4 November 2017
Some Saturday mornings parkrun doesn’t seem like such a great idea and I wonder why I’m getting out of bed early to watch a lot of runners going round and round The Common. This Saturday, with rain beating down and wind making it all seem worse, was a case in point. There was no way I was staying at home in the warm and dry though because this was a very special parkrun. John Grant, the founder and Chairman of the Itchen Spitfires Running Club and the Event Director of Southampton Parkrun, was about to run his two hundred and fiftieth parkrun. Obviously, the Spitfires had a few surprises up their sleeve for him.
Even wrapped up in my arctic coat with a flappy eared hat and some stout waterproof boots the rain was a problem. For a start I couldn’t see much of anything because my glasses were so rain speckled and kept steaming up. The Common was a muddy quagmire with huge puddles everywhere, especially on the gravel track leading to the finish funnel.
While we were sheltering under the trees wondering if the rain was going to ease off before the run started, a large gazebo was being erected on the field close to the start line. This was part of John’s surprise. Local band Ukulele Jam are John’s favourite, not least because band member Julian is a Spitfire, and, thanks to some sneaky plotting on the part of Rob, they had come along to play and sing for him. The gazebo was a vain attempt to keep them and their instruments dry. Obviously a giant gazebo full of musicians isn’t something you can easily hide so the cat was out of the bag as soon as John and Rachel arrived.
Although John would be running he and Rachel were also Run Directors this morning. This meant John spent the first part of the morning wearing his official RD jacket organising volunteers and making sure everything was set up properly. Luckily Gareth, the stalwart of the Southampton Parkrun set up, was there and a few of the other regular Spitfire RD’s had turned up to help out so there was time for a quick photo before the running began.
With all the important business taken care of, John striped down to his running kit and headed off across the muddy field to enjoy the music. Sixty two Spitfires, most wearing their club shirts, joined him at the start line along with dozens more who’d come along to cheer him on.
Usually the pre race briefing and announcements are the job of the RD. John is not very good at blowing his own trumpet though so today Rob took over the microphone to make sure everyone knew what a special parkrun this was and how much work John puts in behind the scenes to keep Southampton parkrun running smoothly every week.
Then it was time for Julian to put his ukulele down and join the runners on the start line. Pretty soon John and his green 250 sash were lost in a sea of Spitfire shirts and assorted parkrun milestone tops as the run began.
For a while I went back to the shelter of the trees and tried to clear the rain off my glasses and camera lens. Both were suffering badly from the weather and steaming up. Before long John and his Spitfire entourage were back, heading for the finish line. I took a few slightly foggy shots of them heading for the final turn then sprinted back across the grass myself.
By the time I got to the finish line, Julian, the first of the Spitfire runners was already splashing towards me. While I waited for John to negotiate the last long, puddle filled gravel stretch, I watched the surreal sight of a gazebo full of musicians slowly scuttling across the grass.
Then it was time to turn my attention back to the runners. The rain and my foggy glasses meant I couldn’t see him at first but I knew he was coming from the Spitfires sprinting for the line then doubling back to form a guard of honour to cheer him in.
The cheering got wilder and wilder. Then I spotted the green sash and started cheering myself. With the band playing, the rain falling and an over enthusiastic crowd gathered at the finish line it was probably the strangest parkrun finish I’ve ever seen.
Of course there was still work to do. While the last of the runners were coming in a few photos were taken, although the rainy conditions meant they weren’t the best. Then it was time to pack everything away until next week and retire to the Hawthorns for a warm drink while the results downloaded.
The weather was not the best for such a special parkrun. The rain didn’t let up all morning. It didn’t dampen anyone’s enthusiasm though. In fact a few people seemed to positively enjoy it.
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