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!).

*waves*

*waves*

**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!

Encouragement

Encouragement

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!

Cake!

Cake!

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.

Support

Support

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

Advertisements

Summer Round-up and Duathlon Nerves

After a summer of lots of this:

Mine!

Mine!

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…

Hero

Hero

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.

Happy Birthday Hilly Fields Parkrun!

One tomorrow! I can’t believe it’s been a year. A year of new friends, new goals, running in wind, rain, snow and ice – there really were some very poor weather conditions, but still the runners (and volunteers came). We ran on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, we have welcomed people from all over the country and have had the pleasure of awarding runners with their 50 and 100 t-shirts. All this every Saturday at 9am and all for free.

Thank you volunteers!

Volunteers rock!

Volunteers rock!

Find out if there’s a Parkrun near you.

Sweating Tears

I feel better now. Last night Edward persuaded me to go to the running club. I haven’t been for a while: tiredness, coldness, can’t-be-arsedness, but he said I would feel better afterwards… I got there and huddled in the doorway, not wanting to be outside in thin Lycra. I joined the pack, warming up around the track for a mile, I listened to other people’s conversations, I took in all the amazing athletes darting around me in all directions, I kept my head down. We tackled the session, my ankle hurt, my knee hurt, my head hurt. I cried. I sidled off the track, cried some more and wandered home, defeated. A DNF.

This morning was a new day. I put on my brightest running top and dropped H off at school. I ran hard up to Hilly Fields, familiar and friendly ground. I ran up, down and around and felt more like myself again. Maybe the running club isn’t the right thing for me right now.

This little video mentions sweating tears and the beach scene certainly lifts my spirits, when will the sun come out?! These new Mizuno Wave Rider shoes are being marketed as ‘Smoother, lighter, faster’. If they can make the wearer feel thus, then they have to be good 🙂

Winter fun

Yes there was snow on them there Hilly Fields and yes we were going ahead with our Parkrun. Forty-five runners turned up for a frolic in the snow this morning, but I resisted the urge, being Run Director and marshal, then satisfied my snow-fun needs afterwards:

Oh, what fun!

Oh, what fun!

Hector and Edward kept themselves very busy building a snow monster/alien thingy:

Watch out!

Watch out!

Yesterday was a gymmy day, then I got hot running around in the park after school, avoiding being hit by snowballs.

In yer face!

In yer face!

And trying to persuade Hector it might be getting dark, and we should go home.

So angelic. Ahem.

So angelic. Ahem.

On Thursday I succumbed to the lure of an extra layer and wore a vest under my long-sleeve top, I even wore a hat. I normally reserve such excesses for when there is snow on the ground, but I seemed to require a little extra help in getting out. I woke with a few alien aches, a result of my hard work on the floor on Wednesday: that Pilates class is good, with the aches being in all the right places (abs, butt) so I will definitely be back for more next week. It seemed like the perfect time to try out a pair of tights I am testing, the new ACTV tights from Puma. I had a sneak preview of these leggings back in the summer at a Puma press day up in East London, with the backdrop of the Olympic Stadium to glance at wistfully. The thing that interested me about these tights was that they are like a compression garment, but instead of being worn post-exercise, they are designed to be worn during exercise. The inside of the fabric is lined with little rubber tracks that massage your muscles as you run (this is the inside-out view of the knee area):

Wiggly

Wiggly

They are interesting to get on, with the rubber bits sticking slightly – there was some stealth-like manoeuvring going on in the bedroom and, as my legs are seemingly shorter than the average leg, some interesting wrinkling occurring around the ankle. Oh, to be able to order a few extra inches of shin online… As I left the house, it was very tempting to rub my thighs, but that would mean looking like Vic Reeves and getting the neighbours talking, so I resisted (whilst in public anyway). Did I mention it was cold? Well, I wasn’t expecting one of the qualities of these tights to be extra warmth, but they did seem to keep my legs warm and there was something reassuring about the gentle hug they were giving my lower limbs. I have been experiencing some ankle and knee pain in the past few days, but amazingly there was no sign of this. Maybe this was coincidence, but it would be great to find a garment that can offer this much support during a run. I suppose if I was doing a more scientific sort of test I would have gone out for a run in a regular pair of tights to offer a comparison, but I really needed to jump straight in the shower and grab a cup of tea on my return. The Puma tights will be available exclusively from Sweatshop and will retail at £100.

It was a gorgeous day for a run along the river and I was treated to views like this:

Through Ladywell Fields

Through Ladywell Fields

And this (but no kingfisher today):

The River Ravensbourne

The River Ravensbourne

And, on my way back, this caught my eye:

One sided

One sided