A Week in the Life of a parkrun

parkrun is big. There are now events happening every Saturday morning all over the UK and in other parts of the world, even as far away as Australia! There are also Junior parkruns taking place on Sunday mornings, encouraging youngsters to try a 2k run with their friends. I’ve been closely involved with Hilly Fields parkrun for the two years it’s been running, and have made some lovely friends and would even say it’s changed my life, so I was a bit disheartened recently when a friend said on Facebook that parkrun had messed up her time again. Of course, I jumped in and got all defensive and it seemed that people were saying this is a common problem at many events. I’ve run at a few different events around the country and have never had a problem with my time, in fact the only problem is my own eagerness in pressing my Garmin too quickly at the start. I thought, as a Run Director, it might be a good opportunity for me to show you what goes into a parkrun, how we make it happen every week (and on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day!).



**Warning! I do go on a bit, go into lots of detail, but I really wanted to illustrate a week in the life…It’s my own personal experience, and each run is different, with different needs and approaches.**

On Saturday I ran, I didn’t have a good run, it was windy, muddy and I wasn’t feeling too healthy. After the run, we packed up the finish funnel, thanked our volunteers and sauntered over to the cafe to process the results. It’s always heaving in the Hilly Fields cafe, lots of smiling faces, hands cupped around a hot drink, talk of PBs, goals and life in general. We grab a table, place our order and the Run Director gets to work on uploading the data to the system. When you cross the finish line, you are given a finish token. This has your position and a barcode on it, we scan this and your own, personal barcode and these are (magically?) matched up to the time on the stopwatch. Usually, one of the volunteers will grab all the tokens and spread them out on a table in the cafe, where they are carefully put back into number order and rethreaded onto a long cable-tie (for some reason, this is a really popular job!). In the meantime, we locate the leads in the rucksack and connect the stopwatch and scanners, which load the data onto the computer. To make parkrun happen, we enlist the help of volunteers, we couldn’t do it without them so, before the run data is sent to HQ, we submit the names of our volunteers for the day and they will be allocated any points owed to them.

Finish token

Finish token

Once the barcode and timer data is in the system, we can have a look at the results table to check for any errors. At this point, we might notice ‘unknown runners’ (people who haven’t brought a barcode), and we will have the opportunity to rectify any problems that may have occurred at the finish funnel – this might be something straightforward, like a sweaty barcode that won’t scan, or something more puzzling like someone running through the funnel again with their partner/child/mum but being counted on the timer, or a ‘funnel dodger’ – someone who runs through, is counted, but doesn’t get scanned. These sorts of things happen all the time and you get to spot them quite easily but, occasionally, there might be something a little more perplexing and this is where you would ring up HQ and speak to the person on duty that day (sometimes you’ll even get through to Paul Sinton-Hewitt himself, the founder of parkrun!). Once everything is ok, we will send the data and it’s processed at head office (remember, there are hundreds of events all doing this at the same time…there is a queue). As we update Facebook and Twitter and get to drink our coffee, we start to hear phones pinging around the cafe as people enjoy seeing their official results. Result!



If everything seems ok, it’s time to gather up all the kit and head home. Every so often, someone might come up and say ‘My time seems a bit out’, so it’s back on the computer to see what’s happening. Again, this could be something like a funnel dodger or similar, and can be easily rectified and the data resubmitted (in this case the person would not receive another text, they would need to look at the results on the website). There’s quite a lot of kit to make up a parkrun (though they are all different, and have different needs depending on the course and the preference of the Event Director). We have managed to condense it down into a Sainsburys bag, a rucksack and a bundle of finish funnel poles, quite a lot for one person to carry! This week I was on my bike, so Stephen, our Event Director kindly offered to take the finish funnel poles home 🙂 When I get home, I keep an eye on the Hilly Fields email, in case there are any queries, lost property concerns or offers from prospective volunteers. I will also check the kit bag, fold up the hi-viz vests (and wash any that have got muddy!) and, if there is any lost property, I might put up a message/photo on the Facebook page to let people know (the bag gets very heavy over the winter!).

