I understand its perks. Running with others provides easy motivation, things become a bit spicier and competitive, and there’s that all important community spirit. Granted these are great pluses, but getting up early on a weekend to run around a racecourse just isn’t my deal. It becomes even less my deal in the rain. I’d been nursing a running injury from the notorious Jolly Hog Christmas run earlier in the year. This was the York Parkrun and it was to be my grudging return to running.
The thing that most struck me about Parkrun, the thing that I hadn’t really considered, was that Parkrun happens because people make it happen. The UK has a strong tradition of people giving their time to help things along, as I look back, it’s difficult to think what can possibly have been in it for the many volunteers who gave up their time to set up Parkrun. I was running in the cold drizzle for selfish fitness purposes – I guess, I’m really not too clear on this myself – the volunteers were standing in the rain for no good reason other than to let the event be.
This said there was some grandstanding before the event. We all gathered at the start line, or rather as close as we could get to it. The crowd was quite big. The volunteers had us. We were kettled in, jockeying for a half decent starting position. Half the race happens here, as the experienced Parkrunners wisely push forward to those choice forward spots.
A volunteer with a megaphone was to announce the start of the race. He was in no hurry. This was his moment. Perhaps the megaphone was the crowning glory each of the volunteers secretly coveted. The rain began to fall more heavily, undeterred he worked through the many announcements related to the Parkrun team. I think we were encouraged to clap at different points, but I forget why. I gave them it.
Finally, satisfied with his many announcements, the race was on, a foghorn signalled as much, and we were over the start line. Some of us were over the start line at least. Once the race starts, it’s a slow tread. The crowd shuffles over the narrow start line, each moving only at the pace of those in front of them, which for many is pretty slow pace. It takes a few minutes until the crowd begins to open up.
It was difficult to establish a steady pace. The path was quite narrow and I spent the first ten minutes weaving between runners. We had to complete the circuit two times. I was halfway around the track before I could fall into my own pace. The circuit followed an oval about the racecourse. Empty stands looked down on us as we made our way around the ground.
The Jolly Hog Christmas run hung over me like the sword of Damocles. Unaware I raced on, passing the Parkrunners by the left and right. Then came the twinge. It wasn’t strong. It was just letting me know my injured tendon was still there. It must only have been a couple of months since I’d left the crutches behind. The spectre of the uncommonly pleased hog smiled down at me from the stand; my speed slackened.
One of the thrills of Parkrun – if they can be called such – is clocking a good time. This was a thrill that eluded me. I got a time though and it wasn’t a terrible one. We gathered at the finishing line to compare lycras and make small talk. The rainfall started to lessen. Suddenly, with the racing done, I began to appreciate what the Parkrun was about. We were off for brunch, tendons a mere memory, perhaps I’d order something with ham.