Category Archives: My boys

Running the Bramhall Parkrun

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Inspired by Boff Whalley, I spent my August holiday running with my boys in the hills of the Lake district and west Wales. Actually, “running” makes the activity sound rather more athletic than it was. My calf still sore, I hobbled more than I ran. Meanwhile, my eldest boy, whose running is definitely hampered by the near-total absence of aerobic exercise at his school (things may improve in year 3, where the curriculum includes swimming) decided that what he really enjoyed was running downhill (see above) rather than up. We must have been an odd sight: ascending slate hills, the stone stacked together in layers, we would take as much as half an hour to walk to the top, then just three or four minutes to run back down to where we had begun.

Finding myself in Stockport on a Saturday, I signed up for the local parkrun, two laps of Bramhall house each with an ascent and then a drop of about 80 metres. It was pleasantly different from parkrunning in London.

At both locations, the demographic is chiefly runners in their thirties and thereabouts. (Most parkruns have only been set up in the last 3-4 years; longer-established races have a richer sprinkling of runners in their 50s and up). In Bramhall, there were many more children under 10 running with their parents, and more teenagers. More families walk in the hills, and the parkrun just felt like a natural extension of what people would be doing anyway. Quite a few of the six or seven year olds were running pretty fast too – 5k in 26 or 27 minutes. This image from the Parkrun website, shows the race in winter; but gives you a sense of the route:

The course follows a path track, around a metre wide, and the ground to each side of the path was too damp in places, or too densely-wooded, to allow much overtaking. I ran in laps of about 15 and about 10 minutes, a ridicuously unbalanced split, motivated in part by a desire to protect my injury, and in part by a sheer inability to move forwards in the race until the running group had stretched out a little and there was space for me to overtake.

One or two of the runners displayed the introversion that I associate with the sport; although no-one expressed it more clearly than the man in his 50s, bald and shaven on top, who I watched running closer and closer towards a young mother with her buggy out for a morning stroll. Not looking where he was going, he eventually ran straight – bang – into the pram. He was also, I must add, absolutely mortified and thoroughly apologetic afterwards.

Thanks are owed, as ever, to the organisers.

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A concerned reader asks

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A concerned reader of the book asks: “I read the entries about your sons and their injuries. I spent my childhood falling down stairs and twisting my ankles . I gave various inherited weaknesses and also I couldn’t see straight. So I felt much empathy with them. In your book your son mentions ‘when I was born in a cafe ‘. Is this a misprint or for real?”

Answer: it is not a misprint; the boy (who was 2 when he said it) genuinely decided that he had been born in a cafe. The boy was wrong.

Seeing what they can do

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It is Saturday, and my eldest demands to be taken running. He has designs on my new watch (a cross between a watch and a digital stopwatch), which has the shape and some of the colours of the Ben 10 watch (“the Omnitrix”) which has been a staple of his bed-time reading. We make a deal, if my son comes running with me five time, I will buy him a watch just like my own.

The day is damp, with rain falling in slow, punctuated showers. By the time we reach the track it is mid-fall, and the rain continues through our shortened warm-up. I teach my son to stretch the muscles of his lower leg, he teaches me frog hops and pencil jumps. The youngest joins in the latter, but he fails to quite catch the knack of the exercise, holding his arms out front in fists rather than above his head, together, in a point.

Eventually, the clouds still a dark grey above, the three of us settle on a jog-walk circuit of the track. Reaching the 100 metre starts, we improvise a short race of sorts, the youngest starting, the eldest held back to race at him from behind. I intend them to meet at a line which I estimate as 50 metres from our start. The line is confirmed by a yellow flag on the grass verge of the track. But my youngest runs in a boomerang-shape, heading for the off-track flag, rather than the simpler line at the end of his own lane.

Eventually, our clothes soaking, we concede – leaving for food, and with plans of further sessions to come through (I hope) a dryer spring.

Finsbury Park

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I walk with my youngest son to Finsbury Park. He ascends the slides. He climbs from a rope structure of interlocking hexagons, through a rope bridge, holding on by just one hand. A lexicon of tort phrases pass through my mind: allurement, contributory fault … I have sat at the back of courts as defences have been distinguished on the basis of a parent’s duty, or not, to shield their children from risk.

I show him the running track, hidden behind an odd-shaped duck pond, the edges of the water lapping with discarded water bottles. The tartan is worn; patches of black rubber poke through a crust of red. There is a sign asking runners to pay for use of the track but no-one to collect the money. Teenagers toy with a discarded shot putt. The scene is a testament to the rapid running down during this recession of past generations’ municipal collectivism.

But my boy sees it differently. I explain to him that the track is for running. His eyes widen in anticipation; he thinks of the hours and days he has spent running against his own brother. “You run round it”, he asks … “the whole way round?”