, I still don’t know why the Irish flag has those colours.  Note to self, must google this…

Obviously I paused for the first of many photo shots!

It was fun.  There was quite a party atmosphere, so I elected to hang on and wait for others to get their photo ops and for further Tralee parkrunners to rock on up

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There was quite a multitude!

I feel I’ve really missed a marketing opportunity here!  It was a fair old pop up party going on at Elisabeth’s Corner today.  Eventually I saw a huge Tralee contingent, festooned with flags, weighed down with cards and coming round just ahead of the tail walker.  It was lovely. They presented cards, posed with photos, said lovely things.  All very touching to behold.

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Don’t worry though dear reader, she did her best not to neglect her regular runners, there were high-fives and waves a-plenty. It really is the best thing ever about parkrun, the feel good waves that radiate outwards.  Good will doesn’t weaken as it disperses, it magnifies.

be kind

‘In a world where you can be anything be kind’ is a good motto, and for me at least, parkrun personifies that ethos.  Kindness cubed and magnified in all directions.  Excellent multi-tasking going on there though, I’m sure you’ll agree, with waving at oncoming runners happening whilst simultaneously greeting those already present.  Look on in wonder and learn dear reader.  Impressive eh?

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So, I’d pretty much ground to a halt now, and the tail runners were coming round.  Now, I’ve been wanting to meet some of this fine cohort for a while now, as I keep seeing them in photos with my mum, and feel therefore like I know them even though we’ve never met.  I decided today was the day, and ended up walking round with the tails, which are multiple here at Bushy parkrun and all the better for it. The back of the pack is often the fun factory of any event in my experience, and Bushy parkrun is no exception.  It was really grand to walk and talk and share some laughs along the way too.  Love parkrun!

Said farewell to the marshals at Elisabeth’s corner as they dispersed once the tail walkers had come through

and then I sort of split my time between trotting ahead with the Tralee parkrunners for a bit, and then dropping back to chit-chat with the tails.  Busy, busy, busy.  The sun was out, the park looked gorgeous, as it always does to be fair, but I was so pleased that the weather smiled on tourists and home runners alike.

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Yes, of course we posed for photos along the way:

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and I stopped to snap a few marshals, not sure I got the full set, but my I-spy book of parkrun marshals sticker book is pretty full:

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and on we romped

Until finally the finish funnel was in sight

and I stormed(ish) through, feeling like a winner, because everyone’s a winner at parkrun right?  Having a personal worst just means I got best value for time out on the course.  It was an emotional run, so much positivity, so much parkrun love, so much all round awesomeness.

and then ‘suddenly’ it ends. Only it doesn’t really, post parkrun celebrations were everywhere, cakes being doled out, prosecco poured, and cheery laughter permeating the park.

As one poster said, if Carlsberg did mornings…

if carlsberg did mornings

Until finally, we dispersed, and I headed back to my mum’s to admire her latest lot of cards, birthday cards this time, to complement the Christmas stash, all of which absolutely delighted her, as they did me. Thank you lovely parkrun people.

and that was that.  Job done, til next time.  Which pleasingly, would be tomorrow, with the monthly Bushy junior parkrun. Hurrah!  Two days on the trot with my lovely TpoTers.  Life is good.  🙂

#loveparkrun

Miss it.  Miss out. Just sayin!

HW atmosphere

Oh, and there is an official run report for Bushy parkrun event 774 2 feb 2019 here.

and an even lovelier one for the following week giving details of all the Bushy parkrun marshal points including Elisabeth’s corner for the 9th Feb report. Love this.

For all my parkrun related posts click here.  Or don’t. It’s up to you. You’ll need to scroll down for older entries though

Categories: 5km, parkrun, running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Smilies hanging out at Bushy parkrun, the epicentre of the parkrun phenomenon. Running with the stars!

Digested read: Thirteenth of Jan – lucky for some.  Smiley Paces on tour to Bushy parkrun.  The epicentre of the parkrun phenomenon, where it all began, under the mighty oak. Awesome. It just goes to show dear reader, that dreams really can come true!  In the interests of accuracy, I feel I should also remind you that it is also true you must sometimes be careful what you wish for, because things don’t always happen quite as you planned, but on this day all was well.  Hurrah!

ADVISORY WARNING: I don’t do concise, and this post could be a bit of a time vampire so read on at your own risk, it’s not compulsory.  I recommend coffee or wine as an accompaniement, and maybe an energy gel if that’s more your thing and you can safely ingest without heaving. Enjoy, or not, really it’s up to you.

Look at this magnificent tree!  Witness to the birth of parkrun, imagine that?  And what else it must have seen unfold before it over the last few hundred years.  Iconic indeed.  I wonder if it is the most photographed tree in Bushy Park?  Could be….

Bushy parkrun The Tree

The parkrun logo is uncannily similar, almost indistinguishable in fact:

campervan cookies

Clever. That’s a campervan cookie by the way.  Limited edition.

Anyways, sooooooooooooooo much to tell you about this particular parkrun day, my head might actually burst as I try to organise the memories.  It’s sort of like defragmenting my brain I think, putting it down in a blog post.  I’m back in Sheffield.  A whole week has passed. I’m actually trapped in my house because of snow and ice, and it seems incredible that just this time last week I was on the post run high only ever experienced by those who have been privileged enough to parkrun/walk/jog on such hallowed ground.  A week later, and parkruns all across Sheffield have been cancelled due to snow and ice.  Cue lots of comedy near death experiences trying to get to said runs on black ice, even though I knew in my heart of hearts they’d have to cancel.  Oh well, nothing ventured eh, and that’s another story entirely…

Suffice to say all the stories about Bushy parkrun are true.  The park has unicorns in abundance.   An arch of rainbows guide you through the finish funnel, and smiling marshals a-plenty cheer you round. Add in to this giddy mix the exotic parakeets, and impressive deer – some with gargantuan antlers that make them too look like mythical beasts – and you can see why setting foot in this Royal Park on parkrun day can indeed feel like entering a parallel universe, our very own wonderland.  If you come from Ireland, the organising team at Bushy parkrun will even make you edible shamrocks and Irish themed cupcakes.  FACT.

