Report by Andy
“Can you pick up some bananas and batteries on your way?” Not the kind of pre-run text I am used to receiving, but this was always going to be a run with a difference. Hayley, an old friend of mine who runs with York Knavesmire Harriers, had messaged me earlier in the week suggesting we sign up for Small Park Big Run – a 24 hour event at Meersbrook Park in aid of two Palestine charities, where people can sign up to run in half hourly stages. The idea is that at least one person will be on the 1km / lap course at all times. After some discussion, we decided the best thing to do would be to sign up to run from midnight until 5.3am in 6 half-hourly slots, because there is no reason that makes sense.
Arriving at Meersbrook Park in full dark at 11:50pm, we registered and were shown into the indoor area with tea and coffee making facilities – Hayley’s little gas camp stove proved unnecessary. The runner’s chill-out area was set with a couple of couches, and food donated by Beanies and Regather, including about a million bananas laid out on tables around the room. The four bananas I had bought as requested remained in my backpack, feeling inadequate and surplus to requirements. A check of my headtorch revealed that whatever was wrong with it couldn’t be fixed by fresh batteries, but fortunately the organisers provided a spare. Duly stripped down to shorts and a club vest, I went to the start line with Hayley and we set off for the first of 6 sets of laps.
We had agreed that either five or six laps per set would be most likely, with a 25-30 minute stretch off / feeding / tea time between sets. Meersbrook’s infamous hill, leading up to one of the best views in Sheffield, decided five laps was the way to go, and I was fine with that. It was a lovely night for running, the rain earlier in the evening had freshened the air and the temperature was a cool thirteen degrees. The course had been marked out beautifully for night-time running, with the wooded area at the top of the hill decorated with lanterns and making us feel like we were running through a secret garden or a music festival. Marshals dressed in brightly-lit clothing and shoes walked laps in the opposite direction to the runners, cheering us on. The first set of five laps flew by quickly, and we disappeared into the chill-out area to stretch and feed ourselves.
This became our routine until 4am – easy running, powering up the hill, speaking to marshals and fellow runners (of which there were not many, but a few – the Striders had a team on course for the whole 24 hours), and then after five laps, finishing. Or at least nearly finishing, as Hayley being a bit of a Strava addict had to make everything up to a round kilometre on her Garmin, to the amusement of some of the organisers. Time between runs was spent with cups of tea, bananas, homemade granola bars, more bananas, a projector which showed a Rocky film and which we then commandeered to watch snippets of running documentaries on Youtube, and bananas. We were enjoying ourselves hugely but we were feeling the strain a little bit. By 4am, though my body was fine, I was starting to get a little sleepy. Hayley had the opposite problem, wide awake but full of aches from repeatedly running up that hill.
At 4am our routine broke down. It had begun to get light, and a group of four intoxicated young lads from a night out in some other part of Sheffield had settled on a bench en route, drinking vodka and Fanta out of Costa cups. As you do. They were friendly enough, cheering and high-fiving us for a couple of laps, but they were a rude awakening after the peacefulness of the previous four hours. We planned to do an extra lap this time round so we could see the sun come up. Unfortunately, Hayley’s knee suddenly decided it wasn’t keen on playing any more, and we were forced to do a bit of run-walking. On the fourth lap, we decided to stick at the top of the hill and wait for sunrise. The drunk boys demanded a few selfies and made rudimentary attempts at a political discussion, and we obliged them on the former and dodged the latter. Sadly, clouds obscured the view of the sunrise, but it was still nice to be up at that time.
For the last set, we decided to attempt whatever we could, but it again took two laps before Hayley’s felt some pain and we both decided to walk one final farewell lap (running past the drunk lads for pride’s sake, of course). On finishing we were congratulated by the very friendly organisers, and changed out of our running gear, taking a couple of beers up to the top of the hill again at 6am to cheer other runners. It was a lovely way to finish an all-night running session. We went to crash for a few hours sleep, before joining mayor Majid Majid and over a hundred other people for a final Community Lap of the park just after midday. Before we set off, we heard by video link from children at a trauma centre in Gaza, one of the charities we were supporting. It was a very emotional, very gratifying exchange and nice to be a part of two communities from different parts of the world linking up like this.
Small Park Big Run was a unique experience, particularly the way we chose to do it. The organisers were very supportive, the facilities for runners were great, and it was for a couple of very good causes. Striders had a team out for the full event, so let’s try and do the same at SRC next year. I won’t promise to run through the night again, but I won’t necessarily rule it out either…
Oh, and if anyone wants any bananas, give me a shout. I’ve got loads.