So much more than just a 5k run

Colin Ratcliffe recently took on the mantle of RTW parkrun Event Director, so we thought it timely to find out a bit more about what makes him tick and his thoughts on matters parkrun. Richard from our Comms Team met up with Colin to find our more…

How did how did the parkrunning begin? Colin took up running somewhat over three years ago after his wife bought him a Garmin watch for Christmas. When Colin noticed a colleague at work with the same watch the conversation went from running to parkrun. After a couple of training runs, Colin took the parkrun plunge in Feb 2016 (although he confesses that he forgot his barcode on his first attendance!). It was a very wet end to the winter – our numbers were quite low at that point and Quagmire Corner was at its worst. But, despite this, Colin was rapidly hooked. Why was that? “I really liked the welcoming atmosphere of the whole event, the friendliness of the regular volunteer team and the chance to relax over a coffee afterwards. I found there was so much more to parkrun than just a 5k run.”

While experiencing an injury layoff Colin became increasing involved in the volunteering side of things, “I enjoyed helping out at an event that obviously meant so much to so many people.” Later, when he heard that Joe was stepping down, he decided to put his name forward for consideration.

What’s Colin’s favourite volunteering role? “I get a lot of satisfaction from being a pacer – it’s a good feeling if I can finish at or within a second or two of the time. Also I like number checking – the challenge here is trying to keep on top of any discrepancies between the number of clicks of the timers on the finish line and the number of finish tokens handed out at the other end of the finishing funnel.” Colin is keen to learn to keep Joe’s cool demeanour, staying calm and focussed when the numbers start diverging – for example when someone “ducks out” of the finish funnel before taking a token.

Colin enjoying his 5k - whatever the season
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Colin says he is happy parkrunning whatever the season, including when it’s muddy – although he’s not quite so keen if the mud is very sticky! “So far in 111 parkruns in Dunorlan Park I’ve never had to run in heavy rain”. When the heavens did open in September last year Colin was in Leeds, helping his daughter move into university halls.

"If on the day you're feeling a little green...." Fortunately, a slightly off-colour appearance was not enough to prevent Colin pacing 28 minutes at our Halloween 2017 pacer special day!
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Any practical tips for parkrunners? “Do be sensible about parkrunning. If on the day you’re feeling unwell consider something other than running. We can always find a volunteering role. Also from personal experience I can say that trying to keep running when you’re nursing a leg injury is probably not a good idea!” Who remembers Colin’s clear announcement when he tore a tendon at the finish line a few years ago because he tried a sprint finish after hobbling around most of the course?

If he could magically create a parkrun anywhere in the world he would choose to have one in Munich’s Ostpark (near where his in-laws live.) The paths there would make a perfect venue.

Anything particularly unusual that’s happened to him away from parkrun? “On honeymoon in 1992, we found ourselves acting as a human shield for Yasser Arafat, then leader of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) and wanted for supporting Sadam Hussain’s invasion of Kuwait. Without announcement our unmarked flight from Cairo to Amman was diverted to a military base in Jordan where King Hussain of Jordan was standing at the end of a red carpet to welcome the fugitive.” Also, while working as an auditor at the National Audit Office, in the wake of financial crash, he discovered evidence of £60 billion of secret loans from the Bank of England to HBOS and RBS. This information was not in the public domain at the time – and the story made the front page of the FT when news of the vast loans eventually came out in advance of Colin’s published report.

Ambitions for parkrun…

Colin is hoping that RTW parkrun can continue to promote a really inclusive approach drawing in anyone who could benefit from the parkrun experience. “It’s absolutely fine by me if our overall average finishing time gets slower. That’s likely to be an indication that we are appealing to a wide cross section of our community.” Likewise, he would love to see some local GP practices become designated as parkrun practices and linked to our parkrun to encourage patients - and staff - to experience both the physical and mental benefits of parkrun.

He’s particularly hoping we can widen our volunteer base. “There will be people who for health reasons wouldn’t necessarily be able to get round our 5k course. But it may well be they could be part of the volunteer team and experience the buzz of being involved and really be appreciated for their contribution.”

