Sunday, 15 September 2019

parkrun milestone - 100th Volunteer Occasion

Thank you very much for your support at Parys parkrun, event 258 on 2019-09-14. 
You've now volunteered at this event on 100 separate occasions.

Yesterday, I reached an unofficial (official milestone is 25) parkrun milestone: 100th Volunteer Occasion. Of these, 68 have been as Run Director at our Parys parkrun. I've been the Event Director, initially together with my friend Karen, since I moved to town in December 2015. I have lived in Parys for 192 Saturdays.

Instead of being full of joy about this milestone, I'm resentful. Not about being a volunteer, contributing to my community, and of the pleasure I have from interacting with our local parkrunners and visitors. These give me joy. Instead, I am actually pretty irritated because in October last year I was on 82 parkruns. Just shy of a year later, I'm only on 93 parkruns. 

So why, you ask, have I only run 11 parkruns in a year (and only 5 logged parkruns this year!)

Late last year, parkrun forbid volunteers from running before the official 8am parkrun start, doing their volunteer duty from 8am to 9am (or there abouts) and then being included on the parkrun results for their self-timed run.

We are a small parkrun with around 30-40 locals at each event; our numbers are often doubled by visitors. Our volunteers are the same-same people each week. They love running and they enjoy volunteering. We would meet at 7am, run the parkrun route - opening gates and picking up litter at the same time - and then do our volunteer duties.

With a small pool of people who volunteer, we don't have the luxury of non-core volunteer roles that allow for participation too. These roles include 'equipment storage', 'results processor', 'media' and the like. What a joke! We only have volunteers are needed for timekeeping, barcode scanning, tokens and turnaround marshal. Sometimes we have a tailwalker. We can get by, and we do, with three volunteers plus RD: two timekeepers, a turnaround marshal and the Run Director doing barcode scanning AND tokens. We all jump in with pre-event setup and packing up.

For some time we continued with volunteer runs even after I had phone calls from parkrun telling me that we couldn't do this. I told them straight that I didn't agree with their ruling and that it would have a serious effect on us. It did.

We were, of course, under the spotlight and our results were being checked. I received a not-so-friendly email telling me to delete the results of those volunteers who ran before parkrun. I couldn't do that to them.

We stopped the volunteer runs. Some of my regular volunteers need their Discovery points; so they rarely or no longer volunteer. Others have little other opportunity to run in the week and so they volunteer less often so that they get to participate on a Saturday morning.

Where before there would be five of us on route at 7am, on my run Director days this year I've been out there at 7am - on my own. Why should the volunteers get up earlier than necessary to run for no parkrun points when they can enjoy a warm afternoon run on a route of their choosing (if they run/walk at all on Saturdays). Even now, I don't always run the whole route - at 07h30 I just run to open the gates and then I return to the start to setup.

Our volunteers are awesome (the same-same people generally), but we've lost something.

Why did parkrun introduce this no pre-run ruling?

They said it was because of safety.
This is bull because if I am the turnaround marshal, I stand 1km from the start, on my own, on a public access road, with my mobile phone in my pocket. A sitting duck until the runners start coming through. Now, without other volunteers, I run on my own in the morning on a public access route with not many other people around. My safety is more compromised than on a volunteer run with other volunteers for company.

They said it was because their public liability only kicked in from 8am. This is rubbish too. Their public liability should cover from at least an hour before the start as people arrive early at the very busy parkruns to get parking and volunteers are also very early at some events to setup.

They said that parkrun in the UK never had volunteer runs and it all works quite fine there. Sure, and it works mostly quite fine here except that small parkruns are under pressure and there is a lower level of volunteerism here than in the UK. South Africa has a culture of volunteer runs in the running club environment where volunteers at club-hosted races run the weekend before their event. I enjoyed this privilege myself for many years as a volunteer marshal at a big 21km event organised by my first running club.

parkrun rides on the goodwill of volunteers who, without compensation, ensure that events happen every Saturday around the country. Rain or shine. We use our personal mobile phones with a downloaded app for timing and scanning (the original provided barcode scanners and timers are obsolete). We clean the routes, pick up litter, deal with any access/permissions. Not parkrun. Us.

No volunteers. No parkrun.

I used to get so worked up about people cheating at parkrun. I've heard all kinds of tales from other parkruns where people join the route halfway or they skip a loop... As this is hard to police, these people still get their parkrun times, Vitality points etc. This was brought up at an annual parkrun convention where the people from parkrun UK were in attendance (I wasn't - I received this feedback second-hand). They told the event directors not to stress about this; that it wasn't worth making their lives more challenging by implementing policing strategies. Vitality's perspective on this was apparently that parkrun gets people out and active, which achieves their aim of better health and fitness of their clients. Whether people run the full 5km or only 2km, that the cheater got out of bed, walked/drove to parkrun and did a few kilometres, is better than if the person stayed in bed and did nothing active.

I really appreciate these perspectives. They are correct. I've been far more chilled about this kind of thing ever since. I don't like it, but I don't see red.

What I don't get is that this is ok but volunteer participation is not? I still don't get why parkrun is preventing the people that they depend on to make this organisation possible from participating.

So, this explains why I have only done 11 parkruns in almost 12 months. For most of this past summer, I wasn't in town on Saturdays and when I was, I was Run Director and I ran early - but didn't log those runs to avoid getting nasty emails from parkrun.

There have been around 32 Saturdays this year so far. Since January, have been Run Director 13 times, I've run only 5 parkruns officially. I was out of town a lot for the first few months of the year. And the rest? I've had little motivation to run at parkrun.

So, I celebrate this milestone with mixed feelings. It is nice to have a measure of what I've put into my community and the return is in the friends that I have made and the pleasure of enjoying the successes and milestones of our parkrunners.

I totally subscribe to parkrun's values and I uphold them through my action of volunteering. Seems to me that volunteers to parkrun are like the cobbler's children who have no shoes.

We've got about 15 weekends left this year. I'll be RD for at least 4-5 of them. I'll be away for some others. I've got 7 parkruns to go until my 100th parkrun milestone. Will it happen this year?

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