Point of information, the unicorns are quite shy so you sometimes only catch a vanishing glimpse of them out of the corner of your eye, and the rainbows are often tricky to make out through the emotional veil of tears that may obscure your view in the finish funnel. But just because you can’t quite see them, it doesn’t mean they aren’t there.  Keep the faith!  Also, unicorns can deliver some surprises on meeting.  Whether this disappoints or pleases you I can’t say.  Did you now they fart glitter and crap rainbow icecream?  It’s no wonder they find toilet humour completely hilarious, but that isn’t what you expect from what seems outwardly at least, to be majestic and other worldly is it now?

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Even so, I’m surprised they stooped (or should that be ‘pooped’) to product endorsement for toilet accessories, but I suppose you have to make a living somehow. How otherwise do you account for those actors who did the original ‘we washed half of his hair in head and shoulders…‘ adverts for head and shoulders, and now find themselves forever immortalised raining down dandruff in close up.  Makes me shudder.  Other anti dandruff products are available, with equally crushing photos to accompany them. I’d say the unicorns had a better agent to be honest.

Still, I’m jumping ahead. Let’s start at the beginning shall we?  So I was back on marathon training today, inasmuch as I’m sure I’ve heard somewhere that running when fatigued (within certain limits) is a good way to habituate yourself to the mental challenge of pushing through when you aren’t feeling the love at a marathon.  I am told that this can often kick in around mile 17, which is pleasing, because normally I find I’ve completely fallen out of love with running after about 100 yards, so that could well be an improvement on my general running mood.  Anyway, the upshot of this philosophy, is that, a sleepless night at our Twickenham student house was just the thing to keep me on the programme.  Oh, you don’t know what I’m talking about? Well basically, I was here with some buddies from my Smiley Paces Sheffield based Women’s Running Club on a running weekend organised by Run with Karen.  We had a session on the track on the friday before and a long run in Richmond Park on the Sunday following, but clearly the visit to the spiritual home of parkrun was always going to be the highlight.  I say we were all Smilies, well some of us were, but we had other welcome running buddies along with us too. Londoners and others from further afield who’d joined the weekend of running fun. For the purposes of this blog post I think we can safely say all were either actual Sheffield Smilies or honorary Smilies by association, which amounts to the same thing.  Hurrah!

For the record though, even though I was probably too excited to sleep anyway, the plastic mattresses in the student accommodation were not cool, in both the literal and metaphorical sense.  Just a bit of feedback for our host venue, maybe they were also not the ideal choice for a group of largely peri and actually menopausal women. There is a skill set for sleeping on these things that I have yet to acquire. The slidy nature of them means that if you have any part of your body in contact with the sheet whilst moving your position the entire made-bed construct disassembled as duvet goes in one direction and sheet in another.  the only way to avoid this is to become airborne pre any such adjustment, but this requires violent moves likely to put your back out, comedic value and cross training possibly yes, but compatible with a good nights sleep no.

In other news, on top of the sleep deprivation, I was also really stiff today which was a shocker as the track session was only about 4 miles. This either shows how effectively you can work out on a track, or shows that trying to run with ‘good form’ for extended periods is catastrophic.  Purists may argue this shows how terrible my running form usually is, since evidently making an effort to run in unfamiliar ‘good form’ sprint clearly nigh on crippled me.  An inevitable and totally forseeable consequence of being required to use muscles that I have never previously found need to call upon during my half century plus years of existence.  Personally, I prefer to think it shows there is some merit in loping along, and for my own preservation it was to be a loping gait that would be in evidence as I romped round Bushy parkrun …. unless I happened to spot a photographer or something, clearly that requires any runner to adopt their own variant of the ‘photographers pose’ whereby you either pull a ridiculous face or ape perfect running form for the microsecond of the shot.  However, I’ve done a fair few runs at Bushy parkrun now – though not with a mass of other Smilies before – and not ever seen a photographer out on the course, so that tends not to be an issue.  Plenty of atmospheric shots though. Check out the Bushy parkrun Flickr account if you are ever incapacitated for many months and want to pass the hours, days, weeks and months fantasizing about this parkrun paradise.  20,000+ and counting. That’s a lot of photos.

bushy parkrun flickr

On the plus side, I wasn’t alone in finding my limbs weren’t at their best and the night had been spent entirely devoid of sleep. Giddy with excitement, we cavorted and guffawed as only a collective gathering of Smilies can.  Then we trotted out to the front gate of the Twickenham campus of St Mary’s University where we were staying…

look where we are

Here we were honoured to be met by parkrun royalty times two.  Not only parkrun founder Mr P S-H himself but also, the power behind the throne and one of the original volunteers without whom parkrun would never have continued as it has, the lovely Jo S-H. How exciting!

Smilies and parkrun royalty

I’d love to say we were all nonchalant and blasé about the whole thing, but we weren’t.  I certainly wasn’t.  I was completely starstruck, again.  Not so starstruck that we didn’t manage to nab a group photo.  So that was the main thing.   However, the unexpected highlight was that Mr S-H asked for me by name!  I know, how amazing is that!? Granted, this was nothing to do with my own intrinsic merits, because they are known to be negligible, it was entirely because of my genetic association to Elisabeth, the landmark honorary parkrun marshal who happens to be my mum! For months now she has cheered on runners at her spot on the Bushy parkrun route which is at the Sandy Lane Gate in Bushy park.  She is a legend in her own right.  Generally speaking I don’t approve of nepotism, but then I’ve never had the chance to benefit from it before.  Turns out i’m quite fickle with respect to my moral compass.  I’ll take glory by association.  happy to step up and milk it.  Wouldn’t you?

We were on a deadline though, as we all had to get to Bushy park in time for awf. Plus, I wanted to meet up with the lovely other Paul, Paul Killick, who’d set in motion a magnificent train of events that led to my mum getting lots of extra christmas cards, with his ‘meet Elisabeth‘ Facebook post.  Long story.

meet Elisabeth

The original Paul, honestly, gets confusing, you’d think it would be a lot easier if everyone had the same name, but it turns out that’s not so.  Anyway, founder Paul, he made to set off at a fair old sprint, deliberately going extra fast to see our reaction. We had originally talked about jogging down to the start, but that was the night before. With the reality of stiff joints that plan was rapidly abandoned.  Our reaction was three-fold.  Firstly, we did laugh appreciatively.  Secondly, no-one was going to be duped into unnecessarily running anywhere at this stage, even with Mr S-H (well, we’d got our photos now, so job done), limbs aching too much and we had to save ourselves for parkrun. Thirdly, on my part at least, ‘oh my he can shift‘.  I hadn’t realised he was so super fast.  Maybe it’s partly to do with having extra long legs, or maybe the South Africa connection, or maybe he just wanted to escape from us?  Surely not? Who’d ever want to ditch a load of Smilies?  He ran like something with very long legs that might run very fast across the plains of Africa.  Giraffes have long legs, but I’m not sure they can run all that fast and elegantly.  My experience suggests giraffes have limitations as running buddies.

