1 January 2018
First thing on New Years Day all the sensible people are in bed sleeping off a late night, too much food and way too much alcohol. My warm bed was just a hazy memory as I strolled across Southampton Common, wrapped up against the chilly morning air. For some reason the parkrun organisers thought it would be a good idea to have an extra parkrun today. In fact there were two, one at Netely and one st Southampton, with the Netley one starting before the Southampton one so people could run both.
Thankfully the idea of a double parkrun didn’t appeal to Commando. He did it one year and his muscles seized up during the car journey from Netley to the Common. The second run was a painful and slow affair and he had no wish to repeat the experience. At least this meant we didn’t have to be there until ten o’clock, although, in typical fashion, we were way too early. When we arrived the place was deserted so we decided to have a little walk around to try to keep warm.
We headed up the muddy hill past the new children’s play area on the site of the old paddling pool. Like most people of my age, I have fond memories of summer days paddling on the Common. Mum and Alex would set up a base on the grass and spread out a picnic while my nephews and I would try to find a space in the crowded pool. On warm days there was barely room to move. The concrete of the pool bottom and the walkways around it were always slippery with green algae and there was often broken glass hidden beneath the murky water so care had to be taken. Somehow we survived though.
The new play area with its wooden forts and walkways, tree tunnels to crawl through, zip wires and picnic benches, is something beyond our wildest dreams. Whereas the old paddling pool was only really useful on the two or three decent summer days each year, this wonderful adventure playground can be used year round. This morning, of course, it was empty. No one in their right mind would be out wandering about the Common so early on New Years Day. Well, no one except a runner and maybe a runner’s wife.
The first day of the year was damp and cold, with spits and spots of rain in the air. Much of the grass was waterlogged and the playground had a couple of unplanned mini paddling pools. We marched up the hill towards the boating lake wondering if anyone else’s would actually turn up for parkrun or if we’d be there all alone like a pair of Billy no mates.
Ironically, with so much water where it had no business to be, the Boating Lake was dry. It was drained last winter too so I’m guessing the council are trying to prevent it becoming an impromptu skating rink in the coldest part of the year. Hopefully they’ll fill it up again before the swans start to think about nesting.
By now time was getting on so we turned to head back towards the parkrun start, hoping we wouldn’t find it still deserted. It was quite a relief to come down the hill and see a handful of volunteers setting out the white poles and tape of the finish funnel.
Not long after we arrived the parkrun trolley turned up along with Kim and Rob, RD’s for the morning. Both had already run at Netely and Rob would be running on the Common for the two hundred and fiftieth time. Then the rain began to fall on the already sodden and puddle ridden ground. It really wasn’t the best of mornings and I couldn’t imagine many people would turn up to run.
Slowly, as the last things were being set up, a trickle of people began to arrive. Paul, Teresa and Tori had run to parkrun rather than driving, probably no bad thing after a night of drinking. At first the volunteers outnumbered the runners but, little by little more arrived.
We’d been standing by the finish line chatting and squelching about on the mud. When Commando looked at his watch and said it was time to head for the start line I turned and was surprised to see quite a crowd gathered.
In fact there were eight hundred and eighty six runners lined up waiting for Kim and Rob to deliver the pre race briefing and send them on their way. Amongst them were sixty five Spitfires, forty three of whom had already run at Netley.
Obviously I wasn’t running anywhere. As soon as the runners set off I slipped and slid my way across the grass to the Old Cemetery and spent a quiet twenty minutes or so splashing and squelching along the narrow pathways enjoying the peace and quiet.
My muddy boots and I returned to the finish funnel just in time to see Commando, Tori and Teresa cross the line. Getting up early to go to parkrun, or wander around a muddy graveyard in the rain on New Years Day, might not be everyone’s idea of fun. There were giant puddles, gloopy mud, rain, queasy stomachs, aching heads and lots and lots of cake at the end. Getting up after a very late and slightly drunken night was hard, but I can’t think of a better way to start the year!