Near where the Mersey Estuary and Irish Sea meet is the place that I officially became a pirate. Now don’t get the wrong idea, I wasn’t hepped up on khat and armed with a Kalashnikov rifle aboard a skiff terrorising shipping entering the nearby Port of Liverpool. I’d have loved that. No, as I crossed the finish line last Saturday at Crosby parkrun and had my barcode scanned I became a bonafide parkrun pirate.

Crosby Beach

A bit of background. When I started going to parkrun things were simple. You ran, your barcode was scanned and later a results email arrived. You could scrutinise the results on parkrun’s website to see how you’d fared on the day and against your own previous performances but that was about it.

Then some clever parkrunning bods extracted data from parkrun results pages and transformed it into extra information, formed clubs and came up with funky challenges and this could be displayed on a handy Google Chrome/Firefox extension (don’t worry I’m losing myself here). Amongst others there are:

  1. The Alphabet Challenge – Collect the letters A-Z (except X, there isn’t one) corresponding to a parkrun location’s starting initial.
  2. The Wilson Index – Build up the highest number of consecutive parkrun event numbers starting from one.
  3. The Compass Challenge – Complete parkrun locations with the four points of the compass in the title. Interestingly the UK’s most easterly parkrun has west in the title, Lowestoft.
  4. Parkrun Bingo – You win (nothing) by gaining every second element in your parkrun finish times from 0:00 to 0:59.

I currently only need J and Z (the closest Z is in Poland) to complete as an Alphabeteer, my Wilson Index is 5, I’ve only 0:05 and 0:25 to go for Bingo and having done South Manchester and Singapore’s East Coast parkruns I’m still lacking the names of Kanye and Kim’s firstborn to wrap up the Compass Challenge.

This brings me to Pirates, the first and only challenge I have completed. The origins of it I’m not sure about but the basis is that you need to complete seven parkruns starting with C and one with an R. It’s a play on the Seven Seas that pirates sailed upon and their famous phrase ‘Arrr!’ People dress up in pirate garb to complete it but I don’t do fancy dress so donning an eyepatch, a cutless and breeches was never ever going to happen. When I completed it however it got me thinking about the parkruns that helped me toward it.

I got my ‘Arrr!’, or R, first at Riverside in Chester-le-Street, Durham on a visit to the in-laws in December 2012. It’s a lovely little venue down by the River Wear and within sight of the famous cricket stadium.

I then waited over four years and ventured thousands of miles to unintentionally bag my first two Cs. Cottesloe Beach parkrun, Western Australia was memorable as my fellow travellers stepped in for a bit of voluntourism. Mark, the Event Director, confidently enlisted my then 10 year old daughter as timekeeper and my much better half as finish token giverouterer. My daughter got 95/95 runners bang on whereas when yours truly took over when her hands got cold I missed one of the last six runners. Two weeks later, thanks to the 7am start, I sneaked in Cairns parkrun in Queensland just prior to a day spent snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef.

The superstar timekeeper at Cottesloe Beach parkrun

The Australian Cs stood alongside each other until I found out about the Chrome Extension and subsequently the Pirate’s Challenge in June 2018. I then proceeded to rattle off four Cs in quick succession. The first came at Cuerden Valley near Preston, a complete headbanger of a course with ups and downs and twists and turns through woodland which gave the parkrunner absolutely no opportunity to relax. Next up was a relatively new one at Clitheroe Castle and the five laps within the grounds beneath the castle proved a rather testing encounter. Two weeks later came Cheadle Hulme directly beneath the final approach to Manchester Airport, a winner for an AvGeek like me, where the rutted grass surface was baked as hard as concrete from last summer’s heatwave. The fourth British C came just down the road at Chadderton Hall. I dubbed it the ‘I beg your pardon parkrun’ as you have to circumnavigate a small rose garden near the end of each of the four laps. Unlike Lynn Anderson’s famous song however the run brief did actually promise it to us.

Cheadle Hulme parkrun with an American Airlines A330 on short finals #AvGeek

On Saturday it was to Crosby for the seventh and final C to complete the challenge and it has to be the hardest flattest 5k I’ve ever ran. ¡Dios Mío! The reason? The coastal wind. We started on the beach and headed southish into the headwind toward Liverpool docks. Running on the beach was fine as the sand was quite compact but the wind was brutal. We rounded Bing Crosby, an Antony Gormley ‘Another Place’ statue bedecked in hi viz and fluorescent helmet, and the headwind then became a tailwind. You could once again hear things and the running became much easier. A 2km run followed back northish along the beach and promenade toward Blundellsands. At the RNLI building you turn southish and then a punishing 1.6km run on grass into the blowing hooley ensued to the finish. Arduous isn’t the word, it was a proper reducer. I came away pleased with taking sixth position, the wind unassisted time of 21:37 and also becoming a pirate of course.

Blow dried

Now I just need to find a couple of G’s to complete the Stayin’ Alive (three B’s and three G’s) Challenge or tick off Pontypool, Pontypridd and Pontefract for a Full Ponty perhaps. Or maybe I should just concentrate on getting my time down at my local run, you never know I might bag the last of the Bingo numbers along the way.

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