Why are the mainstream media not reporting this?
My blog posts have been sparse this spring and for good reason. I can now reveal that I have been deep cover infiltrating a shadowy cabal of wellness extremists known collectively as ParkRun. A volunteer run organisation who seem to be able to successfully blossom with no cash money being required to take part and where people are forced to run, jog, walk five kilometers of their own free will.
If that’s not totally, like, well-dodgy, I don’t know what is.
This past weekend a heavily disguised younger offspring and I made the perilous seventeen mile journey across the county line to the lawless town of Andover. Our aim: risking life and limb bravely exposing their local event for the world to read about in a blog post*. To blow wide open the greatest oxymoronical term of the modern world: fun-run.
This is our story.
By dint of bad luck – without which we’d have no luck at all – our mission coincided with the bi-annual British sunny Saturday morning. It was also – as if it could’ve been worse – the GP Pledge Day where upwards of 800 GP practices have linked themselves to ParkRun to focus on so-called “wellness”. Ha. Drawbacks like this weren’t to defeat us. We’d trained, we’d taken two bottles of water, we’d committed: we we’re ready-ish.
By ten-past-nine some 400 runners and walkers had amassed with the atmosphere best described as powder keg-y with the seconds clicking by. No oh-nine-hundred-on-the-dot start for these Hampshire badasses: they ratchet up the tension here until something has to give.
And give it did.
The Andover course is two deceptively pancake-flat and therefore torturous laps a round a clearly dangerous park punctuated by intimidating so-called Marshals. This was I suppose some grudging relief: our “home” event at Marlborough Common is characterised by every step being uphill and into the wind with a finish gradient that would give a mountain goat bad dreams for a week and a half. It is at the very limit of what the human body can withstand on a weekend.
Since 2004 this secretive, underground collective have been globally spreading it’s tentacles by hiding in plain sight every Saturday morning across the world at public, easily accessible, well signposted, cheerfully volunteered, open venues where people are often sickeningly healthy.
It gnaws at my very soul: we are forced to share Planet Earth with these people.
Back at Andover the event exploded into life. Elbows flew as 400 vividly keen, tunnel-vision-y joggers made ruthless steps for the first corner. The carnage I witnessed that morning will – I fear – never leave me. Left and right, back and forth we were surrounded by those kind of smiles that mask darkly sinister intent. Within seconds I lost sight of Morgan. Son! Let me tell you, the thirty-seven minutes we were apart were the longest of my life. (Even longer than that time my luggage didn’t appear on the carousel that time at Geneva airport after changing planes that time at Charles De Gaulle.)
Surrounded by Lycra! I did the only thing a man could do. In the thick of this pack of wheezing jackals, their eyes laser focused as assassins on the path ahead, their supportive-yet-breathable technical running gear and excellent quality trainers bright in flattering intentionally-faded-dayglo designs: I put one foot in front of the other. I ran.
I wanted to stop. I wanted to collapse. But somehow I couldn’t. The proximity of others, some offering frankly terrifying encouraging words carried me. Some used the clandestine spoken ParkRun code to the gilet-jaune de le jardin public: “thanks Marshal.” Kids waving to the runners. Kids who were runners waving back. (Kids! Have they no shame, does no one think of the children!?) For those truly on the “inside” it is possible to elicit the highest order faux-Masonic response from some Marshals: the “high five”.
Passing the final Marshal he chilled the very fire of my heightened respiration with the brutal words “Final kilometre.” I trudged on heart bursting, sweat pouring whereupon – six and a bit eternal minutes later – I crossed the line ahead of a terrifying group of so-called “fun running” ladies who were determined to chase me down over the last twenty metres.
Seeing I feared the worst, the officials played mind games with me. Mercilessly I was handed a tag.
As if being forced to run five kilometers in sunny, dry weather wasn’t bad enough, now I was coerced into being “scanned”. This ultimate violation wreaks of Big Brother. Of data mining and probably deffo an exploitation of my human rights yeah? “Beeeep” went the scanner my bar-code sending bits of information into “the cloud.” (Even that was hiding as the sky was clear blue).
Long minutes later Morgan appeared and it was clear from the look on his face that the 5K had taken its toll. His lungs heaved, his muscles burned, he craved water. (The poor lad has shed 5 kilos and counting since Christmas such is the stress of a bit of exercise.)
We hydrated wordlessly.
Silently checking left and right, we made a break ambling to the car. Executing a well drilled escape routine, we put on fresh tee shirts, climbed aboard, belted up, started the engine and eased into the traffic so as not to attract attention.
Fifteen minutes later we were dead eyed, ordering a full English at Choppers cafe in the lay-by just south of Burbage where the A346 mysteriously becomes the A338.
But that’s another story.
We live to jog another day, wellness be damned.
*aka Mum & Hilda because no one else reads this.