Glorious social running returns after months teetering in uncertainty

As social running returns it is imperative, now more than ever before, that we maintain the hugely significant social side of old.

Rory Morrow

When the going was good: Parkrun in full flow. As social running returns efforts must be made to ensure it remains socially beneficial, as it was pre-Covid. City Park, Parkrun Craigavon Facebook

Ah Parkrun, good old Parkrun… Back in the days of- Hark!  Is that social running suddenly jogging into my eyeline from nowhere?  Erm it actually appears to be walking.  Slowly, very slowly… Oh this waiting is painful… ah thank you to whoever has pulled this string of permitting social- I mean properly social- running to roam the UK and, hopefully all of Earth, once more!

As our first anniversary with Coronavirus dredged up various milestones throughout the month of March, runners mourn Parkrun globally.  Not merely runners mind you.  Everybody associated with Parkrun misses the pastime of a Saturday morning 5k dander.  Its absence has rippled throughout many communities impacting all those strollers, volunteers, joggers, dog-walkers and hangover-curers who participated in Parkrun.  Parkrun became such a prominent part of so many lives, it isn’t inconceivable to imagine the routine of Saturday itself has been greatly disrupted.  Waking up too early, throwing on anything resemblant of sports kit, hurriedly driving to its local Parkrun, angrily forgetting its barcode for the umpteenth week running before the ultimate sucker-punch.  A terrain of unfulfilled and cancelled Parkrun’s menacingly hovers into view slowly fogging our entire eyeline, as foreboding in spirit as dark grey rain-filled clouds circling then obstructing the sun. 

For me, Parkrun has meant various things as I have undergone the teenager stage of life.  My hilariously chubby (and immature) aged 13’s unsuccessful attempt to reject any such nonsensical notions of running in 2014 transformed into overly competitive ‘Not going to let this so and so beat me’ all the way to bumpy morning drives there on L plates (causing Dad more sweat than the actual 5k) and marking 200 Parkrun’s in June 2019.   As with the current restrictions forbidding Athletics Training at QUB, bizarrely it isn’t the runs that I miss about Parkrun.  I miss the craic.  Since the Boxing Day restrictions, my social life has been boxed up and shoved under the bed to gather dust.  But now as I fumble about for its step-by-step breaking down of small talk and revise the sensation of physical touch- a handshake here, shoulder slapping there- I can sense the saliva drooling and my lips smacking at the delightful feast of QUBAC’s return and all its wonderfully intimate, subtly significant joys that running and struggling for breath with fellow students brings. 

I long for the buzz of running elbow to elbow with a total stranger.  Reminiscing of Parkrun days, I yearn to be staggering along near the back, chatting of a memorable night before with school friends.   Parkrun is a people place so I suppose, naturally as an (aspiring) Anthropologist, its only logical that I have missed the physical presence of people from my Saturday mornings.  But what are the alternatives?  We have been running, not merely solo Parkrun’s but living solo lives for the large part of a year now. 

To really attribute a lonesome and often laboured Saturday morning trek (some days, more of a weary trudge or limp waddle) around the same mundane round-the-block route as Parkrun is just wrong.  Like cashews without cranberries, libraries without books or pubs without alcohol or football without a ball, Parkrun without people just doesn’t compute.  Its main function cannot be fulfilled. Any purpose has been cruelly pimped and battered, treated with similar disdain to how dogs treat cushions- “No they are for sitting, NOT eating!”.  When your favourite toy as a kid suddenly died one morning because its batteries needed replacing; social running and particular Parkrun has been screwed open, had its main source of energy removed and been chucked in the toy box of unused, forgotten doom and gloom.  Totally disregarded for an event that was often so transformative and so wonderful for so many different people. 

Past Customs: Comradery shown in the aftermath of a social run

Be it the thrill of meeting someone new and being able to chat carefree as you canter around, perhaps even aware that you may never meet that person again.  More gratitude to be alongside a fellow human who also has limits such as sharing your bedhead regrets or also bemoaning a failed fast start mission, evidenced by them rasping and wheezing for breath harder than even yourself.  You decide you like this person and a friendship of sorts is born.  Maybe it lasts just that half hour or so, perhaps it disguises your divided opinions on politics and the correct pronunciation of scone but nevertheless those differences drifts away as you appreciate their company and craic as justice for dragging yourself out of bed early. 

Just as satisfying are the catch-up reunions, albeit these are familiar procedures.  Performed via gasping breaths, laboured body language and initial forced grimaces (screaming ‘why am I doing this?’) instead of cheery grins.  People have made my joy in Parkrun.  Familiarly friendly faces of kind barcode-scanning volunteers, tongue in-cheek pacers (for 25 minutes whom you aspire to, admiring their length stride and craning your neck to ensure they haven’t disappeared at every corner), cousins from far and wide in competitive Christmas morning runs, fellow joggers recovering from their own hangovers, one to ones with friends you thought you’d lost touch with.   People make a community and Parkrun, over the last decade, has emerged as a shining beacon for many communities and people from afar and home. 

