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How parkrun was led down the right Lane for a later start

PUBLISHED: 06:06 25 October 2019 | UPDATED: 14:35 25 October 2019

Andrew Lane is now an ambassador for parkrun in Norfolk. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Andrew Lane is now an ambassador for parkrun in Norfolk. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2017

Ever find it a struggle to get to parkrun for 9am? Well it could have been even earlier had it not been for the intervention of Wymondham AC member, Andrew Lane, as he explained to Mark Armstrong

Andrew Lane with Jo Phillips at the first anniversary of Norwich Junior parkrun. Picture: ArchantAndrew Lane with Jo Phillips at the first anniversary of Norwich Junior parkrun. Picture: Archant

For many runners Saturday, 9am, means one thing… parkrun time.

Many see it as the perfect way to kick off their weekend - some fresh air, a bit of exercise, a lot of chat, with perhaps even coffee and cake thrown in afterwards… what's not to like?

But sometimes after a long week at work the thought of another early start is too much, even for the most hardy of runners.

Well, it turns out it could have been earlier but for the intervention of Wymondham AC committee member Andrew Lane.

Andrew Lane (in yellow T-shirt) taking part in the first Parkrun at Bushy Park, London, on October 2, 2004. Picture: PARKRUNAndrew Lane (in yellow T-shirt) taking part in the first Parkrun at Bushy Park, London, on October 2, 2004. Picture: PARKRUN

Andrew is one of the pioneers of parkrun - the 63-year-old was one of the 13 runners that took part in the first ever event at Bushy Park just over 15 years ago when he was living and working in London as an accountant.

As a fellow Stragglers Running Club member, parkrun founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt sought the advice of Andrew, who became a non-executive director at parkrun, when formulating what would go on to become a phenomenon. And the subject of start time would prove a thorny topic…

"I may take some credit for persuading Paul to start at 9am rather than 8am," said Andrew. "Because he had come from South Africa he was used to running very early but I had to explain to him that in October in England you probably wouldn't be able to get runners out at 8am."

Andrew was probably right… it didn't make or break the movement but you could bet on fewer runners getting their Saturday morning run in if Paul had stuck to his guns on the 8am start.

Andrew Lane is now an ambassador for parkrun in Norfolk. Picture: ANTONY KELLYAndrew Lane is now an ambassador for parkrun in Norfolk. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

But now all over the world, every Saturday morning, an hour later than originally planned, people are getting active thanks to parkrun.

Andrew stayed in his role as a non-executive director for 10 years before becoming a parkrun ambassador when he moved up to Wymondham to live with his partner, xxxxx (name).

He has been instrumental in setting up several new events across Norfolk and has been delighted to see how junior parkrun has kicked on in the region having founded the Eaton Park event.

However, Andrew admits he wasn't originally convinced by the whole parkrun concept.

Andrew Lane at the Dereham 10M event earlier this year. Picture: Total Race TimingAndrew Lane at the Dereham 10M event earlier this year. Picture: Total Race Timing

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"I was a member of a running club and if you had asked any of us if there was something missing from our weekly calendar it wouldn't have occurred to any of to have a 5K run on Saturday morning," he said. "parkrun has tapped into not just recreation, the community spirit of it as well. It's my favourite hour of the week.

"But on that first ever one run (at Bushey Park) I thought it was a pathetic turnout. I thought there would be 50+ people and there were only 13!

"I've since made another couple of predictions that have proved to be well wide of the mark though… I said to the people that when Bushey Park gets to 200 runners, people won't want to do it. It gets over 1,000 every week now.

"I also thought we would top out at about 20 events across the country. How wrong was I?

"You can almost put a parkrun anywhere where there is a patch of grass to do it."

There are now nearly 1,600 parkruns worldwide and there are no signs of it slowing.

"The technology has helped keep it growing," added Andrew. "When I first started running it was pre internet days - we entered a race and gave them a stamped addressed envelope so they could post the results to you in a fortnight's time.

"Paul Sinton Hewitt had several inspired ideas and the two in particular were that you could register people at the finish rather than at the start, and the second thing was to use barcodes for people.

"We had laptops at the end in the early days so we would be typing in everyone's name so you can imagine the wait you'd have now.

"We looked round for solutions and realised that barcode scanning was the way to do it. It means the volunteering task is over relatively shortly."

It is a source of frustration for some runners that a physical barcode is still required to gain your time when many would prefer to simply present their barcode on their smartphone but Andrew explains why.

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"It's a complaint that we regularly used to hear," he added. "But the scanners used aren't that powerful and with most of them it doesn't scan successfully on a phone.

"That could mean that queues at the end would double in length.

"The other thing is about barcodes of course is that parkrun encourages everyone to have ICE (in case of emergency) set up and a wrist band barcode is the best thing to have.

"If they have it on their phone then people wouldn't know who to contact as most people have their phones locked."

Life begins at 40...

The old saying goes that life begins at 40… well that's certainly the case with Andrew Lane's running career.

After trying his hand at other sports like football, cricket and golf for the previous 40 years it was a challenge between Andrew and two other friends whilst living in London that would completely change his sporting outlook.

"I'd always been quite active but then aged 40 I discovered the sport that I was best at," said Andrew.

"I stumbled into running really - there was a 10-mile race and three of us as friends entered it. I barely had proper running shoes, had barely trained, but I just loved the event on the day.

"We then decided to a do a half marathon and all three of us swore we would never do a marathon. A month later we had signed up to do the New York Marathon.

"I thought that would be the last marathon I would ever do but I'm now quite close to doing my 50th."

Andrew, 63, has been running consistently ever since and even completed the famous Comrades in South Africa in 2004 in just over eight hours - an achievement he counts as his finest in running.

The London Marathon will always be his favourite event though having been brought up in the capital although he has since found a love for Norfolk running after moving to the region in "semi-retirement" from being an accountant to be with his partner, Julie in 2003.

The plan was to take things easier and concentrate on his own running but after joining Wymondham AC he suddenly found himself on the club's committee.

"When I first came up I said I wasn't going to do any of that," he added. "I was the treasurer and then chairman of my old club (Stragglers Running Club in London) but I said I'm not going to do any of that.

"However, after a few years in Wymondham, Karl Chapman wanted to step down as our race director and asked if I wanted to take over and I was happy to do so. It's very satisfying.

"I joined the Wymondham committee and because I'm virtually retired I've got time to do that. It's a great club and one I love being involved in."

Andrew, who is targeting a Good For Age place at the London Marathon in his next marathon (3-45) is now part of the fabric of Norfolk running and has been impressed at how clubs help, rather than compete, with each other on an administrative level.

"Running is on a fantastic boom at the moment but what I've seen in Norfolk that doesn't happen elsewhere from my experience is the clubs are much more co-operative," he said.

"The fixture list is co-ordinated properly. We all get together and properly fix the dates.

"The other thing that's great is that all the race directors get together and share their experiences of the race, of the suppliers and the facilities.

"We will compare notes and completely openly share our experiences. Because so many of the races fill up so quickly we are not all busy competing with each other for runners.

"There are a dozen or more clubs in Norfolk that are really thriving and long may it continue."

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