I love Park Run. Every week on a Saturday morning, a flashmob happens on Wycombe Rye. At 8:30 there is no one there, but by 8:55 there are nearly 400 people of all shapes and sizes in various contortions, warming up for their weekly 5 kilometre timed run. Then by 10am it has all melted away as if it was never there.
In the intervening hour there have been dramas, personal bests, milestones, stories, tears, and rivalries. The initial 200 metres of playing field involves ducking and diving between the hoards of other runners before hitting the gravel path when it starts to thin out. After a kilometre the course goes sharply uphill and runs along the Rye before careering downhill on a sharp left hand turn onto another playing field. Next come legendary steps: 50 feet of near vertical ascent, probably, followed by a sharp inclined path. It’s a killer. And it’s only half way round. The rest is gentle descent and hard slog for two and half kilometres of lung-busting, never-ending effort.
The thing about Park Run is the friendly, supportive environment. Everyone involved is completely bought into the sport-for-all, mass participation ethos and celebrates the 15 minuters and the 50 minuters equally. Those who cannot run, walk; or volunteer as marshals, timers, barcode scanners and tail-runners, walking with the back-markers. The positivity is infectious, we runners shout ‘Thank you Marshal!’, as we pass them in their hi-viz jackets, and they shout encouragement back to us.
So it is incongruent that I now relate a story about a bitter personal rivalry. My Park Run Nemesis is a 12 year old boy, and even at my diminutive height, he is a good two-foot shorter than me. But he runs a similar pace to me over 5 kilometres. Week after week we duke it out on the course. Usually he wins and occasionally I do. Many’s the time I have made that final turn and tried in vain to reel him in over the last 100 metres. The thing is, if you asked him, he wouldn’t know about this rivalry. He’d be completely oblivious. He doesn’t know me from Adam. I just pale into the morass of middle-aged puffers and panters who get in in his way.
There was one time he may have noticed me. It was embarrassing. We were in the final kilometre and I was in my usual spot, about 5 metres behind my nemesis at a crossroads in the path where a marshal is placed to ensure no-one goes the wrong way. I found some breath to shout my thanks to the marshal as I approached, but it was just after they had shouted encouragement to my nemesis. The exchange went like this:
Marshal (to Nemesis): “Keep going little man!”
Me (to Marshal): ”Thank you Marshal!”
Marshal (to me): “Not you!”
I didn’t have the energy or breath to attempt to explain, and just ran past while the marshal gave me one of those looks which failed to disguise their contempt at how a self-centred, middle-aged, entitled bloke just assumes everything is about them.