Early in the week I will send out an email to all registered volunteers asking if they would like to help out. Our event runs with around ten volunteers and we generally don’t have too much trouble in recruiting people: once you’ve done it, you realise what a buzz you get and people often commit to running regularly and volunteering every few weeks – we even have volunteers who don’t run! If the roster is looking a bit empty, I might mention this on Facebook or Twitter and we usually have a few more people coming forward. By the time we get to Friday, the roster will be nice and full, and I check the rucksack to make sure the computer has performed any updates, clear and charge up the scanners and clear and reset the stopwatches. Ready to go!

We love volunteers!

We love volunteers!

I set the alarm clock early for Saturday morning, it wouldn’t happen if I overslept! A quick breakfast and I might head up the hill by myself, or have Edward and Hector to help me set up if they’re not stuck into Lego. It’s all uphill from our house, so I’m usually a bit hot by the time I get there, carrying all that kit. It’s great if there is an early runner or volunteer around, so I can enlist their help in putting out cones and arrows. There are two key spots on our course that need to be carefully marked out with cones, so that needs doing first, other areas need just a few cones and maybe an arrow, depending on how many marshals we have that day. At the top of the hill we put out the finish funnel and the parkrun flag for all to see, and slowly more and more people begin to gather and it gets a bit noisier as people greet their friends and catch up on the week. Volunteers arrive and I hand them their vest and any equipment they might need (stopwatch etc) and tell them where they need to be during the run. As we near nine o’clock, I call everyone to the start and we have our pre-run briefing. This is where we welcome any first-timers (big cheer), say hello to any tourists (big cheer), thank our volunteers (even bigger cheer), present any 50 or 100 t-shirts (another cheer), go over the course details and any things to look out for such as dogs, park users, potholes. We might congratulate anyone running their 50th or 100th parkrun (more cheering) and maybe sing happy birthday and, of course, mention any cake that might be shared at the end. I will then hand over to the timer, and off we go!



We have a spot where the course forks, not far from the finish, and a few volunteers and family/friends might gather here to cheer people on. When I’m Run Director, I like to chat with people at this point and usually have a walk around the course to speak to other marshals and encourage people as they pass. We often have dog walkers and other park users coming up and asking what’s going on, sometimes you’ll see them a few weeks later, in brightly coloured kit, joining in 🙂 Quite quickly, we assemble at the finish to cheer the first runners across the line (our course records are men: 15.39 and women: 18.56). The people on the stopwatch and finish tokens will keep communicating with each other to make sure they are in synch, so we can keep track of any missed tokens and so on. We now have a steady stream of runners at all different paces, it might be that a regular runner is trying to achieve a PB, so we will shout that little bit louder to encourage them up the hill. Faster runners might head over and cheer other runners on, and friends mill around, stretching and finding out how they got on. After around 40-50 minutes after the start, we are congratulating the last few finishers, collecting up the cones and arrows and leaving the park as we found it (if slightly muddier in places!). Smiling runners thank us as they head home and others join us in the cafe, where we do it all over again.



*Thank you to Natalie, Lisa and Paul for taking such lovely photos time and time again*


Summer Round-up and Duathlon Nerves

After a summer of lots of this:



and enough running, swimming and riding to fend off ice-cream belly (just), I need to get myself back into a routine and back in action for some autumn race fun. I had hoped to keep to my routine, but holidays, chickenpox (Hector, not me) and a lack of time meant things went a bit off-course. I did plenty of running on holiday, with sand-dunes and rocky paths to keep me on my toes, and even squeezed in a parkrun in Barnstaple…



I was delighted to discover that one of my heroes, Chrissie Wellington, was running at Barnstaple, so we made an extra special effort to get there (which involved a very rushed sprint along the river to find a footbridge as cheers rose up on the opposite bank – eek!). I also climbed elegantly into a wetsuit to make the most of the Devonshire sea…

Tight fit

Tight fit

Erm, I found the wetsuit excellent insulation against the roaring Atlantic, but I am at a loss as to how people jump in and out of these at a triathlon. More practice needed I think! So, many Adventures in Open Water Swimming took place in the North Sea, the Atlantic and also the Bude Sea Pool. Brrrr.

Now, of course, I’m back in action and getting my head down for some serious training. How lovely to be back at the running club, grinding up and down hills at Hilly Fields parkrun and also heading out solo for a brick session.

