8th December 1999. That was the day I asked a young Mackem woman out at the steps of the Priestman Building in Sunderland following a politics lecture at university. The day is a vivid memory as straight after I drove down to Old Trafford with a fellow red to see Utd batter Valencia 3-0 that evening. It was announced that Roy Keane had just signed a new contract at kick off and he scored a cracker. Great day. Anyway the Mackem said yes, two days later we went to watch the latest James Bond film and the rest is history.
Nineteen years in and I’ve gotten used to the way that she looks at me. In particular the look I get when I come up with a madcap idea just because I’d happened upon ‘a good deal’ on a travel website. The ‘oh, really darling’ look where her eyes widen ever so slightly and a smile that isn’t a smile appears.
Since I started running it’s become more acute. Planning holidays with a parkrun destination in mind or in between Saturdays is commonplace. Going away, or thinking about it, to do a marathon or half marathon is just part of my life. If fortunate enough to be in a partnership with someone that shares a passion then it’s all good. My much better half however is a rower not a runner and her double scull plus oars plus other sculler is a hard pack given Ryanair’s new cabin baggage policy and you can’t exactly stick them on the roof of a Fiat 500.
So last week I approached her with the lastest of my ‘would you mind ifs’.
“You know my 250th parkrun is on Christmas Day?”
“Yes. Well seeing as though it’s a very special milestone and Christmas Day parkruns there are supposed to be amazing would you mind if I went to Bushy Park for it? I promise I’ll be back by 1pm.”
For those that don’t know Bushy Park, in South London, is the spiritual home of parkrun. Founded there in 2004 by Paul Sinton-Hewitt, from the original 13 runners at the first Bushy Park Time Trial it has spawned into the phenomenon that it is today. The so-called ‘Bushy pilgrimage’ is the parkrun equivalent to summating The Reek (Croagh Patrick) for Irish Catholics or the Hajj for Muslims.
My much better half’s exterior didn’t display the usual humouring. Her eyes narrowed. The smile that’s not a smile was missing. Her face silently screamed ‘are you for real?’
“Bushy! In London! On Christmas Day!”
I won’t go much further into the dialogue, well monologue, but I think I hit her Popeye ‘that’s all I can stands, I can’t stands no more’ point. Let’s just say that I am going down south for my 250, but it’s 9 miles down the road to South Manchester rather than the 220 miles to South London and I will be back considerably earlier than 1pm.
Quickly it dawned on me that I was being selfish, very selfish. The plan seemed perfectly plausible in my mind beforehand but she made me look at myself from the outside. I was actually putting it out there that I wanted to miss the usual family trappings with my wife and daughter of Christmas Day morning to go to London, on my tod with nothing but podcasts and BBC6 Music for company, for a parkrun. I’d be setting off at 4am for heavens sake! Added to this my sister and niece will be visiting from Greece. Sheesh! Back for 1pm? Not a chance. Perhaps if I battered it back up the M6 like Sebastian Vettel, and in his car. What was I thinking? Had I lost my mind? What an eejit I was to even consider it never mind ask. A friend of mine from Hull would use a more colourful adjective to describe me.
The problem is I’m an addict. There you go, I’ve said it. I’m addicted to attending parkruns. They’re copper-fastened into my diary. The thought of missing one gives me palpitations. I was speaking to a fellow run leader recently and he told me he was going away for five weeks at Christmas, to a non parkrun country. Oh Jesus! I couldn’t deal with that at all. I was pleased when we went to Australia, where there are loads, so that I could easily do one every Saturday and get my fix. By the way that wasn’t the reason we went just in case you were wondering. I’ve missed seven this year due to bad weather, travel or injury and I remember every one. It irks me. But as with all addictions the admission of the problem is the first step.
In the grand scheme of things it’s not a very bad addiction to have. Attending my home parkrun at Heaton Park amounts to nothing more than an hour out of the day all told. However I’ve been touring a lot in 2018 (26 different venues excluding Heaton) and trips although great can extend anything up to twenty four hours if we hit an Irish parkrun. I’m not going to give up touring completely but I’ll scale it back somewhat in 2019. Perhaps just once a month so I’ll be able to spend more time at home working on the PB and my actual home, with the family, as well. I prioritised badly there didn’t I?