Antelope maybe?  Oh for goodness sake. I don’t know!  Stop hassling me about my african animal analogies, pick your own, let’s get back on topic.

Point is we got our celebrity meet and greet, and then headed off through Teddington to Bushy park.  It was nippier than I’d expected, so we walked briskly. Smilies and non-smilies sharing running and life tales as we did so. I love hearing people’s stories. Every one of us has many to tell.  Inspirational stuff.

We arrived into the park to find a dark and dank day, but the park is always glorious.   It was exciting to see it through new eyes as well.  First time in the park for some, and it is I suppose huge and unexpected if you haven’t been there before.

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I was relieved to spot Paul 2, (other Pauls are available) quite easily.  There aren’t that many 500 parkrun milestone tees around, plus it helped that the two Pauls knew each other anyway.  I’m afraid (only not really) that there followed an enormous amount of gratuitous posing for photos in all possible permutations of Pauls/ Smilies/ me and Pauls/ Smiletastic Smilies (Smiley sub-group) and so on.  In our defence, I don’t think we are the only parkrunners ever to have seized a photo opportunity at Bushy parkrun.  Also, no regrets.  Enjoy:

I was a bit giddy with all the excitement to be honest.  I wondered if I was a bit too huggy what with being so hyped.  The weird thing is, I don’t think I’m an especially tactile person.  Generally speaking I like my personal space, I will edge away  from others when sat at cafe tables lest their elbows intrude on my brunch plate. However, parkrun seems to unleash my inner huggyness.  I love everyone at parkrun, they are all my best friends forever, and I think that affection is entirely genuine, I’m so grateful to the community that is parkrun, and Founder Paul for setting it up and other Paul for being so lovely to my mum.  Even though we haven’t met before I feel like I know them because of the common parkrun thread.  It restores your faith in humankind. There really are more good people in the world than not.  Within parkrun at least, all seems well with the world….

Even though we were all a bit giddy, we weren’t so giddy with excitement that we couldn’t see a Smiletastic opportunity when it presented itself.  For those of you that haven’t been concentrating, Smiletastic is a winter running challenge amongst we Smiley Paces. Points are awarded for actual running related activities within teams, but also for ‘smiletastic spirit‘.   As we were a cross team alliance of Smiletastic Smilies on this London running weekend, we decided to go for a cross team shot.  I love this photo, and not only because it did indeed deliver some Smiletastic bonus points!  Gotta love a Smiley!

Bushy parkrun smiletastic smiles

Pleasingly, after we had been photographed in all possible combinations, a nearby runner, also a parkrun tourist quizzed me about who we all were, so that a fun.   I only wish I’d anticipated this question so I could have come up with a better cover story.  Oh well, next time.  Bushy parkrun runs like a well oiled machine, not just the logistics of it all, but maintaining a community feel, and producing a weekly run report so everyone stays informed and involved.  So we learned we Smilies and are visit were to be a feature in that week’s Bushy parkrun report – 13 Jan 18.  How exciting is that!  It is only a matter of time before Smiley Paces goes viral in its own right… granted, our visit of what was by comparison just a handful of Smilies at about 12 or so of us, was superseded the following week by a contingent of 100 visitors from Tralee parkrun, but I’m sure all parkrun tourists are made equally welcome. Thank you Bushy parkrunners all, for the warmth of your welcome.  Just shows, everyone’s a winner at Bushy parkrun.

Despite all being winners, I needed to fit in my precautionary pee.  Fortunately, there are loos a-plenty at Bushy park.   I jogged off to the toilet block, leaving fellow smilies still trying to capture their elusive perfect selfies.  Good work people, good work.

Despite the normally ample amount of toilet cubicles. The queue was long, very long.  I put this down to maybe a larger than usual parkrun turn out because of  New Year’s Resolutions being put into action.  However, this queue wasn’t moving.  On the plus side, I got to meet a woman who it turned out had been at the second ever parkrun, and so had bagged a 15th finisher place at Bushy parkrun. This pleased me greatly. I felt I really was mingling with the stars.  Now 15th finisher at parkrun would have a time between 17 or 18 minutes.  That’s super speedy.   I felt this merited a selfie, if only to while the time whilst waiting for the queue to move.  Check me out, hobnobbing with even more parkrun celebrities.  That’s the closest I’ll ever get to being in the company of top twenty finishers anywhere, let alone at Bushy parkrun!

worth a selfie

Eventually, it became apparent that the long and slowly moving loo queue was due to some large-scale catastrophe within the toilet block. Almost every cubicle was out of action, but not due to broken loos as such, but due to all the doors being off their hinges.  Whether this was due to wanton vandalism or interrupted maintenance I have no idea. What I do know, is that as the clock was ticking fast, and we were all conscious of parkrunners gathering at the start line, a sort of free-thinking collective action came about.  Women threw inhibitions into orbit and soon each cubicle loo had a parkrunner in situ, pulling a Paula caring little who saw what. To be fair, we were all women, we’ve all seen it all before, and anyway, each of us was far too preoccupied with taking up our own squat opportunities to care one iota what anyone else was up to.  It was quite liberating really, all these  women in free flow and why not.  It is hardly a shocking or unknown revelation that women (and people even) in general do pee in general, but parkrunners in particular need a precautionary pre-parkrun pee.  All the same, it did have a comedic element.  The unicorns would have loved it (see toilet humour appreciation reference above).  Is it wrong that it briefly gave me a flash back to the more depressing and shocking sight of seeing women standing displaying their goods in the narrow windows of the red-light district of Amsterdam. I’m inclined to think that the toilet block cubicles of Bushy park were more of a niche area of interest, and anyway this was no shop window, just doing the necessary…

All this broken doors shenanigans delayed me getting to the start.  I rushed across, and the briefing was already underway, the lead bike off ahead.  (Photos stolen courtesy of Bushy parkrun)

