250 parkruns

Back in 2008 one of Helen’s work colleagues told her about a “Time Trial” which was a timed 5K run at Woodhouse Moor Park in Leeds each Saturday morning. It was free to take part but you had to register in advance on a website. The website was called “parkrun.org.uk”.

Back then there were no barcodes, finish tokens were little metal disks and your position was entered there and then by the volunteers into a laptop. I remember that instead of the stopwatches we have today, timing was done on what looked like a large desktop calculator. In the important ways however parkrun was the same then as it is now; you still were able to run, walk jog as you fancied, you still got your results by email, it was free and you got milestone t-shirts at 50 and 100 parkruns.

Back then, parkrun meant going to Leeds Woodhouse Moor and that was where I ran my first 100 or so times. Since then my parkrun journey has taken me to Pontefract and then to Temple Newsam. I was really excited when Temple Newsam parkrun opened because it’s a beautiful place and is really local for me. I felt really welcome at Temple Newsam and it became my home parkrun. I always remember a time when I couldn’t complete the run due to not feeling well and the kindness shown to me by Ronnie Bray and the team.  There, I was able to learn so many new volunteering skills and I have met lots of wonderful new friends and so when I was asked to join the Rothwell parkrun core team I was torn because I felt Temple Newsam was my home.  However, for parkrun to grow, some experienced volunteers need to get involved in and shape new events and it has been wonderful to see so many people new to parkrun come to Rothwell over the last few weeks.  It would have been unbelievable back in 2008 that there would be so many local parkruns to choose from!

In the early days, milestone t-shirts were delivered to parkrun event directors and given out at the run briefing once a month and at this point the milestones were publicly recognised. It’s a shame that isn’t done today but with the sheer number of milestones being achieved it’s not practical. Today at Temple Newsam, they have these brilliant “I’m running my 50/100/250th” bibs and I proudly wore one of those today at my 250th parkrun.   I have some lovely friends who came especially to Temple Newsam to celebrate this milestone and people who saw my bib shouted encouragement as I went round.  This reminded me of how fortunate I am to be part of the parkrun community.

How long it will take for my 250 t-shirt to come I don’t know, but I don’t care because it feels great to be part of the exclusive “250 Club” and even better, to be part of the wonderful parkrun community.

I read yesterday about Ramona Thevenet, the first woman in the world to enter the even more exclusive “500 club”. When I reached 100, the 250 looked a very distant goal and I feel now, the same way about 500. But the great thing about the parkrun milestones is that all you have to do to achieve them is to keep going, and keep going I shall for as long as I’m able. Bring on the 500!

But the noble make noble plans,
and by noble deeds they stand.

Isaiah 32:8 (NIV)

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Champions of the World

Truly global athletics events are a rare thing; world championships happen every two years and you have to wait 4 years for the Olympics.  Having one of these meetings on your “doorstep” can be a once in a lifetime event so in Great Britain we are very fortunate to have had the Olympics and then, 5 years later, the World Championships both in London.
I have a confession to make: I never applied for Olympic tickets because I assumed that the London transport system and all the rest of the city-wide infrastructure would simply collapse under the pressure, it never even occurred to me that the planning and organisation would be utterly brilliant.  The announcement that London would host the Worlds, made back in 2011, seemed to be a bit lost in the excitement of London 2012 so when, as a UKA member, I received an invitation to get an early opportunity to buy tickets to London 2017, I jumped at the chance.

This is how we found ourselves in the Olympic Stadium on Saturday evening.  This was the largest athletics event I had ever been to and it was something I had been looking forward to for over a year.

We already knew that if you wanted the best view of the action, your best bet was to stay at home and watch the telly.  This way you don’t miss a thing and everything that is going on gets explained to you as it happens.  The reason you go to the big events is to immerse yourself in the atmosphere and take in the sense of occasion, to be there as history is made.

Of course history is one thing but expecting things to play out to a script is completely another.   The expected gold to be won by Mo Farrah wasn’t, Usain Bolt’s final appearance as part of the Jamaican 4x100M team didn’t go to plan and Katrina Johnson Thompson didn’t ease herself into the high-jump medals.

