I started 2020 with a parkrun double, but since then I’ve not run at parkrun. Instead, I’ve been volunteering. I’ve been Run Director three times in a row at Southampton. It would have just been two runs, but I’ve swapped one slot with another RD. Later this year, M will turn 4 and will, therefore, be old enough to take part in parkrun. I was scheduled to be RD for M’s parkrun, but I’d like to run it with her, hence the swap!
What’s it like being RD of a large parkrun?
I’ll be honest that being responsible for an event with over 1000 runners can be quite stressful. I arrive with Stuart and M by 8:30 and then need to start signing in the volunteers. There are approximately 70 at each event, so it can take some time to issue them with any equipment they need and check that they know how to use it.
It’s then onto the run briefing. I used to be a teacher, so I can project my voice and am a confident public speaker. I also have a PA system to use, but it’s really hard to get over a thousand people to stop talking and listen. This is especially frustrating for runners at the back of the pack who are often unable to hear.
At Southampton parkrun, our briefing includes the usual safety information and thanks to anyone volunteering that week. Because of the size of the event, there are always runners who are celebrating milestones and we see plenty of tourists.
After clapping everyone over the start line, there’s less than fifteen minutes before the first finisher arrives. The funnel managers, barcode scanners, timers and volunteers on finish tokens usually congregate on the edge of the path to chat and cheer on runners on their first loop.
The first two or three minutes of runners finishing are usually quite quiet, but then it gets manic. The last few runs have required at least a four funnel system. The biggest challenge of this is ensuring that all finishers remain in the finish funnels in the right order.
Anyone who leaves the funnel without collecting a token is known as a funnel ducker. Funnel duckers mess up everyone’s results. Each finish token tallies with a time on the stopwatch. If someone doesn’t collect their token then their time is given to the finisher behind them. With up to 16 funnel duckers on 11th January, this can have a big impact on the results received by slower participants.
Funnel duckers are my biggest headache. Resolving the mess that they have made has taken up a significant amount of my time on the last three Saturdays.
Overall, I love volunteering at parkrun. It’s great to meet a wide range of participants and to know that I’ve contributed to a successful event.