Wind, rain, blood and the Black Country

From Jeff Prestridge visiting from Mile End parkrun

RUNNING is rarely straightforward. Yes, it’s the simplest of sports – one foot in front of the other and away you go – but it’s never without its complications. Never short of its drama, twists and turns, hills and bumps and grazes. Sunday 15 February was one of those ‘complicated’ days.

Having dealt with the onset of Storm Ciara while slogging our legs through the cloying mud of the Wanstead Flats parkrun in East London (February 8), Valentine’s Day Plus One saw me and Leonie (Kate to my mother! Que?) be a little more adventurous.  We wandered away from our London (me) and Berkshire (Kate) hinterlands for a Saturday and travelled up to the Black Country in the West Midlands.  To be precise, to Sandwell Valley Country Park in West Bromwich, to participate in the Sandwell Valley parkrun, a run my sister Joy had done previously done and thoroughly enjoyed.

With Storm Ciara having long blown itself out in the middle of the North Sea, we assumed all would be fine, but we hadn’t realised that Storm Dennis would be as intimidating, if not more so. Walking to the park was an achievement in its own right as the rain drove into us and the wind howled around our ears and knees.

Only just arriving in time for the start (and half expecting it to be cancelled like many other parkrun events), Leonie took the sensible decision to watch the proceedings from the half-comfort of her half-waterproof coat. I joined the merry fray, slightly annoyed with myself for only packing my Nike Free (quasi barefoot) running shoes that aren’t particularly good in mud. It was a choice of running shoe I was soon to regret.

The course was a challenging little number with heart rates sent into three figures right from the off as a steep bridge over the M5 motorway was negotiated (drivers kindly tooted their horns in appreciation of the madding crowd). It was then all off-road, passing the ruins of Sandwell Priory, a former Benedictine monastery, and then around Swan Pool – not once but twice. How the wind threatened to blow us all off course.  How the mud splattered our legs and the rather sharp inclines sapped tired legs. A super parkrun.

My parkrun adventure was given a little bit of extra spice (speaking of spices, they serve up some splendid curries in Akash Balti on West Bromwich High Street as we found out later that night) as a result of falling on the first lap as I headed towards Swan Pool – popular, I am told, with wild swimmers although Storm Dennis seemed to have put them off this particular morning. It was a fall that cut me to ribbons as I slid to a halt on a mix of stones and mud. Runners nearby kindly asked how I was as I got up. Like all hardened runners, I said ‘fine’ and continued putting one foot in front of the other.

It was only at the end that I realised my knee, hip and elbow were bleeding (I knew my hand was cut). Only in the shower afterwards, did I realise that my back looked as if it had received 50 lashings.

To say that the Sandwell Valley parkrun volunteers were magnificent is an understatement. They couldn’t have been more helpful, cleaning my wounds and asking after me as I recouped in the café afterwards with a bacon sandwich and a mug of piping hot coffee. To race director Victoria Thomas (like me, a passionate supporter of WBA FC), I say THANK YOU.

To all 176 runners who braved Storm Dennis to do the Sandwell Valley parkrun on Saturday 15 February, I say well done. To the volunteers who stood around in the driving rain and biting wind while we did our thing, a mighty thank you. And well done to Leonie who stayed to watch me finish the run despite resembling a drowned rat.

The start of a weekend when it never stopped raining and when I never ever felt warm (other than when snuggled under a Premier Inn duvet). Black Country? Wet Country, more like.

But come rain or shine, Sandwell Valley parkrun rocks. Like local boy Phil Lynott (Thin Lizzy) used to before his all too early death at age 35 (we walked past a commemorative blue plaque dedicated to him as we did one for Madeleine Carroll of The 39 Steps fame.) As Lynott’s Thin Lizzy  colleague Ricky Warwick wrote of him:

I could never walk in your footsteps
I could never last the pace
I can only stand in awe beside you
And never take your place

Whether you’re walking or running at a fair lick of pace, happy parkruns.

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