parkrun – restarted, rethought, reclad, resonant

by Steve Till

When we crossed the finish line of Alice Holt parkrun on 14 th March 2020, little did we think that it would be 16 long months before we could do so again. The storm at 5 o’clock on Saturday morning even made some fear that our scheduled 24th July return might be delayed further, but the thunder and lightning turned out really to be God’s celebratory drumroll and strobe effects, to usher in the restart of parkrun in England.

Parking at 8:30, one wondered what it would be like – the same but different, and perhaps even a bit emotional. Well, unlike before, we were encouraged to remain socially distanced; the briefing was briefer than before; and there were expected finish times posted along the start area, so that participants could seed themselves sensibly and minimise bunching and overtaking.

IMG_3742

The volunteers did have very smart new pink hi-vis – that was different! And then, almost before any emotions could take hold, we were off – right on time.

IMG_3744

The course remained the same, with the forest still as green and welcoming as ever. Weaving through it in our kaleidoscope of t-shirts, we were indeed the prodigals in our amazing technicolour dream-coats, returning to the home parkrun we know and love. Soon after halfway, inevitably, was Dragon Hill. Disappointed that the Alice Holt parkrun Core Team had not taken the opportunity of the lockdown hiatus to lop a bit off the top, we were breathing fire long before then anyway.

IMG_3766

Our thighs singed and our hamstrings scorched by the beast, we stretched out down past the Gruffalo before finishing once more up the infamous last hill and throwing ourselves into the mercy of the funnel’s welcoming arms.

Finish tokens taken, we were scanned by phone app this time before wandering off in search of coffee, cake and further camaraderie. Catherine Timson was first finisher for the females, followed by Jennifer Cooper and Kate Larmer. The men were led home by Harry Boyd, Hamish MacLean and Sam Dring. Lockdown has had a multitude of effects on all of us – mentally, physically and emotionally – and it has been heartening to see politicians and sports leaders from time to time acknowledging the important part that parkrun plays in many lives – in all three of those vital dimensions.

IMG_3768

In its most simple terms, lockdown has led some people to exercise more and some less. And the results are plain to see – in the results! I cannot name every personal best, but a few that caught the eye were Colin Addison, Nicky Hill and Ben Dakin. It was Colin’s 244 th parkrun at Alice Holt, and he beat his PB today by 22 seconds. His previous one
was set in 2014!

Nicky has run at Alice Holt 131 times, and today took 46 seconds off her two-year-old personal best. And Ben, one of our younger runners, took a whisker shy of two minutes off his PB today, leaving him on the brink of breaking 20 minutes. Well done to everyone who set a personal best or participated for the first time today.

More than that, well done to everyone who finished, and an even bigger well done and thank you to our volunteers. The event simply could not go on every week without volunteers, so please do consider putting yourself forward for a role from time to time. It is great fun; it is super-friendly; and it makes you feel great. But, as we all know, parkrun is so much more than just a physical outing. It exercises bodies, yes, but it also offers a meeting of minds, a lifting of spirits and an aligning of hearts. We meet old friends; we make new ones; we cheer each other on; we smile; we chat; we connect.

That is why it is so important.

And that is why it is emotional.

A friend of mine got the 6am ferry over from the Isle of Wight, where she had recently moved from Alton, because she did not want to miss the Alice Holt restart – proudly wearing her 250 t-shirt for the first time, into the bargain!

Another friend who had buried her mother the week before, made sure she attended – to honour the memory and to put down a baseline for her own restarted fitness campaign.
People I had not seen since 14 th March 2020 smiled, waved and immediately struck up the warmest and most animated of conversations, as though the intervening 16 months had never happened.

And two ladies towards the back of the field jokingly called for the defibrillator as they finished. It was their first run, they said, and, wow, what about those hills, but they would be back. Those are the sort of reactions that parkrun inspires. In my humble opinion, there are very few events in human life were everything is positive, where there are only winners, and where everyone goes away enriched – enriched perhaps by a new personal best, maybe because they ran all of the way up Dragon Hill for the first time, or perhaps just because of a lovely coffee and chat afterwards, or maybe even because of something as simple as a kind word from a stranger as they passed on the trail.

Oh parkrun, for all of those positive reasons, and so many more, how we’ve missed you – and we’ll never take you for granted again!