Today is my 1 year anniversary since running my first parkrun, so to celebrate I wanted to give something back and I decided to go back to the one that started it all and volunteer rather than run (I don’t think this counts towards me never doing an event twice ;))
Having not yet volunteered (shameful) I was unsure of exactly what to expect. I knew all about parkrun and what it was, how it was run, etc, but to see it from a completely different perspective was fascinating!
I turned up for the day earlier than I normally would to ensure I was there for any help that they needed, but the team at St Peters are like a well-oiled machine. When I got there a few other volunteers were stood around waiting for orders to be barked to them and the Event Director, Paul Wilcock, was there too with all of the gear. Then within a matter of minutes, and without much discussion, everyone started whirring into action. Bibs were being pulled out of bags and handed around, scanners and stopwatches were being set and reset ready to give to the users for the day, the finish funnel flags were being carried over to the start/finish line ready to be unfurled and the flags were being put together. What was an empty field a matter of minutes ago was suddenly proudly emblazoned with the parkrun logo and there were orange bibs all over the place. Just like that a parkrun was born from nowhere!
My job for the day was to hand out finish tokens, which was a good job really because despite being completely comfortable with technology I was unsure about doing the scanning or the timekeeping. Too many small things could go wrong which make a big difference. With all the jobs designated and all the marshals off out on their way to their stations, it was time for the day to begin.
Shortly afterwards the crowds started to come in droves from all directions, homing in on the start like bees to honey. The place was buzzing (no pun intended). With me normally being one of the runners, I never actually realised the enormity of a crowd this size and how it might look to people who are unaware of what parkrun is or stands for. Perhaps it is this first impression that causes some councils (especially ones in Sydney) to not agree to having the events in the first place? There were ‘only’ 244 people at this event, imagine what it must look like when you have an event with 1000+! As is normal at St Peters, the crowds gathered at the start line to take part in a group warm up to get them ready for the run. This is still the only parkrun I can think of that does this! Once warm it was under starters orders and they were off. As all the runners left and weaved their way around the track it fell silent with only a handful of people left. This for me was the strangest part of the day, I just was not used to it at all and to be honest had never given much thought to what happens between the start and the first finisher. The volunteers slowly meandered to their places whilst all having conversations about their parkrun history, the Eurovision Song Contest (yes it was that time of year) or just running in general. Even though the majority of us didn’t know each other it didn’t feel strained, it was like talking to a work colleague or friend-of-a-friend and just felt quite comfortable.
The time seemed to pass quite quickly (approx 17.5 minutes) and before I knew it I was called into action. The first few finishers were easy and I started to think there was not much to the handing out of the tokens, but once it got to about 22 minutes they were coming in thick and fast. It was at this point that I realised I could not hand tokens out as fast as people were coming in as well as trying to congratulate each runner and keep an eye on people through the finish line so I knew which person should get which token. I was very grateful for the help of a couple of ‘Funnel Manager’ volunteers who had this under control. Without them I don’t know if I could hand-on-heart say that everyone got their tokens. My morning was not without challenges though, a couple of times people wandered straight from the finish line and didn’t take a token, so I had to try to pocket each one of those without affecting the actual order and also trying to get their finish token to them, as well as at one point dropping half a dozen tokens to the floor! Thankfully they were mostly in order on the floor so I was able to get them back into the back without much problem and ensure that they were still given out in the correct order. 244 tokens given out in 23:45, an average of 1 token every 5.8 seconds, phew!
At the end, I hung around to see if I could be any help after the event and did my bit to store away the equipment before sitting down with the team while they had their post-run coffee, sorted out the finish tokens and processed the results on a laptop. I was very interested in this part as I had never actually seen how the results processing was done, so I sat with the Event Director as he got all the information together and uploaded it to the results server. What struck me most about this bit was the simplicity of it all. The data from the stopwatch was able to be exported to a csv file, along with the data from the scanner and you basically had to upload the 2 documents and the magic and wizardry of the parkrun system combined the two bits of information to give you a screen of names, numbers and times. A few cursory glances over the results to check there were no anomalies and it was done. All in the space of about 5 minutes, impressive!
After all this was done, it was time to get home and get on with the rest of my day. One thing I can say for certain though is that it won’t take me this long to volunteer again next time, I will definitely do all this again, and you never know, I might even put my name forward for scanning or timing next time!