Quick change

Quick change

Because on Sunday, I will be gathering together a collection of running and cycling attire, my bike and various drinks and snacks and heading over to Richmond Park for the London Duathlon. I’m very, very excited and maybe a little bit nervous about this! 10k run, 44k ride and 5k run. Gulp. My session at the weekend really helped my confidence. I rode out into Kent (avoiding almost being crushed by idiot drivers on two occasions 😦 ), rode 42k, parked my bike in the hall at home and swapped to my running shoes to head out for a quick 5k. My legs felt surprisingly good at first, with a nice spin to them from the bike leg, but I soon started to feel a cramp setting in…I wonder how things will feel with an additional 10k in my legs this Sunday. There will be various distances being covered on the day, from Super Sprint right up to Ultra. Richmond Park is a great place to spend a day admiring the athletic prowess passing by, ahem. Watch this space next week for a full report on my own experience of my first duathlon.

PB smashing

Oh my. A few months ago I had a streak of PB smashing runs up at my beloved Hilly Fields parkrun. I just had a look at my parkrun stats, and it seems that my best time in 2012 was 28.33, my best in 2013 was 27.17 and, until Saturday, my best time for 2014 was 25.01. I never, ever thought I’d run a 25 minute 5k (especially not up and down those hills), so am still slightly in shock that I have achieved a time of 24.09! People were asking what I’d had for breakfast, but I hadn’t done anything new, just my usual, but there are so many factors that can give you a good or bad run. I had trained hard during the week, even going for a 10k run and a swim the day before, and had fitted in five swims over five days, so I wasn’t exactly rested! Maybe it’s the swimming, the cross training and the core work I’ve been doing, all helping me power my arms to push me up the hills.

Whatever it is, it feels great to have an enjoyable run with friends and to feel I can push myself faster, a marked contrast to last Saturday’s run where I felt like I was dragging myself around the course in the hideous humidity! I will keep up the training, eat as I always eat, try and keep up my positive mindset and enjoy each run as it comes 🙂

parkrun pb

(please note the small ‘p’, I have been reprimanded on my incorrect use of the capital ‘P’ when writing ‘parkrun’. I promise to stick to the small ‘p’ from now on, and please ignore any previous references to ‘Parkrun’. Tsk.)


Something is happening. Maybe it’s the running club. Maybe it’s the swimming. Maybe it’s sticking to four runs a week. Maybe it’s the push of running in company. Maybe it’s losing a bit of weight. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I have been bagging myself some PBs up at Hilly Fields parkrun. Saturday was a particularly happy run for me, as I pushed just under the 26 minute mark, with a run of 25.42. My goal for a long time has been a 25 minute 5k, but I never imagined that would be at Hilly Fields (the clue is in the name), but I might, just might, make that happen. One of the most interesting, amusing and fun aspects of this for me is running with different people. For a long time I have been following the same muddy legs around the course, but I now have new runners to pull me up the hills with their encouragement and find myself crossing the line with some people who might previously have gone home by the time I stop my watch. Some of these are people I would watch heading for the finish as I tackled the hill, but now I seem to be catching up… As we wait around to get our barcodes scanned, I find myself being congratulated by people who finish ‘up there’ at the front, all saying how well my running is going. This is what I love about parkrun, people notice how you’re doing, they recognise when you’ve worked hard and when you’ve managed a good run and are not shy about coming forward to say ‘well done’, whether you are a front-runner or a new-comer trying a run-walk approach.

The tricky side of getting a bit faster is keeping it up. I think we will be reverting to our original course this Saturday, now it’s dried out a little, and I wonder if this will make a difference to my time. All I can do is take another dose of performance enhancing training and just go for it.

PB or not PB?

That is the question. I ran around the track this morning. I wanted to see how fast I could run 5k. My legs have been a bit heavy since Tuesday so I wasn’t expecting much. I set off and, at the end of the first lap I glanced at my Garmin, which wasn’t registering distance or pace, so I fiddled around for a moment and still nothing was happening so I just kept going. Part way round lap 2 it picked up a signal but the pace was something daft like 24 minute miles. On I went, gritting my teeth, slightly disheartened by the lack of cooperation from my wrist mate, but determined to stick to the pace I had reached. When I finished my 5k I was slightly disappointed with the time as it appeared on my watch, but boosted by the kind comments from the gym manager who was marvelling at how ‘strong’ I had looked all the way around 🙂

Now I’m back home I’ve uploaded the run and this is what it says:


So, any ideas? Did I run under 26 minutes? I’m hoping the 25.45 ‘moving time’ is the one. If so, I’m getting there, if not, must work harder.