The start line is truly amazing.  It’s huge, and wide.  A guy was balancing half way up a tree to observe the field, I wondered if he might be armed with a loudspeaker to help parkrunners hear the briefing, but I couldn’t tell.  Maybe he was just stuck up there actually, now I come to think of it.  Hope he’s managed to get down now.  Anyway, it was inspiring to see so very many people, gathered together for this amazing, yet intrinsically ridiculous undertaking.  I didn’t label my photos all that well, so some might be mixed up, but these are basically all capturing the parkrun start line, some more re-imagined than others, granted… 🙂

In amongst the mass of people, I felt very luck to happen upon a little trio of Smilies, but I was too late for any in the starting throng line up shots.  Here’s one someone else took earlier though. They are looking suitably excited and shiny eyed with eager anticipation don’t you think!  Well, I say shiny-eyed, bit manic would be more accurate, but you get the general idea.  Bushy parkrun was a bit overwhelming, it was bound to test our ability to use facial expressions to convey euphoria to the very limit, maybe slightly over-cooked here, but great shot all the same people.

startline selfie

All too soon, the shout went up and were off.  A veritable stampede across the ant hills as 1300 plus runners head out on their 5k circuit.  Considering how many runners there are, it is a pretty polite start.  By the time the path narrows, runners have strung out, and as it’s a single lap course you don’t have to worry about being lapped.  A rare joy for me!

You probably can’t tell by looking at me when I’m running, but I do love taking part in parkrun.  Overhearing conversations.  Some are sharing running stories, others catching up on gossip, some updating others on quite personal stuff.  People look out for each other too. I didn’t witness this myself, but one of my fellow Smilies said as she was running she commented out loud that her hands were freezing, and another runner immediately offered her the use of her gloves.  She was really impressed and touched, to be so trusted that she’d get them back.  I maybe shouldn’t have pointed out it was probably partly because she’d identified that this Smiley could be outrun, also we are quite distinctive. None of this is to take away from the selfless offer though. Love parkrunners!

I was excited about seeing my mum.  I’d nipped round to see her the night before to make sure she was tooled up with a Smiley placard, and she’d had all her parkrun kit carefully laid out.  She doesn’t have a barcode, but if she did, she’d not forget it! #dfyb.  I’d briefed everyone I’d seen to shout hello as they passed, but as I was approaching her corner, I couldn’t see any Smilies. Catastrophe!  Then, just as I was losing hope, a gaggle of them appeared out of the mist.  No idea how they came to be running behind me, that never happens, must have been an anomaly in the line up at the start.  I have never rarely been so over-joyed to see my running buddies!

We descended en masse.  Of course we had to capture the moment, although afterwards I did wonder if I’d been quite fair to interrupt my fellow Smilies run as we paused for (blurry) photos.  Still, this picture rivals that of us with Mr S-H himself, here we had another example of parkrun royalty but this time one proactively endorsing Smiley Paces. That could be argued to trump our other example of association with parkrun celebrity, though not in the Donald sense, obviously, that would be horrid.

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It was very grand to get some Smiley shots and witness some shouts and high fives being proffered as other runners streamed by.

I felt quite emotional. Sleep deprivation has a lot to answer for.  As I ran on, the other Smilies now streamed ahead.  I overheard new conversations about my mum.  Other runners commenting on how amazing it was she is there week in week out, and being just generally lovely.  It’s hard being in Sheffield with her in Teddington, I find it immensely reassuring to know that from parkrun there is this outpouring of goodwill towards her.

I loped onwards, in my own inimitable way.  Thanking the marshals as I passed.

Eventually, the finish came into sight.  Other runners that had already finished were cheering others in.  I saw Paul S-H who called out that he’d managed to exchange a high-five with my mum en route.  It would be fun one day to observe her from a hide as she marshals, and count the interactions she has on a typical parkrun day.  Tricky to co-ordinate though.

 

Into the funnel – which as anyone who has been to Bushy parkrun will report are a thing of wonder.  More chatting – I found myself between two bushy parkrun regulars, one explained how first time her son offered my mum a high-five she had tried to shake his hand, I was able to tell her that since then she’s had training in this skill and is most adept at it, which was readily acknowledged. The other told me she and her friends refer to her at this spot as their ‘half point highlight‘ which I though grand.  I’d love to be the highlight of someone’s parkrun!  I felt a glow of reflected glory.  Maybe I should print out a load of photos of her, and get her to sign them, I could bestow them on any worthy beneficiaries at will.  Of course there’s always a risk they’d end up on Ebay, like the black market in Blue Peter badges, but I like to think parkrunners are an honourable lot, and would treasure such an artefact as beyond price. Did you know that one blue peter presenter had their badge rescinded for taking cocaine?  Richard Bacon had to actually hand it back!  The shame.  That would never have happened in John Noakes’ day!

So through the finish tunnel, and back into the arms of chilly but still smiling smilies.

 

Obviously, no parkrun would be complete without a companionable post parkrun brunch.  We decided against the Pheasantry cafe, since lovely as it is, it would be just too crowded, instead we were heading back to campus.  However, I took a Smiley detour to check in with my mum.  More photos:

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Then a romp back to the St Mary’s campus canteen, for a pretty impressive brunch. Good value, though I can’t lie, I was gutted there were no veggie sausages today.  Or the next day, seemingly it’s always a case of veggie sausages either yesterday or tomorrow.  Sad but true.  Still, it wasn’t the venue or the food particularly that bonded us.  It was our Bushy parkrun adventure.

You will have to take my word for it that we were a lot cheerier than this photo makes us look.  Smiley Paces club membership is conditional on being able to smile at all times, but with genuine cheer, unlike the ironically named cheerleader troupes who often have smiles that appear to be quite forced.

We were also very taken with the rotating tray clearing system.  I’ve rarely been so excited since I first encountered the famous Sheffield Arts Tower paternoster lift.  Technology eh?  Amazing! As if we hadn’t encountered more than enough wonder for one day!

Some might think Smilies are all too easily amused.  I prefer to think it just goes to show we can see the wonder in the world all around us!

Oh, and just so you know, Smiley Paces got star billing in the Bushy parkrun run report for 13th January 2018.  Well I say Smiley Paces, really I mean my mum did, but she does officially endorse our club, so that amounts to the same thing!  And no, it isn’t elder abuse to get your nearing 90-year-old parent to brandish a sign supporting your running club, just to be really clear there.  Nepotism possibly, but nothing worse than that!

