Sunday 25 March 2018

Tea paw-ty for Rusty's one-year adoptiversary

We had a tea party yesterday afternoon for Rusty's one-year adoptiversary. I've made this day her birthday too and so she is now six-years old.

Her friends from Otters Haunt, Rocksy and Skally came over. This was Skally's first visit to someone's house and it has been a long time since Rocksy came over. Rusty saw them coming in the gate from the front glass door and ran around to the back to greet her friends - it was very sweet. Rusty usually visits the girls at their house and seemed to enjoy having them visit her house.

We also had human friends visiting and it was nice to chill in the lovely afternoon enjoying iced tea, cake and scones with strawberry jam and cream. My dad came through to visit for the weekend too.

I designed an invitation for Rusty's party - a compilation of design ideas and elements found online. Zoom in on Rusty's face to check out her smile (pic of her was extracted from one taken at the river late last year after her first river swim). I thought her sneaky smile suited wearing a Mat Hatter's hat.

Good for a giggle.

Cheating at parkrun makes me see red

Yesterday I saw red at our local Parys parkrun. I was 'off-duty' yesterday and so I had the opportunity to run with Rusty. After the rains on Thursday, I was out on the route on Friday evening to check out the mud situation. Except for an overflowed drain and a patch of mud, the route was fine. It was even better by Saturday morning.

In briefing, the Run Director on duty told the participants to run around the drain overflow and to get back on the grass - this is a detour of maybe 10 metres onto the road and then back on to the grass.

Yet, a bunch of people decided to run on the road ALL THE WAY to the bottom of the route (around 650m) where they rejoined for the in-and-out turnaround and then they detoured back on to the road and up to the turnaround marshal.

There are a few issues with this:

  1. Running on the road is a shorter route in distance.
  2. Running on the road is an easier and faster surface - not that our route is technically challenging at all, but tar is always easier and faster than dirt and grass. Interestingly, my fast-running friend says that short tar detour around the drain probably scored him an extra 2 seconds compared to running on the grass.
  3. The road is NOT the route
  4. Other participants follow those that detour including first timers, visitors and children. We do not have clearance/permission for running on the road. It also presents a safety risk. And, this is PARKrun, not ROADrun.
  5. This is cheating.
The worst is that there is not much that we can do about it. I know who some of the people were and we could just delete their results; but we don't know who all the people were. One can't punish some and not the rest; that wouldn't be fair.

I called a number of people back down to the route. One of the guys was a visitor - he'd never been on our route. I invited him to follow me.

So, what we have to do now, which we do occasionally, is to put a marshal further along the route to police participants.

What makes me see red is that we should not have to do this. I know that other parkruns have similar issues; they shouldn't have to double barcode-scan participants and have dozens of marshals out either. But this is the reality.

When I got into the finish area I was really irritated and frustrated. Friends there were correct in saying that I was really the only one who was upset about this; and they were right. But what makes it OK for people to cheat and for this to now be acceptable?

Yes, parkrun is free. Yes, parkrun is for fun. Yes, people are only cheating themselves.

BUT, when things like this become acceptable, then more becomes acceptable.

Like low pass marks being adjusted to improve averages, making a low standard of education acceptable (and covering up fundamental flaws in the system).

Like one person in government putting their hands in the cookie jar and the next following suit because the first did it and then more and more follow until it is the norm...

Like taxis and people who drive in the emergency lane in peak traffic because they're in a hurry to get somewhere.

Like participating in an obstacle course race where someone skips an obstacle, running around it, and they finish ahead of you. 

Are these things ok? They're not to me.

I'm trying to take a deep breath. I know that something that is really insignificant in the big picture shouldn't stress me out so much. But it does. Mostly because I am disappointed in the people who took the easy road. 

I'll be RD again next week and I'll definitely have an extra marshal out on the route - but I am resentful of the fact that I need to do this.

Wednesday 21 March 2018

Selfie with Rusty

We're days away from our one-year adopt-versary and this afternoon we headed to our favourite place, Otters Haunt, to hang out with our friends - both human and canine.

Young Skally in the front, then Rocksy, then me and my Rusty at the back. Photo by Karen.
Skally recently celebrated her first birthday.

Getting Rusty to sit for a selfie is like herding cats. We did good today.

What joy and love this dog has brought to my life. xxx

Hands-free dog running: my dog-running harness

I've been into hands-free dog running since I met my two husky friends a few years ago. Their dad had a dog running harness, which he'd bought through the husky sledding club. From the first, I was sold on the concept of wearing a hip-belt type harness to which the dog lead is attached. It enables you to control the dog with your body weight, not your biceps, and leaves your hands and arms free to run as usual and to grab the lead as needed.

Since then, I've always used something - whether the waist belt for my backpack, my climbing harness or a belt to walk/run dogs - for Rusty or other people's dogs.

For months now, I have needed to make my own running harness as nothing that I have works quite right.

My primary running harness requirement is that it sits around your hips - not your waist - so that the pull from the dog is centred and that it doesn't pull against the middle of your spine, which messes with your posture and biomechanics, even if subtly.

Waist belts from backpacks and any other belts ride up. Even if you adjust the width so that they sit around your hips, it will ride up in seconds to sit around your waist, especially at the back.

To keep any waist belt down - on your waist - you need straps connected between or around your legs and connected front to back.

There are a number of configurations - of which I've tried two.

For the first version, I made a waistband with a clip-in-buckle and I connected straps from the front, to the back, between my legs - left and right. It worked brilliantly but I had custom made it for myself and so it fitted me perfectly. It was not adjustable to fit different sized people. The straps between my legs were fine and did not irritate or rub; but not everyone would be comfortable with this setup, especially guys. I ran with this one every day for a few weeks and it worked a treat.

I had ideas for a Version 2, something that would be adjustable to fit people of different sizes.

I worked up Version 2 about two weeks ago and it has been working brilliantly. Today I made a slight upgrade on Version 2 for my friend Karen (let's call it Version 2.1).

This is a photo of me wearing my Version 2.0.

The design is based on the structure of my climbing harness, but it doesn't need to be strong enough to hold my weight - just the pull from a dog excited to go running.

Key features include:

  • A loop at the front to connect the lead - I use a small, light carabiner to connect Rusty's lead. Alternatively, just thread the lead through the loop. 
  • Clip-in-buckle to one side so that the pull from the lead is not on the buckle
  • Elastic inserts on the thigh bands - to accommodate thighs bigger (or smaller) than mine.
  • At the back, not visible, I have an elastic strap connected in an inverted 'V' shape. It loops around the hipbelt (it can slide left and right to fit different sized people - it should sit in the centre of your back) and then comes out to each thigh band and loops around the band (it can also slide).
The importance of the elastic at the back connecting the waist belt to the thigh bands is that the waist belt is prevented from riding up. Very important.

I'm chuffed with my dog-running harness. The moment Rusty sees this green, she starts bouncing. It is quick and easy-to-make and works perfectly. 

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.