There’s nothing like a good hard run to make you feel better for the rest of the day. Last week I forgot this and, by Friday, had that ‘Will I ever run again?’ feeling. But I did, I ran, I ran hard up hill, I splashed through big sweeping puddles and I felt good again. Today I woke to a mist, a strange dampness hanging low over our house, and was in danger of curling up under the mist until I noticed what it had done to our garden: a tangle of intricate spiders’ webs could be seen hanging in every bush and spanning every space. I carefully weaved between them – in my pyjamas – to attempt to capture this moment on camera.


After letting my running fall slightly by the way-side last week, I was determined to start the week as I mean to go on, and got out this morning, with music in my ears and a smile on my face. It wasn’t that I was feeling lazy last week, or especially busy, but my knee hurt and this gave me an excuse to give in to a brief lack of motivation. We all find different ways to motivate ourselves out of the house and on the road, for some it’s a fitness or weight-loss goal, for others it’s the need for head-space and for others it’s a competitive spirit. Some of us gather all of those things together and still need a little extra sometimes. For me, the motivation of being part of Parkrun has been a huge boost, knowing that I have a group of people behind me and a weekly gathering that fills my ‘this is why I do it’ tanks. Joining a running club is also a good motivator, and is known to be one of the best ways to ‘improve’ your running whatever level you are at. For some people the push of working with a coach or personal trainer is what’s needed, or even working towards a qualification themselves. So, with the running club, Parkrun and my own PB-seeking goal over the next eight weeks, I have no excuse.

Distance: 3.96 miles

Time: 36 minutes 53 seconds

Average Pace: 9.19

Best Pace: 6.38

Calories: 488

(I kept an eye on the clock when nearing the 5k mark and it was 28.24, not too bad).

Head down, teeth gritted

I’m not used to running in the rain, we’re kind of lucky really in London, apart from that rubbishy ‘summer’, we tend to have quite dry weather, or maybe I’m just lucky when I run. This week has challenged that, but it hasn’t challenged me. I am so determined to get this PB and not to miss out on a run when I have the chance, I have been turning up to the school gates in full gear, and enduring ‘you’re mad’ looks from normal parents who are safely ensconced in weatherproof macs. Little do they know, that this run is a necessity – if I don’t do it, I won’t get that rush of endorphins that will see me through the rest of the day, on a high of achievement.

Wednesday’s run was one of these grit-your-teeth runs, the perfect opportunity to try out my gorgeous new trail shoes, sent to me by the generous people at Sportsshoes.com. I am always a bit reserved about lovely new running shoes: I simply don’t want them to get dirty, ever. Trail shoes can’t avoid getting dirty and, though still looking shiny and new, there is now a tell-tale clumpy line of grass clinging to the edges of these beauties:

Shiny and new

I did wear them last Saturday to give me some bounce in my role as Run Director at the Hilly Fields Parkrun, but that doesn’t really count because the only running I did was to retrieve an arrow that had fallen over. I did, however, get to have a geeky shoe chat with a fellow Parkrunner who was wearing the rather fetching purple version. My inner geek was blown away rather by the details on the fastening mechanism, not only do they have a nifty little draw-string whatnot, Salamon have even thought long and hard about where you put your neatly tied laces, arriving at a neat little pocket on the tongue, where you can tuck any loose ends away. Marvellous.

Clever stuff

So my first run was a wet one, up the hill, away from school and around Hilly Fields. I don’t know if it is because they are new, but I found the soles a little slippery on the pavement at first, a little like running in studded football boots (I’m guessing, I’ve never worn and am never likely to wear football boots!). I kept myself in check and took it easy on the wet paths but the shoes really come into their own on the wet grass and  mud. I was able to virtually sprint up the grassy hill (though onlookers might call it something other than sprinting) and the mud was no problem, the grooved soles offering excellent grip, enough to run confidently without fear of falling.

Groovy soles

After running light in my NBs recently, I find other shoes a bit heavy, but this extra weight felt reassuring for the trail, giving support and stability on a variable and challenging surface. You can find out more about this particular pair of shoes here, but the range of trail shoes on the website is extensive! These are going to be my lucky HF Parkrun shoes 🙂