Basingstoke parkrun #564, 8th December 2018, Run Report by Sarah Govind.
Saturday 8 December was a dry and fairly warm morning in Basingstoke, a relief after last week’s downpour, but muddy and squelchy underfoot as a result of the rain over the course of the week. 433 runners and walkers, no doubt encouraged by the better weather, came along to War Memorial Park for their Saturday morning parkrun.
For the first time in 3 months, I was amongst them, pushing my small son, soon to be 4, along in our running buggy, all wrapped up against the cold in a warm blanket. For once my mind was not completely on the 5k ahead of me. I was thinking ahead to the following weekend when as part of the celebrations to mark his birthday, he will be taking part in junior parkrun. I wondered how he would enjoy taking part in his first ever organised run and what his memories would be. This had also got me thinking about the adults around me and their own initial experiences of doing parkrun. What could have motivated them to participate? What were their expectations as they arrived at their first ever run?
I decided that this would be a good topic for my run report and that a great place to start collecting these stories would be at the first timers’ briefing. I walked over to where Tom Ferguson, the volunteer in charge, was standing. Huddled around him were some of the 7 first timers new to parkrun and 8 runners and walkers new to our Basingstoke course. After his welcome and briefing about the course, he very kindly asked if anyone would be willing to tell their stories to me. Ty Gould, completely new to parkrun, and Michael Dunbar, a parkrun tourist, came forward to speak to me. But more on them later.
After listening to Run Director Lisa Hedderly give the main runners’ briefing, it was time to make our way over to the start of our winter course, for me the first time of the year since moving from the summer course. Along the way it was lovely to see so many familiar faces, some of whom had noticed my absence over the past few months. One of these faces was Andy Goddard, perhaps also familiar to many of you as he has been coming along to Basingstoke parkrun since 2009. He first took part at the suggestion of the current Basingstoke parkrun event director Avi Govind, who had heard from his mother that there were people running around the park each Saturday morning! They both decided that they had better give this a try and signed up together. After a few years, both were regular participants. Andy is very glad he was persuaded to as it very effectively launched his amateur running career.
Going back to the present day, not long after 9am, we began our anti-clockwise journey around the park. I had positioned myself and my buggy at the back of the group as I had decided to half run and half walk my way around the course and would be starting off with a stretch of fast walking. From my position at the back, I could see the bunch of runners spread out quickly, with those in front shooting off into the distance. Fast forward 17 minutes and 35 seconds and Tom Harding passed into the funnel as first finisher for the fourth consecutive week. Not far behind him, with a time of 20.54, and in 24th place, was Matthew Pillinger.
Matt is no stranger to parkrun. He attended his first in 2011, on the 6th August to be precise. He had never heard of parkrun until a friend of his took part in the Eastleigh event the week beforehand and recommended it to him. He arrived at Basingstoke parkrun the following weekend at 8.15, thinking that it would be better to turn up early than late, but found that he was the only person there! Luckily, he didn’t have long to wait until the core team of volunteers arrived. As a first timer, he found it hard going and after one kilometre, he was absolutely exhausted. But it didn’t stop him from coming back and a string of PBs followed. Today, he completed the distance in 20.54, a significant improvement from his time 7 years ago.
Almost 3 minutes after Matt finished his run, Michael Dunbar was there to join him near the barcode scanners with a time of 23.46 and in 74th place. As you might have guessed from his attendance at the first timers briefing, Michael is new to Basingstoke but is no stranger to parkrun. He describes himself as a parkrun tourist, and was here with us in War Memorial Park for his 26th run. He didn’t have far to come as his home event is Frimley, the parkrun closest to where he lives. Amazingly, in his 25 previous runs, he has visited 17 parkruns and has never been to one more than 3 times. Hopefully he can keep this up!
The other runner that I spoke to at the briefing, Ty Gould, finished his first ever parkrun in 32.06 and in 305th place. Ty has just started running again recently after some health problems and was inspired to start doing parkrun by his wife, who has been taking part for 18 months. He enjoys the experience of running in a group and this particularly appeals about parkrun.