Last time that Parkrun was performed, it was the 14th of March 2020.  I barely remember it now but I recall how good it felt. Running relaxed me and talking to whoever was there knowing the run itself was a motivator but ultimately of little importance compared to my other life worries.  Perhaps its why Tom Quinn often ran, does running relax even morally concerned, security of the State-occupied Spooks? The reassurance that Parkrun gave me despite university uncertainty, school stress and nights-out caused nausea.  It remains the last Parkrun that I or anyone I know has ran to date.  And yes, yay, yippedy-doo, I’ve heard the dates, thank you.  On 19th April QUB Training returns and the  5th June, the Parkrun returns in England.  Fantastic is all I’m hearing around that but the voice in my pessimistically filled brain is saying the word in a sinister and sarcastic tone, evocative of the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer mockery.  Afterall, like so many other things, this is not in our control. 

Maybe that’s a good thing but as citizens of democratic societies, as participants in the Parkrun’s that governments are trying to bring back, perhaps we deserve a say.  How many government planners or officials have even laid eyes on a Parkrun, let alone partook in one?  Regardless of anything, if Parkrun is to be back, it must be back in all its close contact, ankle accidentally tapping another ankle, back-slapping, water-slopping and human touch filled glory. 

Truth be told, it would be insulting if we rocked back to our first Parkrun, all eagerly excited, only to be started individually or in groups.  Or to turn up and be told I should have booked my limited place earlier.  Any notion of a ‘no mask, no run’ policy is also absurd.  Personally, and while this may cause sniggers or scowls regarding student immaturity and young people are reckless accusations, any such measures would defeat the entire purpose of Parkrun.  Yes, we cannot have people running amuck outside the event but if you’re not comfortable coming out and mingling closely with fellow humans then nobody is forcing you.   Let us crack on to ensure that we bring the proper Parkrun back.  Not some botched pigs-ear job presenting a ‘new normal’ which removes the social from social running. 

QUB Athletics train together before Boxing Day restriction.  We hope training will return as normal from the 19th of April. QUB Athletics

It is magically wonderful to fathom that the simple idea of running 5K with anyone who wants to started with 13 runners in Bushy Park in Autumn 2004.  Soon, Parkrun will celebrate its twentieth birthday.  The same year, 2024, that will mark a decade since my first Parkrun.  It has been, in event form, such a sturdy shoulder to lean on throughout growing up.  From plaguing my interest in keeping fit to helping me enjoy it.  I know its impact on numerous people whether it gives them a precious space to chat and have somebody simply listen or helps someone in a slump reboot themselves. 

Parkrun has been there in the good times and the bad.  From being a way to release nerves ahead of my first Saturday shift to allowing silent grief.  It permits ranting (as long as your breathing does) and brings out both our companionable and competitive sides.  Also available in various forms of circumstances; pre-cursor to Saturday sport, a refreshing glass of water that really should have been taken at the pub last night, a stride-for-stride personal battle or an excuse to clear the fog from hazy minds, Parkrun has done it all.  Running’s very own counselling service.  And all for free.  Gee, we’ve had it good.  If Parkrun and people running returns, a piece of me will return.  A social side will emerge once more from the fog. 

No doubt I will have to retrain my mouth again to speak properly, before I can even contemplate beginning the devilish arts of chit-chat, gossip and flirting once more.  Nudging elbows won’t feel totally alien again but hearing a fellow raspy runner alongside me will be startling and then oh so satisfying.  To lose myself in the social swirl of amateur athleticism.  Listening, laughing, panting, sighing… its all coming back.  Like a badger awkwardly shuffling awake and about from their winter-long sabbatical of hibernation (badgers do hibernate, don’t they?), we too will take time to fully adjust, trying to move our mouths to form words then sentences as the scantly warm sun pops out.  Ah well, we can hope that its akin to learning to ride a bike.  You see once you discover the delicate art and pleasure that there is in social running, well we’ll be back in stride soon enough.  At Parkrun, club training and alike.  Soon once more feet will pound, tongues will loll, grimaces will be exchanged, hands will rest on knees, bandana headbands will be tied on and arms will lumber back and forth with all the grace of two bouncers raggedly lugging a way too drunken sap out onto the footpath.  Before long, the running world may be at peace again.  

We hope these sensations will properly return so that we can not only relish running and the sun setting at our backs but that we can enjoy them together in our social running groups, of which the rebuilding bricks are slowly starting to build into place once more.

QUB Athletics resumes (starting tomorrow) with its weekly training schedule:

Mondays @ Mary Peters Track @ 5:30-6pm (check socials for clarification).

Wednesdays @ Mary Peters Track @ 3:30pm.

Thursdays @ the PEC for a social (10k roughly) run @ 6pm. 

Any questions, feel free to email the club or get in contact via our socials!

Facebook: (2) QUB Athletics Club | Facebook

Instagram: QUB Athletics Club (@qubathletics) • Instagram photos and videos

Published by The Gown Queen's University Belfast

The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s