News - 10th March 2017

Thoughts from an ageing marshal

Carl Finsbury Park

When I was in my teens, and loping along the pavements of Loughton on my way into the leafy embrace of Epping Forest, a runner in the streets was a pretty rare sight. I came out of my front door braced to receive a pelting of Essex wit, invariably expressed as the (best-ignored) advice “Get those knees up!” If there was the faintest trace of respect in the mocking refrain, it was not enough to motivate me in any other way than to run a bit faster to get away from the attention.


Half a century (gasp!) on, our species has become so common as to be barely worthy of notice or comment. But in that time, as both a runner and a racer, I have come to appreciate what a difference it makes to my performance – and to that of my children, club-mates, anyone – to be watched and encouraged by friends and strangers. Imagine the London Marathon without the cheering crowds calling out the names on people’s vests – it’s as good as an oxygen tank. In the land of the cheerleader, crowds at the New York Marathon characteristically go that extra mile to push you to those extra miles, holding up signs that read “You inspire me!” and “You are one of the one percent!” and calling out “Go (supply name), you’re on it!”


Over the past couple of years, largely as a result of injury, I’ve come to occupy a pretty regular post on the two-lap Finsbury Park parkrun, stationed at the top of a hill – definitely a spot where most runners need a motivational top-up.


By the way, runners, injuries heal quicker when you’re watching other runners – that’s a good selfish reason for marshaling. I can’t prove it with statistics but I know it in my bones. From front to back, each runner in his or her own way is giving off a life-affirming energy and purpose. I also vouch for the fact that clapping and cheering keeps you warm on these wintry mornings.


To help you overcome that British reserve or newcomer’s reticence, and to help you deliver a much-needed oxygen boost to passing parkrunners whilst you’re building up your own personal repertoire, I offer here a few tips and lines to new parkrun marshals (bravo!).


General starter pack: “Well done!” “Great work!” “Good stuff!” “Keep it up guys!” “Great running!” “You’re looking good!” These will cover most eventualities.


Position on the course: There’s less to say at the start (“Go, go, go!”) and less needed, but once you’re past the 1k mark these can kick in: “Hang in there!” “Nearly Halfway!” “Nearly there!” “No more hills!” “Last big effort!” “Just round the corner!” “200 yards!” “Home stretch!” “All the way!” “Big finish!”


Age range: Kids really rise to praise. “You’re doing brilliantly!” “Come on the youth!” can visibly switch them onto turbo-charge. And don’t neglect the elders: “Come on the vets!” “You Sir/Madam are an example to us all!”(No, scrub that last one!).


Humour: Combined with sympathy or admiration, a bit of banter can help everyone. “Keep smiling/ breathing!” “You can almost smell the coffee!”


Personalise: I now know the names of about twenty parkrunners in my community, which has taken time, and sometimes I get them wrong, but I try to pick out features of what others are wearing so they know I’m talking to them individually. Football shirts are a gift: “Come on the Gooners/ Hammers/ United/ Messi/ Theo” etc. Also, try to read the body language and facial expressions to judge the best choice of phrase and tone of voice – sometimes a quiet “Well done mate, keep it up!” is enough, and far more appropriate than the bellow of a Regimental Sergeant Major!


The best guide however is empathy – what would you like to hear if you were in the shoes of the person walking, jogging or running past you?


You will know that you’re making a difference because people will come up to you afterwards and thank you for it. And that feels good.


Carl Heap
parkrunner A108604

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