I have been a part of parkrun from near the beginning. I ran in the 1st Brockwell parkrun 7yrs ago. I would try to run one week, then volunteer the next. Then sometimes I was the race director. We would go to the pub to discuss things, at one point we nearly closed down because of a lack of volunteers. Then the race director started Dulwich parkrun down the road, it struggled for a while, with Brockwell only a mile away. But I ran there this Saturday, along with my wife, mum, sister, brother-in-law and 300+ other friendly runners. Parkrun is now in 20 countries, with nearly 1500 events held every Saturday. It is still free and volunteer led. Parkrun is being trialled in prisons, and is prescribed by GPs.
I have made loads of friends at parkrun. When we moved away from London to N.Wales, I remember how sad i was to be leaving these London parkruns. My wife and I seriously considered setting one up ourselves, and were so excited when Penryn castle set one up not far from us.
My top 5 parkruns:
5. on my 30th birthday my mum makes 150 cupcakes. All for me. No not really. My friends and family join me at Brockwell parkrun, and while I make them all run, I set up some tables and lay out the cupcakes. We hand them all out to the finishers and volunteers.
4. on Brockwell parkrun’s 1st birthday, I make an attempt at the course record. The record holder, and good pal, Kevin Quinn is in the race. I win, but miss the record by 8 seconds, with my 15.24. Kev’s record still stands today. I meet parkrun founder, Paul, in the pub after. I am very happy with the race, a solid time, on a hilly course and a bitterly cold morning. I go on to smash my 10km pb a week later.
3. on the morning of my wedding, I turn up to Brockwell park, drunk, after 2hrs sleep, and run hand in hand with my bride to be, and most of our (eighteen) wedding guests. Everyone who finishes ahead of us makes a tunnel for us to run through at the finish line. I don’t know why I took my top off, in November.
2. we are at Dulwich parkrun, Nina is targeting a lifetime best of sub 20min. I am running behind her. We have done a time trial a few weeks before in 21min flat. Perfect weather, she is ready. Too ready. Dulwich parkrun is 3 x 1 mile loops. At the start Nina takes off like she is possessed. Flying through the field, miles ahead of the next woman, who is an excellent club runner. I am running behind Nina, I should tell her to slow down, but I am just so astounded. Most days I am berating her to speed up. She runs the 1st mile in 6min, she has never run a mile this fast before, nothing like. I have no idea what is going on. Then she steps off the course. Waving me away and muttering something like ‘I’m done’. I spend the next minute trying to cajole her into resuming. She shakes her head in defiance, swears at me and refuses obstinately. Then, when I give up and look away, she takes off again. She is mental, emotional, completely unpredictable, I love it. She tears back through the field and records her offical parkrun pb of 21.49. If she had of run even paced and controlled, she could have gone sub 20 that day, but where is the fun in that?
1. coming in a clear winner, the undisputed far and away best memory I have of parkrun ever, occurred this very Sunday, when my little boy boom boom, also known as Jim, who just turned 4, ran his 1st parkrun.
Junior parkrun is on Sundays for ages 4-14 and is 2km. I have been telling him about it all week and he is so excited. We go out on a training run on Thursday of 1km, and he only stops twice. He sees me win on the Saturday and hopefully it looks like something fun. Sunday morning I print out his barcode and explain to him that a person with a special laser will scan it when he finishes and put his time on the internet for the whole world to see. He puts it in his pocket very carefully and checks, every now and then, that it is still there.
In the car on the way over I explain how the best thing to do is to start very slowly with me, and keep a steady pace. Rather than go off too quick and then have to stop.
As the race starts with 100+ other kids, mostly much older, he takes my advice very seriously and we manoeuvre ourselves right to the back. It is 2 laps, we go very slowly but he runs every step. He is talking to me the whole way. He says “I love running with you daddy”. He points out a seating area that we could turn into a pizza place and eat there every night. Up ahead a girl is crying and her dad is trying to comfort her. As we come past them, Jim takes in the scene, assimilates it, and carries on running. When we get to the end of the first lap there is a lot of commotion. Jim’s family are all there cheering him on and he high-5s everyone. Lots of older kids are lapping us. Lots of younger kids have had enough and turn towards the finish. I tell Jim we still have a lap to go, have to do the whole thing again. He doesn’t bat an eyelid. Doesn’t complain, or whinge once. Just keeps talking, and running.
Suddenly we are nearly alone. And near the back. The sweeper is a boy called Sam. He is being brilliant, encouraging Jim, small steps, keep going. Jim looks up at him, gives him a thumbs up, and carries on. Slow and methodical, all the way to the finish. A 4yr old has no idea how far 2km is. Jim just knew it was a long way, and that he was going to do it with me. And so that is what he did.
Out of 100 finishers, Jim finished 100th, I am so proud my heart bursts every time I think about it.
His little legs, his stoicism, how he just sat down on the grass after, and asked for water. These are memories I know I will never forget. I hashtag love parkrun.