Paul sees a cheat!
We live in confusing times – confrontational even, for someone with a liberal mindset. In a period where certainties seem to be collapsing daily, the simplicity of running is more valuable than ever. While we search social media and news outlets for something to cling to, running offers a timeless release, a calm parallel world where some truths are self- evident – a step is a step, a mile is a mile.
It was in such a spirit that I turned up recently to a Parkrun in a distant town. Like a seeker in search of salvation I arrived to worship with the faithful. I wanted to hand in my barcode with a clean heart and receive absolution, in the form of the email telling me of my place in the world (truth in minutes and seconds), only to have my belief system smashed. Brace yourself, reader: someone cheated in the Parkrun.
Now I’m well aware that mistakes can happen on a Saturday morning. We’ve all heard of someone who has run one lap less then they should have in the hungover confusion of a five-lap course. But this was no mistake. This was a decent runner determined to beat me. So determined, in fact, that he violated the honest ethics of this not-competitive event.
Yes, Parkrun it is not a race, but it is timed. And this time is for a set distance of 5K. That’s the point of it. I’ve heard of pacers at some Parkruns. Indeed, over the months, as I go to my regular one in North London, time clusters develop – similar souls at similar levels competing in this non-race to help each other get fitter and faster. That’s sport, that’s running.
I’d overtaken my adversary at about the 1km point and assumed I’d never see him again. I was aiming for a sub-19:00 on a fast course so I was pushing it. At 3km he surged past me, then I went past him. It felt good to be in an honest non-race. Two runners at about the same level, good clean… wait…he cut a corner! Yes reader, he strode across the grass at a junction, as clear as day. From five or six metres behind, he was now five metres ahead.
Slightly angry, I accelerated, maybe a bit too abruptly for my fitness levels and overtook him, only for it to happen again at the next turning. He’d nicked another 10 metres. What was happening? This double offence, added to my growing fatigue, plunged me into an existential abyss. What was the point? My spirits sagged, along with my heart. I trailed in, seven seconds behind him in the funnel.
I ask you, fellow athletes: is this to be accepted? I appreciate a Parkrun is not a race but surely standards must be maintained? There’s a course. The course represents the distance – 5K. What is our world coming to? Now some people will say, ‘Chill out mate, it’s just a Parkrun, it’s not even a race. And it was only a couple of corners.’ To which I reply, ‘I know it’s not a race but it is measured and timed. If we don’t respect these basic dimensions the edifice crumbles and the results become a list of possibly untrue statistics. Or we could all set off, run round the park on a route of our own choosing and finish whenever we fancy.’
Now, I’m not advocating CCTV cameras at every turn, or for every runner to be tagged by their own drone. That would be stupid, and impractical. A simple addition to the pre-run oath is all that’s needed, such as this: ‘ We will respect other park users; if we a want a time we need our barcode and for that barcode to have any meaning we must run the whole course. Now give the volunteers a round of applause and have fun. And Tonkinson – stop moaning.’ Check out Paul and fellow comedian Rob Deering’s new running podcast, Running Commentary – available on itunes and Acast. @ Runcompod