Tonky Talk

Runner's World (UK) - - In This Issue - BY PAUL TONKINSON

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

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