The Glasnevin Schillaci

Salvatore ‘Totò’ Schillaci. People of a certain vintage will recall that name. Whilst England was consumed with Gazza hype it was the diminutive Sicilian striker and his six goals who really took Italia ’90 by storm.

Schillaci came from almost nowhere to be a household name. Yes he played for Juventus, the old lady of Italian football, but up until 1989 he was still plying his trade at lowly Messina. The Palermo native was a surprise inclusion in Italy’s World Cup squad and was the runt of the Azzurri forward litter. He lagged behind more recognisable names like Vialli, Baggio and Mancini and was there seemingly just for the ride. However by the end Schillaci with his satanically wild eyes and emotion-riven goal celebrations would almost drive Italy to World Cup glory on home soil.

As an Ireland supporter Schillaci broke our hearts. His quick reaction to Packie Bonner’s paltry block was all Italy needed to blast them past The Boys in Green and into the semi finals. Jimmy Rabbitte’s ‘Fuck Schillaci’ t-shirt in Roddy Doyle’s The Van spoke to many of us but fair play to Schillaci, he took his opportunity and made sure his hitherto unknown name went down in football history. A true Italian dark horse.

Jimmy Rabbitte.

The story of the dark horse brings me neatly on to last weekend. I was over in Ireland again with a fellow parkrun tourist Adrian. Originally we’d planned to run the parkrun out west in my dad’s hometown of Castlerea in Roscommon but plans had been changed by James and Dan, two Dublin-based cousins. And so it was to Bushy parkrun in Rathfarnham we would be headed. I’d already done Bushy parkrun in London, the so-called Bushy pilgrimage, on New Year’s Day so I was on for a 2019 Bushy double (don’t snigger).

Dan and myself are the runners but I was staying with James in North Dublin and he was coming along to parkrun ‘just for the craic.’ I knew he’d run the New York Marathon in the past but he never spoke of it. We assumed it had gone all wrong so we never asked questions. Maybe it was his running equivalent to Vietnam so to speak. We didn’t go there, no need to stir up bad memories.

Being in Ireland we spent the Friday night in a pub, John Kavanagh’s ‘The Gravediggers Inn’ by Glasnevin Cemetary. The pints of Guinness flowed and I started to get a handle of what I thought was going on. James was getting me ‘locked’ so Dan, sound asleep in his bed in Wicklow, could beat me in the morning. Unfortunately as Oscar Wilde said ‘I can resist everything but temptation’. James’s sister Claire turned up with fiancée Joe later in the night and we finally departed just after midnight.

Lining up at The Gravediggers Inn

With heavy heads we made our way over to Rathfarnham on Saturday morning. In the nearby Tesco carpark we met up with Dan, fresh as a daisy, and his sister Aoife and headed to the start. Luckily enough the park is quite sheltered and had survived the cancellations that affected other parkruns due to Storm Hannah but numbers were swollen with exiles.

The parkrun route follows the River Dodder for nearly 1km then enters Bushy Park for a couple of figure of 8 loops around duck ponds and along wooded trails then back down the path we ran out on to the finish. The pathway was narrow so to get a good time it was integral to get up near the front which Dan and I duly did. James was happy to stay in the middle of the pack.

We started and I headed off quickly in order to lose Dan. At 1km I briefly looked back and didn’t see him. Job done, so I thought, but don’t let up. Life, however, has a funny way of knocking one down a peg or two and sure enough after 2km it happened. I got caught, but not by Dan.

I was running along reasonably well considering the libations of the night previous and all of a sudden a looming moving object appeared by my right shoulder.

“Hi Mike, howya gettin’ on?”

It was James. James! He was here ‘just for the craic’! What the bloody hell was going on?

I fathomed that he had got all excited and set off too quick. He’d falter, they always do, but nice one for having a go though mate. However over the next 1km he stuck to me. Every time I injected a bit of pace, James stayed right by me. I was breathing heavily whilst he was almost Kipchoge-like in his ease of breath. I tried to shake him but just couldn’t. He was so relaxed and was even helpful to a lad running alongside of us.