Bushy parkrun 13 jan 2018 Elisabeth supports Smileys

So there you go. That was our Smiley pilgrimage to Bushy parkrun done and dusted.  We had a lovely time thank you for asking.  Would recommend. But you know what, the really, honestly and truly fantastic thing about parkrun, is that even if you can’t get to Bushy Park, you can recreate the parkrun magic anywhere there’s a parkrun. Currently that means across 17 parkrun countries all over the world.  Nearly 500 different events in the UK alone – probably more if you factor in junior parkrun, which you should, because that’s even more hilarious hard though that is to believe – and as of today (22 Jan 2018, I lied in the date published field above) 1,348 separate locations.

parkrun participation jan 2018

Just wow.

So thank you parkrunners in general and Bushy parkrunners in particular.   Everyone who takes part in whatever capacity makes it so.  If you have already embraced parkrun, yay, go you, happy parkrunning til next time.

If you haven’t?  Well, you are lucky indeed, because you have yet to discover one of the wonders of the world, and if you just give it a try, it will open up a whole new world of community loveliness that might be life enriching and at the very least, will put a smile on your face and increase your brunching opportunities henceforth. Got to be worth a punt, surely.

Go on. What’s the worst….*

Sign up to parkrun here, remember, fear of missing out is a terrible thing.

*…. the worst is that parkrun is a sort of gateway drug for not just other running activities, but community engagement, volunteering and a move from life in black and white to living life in glorious technicolor.  You wont mind though, that’s the funny thing.  Go on. Feel the fear and do it anyway.

 

For all my parkrun related posts see here.  Scroll down for older entries.

For all my Bushy parkrun related posts see here.  Scroll down for older entries.

For all my Run with Karen related blog posts, see here.  Scroll down for older entries.

 

 

 

 

Categories: 5km, parkrun, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Giving parkrun the thumbs up!

Digested read:  I like parkrun.  It is the gateway drug to all that is great about running, be it badly or brilliantly.  Thus Mr S-H is my hero.  I have now met him. I am happy. The end.

Is it ethical to take a DNA sample without express consent?  I’m just putting it out there, I’m not talking about shoving a cotton bud up someone’s nostril say, that could get messy.  More how about if the DNA capture was more sort of inadvertent?  Then once this hypothetical sample had come into your hypothetical possession who does it belong to really?  What is the most responsible way to handle it?  So many questions to ponder, you can see why I have to seek guidance from the online running community for this….  I don’t think it’s entirely straightforward.  You might think you know absolutely which way your principles would direct you to behave in a whole range of circumstances, but unless you’ve been in that situation can you honestly say?  I mean really, hand on heart?  Have you never found yourself in a new situation where your previously heart-felt definitive ‘what I’d do’ assumptions just aren’t enough to navigate the new reality?  It can’t just be me left waivering about what to do!  I’m not accepting that!

I accept that you are thinking re this ‘getting a DNA sample without consent’ broadly speaking it is probably not OK, but, well you know.   You don’t know the full story.   What about if I came by it as the product of a happy accident.  The acquisition being inadvertent rather than the outcome of malice and forethought it can’t be that bad surely?  So now I’m in possession of this prized and rare resource (it’s high quality superhero DNA), it would therefore surely be criminal to simply chuck it in on a 30 degree economy wash cycle and so consign it to history.  It would be as if it had never existed, it is socially responsible therefore to at least think through the consequences of what might otherwise be idle irreversible destruction.  The upshot is, that right now I’m thinking I’m never washing again.  Probably not anyway. I mean truthfully I suppose I might yet care and have a shower one day myself as a nod to personal hygiene and an expression of good – manners to my fellow parkrunners on a Saturday morning, but my running top?  Nope.  Never.  That’s where the DNA lies and that becomes a site of special scientific interest and I need to preserve it.   There are other options though.  I’m considering possibly getting it framed – but then the picture framer might contaminate it with their own DNA, which would be catastrophic (they can be funny about being asked to wear latex gloves when working, I know from experience, whatever happened to ‘the customer is always right’?) – so the other obvious option is cryogenically freezing in a vault somewhere.  I’ve not researched the financial implications of that, but I’m sure that’s what crowdsourcing was made for.  I’m personally a bit skint now what with the flat tyre on the motorway coming back to Sheffield.  We’ll have to wait and see.

So what’s brought all this on?  I hear you chorus. Well, it was my unexpected brush with parkrun royalty at Bushy parkrun earlier on today.  Not just a metaphorical brush, but a literal, actual one, you know, physical contact with the living deity himself, parkrun creator, our esteemed founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt!  I know!  I’ve previously marvelled at the unicorns and rainbows at Bushy parkrun, I didn’t think they’d be able to top that.  But today? Well, today was transformational for me….  I know, extreme joy, I will try to share the love, but you will have to wait a bit for it.  Let’s start at the very beginning, it’s a very good place to start as Maria would say….

So I heave ho-ed myself to Bushy park first thing.  I’d had to come to London anyway, and as I was staying locally it would be rude not to. I wasn’t entirely in the mood though to be honest.  I appreciate that statement seems borderline sacrilegious now, but as my regular reader knows I do battle with my running motivation all the time.  Being conscientious but not keen is what gets me out there.  I am a parkrunner, therefore I attend parkrun, decision-making doesn’t really come into, it’s just what Saturdays were made for.

I arrived ridiculously early because I was in the car.  You can park for free if you time it right, but there is quite a bit of pressure on parking spaces and I usually walk, sorry, ‘jog’, obviously if I can.  I found a spot next to a gnarled old tree, which turned out to be a great move as I could watch a mini-colony of jackdaws hopping about and checking out the nest-building options.   They are truly amazing birds, smart, and I love the way they sort of flop about, they don’t look like they are natural fliers.  Though to be fair, one of them didn’t help this impression by trying to take off carrying a twig practically the size of a branch.  Credit where credit is due, after a few aborted attempts it did eventually leave the ground and headed to a hole in said tree. The twig/branch was too wide to fit in the space, but unlike YouTube dogs thwarted by stick size and gaps, the bird worked out how to tilt it to fit it through.  Smart things jackdaws  I love them.  Hang on, I don’t have a camera any more, I’ll find a shot from google..

20150507_e60_20150321_1055_120_fb3 jackdaw about to land on perch (adjusted crop)(r+mb id@768)

Got to love a jackdaw, in my world anyway.

