“Save me from the movies and someone else’s dreams
While angels make their music and give my spirit wings
I just concertina and wrap around the world
Staying out till six o’clock and singing like a fool

I’ve only got this morning to live
Look at all the colours at my fingertips

I don’t want to stand still
I just want to freewheel
I don’t want to lose this”

Duke Special

Most Saturday mornings I drive out to Rossmore Park at 8.00am. As I drive past Gortakeegan I usually see my first set of runners leaving the Park on their ‘long run’ I wave at them all and some kindly wave back. I pass Banba, the Queen of the Drumlin Giants, asleep on the left hand side of the large stone gateway as I enter the Park , and I think of Benny Callan, with his name on the Eagle from Apollo 11 still on the moon. Driving along the avenue I gaze up at the first of the baby Giant Redwoods on my left, and then swerve to avoid a bunch of Joggernutts all waving at me as they make their way out of the Park.

I drive on up the avenue with the River Muireann on my left the whole way to the car park. On both sides of the avenue are large stones placed there to stop people parking here, most people never notice that they are all large pieces of carved masonary from the old castle. I park opposite Big Ross’ giant feet, either side of the entrance to the playpark, and wait for Tom to open the CoffeeDoc. He kindly lets us keep all of our Parkrun paraphernalia in his storage yard. He usually opens between 8.10am and 8.20am. Gareth and Chris are usually there already , heading out on a 5 or 10k before they run in the Parkrun. They always ask if I need a hand with anything, but this offer is usually made over their shoulders as they’ve started their run.

Tom arrives, we say ‘Hello’ to each other, comment on the weather and I go and get the box of stuff for the starting area , Tom makes me a perfect Americano, without being asked, and I go and set up the Parkrun start/finish spot at the brown gate.

There’s not much setting up to be honest. Put out a few cones to stop people parking near the start, which are invariably ignored by the same three culprits every single week, but don’t worry, AnnaMarie, Brenda, and Ray, I’ll not name names. I place the box of volunteer bibs, the laminated Parkrun guide notes that nobody needs as we’ve all read them so many times, the loudhailer, that no one uses, as we’re all accomplished raconteurs, rather loud raconteurs,  the thankfully infrequently used first aid kit, and assorted hats and tops that people left behind last week, on the same rock each week. Then I roll out the two sets of tape either side of the path to form the starting corral , usually saying hello and waving to different groups of runners who shout and wave, which usually, but not always contain at least one of Charlotte, Suzette, Bernie, Mrs.Harraghey, the best teacher in the world, and, or , Stella. I actually worry if I don’t see them on a Saturday while setting up.

I place the Start/Finish sign in the usual spot, and say the same thing that I say every Saturday, “We really must replace this sign”. The nice man that always passes at this point on a Saturday, passes and we have the same exchange, regardless of the weather, “Great day !”, “A great day indeed !”, “Good to be fit and be up and about.”, “You said it !”.

I then put our telescopic Parkrun sign together and go back to the box to find the piece of white plastic tube that Dublin Dave made for us to replace the nice shiny metal bit that holds it in the ground, that none of the Parkrun directors remember losing, but all suspect that it was Brenda.

I then go back to the CoffeeDoc and collect the golf trolley that Dad donated, and that Mr.Hurson customized with a large pipe bolted to it to hold all of our Parkrun direction signs. Most Saturdays Ray will have arrived at this point and we trundle off to set the signs out along the Parkrun route. We follow the River Muireann, gurgling away, commenting on the Ash dieback, or the amount of Laurels, the state of UK politics, Irish distribution rights for Payday bars, and plot our next adventures. We meet a nice man, walking fast with a small dog who ignores us. The dog, not the nice man. Ray knows him and always says “C’mon the Mighty Leeds !”, and the nice man always smiles and says “Not going so well now.” And he’d always correct. Things are never really going well for the Mighty Leeds.

Usually before we get as far as Thoth, the Giant with the big mouth and seats inside, we meet the man in the red jacket. Depending on how close we are to Thoth when we meet him he will say one of two things :

“Good Morning !”


“You’re late !”

We then get to the hydro-ram which both pumped water up to the castle and also shunted water up to the reservoir on the opposite side as part of the castle’s hydro-electric generator, the first in Ireland in 1912. Ray always wonders how deep the mud is behind the weir. We then put out our first Parkrun sign “Straight On “ in front of Muireann, and her new bridge. Shortly after her we place our second sign, “Left” , and tie a long orange bungee cord between two trees to stop people taking a shortcut and tripping over the raised roots.

