14 Things Only a Bolton parkrun Run Director Can Relate To
SPOILER ALERT: This article contains some soppy thank you messages.
1. Checking your phone after two minutes of putting it down to see an insane number of unread Whatsapp messages isn’t unusual.
2. You’ve suddenly realised after 10pm on a Friday night that you forgot to sort more than 400 finish tokens.
3. You have a socially unacceptable number of photos in your Whatsapp message history detailing the quality of and/or weather impact on tarmac paths in Leverhulme park.
4. There's nothing quite like the feeling of handling the bollard covers and hi-viz jackets when they've been sat moist for a week in a container...
5. You’ve received an email from a runner urgently instructing you to change their finish time because it’s two seconds slower than the time recorded on their Garmin.
6. Swear words you didn’t know existed can be muttered when trying to put a gazebo together, with a hangover.
7. Your better half has come close, on more than one occasion, to causing actual bodily harm on account of the volume of parkrun equipment that needs to be taken home / washed / sorted / take up otherwise nice space in your home.
8. The struggle for volunteers on a Thursday night is real...
9. You accept that Rob Short’s contributions in the Whatsapp group will be intermittent and at best divisive…
10. There’s nothing like the feeling of seeing someone smash their parkrun PB.
11. You no longer believe anyone can do fancy dress better than Emma Donaldson (not even this dog dressed as a panda).
12. You’re aware of some sort of joke about Andy Patterson and cakes but you’re not really sure what it actually is or where it originated.
13. 30 hi-viz waistcoats hanging to dry on your washing line is a totally normal scene in your back garden…
14. You make a unique face when you hear the words “someone didn’t take a token”
Seven years of Bolton parkrun. 8,592 people have taken part. 842 people have volunteered. Unbelievable, Jeff (that’s one for the Sky Sports Soccer Saturday fans amongst you – for everyone else, Jeff’s just a lad in a suit and tie who get excitable about football news).
Some of you reading this may have been stood at the start line on that flippin’ miserable rainy February morning in 2011 for Bolton parkrun Event #1. Some of you may have taken part with us for the first time today or in the last couple of weeks (hiya!).
Whether you’re old or new to parkrun, let’s make sure we shout about something loudly: this event is put on and managed entirely by volunteers (*pauses for effect…).
A great local organisation (Get Active) funded our start up costs to pay for training and our equipment (our scanners and timers have all since been replaced, but our tank of a laptop is still going strong!). Since then, every single aspect of Bolton parkrun has been coordinated solely through the efforts of volunteers who get involved for fun, to make a difference to our town, and sometimes because there’s nothing else to do…
Each Saturday morning, somewhere in the region of 20-30 people turn up to volunteer so that a free, timed, 5km run/jog/walk can take place. To all of our incredible volunteers who turn up come rain or shine, to make Bolton parkrun happen, we’ll never be able to thank you enough. Some events it rains from start to end, and you head home wondering what on earth you’re doing. Other days the sun is shining and you float home on a little cloud of happiness (with a touch of sun burn to boot…).
Mike Gregson wrote an article summarising 2017 at Bolton parkrun (read it here!), and he calls out some of the more recent regular volunteer heroes there. It would be remiss of me not to give a personal shout out to Dave Hitchen and Mick Entwistle who are nine times out of ten the first to arrive at the park to set up the course each week. These two guys embody the spirit of parkrun in their drive and commitment – having volunteered way more times than they’ve ever ran here. They typically have most of the hard work done before 8:30am every week and so smoothly, it’s very easy to take it for granted. Lads – thank you.
However, I wanted to use this article to talk more about the behind the scenes – the hi-viz curtain of mystery if you will.
I think it’d be really difficult to truly convey just how much work has to go on behind the scenes to keep the Bolton parkrun wheels turning week in, week out. That responsibility falls to a core team of nine individuals: myself and Mike Gregson act as Event Directors for Bolton parkrun, as well as occasionally acting as Run Director on Saturday mornings alongside Andy Patterson, Ann Butler, Dave Ardill, Louise Geoghegan, Rob Short and Rowan Ardill. There’s also one Emma Donaldson - Event Director of Bolton’s junior parkrun event (Sunday mornings in Queen’s Park – check it out!) and giver of moral support/much bants in our Whatsapp group.
We all typically volunteer as Run Director once every six to eight weeks, but you’ll also usually find us volunteering in another role if we’re not having a run on our “weeks off”.
For us though, most of our parkrun time starts Saturday afternoons and goes through to bed time on Fridays. We’re responsible for processing results, ensuring we’ve got enough volunteers to help out at the next event, checking the emails, keeping our social media channels up to date with engaging and fresh content, sorting the sweaty finish tokens, cleaning the sweaty finish tokens, planning club takeovers, washing and drying the hi-vis gear, fixing or replacing broken timers and scanners, managing complaints, designing alternative routes when paths get closed, emptying local supermarkets of all remaining mince pies for Christmas events, reviewing and updating the course risk assessment, printing out the non-scanning barcodes sheets, boiling our kitchen kettles 3-4 times to fill the hot drinks flasks and much more.
Our situation isn’t unique – the hundreds of parkrun events across the country will all have their own core teams who keep the lights on for their events. I’m beyond proud of our core team here at Bolton.
I’ve been involved alongside Rowan since day one of our little event. Back in the day, Row and I never had a plan of “we must recruit a team” (we never really had any plan if truth be told – we’re as surprised as you are that this thing is still going…). The team we have today has naturally evolved, with parkrun as the constant that has brought us all together. Like-minded people who enjoy parkrun and who are only a few stages away from being classified as “not quite right."
The team has grown slowly, with Dave and Andy on board within the first couple of years, followed by Rob. Emma joined not long after, before going on to start Queen’s Park juniors, then the rest of the Butler-Geoghegan-Gregson rabble stepped into the ring in the last two years.
We all manage full time careers alongside our parkrun commitments. Andy, Emma, Lou, Ann, Row and Mike somehow find the time to manage family lives too. Some weeks we’ll put almost all of our free time into parkrun. Other times we might not lift a parkrun-related finger while we focus on other commitments. We share the awesome times when we leave an event buzzing from the positivity, or we receive a message from a first-timer saying thank you. We’re an outlet to vent to one another for those occasional moments where something hasn’t gone to plan. It’s a brilliant group of people who genuinely want to help each other, and help create a happy, safe event for Bolton parkrunners to take part in.
This post isn’t intended to blow our own trumpets, or intended to be a glorified self-congratulatory piece - honest. I simply want to share some insight into what happens behind the scenes, and show some of the personality that I think makes our team so special, and the Bolton parkrun experience so unique. Without character and personality, it's just another run where people turn up, some run, some volunteer, we all go home and repeat again the following week like a machine.
None of us do this for praise or to be in the limelight - and believe me, after you’ve done your fair share of volunteering at events over winter months, trying not to cry in the cold or rain, you know ‘limelight’ isn’t coming anywhere into play… We never talk about trying to get noticed by people or in local press, and we don’t really care how many likes we get on the Bolton parkrun Facebook page.
Something intangible sits within each of us that’s simply a desire to build and maintain an environment that helps people in so many different ways. Getting fitter, socialising, recovering from injury, coming to watch a friend or family member be awesome at what they do, or banking time towards a Duke of Edinburgh award.
We rarely see each other all in the same place, so a couple of weeks ago when we had to last cancel, we seized the opportunity to all meet up for breakfast and celebrate Louise’s milestone birthday (21 again!). This is the first photo together we’ve ever had: