Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Tail Running

Yes, I know my spelling is terrible but no, I didn't miss out a letter. This tale is indeed about the tail because I wanted to share about the most rewarding job I think you can do as a runner. On Saturday morning I will be getting up at the god awful hour of 7am (yes I know that's afternoon for some people) to purposely run a very slow parkrun and it will be great because I get to be the tail runner. 

 For those who don't know, a tail runner is the person who runs right at the very back to make sure that no one gets lost whilst also letting the volunteers (who are amazing amazing people BTW, please try to remember to thank them when you run past) on the course know when they can leave. I've been near the back in some races where the marshals have gone because they've assumed that everyone has is finished and it can be a bit confusing for the runner. To avoid this and ensure that everyone gets the same experience regardless of their speed you stick someone at the back so you know where the end is. That is the tail runner pretty much. 

I've done the job at parkrun a number of times now (and also once at cross country which wasn't fun) and I get a lot out of it. Everyone always starts too fast (without fail) and so you always spend the first quarter of a mile actually running until people wear themselves out. It then either settles into a nice gentle jog or a run/walk (and occasionally a sprint to catch up if people drop out) depending upon the person at the back. Sometimes you're with the same person the whole way but often it can change around a lot, especially if there's a bit of competition going on to not be at the back. I've also met all kinds of people from first time runners and beginners, people recovering from an injury, even cute adorable five year old girls. Occasionally you'll get the odd person who looks at you like you're a stalker in neon yellow and wish that you'd go away but on the whole most people are very friendly. You find that they all have their own stories and reason for being there and it's very inspiring. I often find myself coaching people a bit to get them round. Either it works or I'm just so annoying that people just want to get it over with, but I get a lot of thanks (people too polite to say they wanted me to shut up) which makes you feel a little warm inside and makes it worthwhile. 

People are often very apologetic, that they're sorry that I'm having to go slow for them or that they're taking too long but a few years ago I would be exactly where they are. So I try to instill in them a little of the parkrun ethos, that it's not about time, position or whether you run or walk. It's about setting yourself that 5k target and achieving it at your own pace. Then maybe next time you do it at little better, the time after a little faster and you keep going.  You'll get your time each week and you can build on it.  I think the two hardest things are committing yourself to start and then getting yourself to the finish. If you can find the courage and the determination to do both of those then you're already a winner. I also like to make sure no one is ever last. Some tail runners don't like to get a time because it can affect their Run Britain handicap and average times which is fair enough but I'm quite proud of handing over my barcode because it saves someone else from being the bottom of the results (I do do a little cry for Run Britain though but I tell myself it's good to be a little less obsessed with what my handicap graph is doing).

I love parkrun and from the back it's easy to see why. The amount of support the people at the back get from the other runners and volunteers is truly awesome and they're made to feel just as important as the person who finishes first. It's a genius idea that really supports a community idea of running. Plus we always get cake. Whoever said you don't get something for nothing was right though, it takes a whole lot of work from some very dedicated people to give us our free Saturday morning 5k. 

Some of the volunteers at my parkrun in Warrington are there week on week without fail and they do it with a cheer and a smile. I would highly recommend having a go at volunteering if you can because it is a great experience and they'll even reward you. Your first three stints as a volunteer earn you 100 points a time (which is the same as finishing first) and there's going to be a volunteer t-shirt when you do 25 stints or more (also, if you're tail runner and you get barcoded it can count towards your 50 t-shirt too but don't tell anyone I told you).  It’s also a great way to still get a parkrun in when you have a race the next day (which is quite often for me).

You can find out more about how to volunteer at your local parkrun here

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