It was a bit nippy, so I didn’t venture out straight away, I briefly entertained the idea of getting out and going for a warm up, but well, you know.  Eventually I did emerge, and went on a quest to find another runner who was supposed to be there.  I couldn’t.  I did mistakenly proposition quite a few random people who fitted his description though, and then gave up.   You can only take so much rejection on a Saturday morning I find  Precautionary pee – great loos at Bushy parkrun, though not great supplies of toilet paper.  Worth noting for future reference.  I strolled up to the start, taking in the morning chill and brilliant sunshine, and looking on in admiration at the co-ordination of the first-timers briefing.  They have their own sign and everything!  I love this photo, I didn’t take it, but acquired it from the Bushy parkrun run report, love all the stretching and silhouetted figures milling about in the background, makes me think of a Lowry painting – does that sound pretentious, or just accurate.  Oh well…

Duncan Scoble new runners briefing

Then I joined the run director’s briefing.  apparently it was his debut performance, well it seemed pretty proficient and expertly executed to me.

Bushy parkrun is huge.  There was a lot of chit-chat going on during the briefing that really irritates me.  I was near a couple of teenagers who were noisily slagging off a mutual acquaintance throughout which put me in a bad mood.  I did my passive aggressive thing of ineffectually glaring at them, and then felt a bit stupid.  I mean, is annoying, but hey ho, it will happen when you get a crowd that big, and I probably did more thoughtless things as a teenager.  Then something happened that completely changed my mood.  An adult and child – his son I think, were discussing shared tactics.  An under 11 for sure as they were running together.  ‘What time are you going for today, 24 minutes?’  (Needless to say I didn’t see them again after the awf) they debated it a bit. Then, and this is what filled my heart with joy, after the toing and froing about times had been concluded the parent said to the child ‘I don’t mind what time you get at all, just as long as at the end of the run you give me a big thumbs up!’  Heart warming indeed, surely that captures in essence what parkrun is all about.  It brought perspective to the occasion, parkrun is supposed to be fun. It’s a run not a race after all. That is all.

thumbs up sculpture

So then, after the usual bouts of applause for volunteers, milestones, and I know not what else, we were on our way, on the bushy parkrun course, which is indeed a particularly glorious one. The park was looking absolutely stunning, mist clearing, and trees bursting with life. Well, for the most part they were, some of those big chestnuts are looking a bit poorly, but it was still gorgeous.   This venue is rightly iconic.  Not only because it is for parkrunners the sacred site where it all began, but also because of its inherent loveliness.  Call me unnecessarily sceptical by all means, but I have harboured the secret thought that parkrun might not have evolved as it has if the pioneers had gone for circuits of Bentalls multi-storey car park for their first time trial rather than the Royal Park.

This is a photo of the parkrun briefing which I have lifted from Bushy parkrun run report. Hope you don’t mind Duncan Scoble, lovely shot 🙂

Duncan Scoble photo 8 4 2017

On cue, the stampede of runners took off like startled herd animals, some more gazelle like than others, I was probably more on the lumbering bison end of the continuum to be honest, but you get better value for money that way don’t you?  Longer out enjoying your run, whereas those speedy ones at the front are all done and dusted in 16 minutes and some have even been known to throw up at the end from all the effort. Where’s the fun in that?

As I settled in to my pace I was vaguely aware of others around me.  There was another interaction between an adult and child.  This was initially less uplifting. The girl was tearful and profoundly upset, berating her mum over something.  I was listening in, I’m always alert for bullying parents at parkrun, it’s something I’ve seen only very rarely but I have once intervened when an adult ran off and left his distraught child behind because they couldn’t keep up.  To be fair, just by my stopping the adult was mortified and the situation resolved, but it wasn’t OK.  I had an awful feeling this might be a repeat.  How wrong was I. This was not an infant compelled to run, oh no, this was a girl distraught because ‘I’ll never get a PB if I have to run with you!’  Harsh, but true, and for me, whilst you couldn’t not feel the girl’s agony of frustration, hardly an indictment of the parkrun spirit!  Life just isn’t always as we might wish it, can’t blame parkrun for that.  I don’t think she was ever going to buy the ‘it’s a run not a race’ mantra today.  I though, could jog on heartened.

You see all sorts at parkrun, I love that.  I saw the best behaved cani-cross dog ever.  No idea what breed it was, but it was poetry in motion, constantly looking over its shoulder to make sure that it’s owner and s/he were still perfectly synchronised.  I googled afterwards, and I think it might have been a Weimaraner, because google never lies.  No fake news there.  I’m usually a bit cautious around big dogs, they can be intimidating, but this was extraordinary teamwork.  Extremely impressive to behold, quite a partnership.

Weimaraner-Running-Dog-ADB250028DC012528

There were quite a few dogs about, not all on leads, but all unusually well-behaved.  One shot off, at a fair old lick, only to then take a detour to splash about in one of the waterways that criss-cross the park.  Well, you need a cool down after all that running around and water is fun as any Trunce runner will tell you.   The jury is out on whether or not having a dog offers an unfair advantage at parkrun – I think you can list it as an ‘assisted’ run, and Lily the Wonder Dog at Graves parkrun in Sheffield definitely confers a PB on all that are honoured enough to escort her, other dogs not so much I’m guessing. Cani cross is one thing, the Sheffield Inaugural Doggy Dash quite another!  Just saying…

It was the usual pick’n’mix fest of all shapes, paces and sizes.  One curiosity that seems unique to Bushy Park parkrun, is the number of small children weaving through the course route on bikes.  I don’t know if it is official policy to allow this at Bushy Park or whether it’s a question of turning a blind eye, but they are always there.  Some months ago I did see one pile up at Bushy parkrun as a child wobbled off their bike taking out assorted surrounding runners as they did so.  Personally I gave them a wide berth, I’m quite relieved that hasn’t been an issue at my home parkrun as yet.  Tricky one, you want the event to be inclusive, but I don’t think runners and bikes mix. Buggies are different, there is an adult in control of that, very small children on bikes I find less predictable.  Still, they were having fun, and every parkrun can have its unique variations.   We at Hallam now have a four-funnel finish for instance.   Suddenly the two-funnel innovation at Bushy parkrun is a lot less scary and unfathomable – though it remains phenomenally impressive!