“Hey young lad! Watch out there, you’re shoelace is loose. Sure you’ll be okay?”

At 3km James made his move and passed me without much effort. Even still I had notions of catching him as his engine was surely going to give out. I’d reel him in on the long finish stretch. Not a bit of it. He put twenty seconds on me and that did not change. James finally crossed the finish line in 20:24 with his English cousin trailing in behind.

What a mighty performance in his first parkrun. It took me six years to get that time, albeit the anaemia didn’t help, and he rocks up ‘just for the craic’ and lays down a great marker. Apparently he even went the wrong way on exiting the figure 8 bit to further rub salt into the wounds. Fecker!

Dan finished in 23:00 and won the ‘closest to the PB’ challenge we’d set ourselves as I was 1:23 outside mine and he bagged a PB however the day was all about James, the Glasnevin Schillaci. I’m now seriously thinking of getting a Jimmy Rabbitte-style t-shirt made up in his honour.

Dan, The Glasnevin Schillaci and MC

P.S. Dan’s daughter came up with the below after reading. Absolutely marvellous.

I’ll always have Paris

The last time I finished first in something was the 400m at my secondary school sports day in 1992. It was a splendid early summer’s day and I distinctly remember that Friday I’m in Love by The Cure was riding high in the charts at the time. I was unable to defend my crown the following year after a friend that was an alright 800m runner dropped down to the single lapper and turned out to be phenomenal at it. The fast fecker would go on to represent Ireland.

For as long as there have been Parisian parkruns I’ve wanted to do one so after spotting a cheap flight option I booked an early March trip. After in-depth research similar to the priests that upgraded the Holy Stone of Clonrichert in Father Ted I opted for parkrun de Montsouris.

Two other PAC tourists, Guirgunator and Adrian, also bought in and we arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport on Friday evening and a budget hotel within the airport grounds was our kip for the night. At 0715 on Saturday we checked out and headed for Montsouris. Our hotel was merely 100m from the train station and RER line B offered a direct journey to our destination.

As the train trundled through Paris’s northern suburbs my inner historian was grabbed by two neighbouring stops. The first was Drancy which having read Paul Webster’s book Pétain’s Crimes years back I knew held an internment camp during World War Two for French Jews prior to being transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Le Bourget followed where Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St Louis touched down at the local airfield following the first solo transatlantic flight in 1927.

At 0820 we arrived at Cité Universitaire station. As we entered Parc Montsouris it was clear that it was going to be an uppy downy one rather than a flat affair. Built on the site of an old quarry the area was transformed into a park under the orders of Emperor Napoleon III in 1869 to give green space to local Parisians.

The northeast point of the park was the parkrun rendezvous area and all the usual hallmarks were present. There was the flag, runners and volunteers although not adorned in hi viz vests, or gilet jaunes, perhaps to escape a skull cracking by the gendarmerie. The run brief was simple enough. Three anti-clockwise laps of the park, keep to the path close to the perimeter fence on the right, prepare for the steep hill and to get the full 5k take the outside line.

I’ll not bore you with a self indulgent run commentary but I crossed the line in 20:23 gratefully receiving token 0001 for the first time in 262 parkruns. I was elated to be first finisher and I’m trying so hard to stick to the parkrun ‘it’s a run not a race’ parlance and not scream out loud ‘I won a race, I won a bloody race!’ Never did I think a first finish would ever occur nor do I think it likely to reoccur. I’m an okay runner but usually accept a top ten percent finish as a great personal achievement. The caveats are numerous but hey you can only run against those that turn up on the day.

Also being a Man Utd fan in Paris shortly after Solskjær’s men defeated PSG had something of an ‘After the Lord Mayor’s Show’ feel about it but like the Reds I too came away with a very positive result.