Attention to detail gets the numbers to add up...... Marshals ... "a reassuring presence"
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Warming to the theme, Colin says he would encourage all our parkrunners to think how we can each contribute to making parkrun safe, enjoyable and fun – and what we can do to be responsible users of Dunorlan Park. So he would encourage those who parkrun regularly to think whether they might have a week off from running (for example one week in ten) and volunteer for a non-running role such as marshalling. “I see the role of marshal as very important. Marshals not only cheer on runners but provide a valuable role in summoning help if there is an incident. Marshals also provide a reassuring presence to other park users, indicating that we are acting responsibly."

"Pull up a chair and join in" Colin (right) enjoying some post parkrun relaxation and happiness in the cafe
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Finally, a tip: “If you meet a first timer or a parkrun tourist why not arrange to meet up for a coffee afterwards. I’d love to see more parkrunners staying on afterwards for refreshments and a chat in the café. The social side is important. I’ve really enjoyed having a good group of parkrunners, who have become friends, to chat with after the run. It’s a great way to make new friends, even when they turn up at your house and spill red wine on your beige carpet. Just look out for us, pull up a chair and join in.”

 

End of an era

Royal Tunbridge Wells parkrun
30 March 2019
Event No 243

Run report by Richard Woodfield. Pictures by Nick Fitzgerald

Everything came together brilliantly for Joe's farewell parkrun as Event Director:

* our highest ever attendance - 331 parkrunners & 37 volunteers came to give Joe a great send off.
* it was the ideal spring morning - sunny and mild - for a special occasion
* heartful tributes were paid to Joe and to all that had been achieved under his leadership of our parkrun
* astonishingly, as if to underline the point, there was a century of personal best times achieved.

Even the practical nitty gritty contributed to the spirit of the occasion. The PA system was on its best behaviour. The mud situation was much improved. And the number of "unknown runners" without barcodes was just 15 out of 331. At less than 5%, this meant that Joe's final stint processessing results afterwards involved a lot less detective work than on many a previous parkrun!

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Reflecting on his experience Joe thanked all those who had contributed to the success of RTW parkrun, not forgetting those who had enabled the parkrun to use such a wonderful venue. Volunteers, parkrunners, TWBC and Friends of Dunorlan Park had all played their part. Joe recalled that he had been responsible for adding the "Royal" to "Tunbridge Wells parkrun". He had also changed the route originally envisaged - it had initially been planned to have the route start by going uphill towards the main carpark. There was one parkrun, back in the early days, when the event had been run by just six volunteers. This had been pretty fraught and had required substantial multi tasking across all the essential volunteer roles.

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Louise had been in at the start of RTW parkrun, so it was entirely fitting that she paid tribute to Joe:

"I first met Joe in early 2014 at Tonbridge parkrun where I had gone along to meet with the newly appointed Event Director for the soon-to-be-established RTW parkrun. I had heard about the event via a facebook appeal for volunteers and as an avid runner myself and keen to give something back to my local community, this seemed right up my street.

My first impression of Joe was of a cool, calm and collected guy, disciplined and clearly into fitness. I also thought he was quiet, until I got to know him a little better. This was just the sort of person I knew would carry out the Event Director role perfectly, and he has proven me right! Many of you will not be aware of the time-consuming hard work that goes on behind the scenes at parkrun each week, not only on a Saturday, but during the week – organising the volunteers, dealing with queries from participants, liaising with the local council and parkrun HQ, as well as helping out at the actual events on a Saturday morning. It is not an easy job to undertake, but one that Joe has done humbly.

Over the 5 years I have known Joe, he has faced everything thrown his way head on with diplomacy, with the best interests of parkrun and its participants at the forefront of his mind. No mountain has been too high for him to overcome, in his personal achievements as well as spearheading RTW parkrun. I have seen Joe go from a DJ when I first met him, to a fully qualified PT and Running Coach, leading running groups of all abilities as well as fitting in his own training, and all this outside his actual job, which he still continues to do.

It has been a pleasure to see RTW parkrun grow and flourish under Joe’s tutelage, from inception to winning Best Group at the Love Where You Love Awards and our imminent 5-year anniversary. It will now fall to our new Event Director, Colin Ratcliffe to tackle the role, which I have no doubt he will do with fervour and determination.