So I ran round, thanking the abundant and cheery marshals en route, squinting into the sunshine, and like Orpheus, trying to exercise quite a bit of willpower and not to turn my head and glance across at the front runners who were visible looping towards the finish as I was puffing out barely half way round.  Not so much that I was scared of consigning others to Hades, or being pillars of salt or whatever, more that it can be bad for morale.  However,  I failed, and watched them streaming ahead, like prayer flags colourful and moving in the distance.  If parkrun isn’t your thing, you won’t get how uplifting it all is. Being part of a sea of people in sweaty lycra running round in a big circle ending up pretty much where you started.  I do concede it’s not an easy sell from the outside.  If parkrun is your thing, you will smile even now as you recall the memory of your last run and look forward to your next.  If parkrun is not, your eyes will glaze over and you will be at best politely non-plussed and at worst mocking with incomprehension the very idea of it all – particularly first thing on a Saturday morning.

Then almost suddenly the end is in sight.  The person I’d been looking for at the start had finished ages before and come to cheer me and other runners in, which is always great.  It’s great both to be cheered and to cheer others in. When I’m particularly hormonal I can actually get quite tearful at my home run seeing the final finishers come in.  Sometimes it’s a newbie runner, maybe someone returning from injury, often small children determined to battle round that whole 5k.  It is always glorious, everyone has their own story to tell.

Personally, I always like to go for a sprint finish.  Well, my idea of a sprint finish, objectively it’s not all that impressive, but I do try.  It has occurred to me that the fact I almost always have the energy for this suggests I don’t try hard enough on the way round, but who cares it’s a run not a race after all.  You shoot past the timer and are swallowed up into the double funnel which is rightly the stuff of myth and legend.  Here are some runners captured on film speeding into it.  This happens at Bushy parkrun at the finish. You are suddenly back-lit by glorious sunshine and morph into superhuman as you hear the click of the time-keeper snapping you in.

Duncan Scoble sunny finishers

The archway of rainbows come later, you can’t see them in this photo, but if you’ve seen the video clip of that final finisher at the Rotterdam Marathon the other day you’ll get the idea. This is certainly what it feels like at parkrun mecca!  Every time. Whatever position you end up in.

rotterdam marathon final finisher

Once in the funnel, you are encouraged to squash up with unexpected intimacy to other runners as you need to make space to accommodate other runners still coming in.  It’s not like United Airlines I mean, the funnel managers won’t start dragging you out and breaking your nose or anything, but they do like you to do your best to keep on moving through when space is at a premium, fair enough.  I got chatting with a fellow runner – I love the randomness of how you make parkrun acquaintances and evolve into friends.    I still don’t think of myself at all as a runner, however you do get to know the regulars who run around at your speed at your local.  For me, a pivotal moment in my parkrun journey was going back to my local parkrun after some weeks absence following a difficult bereavement and being welcomed back by ‘strangers’ who had noticed my absence. ‘Where’ve you been?’  It was the first time I identified as being part of a ‘running community’ I wasn’t invisible.  It was incredibly supportive, even though it was just a seemingly little thing.

So we struck up a chat and she was telling me about her half-marathon adventures leading to an accidental entry into the London Marathon, and successful completion too.  Such accidents are more common than you might think, only recently I heard of a Sheffield local who accidentally ran the whole thing in a Ghillie suit, gaining a Guinness World Record in the process.  I know, who’d have thought it!  This shot is from the Sheffield Half 2016 but it does show a ghillie suit, and I had no idea that’s what it was called until quite recently, so maybe you don’t either…

GC name check well done Kate Moss

My own effort to take place in 2018 is similarly inadvertent.  I got lucky with a ballot place for 2017 but have had to defer.  Bring it on for 2018 though.  It’s reassuring to hear from others who have already achieved that seemingly impossible feat.  I overheard someone at this year’s Sheffield Half saying to another runner apropos of the London Marathon ‘I cried all the way round, it was brilliant!‘  I’m scared.  I still want to do it though.  If it weren’t for parkrun I’d never had done the Sheffield Half-Marathon and that was just brilliant.  Yeah, yeah, my time was nothing to write home about, but I had a ball, and at the end of it I felt super-human. I could do that, I could do anything…. admittedly the feeling does wear off more quickly than I’d have liked, but you still have a glimpse of a potential new reality, that’s powerful stuff!  Oh, and that’s Roger.  He’s a great running buddy.

GC so pleased to see you

So the reason I digress is because parkrun has done so much for me on every level.  It has in fact been the gateway drug to the whole parallel universe of a life enriched by running.  I’ve crossed into a community defined by running related fun.  Yes there is the running bit, which can seem like a shame before you start but is always brilliant retrospectively.  But, in return you get parkrun breakfasts, parkrun fancy dress, parkrun milestone celebrations, parkrun cake eating opportunities (your body-weight in cake before you know it or your money back!  Oh hang on… ) parkrun volunteering, parkrun vocabulary (isn’t your life enriched now you know what a funnel-ducker is as well?).  Then through parkrun I found Smiley Paces which just happens to be the most awesome women’s running club in all of Sheffield.  Through that ‘what the hell’ entries to off road runs like the Round Sheffield Run (which I entered by accident the first year but have never looked back).  The joy of being cheered home as final finisher in fell races.  Top tip, if you panic the organisers enough by coming in behind the tail runner due to getting lost you will get an even bigger crowd looking out for you in the finish funnel. Plus, as no-one else is about it will actually look like you are winning in the photo if you want to impress your non-running friends and acquaintances.

final finisher

I might be guilty of the ‘seen a photographer’ syndrome, but I’m not alone with that… we all know who we are.

running bible

Obviously this recommendation comes with a warning.  As with any drug there are sometimes unwanted side effects.   Not just the obvious ones like chaffing and missing Saturday Live** but more subtle ones like, in my case hanging out almost exclusively with ‘proper’ runners so finding myself forever destined to be the fat friend in photographs.  It’s the yin and yan of it all.

