Tralee parkrunner David Kissane is now a regular (not)parkrunner. Here he talks us through his Saturday morning memories, and shares his own special parkrun story.
“On the Road Again” Willie Nelson sings this Sunday morning as I head out. Yesterday’s glorious blue sky has passed on. Today is overcast. Ideal morning for a run. It’s (not)parkrun morning for me. Why not do a (not)parkrun! It’s the virtual version of the parkrun during these restricted times and there is a hilly 5K ahead. Bob and Shelly-Lynn Florence Glover spoke in their runners’ book of association and dissociation of the mind during runs. I say good morning to my sore knees and dodgy hammers and dissociate immediately. I explosively exhale and wander off laterally in the mind…
Why parkrun? The small p that spells Saturday and Sunday for hordes of runners, walkers, joggers and volunteers of all ages and abilities each weekend. I never heard of the parkrun till 2017. Moira Horgan first mentioned it to me in St Brendan’s AC and Coach Artur Nowak advised me to participate. It would help to get back to regular running, he said, after a twenty year lay-off. “It will help you stop living in the past!” he wisely added with his knowing smile.
So off I went to Tralee’s town park and warmed up around the roses and did the stretching. “You’ve come on the wrong day, Dave!” Pat Sheehy told me. I turned up for my first parkrun on a Sunday, which is of course junior parkrun day. Right intention. Wrong day. He added “anyway, you wouldn’t last the pace with some of these guys!”
The following Saturday I made my debut in parkrun. “Right day this time, Dave!” Pat Sheehy affirmed. Overwhelming was the first impression as around 300 people assembled from all parts for the welcoming words and presentations and advice. The bunch of volunteers organising the event was impressive and the gender balance would be the envy of any world organisation. This was different. This could make a difference. This has made a difference. We started on a 3-2-1-whistle and then frantic joy and I don’t think I will ever stop.
It is possibly the most life-changing 5K trip that anyone can undertake.
I have been fortunate to have experienced 63 parkruns to now. The 48 runs done in Tralee have been a staple diet of participation, motivation and satisfaction. Siobhán Kearney worked her magic bringing the parkrun to Tralee originally and her vision has led to golden harvests. Look at any parkrun Saturday or Sunday. People gather to chat before and regather to chat after. Special events are celebrated there. My son and his now wife got engaged after a parkrun in Tralee. She wanted to run in Tralee again the day of their wedding but her mother wouldn’t let her in case the hairdresser’s appointment might run late.
The comments and craic at Billy’s Corner is an experience to be savoured. St Brendan’s AC adult athletes are regulars on Saturdays and the juveniles are especially prominent for their Sundays when Caroline Lynch takes charge. It’s a great place to volunteer as photographer as the participants beam at the camera. There is a spirit in Tralee parkrun and the dividend of its initiative can be collected every weekend.
The St Anne’s parkrun in Dublin holds a special affection as it’s the park where I first practised coaching back in 1976 with my St Paul’s College athletics groups. It’s also the place where I ran the morning after our first child was born. And the second. And the third. It’s two lap parkrun with that fantastic long wide road for the finish stretch. There was a special moment there in my first parkrun in 2018 when our little grandson came to support unannounced. St Anne’s also provided my 23-14 pb last year on the morning of the All Ireland replay. That was to be the best part of that sunny day!
I was a parkrun tourist in Wildflower Park in Sydney in 2018 through bush and hills where Bryan Freer was introduced to the parkrun and is hooked since. Poolsbrook near Chesterfield where my brother is buried in the UK was another special experience, three laps around a gorgeous lake off the M1 where the other O65s sorted me out! And of course there is Listowel which is the most testing parkrun of all. That hill in what we used to call “The Cow’s Lawn” was always a killer, even when we ran it as students in St Michael’s College more than half a century ago for cross country. Jimmy Deenihan has a warm welcome for everyone, although he notes that he is the top O65iver in Listowel until this writer appears.
One feature is common to all these parkruns and to all others…the highly structured organisation, efficiency and sense of inclusiveness. No matter where you finish, no matter in what condition you are at the start or the finish, you are made to feel welcome. Part of this goodwill comes from the fact that the volunteers and participants trade places regularly. It’s a hot-desking situation. No fees, no medals, no podiums, no numbers. Register once and walk, jog, run or volunteer. You have the choice to go for a PB every week or slow down and chat all the way through. You can help other parkrunners around or push your baby in the go-car. The parkrun can put the jigsaw of your journey together.
And the efficiency of the parkrun is awesome. You get your result a few hours after the event: time, position, age-graded performance and then, at most events, a day later photographs on Facebook to relive the moments. And the get-together and the cuppa for all at the end of each parkrun with its filled minutes is fundamental.
For competitive club athletes the parkrun has meant a weekly opportunity to flex the muscles and check progress. Not so long ago a runner would get only the rare championship race or fun run to experience competition. And the parkrun has attracted new athletes into clubs over the years and will continue to do so.
The part played by other supporting bodies is creditable in supporting parkrun. Town councils have risen to the challenge of providing the parks and some have upgraded the parks as a result of the success of the phenomenon.
So now, as I come near the end of the (not)parkrun for this July morning, I eagerly await the announcement of the return of parkrun proper when the time is right. It will be a Saturday morning soon. Where’s my barcode? Don’t tell me I left my runners out in the rain last night? Is that my 50 parkrun top still on the line? Off to town listening to CountryWide on radio. Park the van. Jog slowly to the town park past Castlecountess. Lap of the park to warm up. Stretch. Note how close to the start that Pádraig and Ger will arrive. An irresistible uprising of expectation. A rolling eloquence. The liberation of one foot in front of the other. A new narrative for Saturdays. Beethoven’s third. 3-2-1-whistle, and we will never stop.
Oh what a beautiful day.
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