We pass Ailinn and marvel at her intricate wooden leaves, place another “Left” sign and head down the Yew Tree Avenue, the longest in the British Isles, and possibly/probably  related to Marie Antoinette’s yew tree in Versailles through her friendship with Frances Murray, one time owner of the Park. We cross the metal bridge, and then place our next sign “Straight On”, and carry on until the crossroads where I always draw a smiley face on the path,  place the next “Turn Right “ sign , and take a selfie with Ray. We’re usually overtaken here by two Gazelles, namely my Soulmate and her great friend Grainne.

At the next crossroads we tie up more bungee cords to block errant runners from getting lost and taking a turn left DESPITE being told EVERY single Saturday NOT to leave the path unless a sign points you to.

We pass The Morrigan on our right and then place our next sign “Turn right” quickly followed by another “Straight On” sign at Druid, standing magnificently at Connolly’s Corner. We then trundle along the bank of Priestfield Lake where Ray always gets excited by the swans, always asks me to take a photo of them, I always tell him that they are too far away, and then I take the picture anyway and when I send it to him later he always says, “That’s awful.”

Very often we have to stand to one side to let some proper runners pass us here, as the path is narrow. These guys are ‘warming up’ for a 5k by running 2.5k first. They always say ‘Thank You’ because we have stepped aside, and they know that we are setting up the course for them. We smile back and say that they are cheating by warming up and that it is very poor form. Patrick always laughs when we say this to him because he thinks we are joking, but we’re not, and we forgive him, because he is the mainstay of our Sanctuary Runners group, and runs with Jeff, a deranged Red Setter, who we like. Patrick is married to Jennifer, who we really like.  

At the T-Junction, we place the next “Turn Right sign.” And we march up the hill and we both comment on how much we hate this hill, especially if we are trying to run up it. Near the top , on the right we pass the King of the forest, a 360 year old oak tree. It was there before the first castle was built here in 1725, and is still standing after the last castle was demolished in 1976.

We pass by all of the wild garlic which Ray always says he loves and always tells me that you always find wild garlic near old castles and monasteries as they planted them deliberately as birds do not like the smell, so wouldn’t nest amongst the statutes or ornate masonry, and I am enjoying him telling me this so much that I don’t remind him that I told him this very same thing two weeks ago.

We place the next “Straight On” sign just before the Spike, which is a large black metal spike, hence it’s name, which is placed on a wall at the split in the paths and looks very ornamental, but is actually a part of the old castle’s gasworks that workmen found in the 70’s and thought looked nice. They were right.

Just in front of where the Castle was , we place the next “Turn Left “ sign, where runners get to enjoy the downhill from the castle .

At the bottom of the hill we place the last “Turn Right” sign where the Park runners will turn for their second lap. We leave the trolley there for whoever is collecting the signs when the Parkrun is over, and walk to the startline where we usually have another role, like timekeeping or barcode scanning. We say hello to all of our fellow volunteers and regular runners, I look out for Mrs.Connolly for my hug, we welcome visitors, smile at everyone and pretend that we know what we’re doing.

I absolutely LOVE it !

I’m one of a group of 20 or so regular volunteers, with another 20 or so irregular volunteers. AnnaMarie is our real leader, and there are others who have volunteered more often than I have, but sometimes because I shout louder than others, wear cooler sweatshirts and have a bigger collection of colourful beanies, or maybe it’s simply that I’m out in the Park more often, I get asked about Parkrun, as if I am responsible for it.

Yesterday evening I was out in the Park for another thing, I’ll write more about it another time, but I will just say, just in case your’re ever thinking of hosting a river race for kids, have booked 100 kids in for it, and have Marc Kelly furiously hand making 100 boats…it’s quite important to have some water in the river…also before you wade into a weir to try and dam it up to provide water for your impending river race, I recommend testing the mud with a big stick to see how deep it is first, or you might lose one of the Muck boots you borrowed from your Dad, and don’t know how to tell him, and then you remember that he reads this blog….Sorry Dad !

Anyway, I was out in the Park yesterday evening and two gentlemen were warming up for a run, stretching and what not, and I said ‘Hello’. They passed me, doing a lap of the carpark in further warm up activities that are positively alien to the way Ray and I prepare for a run, with coffee and rum ‘n’ raisin ice cream. And then they were coming towards me on another loop and I could tell that they were talking about me somehow and I got the sense that the younger of the two was trying to get the older chap not to say anything. They stopped a little further on and were doing even more stretches and the older chap finally said “There’s a problem with the scanner”. I looked a little confused, so he explained further.

