Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Breakfast is for wimps!

Who needs a 'full English' on a Saturday when you could be doing this?

EVERY Saturday morning across the UK, when most ordinary folk are still making a bleary-eyed choice between Coco Pops and Shredded Wheat, thousands of runners can be found out in the fresh air in their local parks, tackling free-to-enter 5k races.

Apart from a few dog walkers, the public at large has barely noticed Parkrun events, even though nearly 150 of them now take place every Saturday breakfast time, in towns and cities up and down the country.   
The Parkrun project was launched in 2004, and after eight years there is finally to be a local event staged weekly for the runners of Suffolk and Essex. On Saturday September 8, Chantry Park in Ipswich joins the Parkrun craze, thanks to some noble volunteer organizers from the local Ipswich JAFFA club.

JAFFA are ready to welcome all and sundry – be you clubbed-up or unattached, fast or slow, male or female, teenager or pensioner - for the inaugural event, bright and early at 9 a.m.    

Until now, two of my Top Ten Running Complaints have been the spiralling cost of race entry fees, and the fact there were no Parkrun events within a reasonable distance of home.  Now, all that is history. They are here and they are free.  

They are accurately timed on measured courses and, being weekly, provide a great opportunity to monitor training progress over a period, set goals and compare performances. But you don’t have to take them too seriously if you don’t want to – they can be merely a good way of getting exercise early in the weekend thus leaving time for other stuff.

Having been a member of Ipswich JAFFA back in the 20th century, your Clapped-Out Runner can vouch for the club’s powers of organisation and resourcefulness. This, after all, is the club that used to transport its members to races via its own double-decker bus.  It didn’t get them up and down the A12 particularly quickly, but it was more comfortable than car-sharing!

And naturally most of the JAFFA boys and girls know Chantry Park like the back of their hand.  Back in my Ipswich days there were regular events there, including Sri Chinmoy races over a one-mile loop, also usually held early on a Saturday.

Your Clapped-Out Runner was young and foolish back then, and I recall more than once running a Sri Chinmoy race in Chantry Park before leaping into the car to head off elsewhere for a cross-country league event or road race. I’ve already promised my ageing legs that in 2012 there will be no such repeat involving Parkrun.

Once upon a time I even WON a race in Chantry Park one misty Saturday morning! OK, so some of Ipswich’s top runners failed to show that day, but you can only beat those who turn up, can you not? 

I also recall several outings at that venue, clutching my trusty reporter’s notebook (computers hadn’t arrived back then, let alone Twitter!), when I had to compile race reports as the likes of Dave Moorcroft and Tim Hutchings hurtled to victory in championship cross-country events. And I should also mention the day when my ‘ex’ Beverley gave Zola Budd a good chasing around the park. Bev was attempting to obtain an exclusive story for the Ipswich Evening Star, and not merely trying to outrun Zola, I hasten to add. Bev was fast in those days, but Zola proved a slippery customer even though she was only doing a warm-up jog at the time.  When finally cornered, the shy Miss Budd had little to say for herself as I recall!

There was also a rather bizarre occasion in Chantry Park when myself and colleagues from the East Anglian Daily Times took part in a charity football match against a so-called ‘All-Star XI’ featuring ex-Ipswich Town players such as Roger Osborne, Mick Lambert and Colin Harper.  A large crowd turned up (enough to fill both touchlines anyway) and we all looked very smart in the sunshine in our borrowed Ipswich Town kit. There was only one problem:  Nobody had thought to bring a ball.

Luckily I was able to come to the rescue and a bit of rummaging in the back of the car yielded a battered leather spherical object. OK, so it was soft, flat and possibly not even regulation size 5, but it would have to do. Fortunately the car boot also housed a bicycle pump, and so followed the truly surreal sight of former First Division full-back Colin Harper trying to inflate my ancient football with a malfunctioning pump. It took him a while but he managed it, and finally it was "Game on!"   Yes, things usually turn out fine in Chantry Park.

Getting back to Parkrun . . . if you were wondering how come the races will be free to enter, the answer is in the generous sponsorship from Adidas, Lucozade, Virgin London Marathon and Sweatshop.  Their investment follows the successful growth of the project since its  beginnings in West London when a runner called Paul Sinton-Hewitt and 12 of his mates got things underway in 2004. Eight years later there have been more than 11,000 runs staged, featuring a total of 200,000 runners.  

All you have to do is register beforehand on the Parkrun website, and print off your special barcode. Then you can do as few or as many of the 5ks as you choose.  As a spokesman said: “Parkruns take place all over the world, open to everyone, free, and safe and easy to take part in. They are in pleasant parkland surroundings and for people of every ability to take part - from those taking their first steps in running to Olympians, from juniors to those with experience.”

Now and again the great and the good take part alongside the humblebums like you and me. Swimmer Mark Spitz and Olympic hurdler Ed Moses once pitched up at a Parkrun, and on the eve of his 101st birthday, marathon man Fauja Singh was even seen doing his Saturday morning duty.   

If racing at 9 a.m. is not too early in the day for a 101-year-old, then I’m sure I can manage an outing or two in the coming months . . . .

* Check out Rob Hadgraft’s published books on running at www.robhadgraft.com

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