My parkrun barcode identifies me as A1562206, my best friend who runs ahead of me calls me Paul, the two conscripts I drag and cajole around the course know me as “Dad”.
However, after every 10 or 12 parkruns I volunteer, and on those days I am known to most parkrunners as “Shouty Bearded Timekeeper!” That guy who bellows “Strong finish!” and “Come on!” till I’m hoarse for the rest of the day. Why the enthusiasm? Because it works – especially for that group of runners I belong to: “The Over 30s”.
I’m not talking about age, I left that bracket a couple of decades ago! I mean those runners who clock in past 30 minutes. Like myself, some of them came to running late on, (I was 51 when I started). Some are graduates from the Couch to 5k clubs, those looking to get a bit fitter or recovering from injury, The Park Walkers who have broken into stride (anyone notice how swift our ex-Lord Mayor is getting these days!) but mostly those who are running or walking for the joy of it and who are competing with no-one other than themselves.
Whilst many are getting their barcode scanned or getting a deserved cuppa and chatting with friends, the “Over 30s” are still coming in. So I shout and gulder encouragement and it works: weary heads suddenly snap up, backs straighten, pace quickens, arms pump faster and they charge across the line, almost always with a big grin of achievement.
When I first volunteered I didn’t know about the Tail Walker role or that the finish line never comes down until the last participant crosses it. For me, that is what embodies parkrun: inclusion.
Everyone’s participation is valued and everyone is equal on the basis of participation, not performance. For me, Waterworks parkrun in Belfast is not just an event, it’s a community. If you haven’t volunteered yet I strongly urge you to give it a try. It adds to that sense of community, it makes you appreciate the effort that everyone is making. I’ll be there on Saturday shouting – in the nicest possible way!
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