Première arrivée

The overwhelming majority of the 38 finishers plus volunteers were British immigrants living in Paris or British visitors, mainly from Glossop, so the parkrun itself didn’t necessarily feel French apart from the location and the ‘tous les samedis à 9h’ on the flag. The post event meet up at the nearby Cafe Chinchin however gave it the Parisian air we were looking for and, I kid you not, there was even a women wearing a beret smoking a Gauloises cigarette sat outside.

After a coffee and a chinwag there was a presentation by SAP, a group raising awareness about organ donation. In France organ donation is ‘opt out’ rather than ‘opt in’ like in the U.K. which to me is a wholly more appropriate and efficient way of going about things. Two organ donor beneficiaries talked about the inspirational things they have achieved following donations and both take part in the arduous La Course Du Coeur every year, a 750km organ donation awareness run from Paris to Les Arcs in the Alps. Complete heroes as were their donors. To be a U.K. organ donor then please register here.

We decamped from Chinchin at 1130 and based on a parkrunner recommendation headed to Tour Montparnasse. The view of the city from the 56th floor after riding the insanely rapid elevator was breathtaking. Following lunch atop the tower we headed over to Notre Dame, took in the fantastic Shakespeare and Co bookshop (a recommendation from a Paris-based old school friend), ambled along the Seine and then people watched outside L’Ebouillanté in Marais enjoying a good few glasses of Minervois red wine in the glorious afternoon sunshine.

My travelling companions had an earlier flight home than me so we bade farewell at Châtelet-Les Halles station. I had just enough time before my flight to fulfil a long held ambition. My fascination with The Doors started from the Jim Morrison poster that adorned my sister Katheryn’s bedroom wall. I just love their music and on previous trips to Paris I haven’t been able to shoehorn in a pilgrimage to Morrison’s grave at Père Lachaise Cemetery. This time though I succeeded in paying my long overdue respects to a musical icon.

Jim Morrison’s grave, Père Lachaise Cemetery

I’m enchanted by Paris. I absolutely love the place. Since the 2015 terror attacks I’ve felt a tad uneasy about going back but I’m pleased that I did. Yes the armed French troops patrolling the streets give the feel of a city on the edge however the place still is magical. As Thomas Jefferson said “a walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty and in the point of life.” All Jefferson needed to add was a parkrun barcode and a pair of Brooks Ghosts and he’d be bang on.

Pirates!

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.

Blessed are the Pacemakers

Christmas Day arrived and South Manchester parkrun at Platt Fields, Fallowfield was where I ended up marking my 250th parkrun. It was a fantastic morning with family, running friends and cakes in attendance and it will live long in the memory.

Parental Advisory. Explicit Content

South Manchester is my second most visited parkrun venue (fifteen visits) after Heaton. I first ventured there in 2013 after Rebecca, a workmate, took up running and Platt Fields was her most local parkrun. It’s disparagingly called ‘Flat Fields’ by a number of running pals that are used to more undulating routes due to it’s Netherlands-like flatness but I’m a fan of it. It’s definitely a PB course but just because it’s flat does not mean it’s easy. If you’re going for it ‘eyeballs out’ then there’s no place to hide. You just have to batter it from 0:01 to the finish line. I’ve tended to set fast benchmark times there in the past then my times elsewhere have risen to meet it.

Just prior to start Ian, a quicker Prestwich AC clubmate, approached me and enquired as to my target. I told him that I wanted sub 20 minutes but ideally in the 19:40s to give me an overall 5km PB. We started the run apart but after about 500m Ian sidled up beside me and took one look at his watch.

“Set off a bit quick there Mike.”

He was right, I had and it was clear then that Ian was going to be my personal pacer for the next eighteen or so minutes.

Pacing is a hard task whether doing it on an individual basis for someone or taking a bib, a flag or a balloon and being a designated pacer. It’s taking responsibility to run a time and keeping to that pace as others are depending on it. On an individual basis it’s about managing expectations of the one being paced also. Some want to go out a bit quick and ‘bank time’ others want to run at an even pace throughout. When Ian checked his watch he quickly calculated my pace against target and let me know accordingly. Had I carried on at that pace I’d have blown a gasket sooner rather than later. He did right.

