This is an edited version of the talk Michael Reynolds gave at our first anniversary volunteers' lunch. For those that don't know, Michael is the reason we have a parkrun in Marlborough. Here he tells the story of how our parkrun came into being, and gives some highlights of our first year. Thank you Michael!
Welcome. Thank you all for coming today. Thank you all for supporting parkrun so well by your volunteering in the past year, and helping to make Marlborough Common parkrun such a success. And special thanks to Clare and Jeremy who have organised this splendid lunch to celebrate our first anniversary.
Our core team have very kindly given me this opportunity to say a few words. I got hooked on parkrun in 2013 at Lydiard Park, and being retired I was lucky enough to have the time to explore the possibility of starting a Marlborough parkrun. I started poring over maps sometime around 2016, and in January 2017 I met our ever willing ambassador Stuart Henderson, who is here today, and we ran round possible courses at West Woods and Savernake Forest, and also had a scout round Littlecote House, which we decided not to pursue. What about the Common, you might ask? And indeed people had from time to time said to me "have you thought about the Common", and I'd dismiss the question - “it’s too small, and it's grass, I can't see it working”.
Anyway the upshot was that we asked for permission for a parkrun at both Savernake Forest and at West Woods, but neither venue was able to grant us permission. Parking was a specific concern at West Woods. At the time this seemed to be a big setback, but in the end it has almost certainly worked out for the best.
The next thing that happened was that I fell off my bike and broke my collar bone, which was painful, but otherwise had a surprisingly good outcome. I had to give up cycling for a while, so would often take a bus out into the countryside so I could enjoy a walk back to Marlborough. Some days I would take the 42 bus to East Kennet. From there I would walk back across Fyfield Down, and then along the Gallops to the Rockley Road; can you see where this is going? - yes, the way home was over the Common. After doing this a few times I started to realise the Common would be a rather good venue for a parkrun, probably far better than the other venues I’d considered!
I was still a bit concerned about it being grass, but Stuart assured me that grass is OK. I went along with that, but deep down I never really believed it, and it took me until May this year before I felt relaxed about us being a grass parkrun - now I think grass is great, it’s kind on old joints, and you can fall on it and generally not hurt yourself. It’s interesting that when parkrun’s founder visited us at our 3rd event he spoke very positively about the fact that we are a grass parkrun (I must be careful not to mention his name, as it is one of the answers in the quiz!).
So in late 2017 I approached the Town Clerk, Shelley Parker, who responded enthusiastically to the proposal for a Marlborough parkrun, and she arranged for Stuart and I to meet with Grounds Team Manager Nigel Weatherly. He was also very positive about the possibility of parkrun on the Common, but wanted to be sure that the grass would hold up - so he visited Stonehouse parkrun’s 4-lap grass course round a sports field, and was suitably impressed. Soon afterwards the Town Council gave us permission to start Marlborough Common parkrun. Special mention here for our other ambassador Vicky, now Mrs Stuart Henderson - congratulations! - who did an excellent presentation for us which resulted in us being awarded a Town Council grant to help with our setup costs. We never looked back after that!
Our core team met for the first time in June last year, and after a lot of planning and training over the summer, and with much no-nonsense help from Stuart and Vicky, we were ready for our trial event on 15th September last year, and our inaugural on the 22nd.
I’m not going to say a lot about the past year. It’s kind of gone according to plan. We said we’d stage a weekly parkrun and we did. And lots of people came to enjoy it. And we know that for many of us it has been an enormously positive experience. And gradually we are together building a lovely parkrun community, making new friends, doing physical exercise in the open air, and almost above all knowing that every Saturday morning there’s something really special to look forward to.
There’ve been lots of highlights in the past year - the inaugural of course, the visit of parkrun’s founder (mustn’t say his name), being featured on the “With me now” podcast, the Christmas event in fancy dress so well orchestrated by Cat, and the satisfaction of surviving some very wet and windy winter Saturday mornings. But for me there is one day that stands out - the first anti-clockwise event on 4th May. The weather was good, there was an air of expectation, and I think many of us enjoyed the smooth downhill run beside the avenue of horse chestnuts, and the finish in the middle of the field. James Kellar took some great photos that day which showed how lucky we are to have such a splendid venue - with its unusual airy position and extensive views.
I don’t know where we are going with the anti-clockwise run - we’ll see how we get on in the next few weeks and at some point will have to decide whether to make it our usual direction. And we await with bated breath the next announcement from our own resident stats geek Craig Poxon as to whether the anticlockwise course is faster then the clockwise one!
Before I finish I must mention and thank our committed and talented core team who have worked tirelessly this past year to make it all happen. And to all of you, our volunteers - thank you again for all you have done; we have rarely had any difficulty getting enough volunteers, and amazingly have averaged 23 volunteers each week.
What next ? We have no great plans, just more of the same. Saturday morning parkrun is already part of the rhythm of our lives and we hope it will continue to be so for a very long time to come.