Behind the scenes as Sheffield Parkrun finally returns - after 70 long weeks
Standing on a repurposed industrial wheelie bin, Louise Dale-Hughes has a voice that can project for 300 feet, like a pantomime hero.
Exactly 424 multicoloured parkrunners around her listened carefully how to tackle the two new single file sections at Endcliffe Parkrun.“There is no pushing, no shoving, no swearing and no overtaking under any circumstances,” she cried. “It’s this route or we don’t have an Endcliffe parkrun, so if you don’t like this one, there is Millhouses, there’s Hillsborough there’s Castle, Concord and Graves. There’s even Rother Valley.”What parkrun tourists from Berkshire make of the frank bonhomie of a Sheffield parkrun directions spiel is unclear, but in Covid times, a short and direct introduction to the 5k run ahead is even more necessary.“And there’s no spitting or high fiving,” said Louise. “Now, where are my pom poms? They’re here somewhere.”Louise waved her apricot pom poms to the cheering crowd, and everyone thundered away for the first parkrun in Endcliffe park for 70 weeks.“It feels like a long long time,” said Louise’s fellow event director at Endcliffe parkrun, Finlay Cooper. “But we’re very excited to be getting it back on again.”Finlay was at the park before 8am on Saturday to help direct 38 volunteers to their tasks for the day, including a redesigned finish funnel, signs to warn other park users that hundreds of excited runners are nearby, learning how to use the new barcode software, and setting up marshall posts on the new route, which is now lumpy and interesting rather than smooth and speedy.“I think it’s a more fun route, to be honest,” said Karen Weir, parkrun UK event support ambassador for the Sheffield area.
“Most runners round here run on trails and fells, so I think they’re more then capable of dealing with tree roots and uneven ground.”Karen praised the Endcliffe parkrun volunteer team for all their work getting the new route going. (All parkruns need more volunteers under Covid precautions, she added).After operating as Hallam parkrun since 2010, early in 2020 the Endcliffe team had designed a new route after runners stepping out onto the road meant the original route alongside Rustlings Road could no longer be insured as a viable parkrun.
But just before the new route within the park was due to begin, Covid suspended all parkrun events for nearly a year and a half.Then just over six weeks ago, the city council asked for another change since a planned two way section would have surrounded other park users with streams of west and eastbound runners all at the same time.“We know that post Covid everyone has discovered or rediscovered our marvellous green spaces,” said Karen.
“So there are now more people in the park at 9am on a Saturday, and we need to be respectful of that.”So Louise and team set out to design and plan a new route, which became almost a full time job for her this summer - she even used some of her holiday time from the civil service.“I walked the route 8-10 times with a measuring wheel to try and get the route to 5k,” she said. “But all the core team of volunteers have been very supportive.”This included diplomatic work as local parkrun social media spaces gathered pockets of disquiet about the new route, and one parkrun parent even successfully trialled one of the narrow riverside sections to ensure its navigability by double and single baby buggies.The Outdoor City now has parkruns of all varieties, including hills, tarmac, woodland and tree roots, with Millhouses, Graves and Hillsborough all within a 2-3 mile warm up jog of Endcliffe.“I’d say just go to the one that suits your style of running,” said Louise Dale-Hughes.A key aim of parkrun is to encourage new and slower runners, although all are welcome, said Karen Weir.
“If the faster runners at Endcliffe have to slow down a bit, it’s not the end of the world.”In the end, the new scenic route proved very popular.“It’s better than the old course,” said Ian Mason. “With all the varied terrain, I loved it.”“We’re back!” said gangs of elated parkunners. “Woo!”