I’ve paced quite a bit in the past and never take it lightly. In the recent Greater Manchester Half Marathon I was ‘a pacer for hire’, literally. A Prestwich ACer called Liz actually paid for my race number but on the proviso I paced a 1:50 time. As the race drew closer and based on her improved performance we revised that figure to 1:47 as a top end target with 1:50 being the acceptable fallback. We set off and as with many runners Liz blasted away quick with an adrenaline-filled enthusiasm. I gave her some latitude in the first kilometre due to the occasion but after that I started a slowing process. At one point I had to go in front of her and perform a blocking manoeuvre to slow her down. I felt bad stymying her pace but Liz had paid me to do a job and that was the sole focus. It was 1:47. I told her if she wanted to change that during the race it was up to her but I advised against it. In the end she crossed the line, on target, in 1:47:04 with some absolutely courageous running from her in the final 5km where we were absolutely drenched by a typically Mancunian downpour.

Previously when I’ve paced and someone has thanked me for ‘getting me a PB’ I’ve felt uncomfortable, borderline annoyed, but I just simply smiled and took the undue plaudits. Why am I uncomfortable? Because I don’t control their body movements, their breathing, their psychology nor do I put them on my shoulder and fireman’s lift them around. They’ve pushed themselves far beyond what is comfortable and done all the hard work, all I did was run to a time and shout a few words of encouragement. Having said all that though I can definitely understand the sentiment now having been on the other side. Having that person beside you to support and cajole can be a very valuable asset indeed.

All the way through the run on Christmas Day Ian was the consummate pacer. He was by my side and kept me to pace by the merest action of looking at his watch and not saying a thing. I knew we were alright by the sound of silence. At half way he told me we were doing good and to keep going, one leg in front of the other. The only place I faltered somewhat was at 4km, I always do. I feel that the run is nearly over but in actual fact there is still a canny distance left. I slowed a bit. Ian quickly spotted it and that’s where he gave me a gentle gee up.

“Come on! You’ve done the hard work Mike, you’ve got hills in your legs. This is nothing. Keep going!”

In the last 250m you emerge from the outer perimeter trail and it’s just a short run around the pond to the finish. The only things you have to worry about is hope you’ve got a final sprint left in you and not to slip on the goose and duck shite. I took one look at my watch and saw that I was on for a really good time and gave everything I had. I was determined not to leave anything out on the course, unlike the wildfowl. I crossed the line in 19:27, a 24 second personal best. A great Christmas present. Thanks Ian.

MC knackered, Ian is to the left.

The moment I realised ‘yeah I’m a bit of a selfish b*****d’

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?”

“Is it?”

“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.

Fountains Abbey (top left), Portrush (top right), Clitheroe Castle (bottom right), Nant y Pandy (bottom left).

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?

“Belfast! That’s a long way to go just for a 5k!”

Last Saturday a group of Prestwich parkrun tourists, Adrian, Amanda, Louise and I, ran at Queen’s parkrun in Belfast. In doing so I completed my 246th parkrun and took in my 50th different parkrun venue since my barcode was first scanned on St Patrick’s Day 2012.

This year parkrun tourism has really grabbed me by the running shoelaces. Previously I’d been content to go to my home run at Heaton Park or freshen it up with another local parkrun every now and again. Away from home whether in the northeast visiting the in laws or on holiday in Australia I’d pack the barcode, seek out the most local parkrun and run it. This reached it’s most bizarre point during a friend’s stag do at the Southport Weekender in Minehead, Somerset in 2014. I hit the hay at midnight in order to do Longrun Meadow parkrun in Taunton the following morning. I emerged from my chalet at 0730 in full running clobber whilst the rest of the lads were still up in various states of dishevelment. My friend Jason later said that the sight was as stark a contrast between good health and bad health he’d ever bore witness to. Hyperbole maybe but it highlighted the importance of that Saturday 5k run to me. It just couldn’t be missed if at all humanly possible.