You may be wondering how I was doing on the course and what my own first time experience of parkrun was. Over the years I had watched my husband take part many times but had never given in to his efforts to persuade me to join in. I was worried that I’d become too competitive and wouldn’t be able to relax and enjoy it. However, many things happened to change this. In the years leading up to my first parkrun in May 2016, my life was turned on its head. I had become a mother but not only that, I had been been diagnosed with a serious illness, non Hodgkin lymphoma. Once I had gone into remission, I decided I wanted to regain a normal level of fitness. My doctor advised me to take regular exercise to get my heart rate up and after building up my walking speed, I decided it was time to walk my first ever parkrun! The desire to compete had flown out of the window. I knew that parkrun wasn’t just for runners but still felt a little nervous as I positioned myself at the back. I was pleasantly surprised at how friendly and welcoming the tailwalker and the marshals were to me and how encouraging the runners were as they passed me by. I completed the course in 56.19 and felt very pleased and proud of myself. And of course, I’ve been back many times since! Today I passed into the finish funnel in 411th place after 43.36 minutes of alternately running and walking.
By the time all of the 433 runners and walkers had made their way around the course, 5 new milestone runs (Amie Webb, Tony Corper and Simon Davenport having completed 50runs each; Gary Hurry and Dave Rawlins 100 runs each) and one unofficial milestone (Andy Vaughan 150 runs) had been achieved - well done to all concerned. There were still a few runners, joggers and walkers standing around and chatting plus the volunteers going about their business of post event closedown. As I cooled down and chatted to some of those around me, Michael Dunbar sought me out. He wanted to assure me that he would definitely return to Basingstoke parkrun, perhaps not until the summer, but come back he would!
Standing not too far away was the familiar face of Tina Larcombe, who I recognised as one of our marshals from today. She had been out in the course with her daughter and I had felt cheered on by her encouraging words as I moved past them on my way to the woods. Not wanting to leave out the volunteers from this report, I moved across to speak to her to find out about her first time experience. Our chat took us back 10 years, to a 2008 parkrun at Bushy Park, which she went along to as a way of training for the London marathon, the one and only marathon she has completed, an experience that she described as "hard going"! She discovered our local parkrun in 2012 after she met her husband who was living in Basingstoke and asked him if there was one here. After taking a break when her daughter was born, she got back into running after hearing about the parkrun last year which targetted mothers that run. An interesting fact about Tina is that each of the 3 parkruns she has attended have begun with B (Bedfont Lakes being the other).
As well as Tina, today there were 39 volunteers helping to make parkrun a smooth running event! Thank you to all of them for their help. If you have never volunteered and would like to join their ranks for the first time, email email@example.com. As run director Lisa Hedderly said today in her run briefing, “we’re a nice bunch, we do not bite!”.
Our final word goes to Frankie Wellings, a member of the Basingstoke parkrun core team. She was unable to take part on Saturday and so is contributing from her hospital bed where she is recovering from an operation. Frankie's first ever parkrun took place at Crabtree in July 2012, which unknown to her at the time was Basingstoke parkrun’s 4th birthday. She remembers arriving expecting to be asked to sign in and was surprised at the relaxed and accepting atmosphere that awaited her. For no particular reason, she didn’t attend again until September of that year and for a few years afterwards her attendance was sporadic, but now she never misses our Saturday morning run whether that be as a volunteer or participant. Apart from when she’s in hospital of course - and we wish her a speedy recovery so she can be back with us again in the park on a Saturday morning. And she can safely say, like many of the rest of us, that she is addicted, of course in a good and healthy way!
And now I’m back to wondering what my soon to be 4 year old will make of his very first junior parkrun experience. After several years of being pushed around the park, observing his parents run, I’m sure he is raring to go. When he sees the other children racing off, he probably won’t be able to resist running after them. I am sure as a friendly soul, he’ll enjoy the feeling of camaraderie and community that comes with it. And like Frankie and many of the other people I spoke to, hopefully he will get drawn in and not being able to stop coming back for more. In the years to come, with any luck, he’ll be joining us as we make our way round War Memorial Park on a Saturday morning.
Thanks to all who allowed me to interview them today. To those of you reading this, what was your first ever experience of parkrun? It would be great to hear your experiences...