Sunday, 11 March 2018

Volunteering makes you smarter

Being in Jo'burg overnight for a meeting, I had the pleasure of doing a different parkrun yesterday - the one at Ernest Ullmann Park and Recreation Centre in Wendywood. It is a two-lap course and for much of the course there is a two-directional flow of runners. On either end (near the start/finish and at the fartherest end) the route 'bulges' and the participants go around the bulge (one-directional) and then meet up again at the neck.

The route requires a good deal of marshals to prevent people from cheating. Yes, a lot of people will  cheat at parkrun when given the opportunity.

After finishing, I went to say hello to the Run Director and to introduce myself. Being the Event Director here in Parys, I enjoy it when other Event Directors and Run Directors come and say hello. Frank was standing at the start of the finish chute, directing runners in.

Within a minute or so there were two happenings that spurred me to write this post. I can't remember the first but I remember the second, a guy pushing a baby jogger pram. He wanted to go down the chute but did say that he hadn't done both laps. I told him to come around the side of me and not to go through the chute.

"But I want to go down here", was his response.

I told him that it confuses the finish marshals and timing so to please come around (a detour of about two metres!).

He was insistent. I was insistent. He went around.

What a stupid idiot!

Let me explain to you how parkrun works.

Everyone starts at the same time. 08h00. You then have to run, jog or walk the five-kilometre course. Some courses may be one big 5km route; others are out-and-back, some are two-lappers and others may have a repeat loop of a section somewhere along the course (our Parys parkrun is the latter layout).

When you finish, there will be a finish chute. The volunteers who do the timekeeping usually stand at the entrance to the chute. They clock your finish time. They may or may not call out your time. For the most part, they are focusing on making sure that the click the stopwatch button for every person entering the finish chute.

The next step is receiving a position token. For bigger parkruns, the volunteer will hand you a token. Here in Parys, we have the tokens on a wire, which a marshal at the finish manages (we no longer hand you the token).

You then progress down the finish chute, with your position token, to the volunteers doing the barcode scanning. They first scan your personal parkrun barcode, which you receive for free when you register online as a parkrun participant.

Anyone can participate in parkrun whether or not you have a personal barcode. The value of having one is that your results are logged on the parkrun system, which you can access through the parkrun website. A record is kept of how many parkruns you have done, where you have done them, the time recorded and how you placed overall, in your gender and in your age category. There are various parkrun milestones for 50, 100 and 250 parkruns completed and for each of these your receive a running tee from parkrun - free-of-charge with thanks to parkrun's sponsors.

Back to the finish...
The barcode scanning volunteers will first scan your personal barcode (if you have one) and then the position token.

When the results are processed by the designated volunteer, the clever parkrun system pairs the 'clicks' on the stopwatch with the position and personal barcode scans. And there you have the results.

Common issues we see are:

People who have not completed the full 5km distance going down the finish chute
We don't mind if you cannot yet complete the 5km distance - this is where routes with loops or two laps are very useful because they allow beginners to build up to completing 5km. It is not right for you to go down the finish chute - because you have not done the full 5km. We ask that you peel off before the finish. By coming down the chute, you get a time and result but you have not actually done the distance. This messes up age gradings, positions and placements for other participants who have actually done the full distance. Yes, this is cheating.

Marshals on the route try to look out for this and at the finish, especially with the faster times, we can spot offenders. It gets more difficult down the line.

We see this with children too. There have been instances where children will sit out a loop/lap and then they come through the finish with their parents. THIS IS CHEATING. I don't care whether you are 6 or 60, if you have not done the full 5km you should not go down the finish chute and you should not get a time.

Children in prams (or carried on a parent's shoulders) do not get results, even if they did walk 100m. Until a child does the full 5km on their own two feet, they do not get a result.

People finish and then go back to fetch a friend and then come through the chute again
You can only go through once. Yes, I know you want to run through with your friend, but all you have to do is to peel off at the entrance to the chute.

When you cross the timing volunteers, they click you. If you the duck under the tape to miss being scanned because "I've already finished", then you bugger up the timing.

Think about it. Let's say the timekeepers have logged 54 people (you for the second time included) and then you duck out of the finish chute, the token scanning will only be on 53. So the next person that comes through will be logged as 55 by the timekeepers and 54 by the scanners. This messes up the timing for the people that come after you. We do checks - between the timekeepers and the scanners - but it could take a number of people before we pick up the discrepancy.

People turnaround in the finish chute to walk back out the way they came in
One-directional flow here, friends. In one side, out the other. It isn't difficult. Don't turnaround once you've been scanned to walk out the way you came in against the flow of people coming into the finish. Really???

People without barcodes pass the timekeepers and then try to duck out of the finish chute 
This has the same effect as above in causing a mismatch between stopwatch clicks and positional tokens.

Even if you do not have a parkrun barcode, we still count your participation.


  • because you understand how things work
  • because you see all the stupid things that participants do and then you don't do the same stupid things
  • because you appreciate volunteers who, every Saturday morning, are there early to setup and to be out there so that you can enjoy a free, weekly, timed run.
When you go to parkrun, think. Use your brain and do what you are required to do (complete 5km and pass through the finish chute once).

And remember to volunteer. For parkrun and for anything else.

I learned so much in adventure racing from volunteering (as support crew or a marshal) and also when I was very involved in media because I got to observe all the stupid things that participants do (and all the really neat things). It made me a better racer because I saw first-hand what worked well and what didn't - I didn't need to make the mistakes myself.

Volunteering makes you a smarter and more considerate participant. Try it.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Expo-ing with my YOLOs

I'm back at my desk after last week spent at Homemakers Expo, my first time exhibiting our YOLO Compost Tumblers at this event. I was very fortunate to have my mom with me. She was at Decorex with me last year so she knows the ins and outs of expos and demonstrating compost tumbling.

We went through to JHB on the Tuesday afternoon, staying with friends in Fourways. We took our dogs with us; the were very well looked after by our friends during the day. In the mornings my mom would take Rusty and Tansy for walks within the estate and each evening when we got back from the show I would take Rusty for a good hard run. The estate has a lot of rabbits hopping around; Rusty was delighted. We would slowly walk up to the bunnies and got to within 20cm of them a number of times.

On the Wednesday morning, mom and I went through to setup. We had one compost tumbler unit of each size and a bunch of decorations. My new acquisition includes six block-mounted photographs of our customers' YOLO Compost Tumblers. My favourite 'decoration' was the window, which I made from insulation tape (I got the idea from a search on Pinterest).

This is a before-and-after of our stand.

This is the 25th year of Homemakers Expo and the 20th at the venue, The Dome in Northriding. The Thursday and Friday were quiet overall - not a lot of people milling in the corridors. Nonetheless, we had a reasonable flow of people coming to find out what our compost tumblers were all about.

The Saturday and Sunday saw the crowds coming in and there was a bigger volume of people at the venue. We had a number of direct sales during the event. With experience from Decorex, I know that sales and enquiries will continue over the weeks and months to come.

On Sunday, two of our factory workers came through to see the show. Joseph has worked on YOLO from the start and he has been primarily responsible for moulding, finishing, assembly and boxing. Stoney has worked with Celliers in the past and she has only recently joined us again. She is very good at finishing and assembly and has come on board to work with Joseph so that he can focus on the moulding. We're at that stage in our growth curve where we need more hands.

I was really glad that they got to see our YOLOs nicely presented on the stand. From a bucket of plastic powder to a finished product, Joseph and Stoney create each and every YOLO Compost Tumbler.

Liz, Stoney, Joseph and Lisa
Our overall experience was very positive and it echos our experience from Decorex last year. People are trying to do better with their waste. They're thinking about what they're throwing out, they're separating their trash and they're looking for options that are clean, tidy, efficient, effective and convenient. For organic waste, YOLO ticks all of the blocks.

We had great interactions with visitors, learned from the experience and we look forward to being at Decorex again in August 2018 at Gallagher Convention Centre.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Quarry swimmin'

For the past few weeks I've had the pleasure of running with my friend Karen and her dog/s Rocksy and Skally - and of course my Rusty - to a local spot where we get to enjoy a swim in a quarry. The water is cool, clean and clear.

The first time I took Rusty there, she got into the water without too much enticement and she swam towards me. She didn't go too far from the bank but seemed very comfortable. She got in and out three times, taking short swims each time.

Her friend Rocksy is a very good swimmer and she goes out a good distance with Karen. Rocksy's hips have been troubling her. She loves to play with the visitors at Karen's place, who gladly throw ball for her. At about 12 years old, all the running and playing takes its toll. So the swimming is really good for her hips and back legs.

The second time we went, I took my mom and our friend along too. When my mom called Marianne earlier that afternoon to ask, "Do you want to come swim in the quarry?", there was initially silence on the other end. Marianne took a deep breath, banished thoughts of monsters-of-the-deep from her mind and was at my mom's house two hours later with her towel.

Mom and Marianne on the trail.
Rusty only got in twice for short swims. She was too busy looking for dassies in the surrounding rocky cliffs.

Mom and Marianne in the foreground. Karen and Rocksy making ripples in the background.
On Saturday evening we went out with Karen and Skally - young-and-playful imp she is. Rusty got into the water ahead of me and she had four swims with me - one of them a bit further out than usual. She swims beautifully! Skally isn't very keen on water so she didn't get in. We're hoping that she will in time.

It really is a treat to break our run, in the current hot-and-humid conditions, with a refreshing swim. The dogs are full of beans for the run home. While the weather is still hot and the water temperature is blissful, we'll keep swimming every week.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

I'm postponing Forest Run 2018 (but you can still come run with me on 19 May)

I have decided not to present Forest Run in May this year. As you know, in March last year I started a new company YOLO Colours. Our main product is the fabulous YOLO Compost Tumbler. The first few months were slow (as expected) and then it picked up after Decorex in August. I’m thankful that January has been very busy. I’m doing Homemakers Expo in late Feb and so things should go up another notch. Plus, I’m involved with project #2, which has a tight deadline.
I am already sleeping too little and I just can’t see my way to having a week to cut and mark trails before the event much less the many, many hours of organising, coordinating and admin ahead of the event.
By this time next year my business will be more established and, I hope, will free me up to play in the hills of the Vredefort Dome. I had all kinds of plans for this year, like a new shorter 8-10km route, but I’m just not getting around to it.
I’ve had five consecutive years of Forest Run and so this break is actually well timed.
Even though I won’t be presenting Forest Run on 19 May 2018 as planned, I would like to invite you instead to join me on a dirt-road run just outside of Parys town on this same day.
We’ll start with our Parys parkrun (5km) at 08h00 (I’m the Event Director here) and then we’ll drive to the airfield (5km outside of town), park there and then run what we call the ‘Vaal Eden Road loop’ (25km). OR, start running from parkrun (about 35km for the loop).
(You don’t have to do parkrun and you can start running from town or from the airfield. I’ll send out a map.)
No charge. No entries. No RSVP. Just read my instructions and show up.
I’ll post details here and on the Forest Run FB page and website.
Bring your own hydration pack and snacks. You can run at your own pace (route is easy to follow, terrain is uncomplicated and scenery is great). Your friends/partners who don’t run are welcome to join on bicycles.
I hope to enjoy your company on 19 May 2018.