Goodbye, hello, Remembrance and mud

10 November 2018

The end of October brought the end of the warm weather. It had been one of the longest, hottest summers in living memory and getting out jumpers, hats and gloves seemed like a welcome change of pace. So, wrapped up warm against the chilly autumn air, we set off across a Common softened by mist and bathed in golden light for our second parkrun of the month. It was going to be a day for goodbyes.

Goodbyes are not usually happy occasions but, in this case, no one was actually going anywhere. John, the Southampton parkrun Event Director for the last three years and his wife Rachel who’s is a regular Run Director, had decided to step down. Overseeing one of the biggest parkruns in the country, regular Run Directing and being chairman and welfare officer of a running club while holding down full time paid jobs are far more work than most people realise. John and Rachel were well overdue a bit of time to rest and relax.

John’s favourite band, Ukulele Jam, had turned up to surprise him and there was a general air of festivity about the event. Before RD, Kate, got into her pre run briefing, Rob presented John and Rachel with a beautiful framed map of the parkrun course. Rob is one of Southampton parkrun’s most experienced RD’s and he will now he be taking over the ED reigns.

As soon as the goodbyes and hello’s were over I tramped across the grass to the Old Cemetery. This is always my favourite part of Saturday morning and, with the hundredth anniversary of the end of World War I coming up, I had more than an inkling there’d be something interesting to see. The still misty morning light burnished the autumn leaves and turned the cemetery paths into a cathedral of colour.

My aim was the chapel at the far end of the main path but the scatterings of bright berries, the moon in the deep blue sky and dappled sun on interesting graves threatened to distract me with every step. The Old Cemetery is difficult to walk through with any purpose, there is just so much to see everywhere.

It was well worth persevering and ignoring all the things that caught my eye along the way. When I reached the chapel I discovered one of the interesting commemorative sculptures that have popped up all over the city. These cast iron figures were created by the Royal British Legion to mark the centenerary of the armistice as reminders of all those who died.

This one was a suffragette. She caused a bit of a stir amongst those who didn’t fully understand the role the suffrage movement played in World War I. Before the war some women waged a campaign of civil disobedience, violence and hunger strikes. In 1914, when war broke out, the suffragists and suffragettes put aside their battle for equality and did all they could to help the war effort. They set up hospital units in France and helped at home by taking on jobs that would previously have been done by men. Their actions proved, once and for all, that women were capable of doing men’s jobs and more than worthy of the vote.

While the statue in the Cemetery was no surprise to me the tea lights candles and lanterns all around the war memorial were unexpected. There were dozens of them, many actually alight, in all different shapes, sizes and colours. Who put them there is a mystery but it was a beautiful and moving tribute to those who died. For some time I stood looking at them and thinking about the sacrifices made in those dark days.

Much as I’d have liked to stay a little longer and maybe visit some of the other war graves, I had to get back to parkrun. There was just time for a quick look at the Belgian soldiers memorial. This too was surrounded by glass lanterns.

A few spots of rain were falling as I walked back across the grass. They didn’t come to anything though, apart from a rainbow over the parkrun finish funnel. Tempting as it was to go off in search of a pot of gold on the trail around Cemetery Lake, Commando and I had to leave quick smart. We had another race to go to in the afternoon.

The race in question was the next Hampshire Cross Country League event in Aldershot. Commando had never been there before and my only experience of it was a brief visit in June 2012 to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the Aldershot football stadium. Suffice to say we got lost. It also began raining torrentially which didn’t help matters much.

Eventually we found the place but couldn’t find a way into the car park. In the end we parked up at the side of a lane some distance away and traipsed through the rain and mud to the start line. It didn’t look like it was going to be a fun afternoon in the slightest.

The course could best be described as a quagmire, there had been two earlier races so the wet ground was well churned up before the race even began. The rain was so hard I abandoned any thought of getting my fancy camera out and, instead, stood dripping, squinting through my foggy glasses and tried my best with my phone. Commando was almost gleeful at the sight of it. He’d just bought some new spikes for his running shoes and was pleased to be able to test them out. Have I mentioned that runners are very strange people?

If lap one had seemed bad, lap two was even worse. The rain had been falling steadily and the runners had turned the mud into a dirty pond. Photos were getting harder and harder to take, mainly because everyone was so covered in mud it was difficult to recognise them.

There was a third lap, but, by then, I’d put my phone away and given up trying to take pictures, although I did whip it out once, to capture a very wet, muddy Commando heading for the finish. This was undoubtedly the muddiest cross country race I’ve ever watched. Later I learned there was a small stream on the woodland part of the course. On lap one it was easy to step over. By lap two it required leaping. On the final lap the stream had grown to such proportions the runners had to wade through. Still, it did wash off some of the mud briefly.

At the start of the day, in the soft mist and dawn light, putting on a jumper, hat and gloves seemed like a pleasant novelty. What I hadn’t bargained for was needing a dry robe and waders by the afternoon. Suddenly autumn and cross country race spectating didn’t seem quite so charming after all.

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Behind the scenes at the first CC6

17 September 2017

The barista in the Costa Coffee on Passfield Avenue looked a little bemused when a hoard of runners descended on his cafe just before eight o’clock on a Sunday morning. Mid September, people in brightly coloured running gear heading for a muddy field filled with flags could only mean one thing, the first CC6 of the season. We were some of the first Spitfires to arrive but soon the fields behind Fleming Park were brimming with Spitfire hoodies. Even so, there would be no Itchen Spitfires running today because they were the event organisers. Continue reading Behind the scenes at the first CC6

Marvellous RR10 marshals

19 April 2017

Just when I was beginning to miss the excitement and mud of the Sunday CC6 races, the first of the RR10’s for this year came along. Last year these cross country races were very popular with the Itchen Spitfires and, as they are all evening races in some beautiful locations, I enjoyed going along, not least to get some lovely sunset photos. The first race this year was at Royal Victoria Country Park and, for the first time ever, it was organised by the Itchen Spitfires.  Continue reading Marvellous RR10 marshals

Denny Wood, the penultimate CC6

19 February 2017

Today brought the penultimate CC6 at Denny Wood in the New Forest. For once it was an area I knew fairly well as I’ve walked through it many times as part of the Care For A Walk fifteen mile fundraiser. Usually it is muddy and I had the feeling today was going to be no exception. On a different day I might have gone for a wander across White Moor to Lyndhurst and Bolton’s Bench a coulple of miles down Beaulieu Road, or crossed the road and done my usual trick of getting lost in Matley Wood. Today though I was being gentle on my poor old foot with its healing blister. Besides, there wouldn’t be too much time as, James, one of the Spitfire’s super fast runners, was running his first CC6.  Continue reading Denny Wood, the penultimate CC6

Janesmoor Pond, fog, mud and Santas

11 December 2016

Lately life seems to have been nothing but one race after another. This morning we were up early yet again, heading for a race. This though, would be the last race of the year. In an epic piece of bad planning on the part of the people who plan races, there were actually three races going on this morning in different parts of Hampshire. Without a time machine though, we could only go to one and, as I’d been asked to be the keeper of the numbers for the CC6, we were off the Janesmoor Pond.  Continue reading Janesmoor Pond, fog, mud and Santas