If you could please all join me in a round of applause to thank Joe for his hard work in making RTW parkrun what it is today."

Joe - surrounded by parkrun milestone tops as a reminder of all that parkrunning and volunteering!
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Judy - our volunteer co-ordinator - presented gifts and a card to Joe. Among the many messages in the card were: "You've been totally awesome - thanks for making me and hundreds/thousands of people get fit and passionate about running" ... "parkrun changed my life" ... "Great work, Joe. I hope you will always be proud of what you have achieved here, and your legacy. Thank you"

Let's leave the final word to Joe:

"It's been an absolute pleasure being involved with parkrun over the past 5+ years and wonderful to see how the event has grown and evolved over my tenure. I know that it is in safe hands with a core, experienced volunteer team as well as a core and faithful group of runners. Saturday was a wonderful send-off and I look forward to seeing the event continue to grow and succeed over the next 5 years and beyond. I fully intend to return as a runner and volunteer when I am available and always encourage my RTW runners to attend. My main aim in setting up the event was to inspire others to get involved in running, the same way in which I was inspired by the London 2012 Olympics and it's great to see so many at RTW parkrun who have gradually progressed and become more involved with the event, the sport and the community."

Medley of memories..... (RW)
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“…..And so I volunteered. The rest is history.”

There have been over 200,000 parkrun kilometers run, jogged and walked at RTW parkrun. Through all of them Joe Watts has been our Events Director. We took the opportunity of his stepping down to ask him to reflect on his time in the role.

When did you first hear about parkrun?

​I first heard of parkrun back in 2013 from a clubmate who mentioned a free, timed 5km event which takes place each Saturday over in Orpington - something called parkrun. I went along for a few times over the summer of 2013 and then another parkrun event opened up in Maidstone later that year; Tonbridge followed the year after.

Tell us how it was you became Event Director at RTW parkrun?

I came across a post on Facebook to say that a parkrun event was set up and ready to go in Tunbridge Wells but that an Event Director and volunteer team was required in order to get it up and running and so I volunteered my services. The rest is history.

Joe - on Run Director duties
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Did you ever think "I wish they'd told me X before I agreed to become Event Director"?

Not at all. The parkrun team were very helpful every step of the way and I was fortunate to have a good support network in the way of Jacky MacDonald, then Whitstable parkrun Event Director and Kent parkrun ambassador who provided ongoing support, training and advice, as well as the ED's at the other Kent parkruns. I was able to shadow a few different event teams leading up to our test event and inaugural event and so I was familiar with how things worked when it came to the event becoming a weekly fixture in Tunbridge Wells.

Can we have a couple of highlights from your time as Event Director?

There are many, however, I think when the event was nominated for and won the "best group" award at the TWBC Love Where We Live Awards, that has to be right up there.

What have you learned from your time as Event Director? What has given you greatest satisfaction?

I have learned a lot from my time as ED and feel that the role has allowed me to grow as a person and apply my knowledge, experience and leadership skills to my employed role. The greatest satisfaction is getting to meet and volunteer with other individuals from a variety of different backgrounds who, without parkrun, I would never have had the pleasure of engaging with.

Apart from Event Director, what's your favourite volunteering role and why?

My favourite non-running role is photographer and my favourite role which allows me to have a (fast) run, would be barcode scanning!

Joe surging through "The Shoewash" (a feature thankfully much improved since drainage works in Spring 2018!)
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Many voluntary organizations these days struggle to get enough volunteers - what do you think is the secret of parkrun's success?

I think the fact that it is so accessible to all ages and abilities. The fact that anyone from any background can participate and volunteer in the event at no cost is a huge positive and I'm sure this is one of the main reasons why parkrun has grown so quickly over its short tenure.

Joe and volunteers assembled for photoshoot with Dame Kelly
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What do you like best about Dunorlan Park as a venue for parkrun?

How it changes through the seasons and how no two consecutive weeks are ever the same in terms of weather conditions and how the park looks. Also the location of the park - it's near the middle of Tunbridge Wells but is so tranquil - you wouldn't think that there is a busy, bustling town centre less than a mile away as well as a main road!

Dunorlan Park through the seasons....
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What's your favourite parkrun course (excluding Dunorlan Park)?

