Run 168: Island emissary Eddie soaks up the parkrun love

Leamington parkrun has been spreading the love in recent weeks - supporting start-ups in Banbury and Folkestone, and now hosting a dreadlocked parliamentarian from one of the most remote islands in the world.

For the Honourable Gavin Ellick, Leamington parkrun number 168 made a welcome change from two weeks of stuffy gatherings at Westminster. He walked out of one reception at the House of Lords because they didn't have any beer.

Parkrun was much more fun. There were more hugs, for one thing.

The Hon Gavin - who prefers to be known as Eddie Duff - has been visiting the UK as a member of one of the smallest and most isolated parliaments in the world: the Legislative Council on the remote British island of St Helena.

The island's 4,000 people have a strong sporting tradition, but obesity is a severe problem and the incidence of type-2 diabetes is among the highest in the world.

Eddie had been given the task of investigating ways to get more people into physical activity, and parkrun provided the perfect role model. He loved it.

"It’s the first time I’ve seen anything like that," he says. "I was quite impressed. How people could just show up to run, how easy the organisers make it look. It was fantastic and they were really nice people. It’s something I could aspire to when I get back to St Helena."

A pair of trainers was found for Eddie but he chose to serve as a volunteer, so he'd see more of the event. It's hard to pin down exactly what Eddie did: never has a volunteer more aptly fitted the job description, "other". He did shoot a video, but the laptop on which it was being edited died mid-way through the job, so it may be lost.

His main job seems to have been dispensing otherly love. With his impressive set of dreadlocks and an easy manner that comes from living on an island where no-one's a stranger, he went down well with those who met him.

And parkrun embraced Eddie as whole-heartedly as Eddie embraced Mrs Doyle, the doyenne of the tea bar ("a lovely, bubbly person," he says).

He was awed to see Dee Thacker going round with our blind runner, Maggie Bowes, the two of them joined at the wrists by a well-worn piece of string.

And he was impressed to meet Wendy Irwin, who took up parkrunning on New Year's Day and is on track to do her first 50 parkruns within a calendar year - and that includes a turn at volunteering last weekend. Her husband's also joined in, and parkrun has prevented her two sons from keeping to any resolution they might have made to spend Saturday mornings lying in bed.

It's unlikely that Eddie will be able to start up the world's most remote parkrun any time soon, though the idea could go down well 700 miles away on Ascension, where there is a group of hash house harriers and an annual mountain run.

However, St Helena does have a running festival - which includes a time trial up the 699 steps of the notorious Jacob's Ladder - so there is potential to start a series of regular runs modelled on what Eddie saw at Leamington. Encouraging non-runners to participate would be a prime aim.

"It would be more hilly and more muddy in places but the scenery would be out of this world," he says, with some justification.

One possible course would be through the cloud forest above a collapsed volcanic crater. But the prime contender would be a valley just below the house where Napoleon Bonaparte died in exile - close to the plain where the island's first airport is now being built.

"Napoleon used to stroll down to the valley," says Eddie, "but now he would be pleasantly surprised to see the progress, poor fella. I don’t know why he left so early."

And post-run, inspired by our own Kate's Kaff, there'd have to be cake. "Confectionary is one of our specialities and we have some good coconut fingers and things like that," says Eddie. "And fish cake."

The other thing he'd want to replicate would be the parkrun spirit, as witnessed at Leamington.

"The runners were really pleasant but the actual crew who organized it were really nice people. Hopefully they don’t forget me and I won’t forget them, and I hope we can have a link where we can correspond with each other."

If anyone fancies nipping down to help Eddie get things started, you'll be glad to know it's only a five-day sea voyage. But there is a running machine on the ship.

Eddie also spent time watching young paddlers at Leamington's canoe club, at the invitation of our own Tess Lukehurst - who dashed off to lead them down the weir as soon as she'd finished uploading the week's parkrun results. There would have been pictures, but for that deceased laptop.

banbury parkrun 640<Our leaders have also been providing training for people setting up parkruns in Banbury and Folkestone.

Visitors from Banbury stayed on after a recent run to be shown how to enter up the results with run director Susie Tawney (pictured).

Their hope was that they'd be able to start up this month, but a rush of new parkruns around the world has meant that they have had to wait for the go-ahead.

However, the riverside course around Spiceball Park, close to the town town centre, can be found on the Banbury parkrun Facebook page. A video of the route can be found here.

Our own Maggi Rose has also come to the rescue of an attempt to set up a parkrun at Folkestone.

She's about to move to the town on the south coast. When she asked around to find out what was happening on the parkrun scene, she learned that efforts to start a run along the seafront were being frustrated by the lack of a second run director - so she stepped up to the mark.

Since then she's been trying out all the volunteering roles at Leamington, although she was already familiar with most of them. Last weekend she was funnel manager, shouting encouragement and making sure no one dipped out before taking their barcode.

Maggi was expecting to move to Folkestone just in time for the inaugural run - though at the time of writing, it has yet to appear on the parkrun UK website. Check out the Facebook page here.

We wish her well.

Congratulations to Monica Williamson for setting a new age grade record at Leamington for the second week in a row, and to James Reed, who became first-finisher at his very first parkrun.

The one-two-threes are:

Men's placings:

  • James REED (VM35-39) of Altrincham and District AC, was first over the line in 17:28 - first appearance.
  • Lewis FAGGE (JM15-17) (Unattached) was second over the line in 17:47 - has been first to finish on 7 previous occasions.
  • Neville CHAPMAN (VM40-44) (Unattached) was third over the line in 17:48 - has been first to finish on 9 previous occasions.

Women's placings:

  • Monica WILLIAMSON (VW50-54) of Leamington C and AC, was first (10th overall) over the line in 19:13 - 49th time in 64 appearances.
  • Katie SAMUELSON (VW35-39) of Cambridge and Coleridge AC, was second (28th overall) over the line in 20:23 - has been first to finish on 6 previous occasions.
  • Angela CHAHAL (VW40-44) of Leamington C and AC, was third (38th overall) over the line in 20:57 - was first to finish once before.

The following runners recorded the best Age Grade scores:

  • Monica WILLIAMSON (VW50-54) was graded 91.76% for the time 19:13 (10th overall).
  • Frances ANDERSON (VW55-59) was graded 81.40% for the time 22:51 (73rd overall).
  • Eleanor ROBINSON (VW65-69) was graded 80.03% for the time 26:07 (155th overall).

And this week's heroes were Rosie BAMFORD, Pauline DABLE, Mrs DOYLE, Gavin (Eddie Duff) ELLICK, Helen FORREST, Graham GARLICK, Wendy IRWIN, Venu KAVURU, Nicholas James LEWIS, Tessa LUKEHURST, Brian NICHOLSON, Lorraine PARSONS, Jane PHILLIPS, Kayla PRICE, Maggi ROSE, Gur ROTKOP, Linda SCHAEDEL, Stewart UNDERHILL, Scarlett WHELAN, Michael WILLIAMS