Our little group are by no means uber tourists but have decided to stretch it a bit this year. We’ve been up to the Lake District, to Cheshire and over to Yorkshire but the combination of affordable flights, convenient departure times, great location of arrival airport, nine parkruns within relatively short distances and 0930 starts has made Northern Ireland our destination of choice this year.

We have a clear plan. Choose a parkrun beforehand and should the flight be delayed for anything under one hour we have a failsafe option in Belfast Victoria parkrun located at the southern end of Belfast City Airport’s runway. It’s just a right turn upon leaving arrivals and a short warm up jog to the start area. If the flight is significantly delayed we head back through departures at Manchester airport and do the most local one. At the moment it’s Wilmslow and thankfully it has not yet been needed.

In March seven of us flew out at 0700, ran Stormont parkrun followed by a black taxi tour around Belfast’s political hotspots. We were back in Prestwich for the running club pub quiz that night.

In September we overnighted on Friday so that we could run the iconic all beach Portrush parkrun. A fabulous out and back course with the North Atlantic waves lapping one side and, at one point, galloping horses on the other. We then ‘visited’ the Giants Causeway and drove along the beautiful Antrim Coast followed by a political tour in West Belfast laid on by a good friend of mine.

So last Saturday Queens was our destination to bag a Q for our parkrun alphabet hunt (see below) and also for a good day out. The alarm clocks sounded at 0400, the taxi picked us up at 0500, Flybe flight BE470 departed on time at 0700 and arrived into a very wet Belfast 45 minutes later. We sought shelter for nearly an hour in the airport then got a taxi to the Queen’s University Sports Complex in South Belfast, a fifteen minute journey away.

The sports complex housed fantastic facilities as would be expected from such a prestigious institution. The welcome was customarily Irish in its friendliness and thankfully the rain had abated somewhat prior to start. The undulating run route was around the outer perimeter of the rugby, football, hockey and GAA playing fields on the Trim Trail. It was on hard standing apart from a short muddy puddley out and back section. A War/Run of the Roses broke out with some Yorkshire tourist brethren that we had met at Manchester airport and pleasingly the Lancastrians crossed the finish line victorious. Cracking refreshments were laid on after the run and I was able to make use of a shower, a parkrun venue first for me.

At 1100 we bade our farewells to the great volunteers and headed into Belfast city centre to the much talked about Cathedral Quarter. First stop was The Harp Bar for a few pints before sating our appetites with great burgers and okayish fries at Bunsen. The Christmas Markets were in full swing in front of Belfast’s City Hall and we had a mooch around. As with all festive markets they were crammed full of people perusing overpriced tat and drinking crap Glühwein. After a detour around the burnt out listed building that once housed Primark we happened upon Kelly’s Cellars, home of the world’s best doorman. The fella just could not do enough for the clientele in this traditional Irish drinking establishment. With the open fire burning, the mighty craic and great tasting Guinness and Hop House 13 it proved difficult to leave when the time arrived to head back home. Our flight departed on time again at 1755 and we were all back home before 2000.

So why do I do it? I’m not really sure. It does appear a lot of faff for what is essentially just a 5k. I suppose it’s the mix of doing one thing I love, running, combined with another, travel even if it is just a hop over the Irish Sea in narrow prop driven tube with wings. It’s the crew that I go with also. We’ve developed into a tight knit bunch that love to dream of what’s possible parkrun wise, do what’s feasible, have a good bit of craic along the way and still aim to be home before Chips @ No.8 shuts, well Prestwich M&S at least.

http://blog.parkrun.com/uk/2018/07/18/the-parkrun-alphabet/

https://www.flybe.com

http://www.parkrun.org.uk/queens/

https://dukeofyorkbelfast.com/venues/harp-bar/

https://www.bunsen.ie

http://www.kellyscellars.com