I've been fortunate to run at a number of difference parkrun courses, both in the UK and abroad. My favourite course in this country would have to be Mount Edgcumbe in Cornwall, which although is one of the hilliest available, is set in such a beautiful location. It's also one of the only events that I know you can visit by ferry (from Plymouth). My favourite international parkrun event would have to be Crissy Field in San Francisco which has the Golden Gate bridge for a backdrop on the way out and Alcatraz in the distance on the return leg. It's also one of the flattest courses that I have run!

Any tips for a parkrunner struggling to keep on running up Heartbreak Hill as they approach the finish?

I see so many runners struggling up the hills, my tips would be to keep your chest up, reduce your stride length, pick up your knees and smile!

What are you going to do with all that spare time now that you're relinquishing the role of Event Director?

Part of my decision for relinquishing the role of ED is that I have far less spare time than I once did at the start of my parkrun journey due to other commitments. In the time that I have been ED I have started up my own running group, qualified as a Personal Trainer, progressed in my job and moved house! I feel that now is the right time for someone else to take on the role in order to breathe new life into the event and continue to take it forward.

What could parkrunners do that would most help your successor to enjoy his time as Event Director?

* Register with parkrun and remember to bring along a printed copy of your barcode every week.
* Listen and pay full attention to the pre-event safety briefing and announcements.
* Once across the finish line, stay in order and move swiftly through the funnel, collect a finish token and hand this to the barcode scanning volunteers.
* Smile and enjoy yourself!

Pictures by Zena, Charles and Richard - who between them have run over 500 parkruns at RTW parkrun while Joe has been Event Director.

 

Spring 2019 – change at the helm and upcoming events

Here's what we've got lined up for you at RTW parkrun through the Spring.

There are currently no planned cancellations of our event during the remainder of March and April.

Saturday 30 March - change at the helm! As we approach our 5th anniversary Joe Watts has decided the time is right to step down as overall Event Director of RTW parkrun. This will be Joe's last parkrun as Event Director, and he will also be Run Director on that day. We'd love to give Joe a great send off to thank him for the service he has given in setting up and leading our parkrun. During his time at the helm around 6,500 different parkrunners have, between them, completed over 40,000 parkruns on our course, achieving around 7,000 Personal Best times! And, equally impressive, around 425 different people have volunteered to don the yellow hi vis volunteer jacket at our event. As we know, every local parkrun is built on teamwork, but we owe Joe an especially big debt of gratitude for leading and committing an enormous amount of time and energy to the success of our parkrun. Colin Ratcliffe has kindly agreed to take on the role of Event Director.

It would be lovely to have a great turnout on 30 March to help make the day memorable for Joe. Also we'd like to suggest that all parkrunners and volunteers who have earned a parkrun tee shirt for volunteering or completing a given number of parkruns could wear their parkrun top on that day as a very visible reminder of how much parkrunners have achieved under Joe's stewardship of the event.

To add to the occasion we are planning to have pacers. (Although the course is rather muddy and slippery in places at the moment the forecasters are, encouragingly, suggesting there will be a fair amount of dry and mild weather through the rest of March.) The volunteer roster is currently open for pacer volunteers for that day.

Joe on cake cutting duties at our 4th Anniversary ...... Colin making sure our numbers add up
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Saturday 20 April - Easter parkrun We'll be marking Easter (ok - a day early as we're keen!) with some treats for parkrunners and volunteers around the barcode scanning area. Chocolate may feature! If you've got family or friends visiting for the holiday weekend it's always nice to have an outing with them at parkrun. Dunorlan Park is likely to be full of spring colours by then.

Saturday 27 April - 5th anniversary parkrun It's amazing to think we've been going that long! The event will be a good opportunity to thank the many people who've contributed so much to the success of our parkrun during the last year. It will also be a pacer day.

We'll also be having a raffle with prizes on offer, and so would welcome donations, in advance, of raffle prizes. It would be most helpful if any raffle prizes donated could be given to Judy by the previous parkrun (20 April) at the latest so that we know what other raffle prizes we may need to buy in to complete a suitable range. If you'd rather make a small financial donation towards raffle prizes this has to be done on-line via the website. (See "more" then "about us" buttons at top right corner of our home page)

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