8 July 2017
This morning it was quite bizarre to rock up at parkrun and find the Run Directors were actually the 118 twins complete with moustaches. Ok, so Rob has usually got some kind of facial hair going on but I’ve never seen Kim with a moustache before. Oddly, it kind of suited her. The reason for all this frivolity was a birthday. Southampton parkrun turned five years old this morning and everyone was in the mood to celebrate. The theme was heroes, obviously.
Not long after we arrived two real life heroes rode up the path on their bikes. John and Rachel, the founders of the Itchen Spitfires Running club were not in fancy dress, unless you count Spitfire hoodies. Then again I guess they do count as superhero costumes in a way. John is the Event Director of Southampton parkrun and puts in untold hours of work behind the scenes to make it all happen every week so that also adds to his superhero credentials in my eyes.
Cat Woman, aka Teresa, was there, along with a Saints player, aka Gerry. Sarah came dressed as Wonder Woman and there were mini transformers, deely boppers, another Cat Woman and goodness only knows what else. Frankly, I was feeling more than a little underdressed in my leggings and mac.
Of course there was serious business to attend to. Things like setting up the finish funnel and handing out vests to the volunteers who would be pacing for the morning. Commando was due to be a pacer but wasn’t feeling great so took over as funnel manager instead.
Kate, one of the regular Run Directors, had made an extra special effort with her costume. She came as a brand new superhero, Parkrun Girl. She even had a cape. Another Run Directing duo, Tamsyn and Stuart, came as Minions, at last I think they did, I’m rather behind the times and don’t really know what a Minion is.
While everyone was setting up and getting organised I wandered around taking photos of all the amazing costumes. Some were obvious, others not so much but the most bizarre, at least to my mind, was the man who came dressed as a transformer complete wth all kinds of accoutrements that looked like they’d be difficult to run in. There was also a bit of a stir when a second, rather tall and hairy, Wonder Woman arrived and a sword fight almost broke out.
Amongst the array of fancy running buggies I spotted Spider-Man with a mini Spider-Man in the buggy. Spidey junior looked very chilled out and his sister looked rather lovely too. I think she may have been a little princess. While we were waiting for the start I had a chat with Spidey, aka Adrian Kowal and it turns out his son Oliver, is a very special little boy. He has Alternating Hemiplegia of Childhood (AHC) a rare neurological condition that is even a mystery to many neurologists, Dystonia, Global Developmental Delay, Sensory Processing Disorder and possibly Epilepsy. Amongst other things he suffers from muscle weakness, breathing and swallowing problems. When Oliver’s mum, Vicky, began bringing him to parkrun to watch his dad he loved to clap the runners and they’ve been coming as a family ever since. It seems to me, amongst all the people dressed as superheroes at parkrun today this little family were the real deal.*
Of course some people just came as runners, in the normal gear, but it seemed like the brightest, most colourful parkrun I’ve ever been to. Anyone just going for a quiet stroll on the Common this morning must have felt they’d wandered into some weird parallel universe.
Soon after the pacers lined up for a quick photo shoot, it was time for the pre race briefing. For once it was a double header with John up first then Rob and Kim, who’d lost her moustache somewhere along the way. Of course the event couldn’t pass without a few words of praise for all the volunteers who have been turning up every week quietly getting on with the job of making sure parkrun happens. Without them Southampton parkrun would never have got off the ground in the first place, let alone lasted for five years.
Finally the runners were off for the two hundred and sixty third time. The mere mortals and the superheroes thundered past. Behind them all was another hero, Spitfire Alan, who was the tail running volunteer, despite having a bit of a dodgy knee.
All too soon it was almost over. The first runners began to appear and the funnel managers did their thing, making sure everyone stayed in line, no one took a token and then ducked out of the funnel messing up everyone’s time and generally cheering everyone on. A moustachioed photographer from the Echo was there taking photos and I took a few of my own.
One by one the superheroes crossed the finish line along with the pacers who’d done such a great job of helping people get PB’s there were almost a hundred this week.
Amongst them I was pleased to spot the transformer, still in one piece and finishing in an astonishing time given his elaborate costume. I captured the hairier of the two Wonder Women heading for the finish line and, finally, the amazing Oliver and his dad.
On 7 July 2012, when two hundred and fifty four runners and twenty four volunteers turned up on The Common for that first Southampton parkrun, they had no idea what they were starting. History was made that day and today, five years on, six hundred and sixty six runners and fifty six volunteers made history again. Once it was all over and all the cake had been eaten, a very tired looking Rob could finally relax and head for the Hawthorns Cafe for a coffee while he sorted out all the results.
Southampton parkrun has changed quite a bit since that first run. These days it’s not unusual for a thousand runners or more to turn up and the volunteer team has almost doubled. There is still coffee in the Hawthorns after the run though, even if it gets a touch crowded at times, and a lot of the same faces are still there every week. No doubt they will still be there in five years time, looking a little older maybe, but working just as hard to keep everything and everyone running smoothly for Southampton parkrun’s tenth birthday.
* if you want to find out more about the wonderful smiling Oliver, you can read his story here.
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