Popping the Volunteering Cherry

Way back in 2013, I took part in my first run and on 21st January 2017 I completed my 85th. Those that know me, will tell you that I never tire of telling anyone that will listen of what a great concept parkrun is and how I love the inclusive environment that you can take advantage of, a free local 5k run.

Its success is reliant on volunteers stepping forward to take on one of the various roles; timekeeper, scanner, marshal, tail runner or even photographer! So it goes without saying that for someone who has been so applauding of parkrun, that I need to hang my head in shame that I had not volunteered up until today.

If any excuse is possible, it’s my struggle to find time to run with conflicting priorities and the moment I do have the Saturday morning available, I want to take advantage of running the course. Unfortunately, if that was the case for everyone, parkrun would be no more as a minimum amount of volunteers are needed each week.

So what changed this week?

I was injured and childless and frankly, I had no excuse.

I had fallen the week previously whilst out running (that can be a regular occurrence in my case and I am often accused of not being able to stand on my own two feet) and stupidly and stubbornly I attempted to run around Hyde Park whilst there with work this week.

The leg was not going to hold up to a parkrun so I announced to my fella I would be volunteering. My New Year’s resolution, was not to get fit but to become more of a parkrun tourist ,but for volunteering purposes the easiest option would be to head down to my nearest parkrun, only one mile away.

Friday came and I had still not offered my services to anyone and knew that my opportunity was slowly slipping away. That night, I logged onto facebook and noticed a plea for volunteers at one of the runs I had taken part at previously but it was nineteen miles away. Before I could change my mind, I responded to the request.

Saturday morning, I was up bright and early as I always am when childless (life sucks a little like that doesn’t it?) and made my way to Poolsbrook parkrun. I was starting to get a little worried as to what role I would be allocated and hoped I wouldn’t be given too much responsibility. I’d be bloody mortified if I was responsible for two hundred runners with no official times!

On arrival I was allocated a Marshal in position three which seemed pretty straight forward and once the runners set off, I made my way to my position ready to cheer the runners. Now, although I had received some brief instructions on the back of the lanyard, nobody actually tells you what you should do when people are running past; I know how I have responded to marshals but not everyone wants a cheery shout or a smiley face.


So as I was shouting morning to people and a round of “well done’s”, my first task caught me a little off guard. A fisherman was extending his rod (this is not a euphemism for something else) right into the path of oncoming runners. We are always told to be respectful of other park users as they have as much right to the park as parkrunners but how do I tactfully ask him to mind his rod? Some runners looked a little concerned so I politely asked him to be careful and hoped that he would retract his rod. Unfortunately, he wasn’t too keen on the idea and told me if anyone damaged it they would have to pay. At this point I was thinking, “This could only bloody happen to me.”

I’m not known for my international peacekeeping skills but I explained that I was there to prevent any accidents from happening and gave him my best cheesy grin. It must have worked as before long he was having a little chat with me and asking how many laps of the course the parkrunners did.

1-0 to me.

My attention could now be devoted to the people passing me and give them the praise they deserved. Respectful of the passing runners and walkers, I attempted to judge how they would want me to acknowledge them although I have never been a great face reader. I continued with my smiles and praise and high-fived a couple of kids. My people watching skills, had a stab at working out how many times I had seen individual runners and based on their pace, how many laps they had done. If I thought they were on their last lap, I shouted “Not far now!” I wondered whether I had made a schoolgirl error in that what if I had miscalculated how many times I had seen their faces? What if they responded with, “are you taking the piss?” I am certain, I told some non-parkrunners well done and others who had already completed their three laps but they acknowledged me nonetheless (maybe to shut me up or out of politeness!)

What was actually amazing was the amount of people who thanked me. I never expected so many thanks and I am completed overwhelmed how parkrunners took the time to do this. I have never felt more rewarded for standing still for fifty-six minutes and in turn I would like to say thank you to the 187 people that took part. I am in awe of everyone of them, from the frontrunners (who I never get to see) to the people who carried on despite struggling through injury or fatigue.

I’m not sure whether the lady in the pink bobble hat was as shit a marshal as she is a runner, but today volunteering gave me a massive incentive to carry on being part of the wonderful community that is parkrun.

Thank you Poolsbrook for allowing me to pop my cherry, and I hope you had no complaints from the regulars 🙂