“You help out at the Parkrun ?”

“Ahh, yes. Yes , I do.”

“I paid €25 for the scanner, and it’s not working.”

The younger chap looked away, a little embarrassed.

“I don’t follow…” I started to say.

The older chap then motioned with his wrist, and I twigged that he meant that his Parkrun wristband, with his barcode hadn’t scanned. It’s free to take part in any Parkrun, and it’s also free to register, you’re assigned a barcode , which you can print off, and at the end of every Parkrun your time position chip and your personal barcode are scanned in by a volunteer and later on the Saturday you get an email with your time, your relative age related position, and it keeps a record of all of your times and all of your races. There are hundreds of free Parkruns all over Ireland, the UK, Europe and more and more countries, all on Saturdays at 9,30am and all are free.

But , if you want, you can go onto the Parkrun website and order a rubber bracelet , or keyring , with your barcode printed on it, rather than printing or laminating your own.

That’s where the older chaps €25 comment had come from.

“Oh, I get you now. You didn’t get your time afterwards.”

“Exactly ! I ordered this thing, and I’ve run twice now and I don’t get any results…”

“You’ve run once !” The younger chap interjected.

“Well once, but I came in 23rd, and on the website my name in blank.”

“Don’t worry, are you running this Saturday ?”


“Well I’ll be here and when you finish let’s see if it reads OK, and if not we can enter your name manually in the results.”

“And what about last week’s time ?”

“That’s no problem either, we can go back and enter your name against it so that it’s counted as your time and result.”

He smiled, the younger chap still looked a bit embarrassed.

I didn’t mind at all.

I went to use the loo and when I came out the older chap was washing his hands.

“Sorry about making a fuss.”

“No need to apologise. If you’ve gone to the bother of running the 5k, the least you deserve is to get your time.”

“Yes.” He replied. “It’s very important to me. Do you run yourself ?”

I said that some people might not call it that , but I do.

This nice old chap then went on to explain that he had been a very good runner. I keep saying ‘old chap’, he’s probably the same age as me, but he was older than the younger chap that he was training with, may have been his son, anyway I’M NOT OLD ….just wanted to clear that up.

He could run a 5k in 20 mins and 52 seconds.

Runners are very, very particular when it comes to their times, which sometimes leads me to think that I’m not really a runner. If I had ever run a 5k in 20 minutes and 54 seconds I would never, ever, ever, ever mention those seconds, I would simply say, ‘Yeah, 20 minutes, pleased enough.’ And I know for a fact that no one would ever ask me, “And how many seconds ?”, but real runners can’t help but volunteer this information. So I knew he was a real runner.

“And then I got Covid. Still not over it.”

He continued to explain that he still had aches and pains, three years on from contracting Covid, had seen specialists, and was simply determined to get back out there. That’s why he wanted to do the Parkrun, and why his time was so important to him. He didn’t care about the €25 wristband, he wanted his time. He wanted his running back.

He loved Parkrun too.

I was in the gym on Wednesday and I was doing some simple exercises. I was sitting on a benchy thing and was lifting two 5kg dumdbells, one in each hand , above my head , twelve times. I could say that since chemo whenever I go for blood tests or need a canula inserted it takes a few goes for them to find a vein. It seems to happen to lots of people that their veins collapse after a certain number of weeks of treatment. And that would be completely true. But I couldn’t use it to justifty the fact that I can’t lift weights…I never could. Years ago I went to another gym and we were doing circuit training and I was teamed with this lovely wee girl and I kept pace with her on running, rowing, pushing things along the floor, pulling ropey things, but when we got to lifting weights she had weights the size of tractor tires on her bar and she was throwing them about with wild abandon, but as soon as the trainer saw my arms wobble on the first lift, he rushed over and removed all the weights, patted me on the shoulder and said “Just lift that, probably 10kgs in that bar.”

Anyway, I was ever so proud of myself lifting my 5kgs, and only wobbling slightly on the 11th lift, when the earth shook, as the guy beside me dropped his 25kg dumbells on the floor after doing the same exercise.

But I was still very proud of myself.

Still am.

We never know what challenge the person next to us has been through, or is going through. Or what concern, worry and weight they are carrying for others.

I , thanks to my Soulmate, my kids, my family, my absolutely fucking amazing friends, and Ray, get to freewheel through this wonderful life of mine.

So I try my best to help…or at least not to get in the way of others.

A smile may make the difference to someone’s day.

I smile a lot.

I get a lot back.



P.S. For everyone in Parkrun , this is Duke Special’s ‘Freewheel

Author: paul

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