Saturday, 11 March 2017

I Volunteer For The parkrun

Shrewsbury parkrun volunteers - March 11th 2017.  Photograph by Margaret Connarty

The Shrewsbury parkrun has become an important weekly routine, so much so that last weekend I ordered the t-shirt.  It's orange - a colour that makes me look ill - and I have to say that the first time I did the run back in November, I felt so sick at the end I had to sit down immediately I'd finished.  Now, though, running 5K on a Saturday morning has the effect of making me feel very well indeed, and afterwards I stroll home nonchalantly.

At the beginning of the run last Saturday morning, there was a shout out for volunteers.  It was my 12th run and I hadn't yet helped out, but I faced a dilemma.  Missing a week sets me back in so many ways. I've started going for jogs on my own, but there's something about being in a group that makes me keep going for longer.  So when I found out from Glenn that I could volunteer and run, I emailed the volunteer organiser.  Within minutes Susan had signed me up for set up and token counting.

I have done many things as a volunteer in my time, some of which (such as re-wiring churches and cutting privet hedges) I prefer to forget, and other things (such as organising sports evenings with the youth group in the park) I remember fondly as rewarding but hard work.  However, if you were to ask me which of all the voluntary activities I have ever done I would most recommend, as of today it would be token counting for your local parkrun.

Setting out cones before the race, unwinding the tape and pushing the starting flag pole into the soft ground were all great fun (especially as I was able to chat to my friend Julie throughout) but post-race token counting takes the biscuit (though I need to point out, for the sake of clarity, that I've given these up for Lent).

To understand the pleasures of token counting, imagine a café.  Imagine being served a cappuccino by James who was in the same class as my son in primary school, whose smile and chatter is warm as the new sunshine edging its way through the windows. Imagine a light space with colourful tables. Imagine on one of the tables well over 500 small pieces of numbered plastic in one large tub, and 5 smaller empty baskets.  Imagine sitting round this table with 6 year old Jess, and her mother Kathryn.  Imagine them telling you, very gently, how to sort the tokens first into their hundreds, and then their tens and finally into consecutive order. Imagine the pleasure, as Kathryn said, of making order out of chaos.  Imagine coming across the token numbered 0001, handling it like Olympic gold. 

Imagine doing this on a Saturday morning, body at peace, having run 5K; doing this chatting about the London and Paris marathons with people who are actually going to run them; doing this with the whole of the rest of Saturday stretching ahead; doing this with people who care about their community; doing this at the beginning of spring, the daffodils just coming out, the birds delighted with everything, the trees about to burst into leaf.  And all of these things adding up to something necessary to write about.

Tokens similar to the ones we counted at Stop Café in Shrewsbury ...


  1. Nice blog, parkrun's great isn't it?

  2. Sounds such fun Liz, but I'm confused. Excuse my total non-exercise mind but, why are you counting tokens? What are they for?

    1. Good point! When you finish the run you get a token numbered with your position in the race (403 for me this week). Then your number (which is 'attached' to a time) gets recorded against your personal ID which you carry as a card with a barcode and is scanned. The info (your ID and your time is scanned - by volunteers) and recorded and then is uploaded by other volunteers. Runners get an email telling them their results. The tokens are re-ordered / recycled each week. Make sense? Thought not!! X

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