parkrun was something that I first heard about on some random running forum online, and as Club Secretary for the Stilton Striders I decided that it was potentially a really good "guaranteed speed session" for us club runners, and a way of bridging the gap between the highly successful C25k group in town and the Striders. Within a week of hearing about it I had had a meeting with Helen Hood who is now head of parkrun operations in the UK and she met me at the Visitors Centre and took a walk around the park. A week later I was assigned to our ever-supportive ambassadors Julie and Mark Thompson. Over the next 8 months I put in hours of planning, fund raising, course designing and redesigning, core team building and negotiating opening hours with the cafe.
On January 10th 2015 I stood on a table in front of 262 people and launched Melton Mowbray parkrun for the first time. This was one of the most nerve wrecking moments of my life, and the day continued to be the greatest feeling I had experienced. All the hard work had paid off.
The first parkrun I ever actually took part in was week 3 at Melton, and on week 5 my best friend broke the course record (which he held for a whole week), and I felt great that my best friend had the course record at my event. 20 minutes later two ladies approached myself and Theresa and said that that day was the first time they had managed to run the whole course without stopping. This was the moment that I started to realise what parkrun was really all about. This event was about inclusivity, community and togetherness. It was a chance for like-minded individuals to congregate in unity on a Saturday morning and simply enjoy the event, challenge themselves, and give themselves the best start to their weekend. It wasn't the speed session that I first imagined, unless you want it to be. It was far bigger than another training session.
I was lucky enough to run by 50th parkrun at Bushy Park (where it all began) on parkrun's 12th bithday, and was able to speak to Paul Sinton-Hewitt. He told me in the cafe after the run that the run itself will happen regardless every Saturday morning - it is purely incidental. The magic of parkrun is what happens in the cafe after each run. I looked around myself and felt the room buzzing. It was a hive of activity with people laughing and smiling, discussing their running, their personal lives, planning tourism trips, making friends, and feeling comfortable to just be. The following week (and pretty much every week since then) I have felt humbled when I see precisely that but on a smaller scale in our own cafe post-run. That is where the parkrun really happens for me and so many others.
This is even more important at Melton because our cafe is run by the Melton Learning Hub - providing education opportunities to those who have struggled to cope with mainstream education - and all proceeds are reinvested back into the hub. Every cup of tea or bacon sandwich consumed post-run is helping the lives of local teenagers who may struggle to get on without that provision.
Yesterday morning we had our second highest ever turnout (251 - only beaten by that inaugural event) for our third birthday. The theme was superheroes and every single person embraced the fun atmosphere that the fancy dress aspect added. We started off by standing around diligently listening to a valid attempt at the World Record for longest run brief (if only we had arranged someone from Guinness to adjudicate). We had plenty of milestones as Steph Barlow, Debs Wilson, Sue Clarke and tourist Steve King all ran their 50th parkruns with us, and Daniel "Guinness" Gray (still not an adjudicator), Ben Pickard, regular Run Director Brian Walkling, and I all ran our 100th.
One of the most breathtaking scenes I ever see at parkrun is when you're towards the back of the pack and you approach the long bridge for the first time. All you can see is an endless train of people across the bridge and all of the way up the hill, all setting their own challenges and meeting their own goals. I still feel awed and humbled that these people turn up every week to something that I stuck together on what was then a whim.
Despite the countless amazing costumes, we still had 28 PBs. Mark Bendle, Debbie Millward, John Cousen, Jonathan Perkins and Richard Smith all started their parkrun journeys with us by completing their first run, and 30 first time tourists including the guy who created the parkrun logo that we all know and love - Danny Norman completing his 571st run at his 224th event!!!
A massive thanks to our volunteers - all 25 of them!!!! - some of whom had long planned to give up their Saturday morning so others can run, and some of whom did their run and then helped out by clearing the event equipment away, sorting the finish tokens over a cuppa, or helping with the results processing in the cafe afterwards. The event really cannot be put on each week without a constant stream of volunteers so please get in touch if you are able to help.
Also a massive thank you to Sugar Shamrocks for making our hugely popular superhero birthday cake with milestone capes.
Standing in the cafe afterwards, it was clear: there was a buzz! Thank you everyone and let's see the event last for many more years to come!