Basically though, parkrun has been great for me.  It helps you see the good in the world, it has made me feel part of a community, it reminds me that what we share is more important than what we disagree on.  By providing a constant familiar place of sanctuary it has helped me and others too through multiple life crises.  Be it bereavement, illness, redundancy – anything…  It spreads the joy too.  parkrun birthday celebrations; running routes backwards; any excuse for a pop-up party at the Sheffield parkruns for sure.  I’ve made new friends and rediscovered old ones.   Three decades it took me to bump into an old school friend in a new city and yet we did.   I’ve commenced my radio career (OK that’s tenuous, but it was on my bucket list) and even started a running blog.  I’d never have got a National Trust pink bobble hat if it were not for that. So basically, there is much to be said in Praise of parkrun.  It is true to say it has changed my life (though I know that sounds really pretentious to the uninitiated).  As surely as the sun rises in the East and the world turns around come Saturday parkrun will burst into life all over the world.  That’s awesome.  Hence, the only time I was homesick when working in Cambodia recently, was when I discovered I had missed seeing Jess and Paul at a Sheffield Hallam parkrun. Two great icons.  What was I thinking missing out on that Saturday gathering just because of teaching overseas.  Gutted doesn’t cover it.

paul-and-jess-parkrun

You will understand therefore why it was I was so excited when my new funnel friend commented ‘oh look, I see we have parkrun royalty here today.’  Oh.  My.  God.  Could this be it?  Was it possible that I wasn’t just running the sacred ground of the inaugural parkrun, but actually in the vicinity of the great man himself?  I turned to look behind me, and there he was!  It was as if time stood still.   A great shaft of sunlight breaking through the sky to illuminate him like he was standing in a spotlight all of his own.  Chatting to other parkrunners with his dog (or at any rate a dog) at his feet.  What to do?

I was torn.  I mean on the one hand the poor guy has just been doing his local parkrun, maybe the last thing he wants is some giddy star-struck groupie stalking him. On the other, who wouldn’t like to be told that they have done an awesome thing.  I might regret it if I didn’t say anything and let this chance to say thank you to him pass me by.  I pondered as I gathered up my finish token and got my barcode scanned.  I wasn’t that starstruck, unless you forget your barcode it would take nothing less than complete collapse to stop me getting it scanned once I was over the finish, and even then I’d count on fellow parkrunners to ensure it was anyway.  To be fair, plenty of runners have documented their thanks to other runners for ensuring this happened after their own inopportunely timed collapses.  I remember one guy in particular posting on a forum somewhere his thanks to a fellow runner for ensuring his barcode and finish token got scanned after he fell and broke a hip I think in the finish funnel. Still, all’s well that ends well eh?

Scanning completed I sidled over to where our founder was standing, lurking and eavesdropping on the ongoing conversation. I did consider aborting my mission, as it sounded like a ‘proper’ conversation about maybe setting up another parkrun somewhere, and I was losing my nerve about lingering just to be pointlessly effusive.  I mean, every parkrunner worth talking to will be wanting to get to their post parkrun breakfast rendezvous I wouldn’t want to come between P S-H and that.  Maybe he’d done enough fraternising for one day?  The conversation ended, as he said he was off for coffee.  It was now or never!  Seize the moment or endure a lifetime of regret (yep, I am a bit prone to melodramatic over-statement, so what, sue me).  I stepped forward, and I realised belatedly I hadn’t really thought the subsequent interaction through at all.  I just blurted out ‘I know you are off for coffee, but I just wanted to say thank you so much for parkrun it has changed my life!’  Because I am grateful and it has.  So it was true.

You know what he smiled broadly and… gave me a hug (DNA transfer moment)!  and beaming broadly said something like ‘that’s wonderful, how has it changed your life?’  Which was a reasonable enough question in the circumstances, but not one I was able to articulate a response to in the moment.  It was like that episode in Father Ted, where Dougal for the first and probably only time, inadvertently has a brilliant idea.  However, asked to follow-up with how to implement it, he is thrown into panic, so he stomps off instead. Thus it was with me, I was completely tongue-tied.  There was so much I could have said, all of the above just for starters. I didn’t though, I just gushed incoherently for a bit and staggered away feeling both joyful at the encounter and furious at my awkwardness.  Aaargh.  Still, on the plus side, at least he didn’t disappoint, he actually looked genuinely pleased by my self-conscious outpouring of goodwill.  Well, I like to think so anyway.

So afterwards I was trying to think what I could have said.  I found myself thinking back to the man and boy at the start.  All the stuff that happens on a parkrun, irrespective of the time you make, the adventures you have, the camaraderie, it all just boils down to this, a thumbs up at the end.  Every time.  Simples.  That’s what I should have said.

Essentially I’m just putting it out there that for me and for many others parkrun is a precious thing.  In the circumstances, given that we can’t condone a captive breeding programme of community focused runners recruited from parkrun (though to be fair I think some of that has evolved organically if the number or wedding themed parkruns is anything to go by), I think you’ll understand why I will nevertheless treasure my DNA harvest.  I’m not so creepy I’m actually going to arrange to clone it, but you know what, we live in uncertain times.  It wouldn’t harm to preserve it for a bit just in case.  Bragging rights at least in the interim.  I might have texted some friends to tell them what had just happened too. Shallow me?  Guilty as charged.

So you see parkrun dreams can come true. I got to meet my hero.  Even if I hadn’t I’d still get to go to parkrun every week.  So thank you Mr Sinton-Hewitt. You have done a great thing with parkrun.   That’s some legacy in your wake.   I salute you.*

Our glorious founder P S-H

*Oh, and I have washed my top now.  You are quite safe!  🙂

Thanks Bushy parkrun for the use of your photos, and to lovely George Carman for the many and varied Sheffield snaps.

For all my parkrun blog posts see here – you’ll need to scroll down beyond this one to get to the others.

For all my Bushy parkrun blog posts see here – scroll through for the historic ones.  Enjoy, or not, reading is not compulsory.

 

** and Runderwear will help with the chaffing and I understand Saturday Live is available on podcast, so be gone with your exercise avoidance strategies!

Categories: 5km, parkrun, running | Tags: , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

First world problems…

Sometimes life seems unfair. I shall try to get over it.

I feel personally slighted.

I have not felt homesick whilst in Cambodia.  Not really.  I do miss some things obviously: Friends (people, not the TV programme) / Radio 4 and Radio 4 extra /  BBC news/ parkrun/ Sheffield countryside….  Facebook has helped me keep in touch with friends more than in previous trips away, and although I don’t particularly like Phnom Penh because it is dirty, noisy and overwhelming  – it is also exciting, challenging and full of something new every single day.   Even on a ‘bad day’ (and let’s face it, you can have those in the UK too) it is worth any temporary lows for the overall experience.

Yesterday though, I had a full on, stomach lurching ‘I seriously can’t believe I missed that‘ moment.

Here’s why.

My local parkrun.

Jessica Ennis AND Paul Sinton-Hewitt at Sheffield Hallam parkrun and NOT me.  Gutted.

Look what I missed.  Icons.  Icons in action.

Kill me now.*  (only not really)

Oh, and if you want to know what I’m up to in Cambodia, you can always check it out here on Cambodia Calling.  You’re welcome.  🙂