Parkrun Month Report by Katherine Bates

January’s Race Report.  ‘See the world by Parkrun’ **

Apologies for a) another missive from yours truly and

                         b) being a tad bit late in delivery of said missive

No apologies, however, for winning the wine, currently gathering dust in the wine cellar. A suitable summer evening is all that is needed to fully appreciate the subtle aroma and flavours. Once I’ve read the blurb on the bottle to tell me what exactly they are that is. I digress. None of this rubbish I hear you cry. You’d rather know about the success/failure of competitive running within the ranks of the ERR club champs. And so, the story begins …or rather it should begin with the real story of the Parkrun community. What a fantastic achievement by one individual who saw the potential in everybody to run collectively, irrespective of their ability. A relatively simple formula of running at the same time, same day each week and, crucially, being totally free, is pure genius. Like most of life these days, however, it requires a lot of logistics in the background to support the process. A huge band of willing volunteers give up precious time to facilitate each Parkrun. Hats off to these individuals without which there would be no Parkrun to well, run. For those who are unsure of the commitment required to either run or to help, there is a great website to garner more detail. Right, now to the nub of the report. Thanks for reading thus far. If you’ve fallen asleep, no worries, the audio version will be out soon.

1st Jan. Newbury Parkrun. 1st attempt

What better way to start the New Year than getting up early to visit friends and incorporating a Parkrun en-route? Answers on a postcard please. We’re on a mission though (apparently) to find the flattest and fastest to maximise that chance of a P.B. The uniqueness of this series of races within the club champs is that you don’t often see your competitors to chase down as different venues are chosen. Your watch becomes your competitor. So, without further ado, we’re off to Newbury Parkrun. From a historical perspective an interesting one. It’s based on RAF Greenham Common and for the oldies amongst us that recalls many a news item on the women’s peace camps encircling it. Rather apposite wouldn’t you say? Happily, part of it is now dedicated to restoring the natural landscape thereby encouraging wildlife to return. The local Wildlife Trust takes on this responsibility admirably and it’s a resource widely used by walkers, runners and cyclists. And cows. Indeed, one of whom I had the pleasure to encounter as it waited for a gap to appear before crossing in front of me. I kid you not. Clearly runners were having such fun it decided to run parallel with us. Both slightly unnerving and hilarious in one. At the beginning we were informed by the race organiser not to weave around the puddles as it caused confusion. Obeying him to the letter I splashed my way through as many as poss. giving my fellow competitors a cheery “Hooray “as I passed. I just knew they’d appreciated that. On to the finish line where naturally Graham had been waiting. Glancing at my stopped watch I was pleasantly surprised. Seems that quaffing the odd pint or three the night before (all in the spirit of bringing in the New Year of course) hadn’t impacted too much. Job done we’d both earned the right to have coffee and cake with our friends. ‘Another slice? ooh go on then’.

15th Jan. Oxford Parkrun. 2nd attempt

Given the title some tourists could be mistaken for thinking this Parkrun would be accompanied by views of the dreaming spires a la Morse / Harry Potter/Philip Pullman etc. Before the initiation of the new ‘University Parkrun ‘, it was, however, aptly named. For those of us in the know it distinguishes itself by being, relatively speaking, flat(ish), fast(ish) and close. Delete as applicable. Graham was as certain as he could be that this was going to be the one. The one that would set the bar so high you’d need binoculars to see it. What could possibly go wrong? Hello, cold weather anyone? Brass monkey in fact. Godamn it, bits of the course were well and truly frozen. Doing our perfunctory ‘warm-up’ all became apparent that staying upright was going to be the biggest challenge of the day. The P.B was ditched. Looking like Bambi on ice was not a spectacle I wished to delight onlookers with quite frankly, so I took it steady, and dignity remained intact. Ho hum, onto the next week.

22nd Jan. Worcester Pitchcroft Parkrun. 3rd attempt

Continuing our theme to see the world by Parkrun, this choice was determined by our social diary the day afore. We had ostensibly travelled up to Malvern to amble in the hills making bijou coffee stops with posh sarnis before taking off the masks of respectability and singing the night away at a Classic Rock Show concert. And we are not talking Beethoven here. In true away- day style we carbo loaded on pizza and hydrated with beer…. again. The traditional Saturday loomed after the night before, so to speak, and I can’t say I was feeling entirely on top form. And form was indeed appropriate as Pitchcroft is a horseracing course. Four legs would have been very handy. Director’s spiel over, we’re under starters orders. And we’re off. The going was good to firm. Apparently. The pace was fast, my breathing noisy. I’d made the decision to get near to the front as time was of the essence. Literally. As in all Parkruns your time is determined by their stopwatch. No plea bargaining here. No “but my Strava shows I was 000.1second faster” sob stories. What they see is what you get. And I was happy with my allotted time. Seconds shaved meant I had got a bit faster. Right, now off to explore the delights all things Worcester …Cathedral, porcelain and sauce. Except we’re both atheists, firmly mug variety and veggie. Hah! No matter. A walk by the river served the purpose of recovery for the legs and quite co-incidentally bought us to a coffee shop. Exterior architecture was pleasing to the eye so with a tourist’s curiosity we explored the inner sanctum. Bliss. A comfy seat, food and beverage was the perfect repost after a hard morning’s canter.

29th Jan. Oxford Parkrun 4th attempt.

Sleep, eat, run, repeat. Should be the mantra for Parkrun. So here we go again, except this time I’m going to pull it out of the bag. The fastest I can possibly manage. After all I’ve got a score to settle with Cuttleslowe. Naturally I’m exhibiting the pre-race runners’ casual attitude of nonchalance. What’s my intended time I’m asked? Oooh, haven’t a clue, I just go with the flow don’t you know. Don’t be fooled. The calm exterior is a façade. The heart of an Usain Bolt is underneath. The rest of him wouldn’t go amiss, but for now the internal pep talk will have to do. Several ERR s are here. Seems we’ve all had the same lightbulb moment. But that’s good. Possibly. It now means we have a physical carrot, in front, behind, to the side, whatever. It’s a good analogy frequently used by runners to keep us competitive. Better than vegetating in that coach potato position. Feeling good on my 5 a day I check laces, get near(ish) to the front, prime watch, focus and then out of the starting blocks, off I go! And yes, it hurts. Giving the best of yourself always does. No matter what your pace. After all, this is why we compete, why we belong to a club. And yes, I did manage to pull a P.B out of the pain. Hurrah! Job done. Back home. Last of the possible Parkruns. Time to rest on those laurels (wherever they may be). Except that we can’t. Graham (I’m getting no tea tonight) Bridges tells me the club have decided to add another one. Reader, I clobbered him. *

My narrative may read more like a social diary than a conventional race report, but that’s what Parkruns are like. They can take you anywhere, be with anyone. So much diversity and conviviality. Maybe humanity could learn a thing or two by embracing these concepts.

*Apologies to any Jane Austen fans out there.

**Credits go to Graham for this (oft quoted) quip.