28 July, 2023
You can try to avoid it, but it always gets you in the end…
Long a Parkrun obsessive, until now my entire family has treated my Saturday morning 5k ritual as a brief madness that overcomes me and necessitates a year-round cold shower upon my triumphant return. It would’ve been madness too, to even ask if anyone would like to join me.
But throughout the Parkrun years, my Mum has supportively accompanied me to countless Parkrun venues, holding the dog and cheering my sweaty face around various Wiltshire parks, fields and towpaths.
It's never before been said, though I suspect she has long known this was coming: Did she want to Parkrun with me? Just the once?
For a few months now, her friends have been inviting her on increasingly long countryside walks, through woods, over hills and inevitably, to a cracking little café somewhere for tea and cake before returning. As a result, she now has the right shoes for the job, plus a very real understanding of how far 5k actually is.
Goodness knows I’d never have asked her to run the course. Those in their eighties - and even nineties – who take to the barcode on a Saturday are undoubtedly heroes, but they are also the tiny minority whose bodies are still miraculously up to the job. Mum is deep into her sixth decade and in no way could her knees agree to pound 5k without serious incident.
Handily, Parkrun recently introduced Parkwalkers, as well as their established Tailwalkers, who bring up the rear and collect those who are at the very back of the pack along the route. Parkwalkers however, are dedicated walk buddies, who serve as a marker and companion for anyone who simply wants to walk the route at a standard amble. Perfect.
One evening, during our regular phone catch-up, I can sense Mum’s in a buoyant mood. She’s had a good week, the sun has been shining and the neighbours are away. This is my chance… I ask… and she says yes! With three firm conditions: One – I will walk with her. Of course. Two – we do Waitrose AND Sainsburys afterwards. Three – the coffees are on me this week. It’s a deal.
As luck would have it, the Saturday in question is glorious. No rain and plenty of sunshine. As it’s our most local event, Mum already knows the rules and the course, but we attend the first-timers briefing and meet a group of ladies from a local walking netball club, decked out with tutus and bells. They’ll be tailwalking, so as long as we hear them behind us, we’re happy.
We line up, the whistle sounds and Mum can’t help it – she’s marching forward. As the masses stream towards the first corner, I wouldn’t have been surprised if she broke out into a jog, but she’s not that green. She’s pacing herself, as well she should.
The wonderful volunteers all along the course are full of encouragement and Mum passes it forward to the front runners as they fly by panting and grunting. We’re having so much more fun than them, I always think 😉
Despite coming along to support so many events in the past, Mum is evidently enlightened by the intricacies of the Parkrun operation, from the route markers to the left / right hand side principles. It’s a tight ship and certainly needs to be now there are close to 1,200 Parkruns in the UK every weekend. Safety first, even when you’re walking.
As we near the finish, we can’t hear the cowbells of the netball team – we’ve left them far behind. We’re likely to finish under the hour, which is fantastic. (because it means coffee isn’t far away now 😊 ).
As soon as the end marker is in sight, it happens. Mum breaks into a jog and she’s steaming towards the finish funnel and the volunteers are going nuts! Across the bridge and up the tiny incline, she isn’t stopping. Mum delivers the perfect sprint finish and carries on for the whole length of the funnel. Have I created a Parkrun monster? I hope so.
She’s handed her first finish token (maybe not her last?) and clocks in at 57 minutes and 20 seconds. We’re very happy with that. It’s bittersweet to have to hand it in again seconds later, but we’ll always have Parkrun number one in our hearts and memories. Welcome to the family, Mum. I’m proud of you. Same again next week?
Have you recently joined the Parkrun family? Tag us with your inaugural photo @beoutsidebeactive
Jenny-Anne Dexter is a full-time life enthusiast, who likes to say yes to the abstract, the sublime and the ridiculous. A bog snorkeller, trail runner, year-round dipper and sometime cage fighter, she's open to suggestions as to her next challenge...
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