Today I headed back down to the only course I’ve been to more than once – St Peters – for my 7th visit and to pick up yet another volunteer role. As I have mentioned before, I have decided that I will do each of the volunteer roles once and profile them, so today was the turn of Tail Runner (or ‘Tail End Charlie’ as some event teams call it) for a moment in the spotlight.
I turned up early as usual to make sure I was there and the Run Director knew I was turning up for my duties, and as usual the Whole area went very quickly from one or two people milling around to nearly 300 runners. Before I knew it they had started and it was ready for me to get going! This was the first time so far that I have volunteered and needed to spring into action so early but also the first time that I have gone to set off at the start and not tried to get a decent line into the first corner – my body just didn’t really know whether to stay or go! Given that the slowest time last week was approx 55 minutes and I knew from my time ‘parkwalking’ at South Bank parkrun that I could walk 5km in approx 45-50 minutes, I decided that I would walk the course just behind the last runners, which turned out to be exactly what I did.
I don’t know if this is just because of the fact that I knew the Run Director so they knew I would be okay, or if they were busy organising other volunteers, or if this is the same for everyone, but there were no notes, tips or tricks on how to be a Tail Runner given to me. The other roles I had done previously came with a little ‘cheat sheet’ on how to do the role, but this was not the same. Okay, so it is not rocket science and you just have to be the last one round the course but there are little things that make it slightly more difficult than you would imagine. For starters, one of the most difficult things I did on the day was trying to work out which people were actually the last people setting off and which were just morning strollers in the park. Even normal giveaways for most running events such as walking dogs or walking with prams cannot be used due to the all-inclusive nature of parkrun, so I found myself just asking random people if they were doing parkrun – I did get a few funny looks from people who had no idea what I was talking about. Not to mention the late starters who kept the line going longer than it probably should have done and meant I ended up leaving the start area quite a bit after the actual tail-enders and I had to jog a little to catch up to them – and it was a good job I did as they took a wrong turn and went the wrong way fairly early on (although I didn’t know the course either as there have been 17 course iterations since I last went round over 2 years ago, so I was no better), but at least I followed them rather than following the course and losing sight of them. After that point, they (and I) make a point of paying close attention to the fantastic chalk course markings on the floor, you quite literally can’t go lost if you follow them and wouldn’t really need a marshal they were that good! There were even little cartoon photos of encouragement along the way too – a nice personal touch to go with them being useful!
After that though, it was quite a solo day despite there being so many runners. I didn’t want to disturb the conversation of the two ladies who were walking round so I tried to stay a short distance back so that they didn’t feel pressured into running or going faster than they wanted to, but also wanted to stay close enough so that I could keep them in my eye line so I knew if they overtook anyone and I would have a new tail-ender to concentrate on. Thankfully, for me, the tail-enders stayed fairly constant throughout the morning so I didn’t have to worry about who was parkrunning and who wasn’t.
My only other interaction with anyone was when I got to the marshals dotted around the course for me to tell them that we were the last ones through and they could stand down. A couple of the marshals late on even walked the remainder of the course with me (last 500m or so). Again, I didn’t know if I was supposed to or if it was normal, it just felt as if it was the right thing to do to stop them standing there waiting for some undetermined period of time. When we got to the finish, the volunteers on the line were waiting to clock us in and give us a token, even though we weren’t runners – imagine if I had been clocked in as a runner for a duplicate course while I was volunteering to ruin my 1:1 ratio! They were relieved to hear that we were the last and they didn’t have to do anything else though.
Oh, and I know I say this every time but I enjoyed volunteering so much that I’ve signed up to do it again next week for my first time doing back-to-back volunteer roles! I’ll be running out of different roles to profile soon, there are much less volunteer roles than there are parkrun courses in the world! 🙂