Instead a different and unexpected story unfolded as the British women won a silver medal in the 4x100M and the men’s team ran spectacularly to gold.  With Mo’s silver medal, this made gold and two silvers in one night – quite something.

I can’t describe what it was like to be there so I shan’t try.  What I can say is that it was an unforgettable experience and the sense of being part of history was fulfilled.

A little while ago, we were playing snakes and ladders with our 5 year-old grandson.  When he wasn’t on the winning team his little lip quivered and he tearfully said: “but I wanted to WIN!”.  The want to win is part of all of us and is especially strong in elite athletes (that’s what makes them successful).  That is why it must be especially hard for the competitors who didn’t achieve what they wanted.   The situation for them however is no different to that of my grandson because, in sport, you can’t write the script.  I know that Usain Bolt and Mo Farrah  had bitterly disappointing evenings but let’s look at perspective.  Both have dominated their respective disciplines completely for many years.  They will go down in history among the greatest athletes ever to have existed.   This is an achievement which is very very rare even among gold medal winning and world record holding athletes.  Dominance like that can’t last forever and no-one can be the fastest at anything for ever.  Undying admiration for both of them, yes.  Sympathy?  I don’t think they need it.

As for our young athletes, the up-and-coming who are the future, some of whom won medals, some of which nearly won medals.  They are all brilliant and have given me a night to remember, a memory which will live with me all of my years.

What do you know about tomorrow? How can you be so sure about your life? It is nothing more than mist that appears for only a little while before it disappears.  James 4:14 CEV

It shouldn’t happen to a vet

What do you do on your birthday? When you are young they are exciting occasions because you know you are taking another step toward the goal of adulthood.  When you are older they can be an unpleasant reminder of the inevitable passing of years.  I refuse to be drawn in to that morbid trap though because life is for living to the full and to that end, my birthday treat was to compete in a running race!

The event I participated in on Wednesday was called a “Yorkshire Vets Grand Prix”.   This might conjure up images of James Herriot in a Formula 1 racing car but of course it’s no such thing, as you would find out if you knew the name of the organisation is “The Yorkshire Veterans Althletic Association”.  Now for me, the term “Veteran” suggests octogenarian war heroes at Remembrance Sunday walking slowly not so much because they are old but due to the weight of bravery medals pinned to their breasts.

In athletics, a “veteran” is nothing like this.  It simply means you are getting on a bit requiring no greater feat of bravery than simply ageing.  To qualify as a vet, you need to reach the staggering old age of 35 and I hear you saying “35? If that’s old what am I?”.  The other thing is that you might think that the “older” runners would be slower and give you a better chance, but you had better think again.

In my running club, for ages the fastest male runner was over 55 and when I went to a presentation evening at another club, almost all the prizes for fastness were being won by the over 45s. Currently, our fastest lady by far in my club is 35+.  When you enter one of these events all the excuses go out the window and there is nowhere to hide because you can no longer say “oh well, I’m not doing so well because I’m older”.  They make you wear little numbers on your back saying which age category you are in.  For example mine says M55, meaning a man over 55 (but younger than 60).  It reminds me of event categories in para-athletics denoting degrees of disability but here that similarity ends.

Make no mistake, my sport is full of fast old men and women.  When I started out along the canal paths of Halifax on the Wednesday “Grand Prix” race, I was being passed by guys wearing M60, M65 or even M70!  It felt like they put these on their backs so that when I am passed, it rubs it in that I am slow not because I am old, but because I am rubbish!

Before you start to console me don’t worry, I don’t really think I am rubbish.  The great thing about the Yorkshire Vets races is that they are inclusive and don’t make anyone feel inferior.  It’s very much a “running club runner” event but that doesn’t make it feel elite or exclusive, but it does include some awesome athletes and it’s a pleasure to run with them.

“Grey hair is a crown of splendour; it is attained in the way of righteousness.”  Proverbs 16:31 (NIV)