Normally I hate getting up the morning – one of the reasons I became a writer is that I wouldn’t have to set an alarm clock – but on a Saturday, at 7am, BANG! I launch myself at the day ahead. The prospect of a parkrun makes that much difference. And today it’s not cold and there’s no rain: these are ideal conditions in which to run with everyone at Teignmouth Promenade.
I’m volunteering today as well as running, helping Jan hand out finish tokens. These are arranged in bunches of twenty-five, so she suggests that she does the first batch and I do the next. That sets my target: I’ve got to finish in the first twenty-five places. Hmm. Last week there were 308 runners, and the same number the previous week; only once before has there ever been a higher number of participants. This year, people’s New Year’s resolutions are holding good. So I can’t afford to hang about.
One of the great things about parkrun is chatting to people on arrival. Jan tells me about her husband who is now in his sixties and has a passion for eating cake, and so has taken up running. ‘Excellent’, I say to her, ‘his running is a form of investment. The more he runs, the more cake he can eat.’ Someone else points out how many children there are this week. It’s true; I can see many youngsters gathering along the promenade. There are little ones who’ll be running with their parents, some very young indeed; and there a number of teenagers too – yes, teenagers, up and out of bed at nine o’clock! That’s encouraging, I’m not the only one inspired to get out of bed on a weekend. Parkrun works miracles. But I’m really pleased to see so many people under the age of twenty-one. It is a terrific part of their education. If you start out in life knowing you can run 5K, that knowledge will never leave you. It’s another investment – for their future. Even if they stop running one day, they will know what to do to get fit again.
We listen attentively to the briefing from Paul, our admirable run director. Apparently there was an incident not long ago – a bit of elbowing, he says. We stand warned! We don’t want any more of that behaviour. The bit of his talk I particularly like, though, is his words about photographs. ‘We take a lot of photographs at this parkrun,’ he explains, ‘so if you are not happy with someone taking your picture, please just gesture to the photographer…’ And everyone obviously is thinking the same thing when they hear the word ‘gesture’, and he realises, so he adds, ‘politely.’
A few moments later, we are off. A couple of men in their thirties sprint away. And I mean sprint. I can’t quite believe their speed. And they’re being chased by a chap with a rucksack on his back – as if the run itself were not enough exercise! And a woman is keeping up with them too. Good on her! The rest of us mere mortals do our best: each of us running, struggling, jogging, plodding or walking in our own way. At the first turn I see all their faces: there’s a great cheeriness in the whole crowd, a real feeling of communal joy. Families are running together, couples too, friends chatting. Even those competing against each other at the sharp end seem to be enjoying rubbing shoulders. No bad-tempered elbowing this week.
I come home in seventeenth place. Jan is very pleased. But I note that she wasn’t taking any chances: she had already equipped herself with the second batch of tokens. I recover while she hands them all out. Thereafter she and I take turns. ‘Well done, well run’, we say to each finisher. A couple of runners confuse things by taking a token and then running back to encourage a slower family member over the line,, crossing the finish line a second time ‘No,’ we exclaim as we see it happening, and carefully set aside a token for each one who errs in this way. If you’re reading this, please don’t do it – it really confuses the system.
As I hand out tokens, I see more and more children finishing. Some panting, some still sprinting and clearly able to run much faster than the adult accompanying them, who is meant to be an arm’s length away, and red in the face with the effort. One little girl (who must be about nine) sprints across the finish line and straight through the funnel, and keeps going – as if she’s never going to stop. I have to put an arm out to bring her to a halt, to give her finish token. She is beaming a big smile. ‘Well done.’
At the end of the day, we did not quite reach the last two weeks’ high attendance firgure; but 285 runners is much higher than the average turnout. Great stuff – those New Year’s resolutions are still holding good. The first three male runners home were Donald Brooks, who did a PB in 16:42; Sam Swift, who ran 17:26; and Sean Lovett, who came fourth in 18:39. Beating Sean was the first female, Megan Davis, who ran a PB in a stunning 18:19. The second and third female finishers were Marnie Woodley, who crossed the line in 21:09; and Naomi Rodwell, who ran 23:22. Pride of place on age-graded performance, however, went to Evalyn Flanagan, who ran 26:29 in the 70-74 age group, which equates to an impressive 84.08%. Donald and Megan’s performances also were over 80%.
At this point I should point out that those performances compare pretty well with the records here. The fastest anyone has ever run this course was 15:58, which Henry Irvine ran on 19 October last year; and the fastest any woman has done is the 17:54 that Kate Drew clocked on 19 January 2019, a year ago last weekend. The age-graded record remains with Peter Monaghan, whose 87.38% from 2 February last year is going to be tough for anyone to beat.
In all, of the 285 of us who completed the course, forty-seven were first timers – I hope they all felt welcomed and will come again. Seventy-four runners recorded new Personal Bests. Sadly I wasn’t one of them – I was more than a minute outside mine. But so what? I had a great time. Representatives of 23 different clubs took part too. That’s brilliant – it’s great that British club runners see parkrun as part of their running lives. There are some countries I’ve been to where that is not the case. Yet. One day they’ll see the error of their ways.
If you’ve read this much of my report, please give a quiet cheer to the other twenty-six volunteers who made this event possible. They were, in no particular order that I can determine, Melanie Goslin, Kevin Caple, Wendy Helen Goldthorp, Ross Pyne, Claire Twitchin, Frank Reay, Lynne Patricia Hughes, Joseph Hornsby, Sally-Ann Reay, Paul Burgess, Jerry Williamson, Jan Bunce, Diana Rayfield, Keith Underhill, Peter Chester, Roger Bacon, Christine Evans, Anna Harrison, Simon Denton, Andy Distin, Mary Watt, Mary Dolley, Linda Collins, Pauline Jones, Jane Lawrence and Malcolm Tipper.
My lasting memory of this run, however, will be the number of youngsters. And the whole investment that everybody put in. and puts in every week. I read an article last year that said if you want to be fit at sixty-five, you need to start at forty-five. I presume that that also means that, if you want to be fit at ninety, you need to start running at seventy (if you’re not doing so already). Looking around today, there were a lot of people investing in their futures. And the children – their presence here too was an investment. Remember those runners who are investing in their cake-eating habits too, hoping for extra-large dividends. Sometimes you don’t need money to be an investor.
That makes me think. We have just heard on the news all about the meeting of world leaders at Davos. They’ve all been discussing our collective futures, and been spoken to by Greta Thunberg and Prince Charles as well as other people who have an eye on the future of the planet. I wonder what they would look like, all doing a parkrun together? I suspect that Greta would beat the lot of them and some of those puffing presidents would definitely be spotted using their elbows. But if I were handing out finish tokens, I’d say to each of them. ‘Well done, well run. You see? You don’t need money to be an investor.’
See you again here next week.
Teignmouth Promenade parkrun started on 29th September 2018. Since then 4,055 participants have completed 13,632 parkruns covering a total distance of 68,160 km, including 2,899 new Personal Bests. A total of 238 individuals have volunteered 1,673 times. Today’s full results and a complete event history can be found on the Teignmouth Promenade parkrun Results Page.
Ian Mortimer, 25 Jan 2020