THERE is this bee buzzing around in my bonnet. Very annoying.
It’s been there quite some while and is becoming increasingly irritating.
Just won’t go away and is so difficult to ignore.
It’s called Parkrun.
You’ve probably heard of it; a weekly mass display of micro managed outdoor masochism willingly endured by thousands worldwide.
Like them, I have also been a willing participant; as a runner and as a volunteer undertaking duties such as marshal, timekeeper, barcode scanner and token collector. Tasks rigidly defined and essential to the event’s success.
However, what was once an ardent love affair has begun to lose its appeal. As so often happens, the intensity of our relationship is on the wane. The passion has cooled.
Those earlier yearnings for our weekly embrace have faded into disinterest. Ardour has become arduous.
All of which comes with an air of sadness. Questions, too, as we seek reasons for this parting of the ways.
Plus thoughts of what might have been, how many runs might be achieved and qualify us for commemorative singlets marking our progress through the tens and into the hundreds. Or beyond? Who knows what the future holds?
Parkrun has no limits – on participants, on venues, on locations. Which is much of its undeniable and commendable appeal. Anyone, anywhere; with understandably the approval of head office. A fun and sociable activity with proven physical and mental benefits yet demanding little more than an hour’s devotion once a week.
However, behind this facade of allegedly non-competitive (believe that if you can) weekly sociability, there lurks a more pervasive force carrying the disturbing name of Contra, with all its secretive revolutionary connotations.
Sign up for anything these days and you immediately become a sitting duck for salespeople, marketeers and promoters. The insidious and insistent workhorses of commerce. The grabbers of your hard-earned.
And Parkrun is right up there among them.
No week passes without receiving at least a couple of Parkrun/Contra emails; blowing their own trumpets and urging the purchase of a rapidly expanding range of running clothing and accessories.
It has become the Amazon of the fun run.
By registering for Parkrun you feed its Contra marketing mongrels a feast of all your personal details.
It is busily harvesting all its feelgood vibes for hard-edged commercial purposes. Those undertones of “all-in-a-good-cause” simply aid the profit-making needs of a flogger of over-priced sports gear.
For example, the latest Contra email offers a selection of needless tat at “sale” prices way above what anyone not hypnotised by the Parkrun concept would consider excessive.
Plain tops at anything up to £60. For running in – not to dress up for a posh picnic in the park. And what runner has not already got a cupboard crammed with tees, many of them freebies handed out at other runs and races?
Socks and shorts, too, at prices way above what are readily available on every high street and all over the internet.
As I typed this, my eyes lighted on one of the weekend upmarket colour magazine inserts. Its fashion pages pictured high quality skirts, blouses and dresses at prices well below what Contra asks for the basics of going for a run or jog.
Who’s kidding who?
Do people really need to make a fashion statement as they plod along muddy trails for less than an hour’s sweaty exertion?
The Contra product line is a never-ending conveyor belt of new designs (or rather a succession of different logos on the same old base) intended to extract more moolah from the masses. Akin to the ever-changing (why?) kits of football’s money hungry clubs.
Maybe the unstated Parkrun philosophy is, Because it’s free that doesn’t mean you’re not going to pay through the nose some other way.
Crass. Hard-edged commercialisation of a concept supposedly based on all that’s good, wholesome and public spirited.
You can, of course, click the Unsubscribe tab to stop the flood of marketing guff. But the last time I tried that a stern warning flashed up that this would delete me from all Parkrun communications and I’m not sure I’m quite ready for that.
As with most affairs, a lingering hope remains that all is not lost. A hankering for the up close and cosy love of earlier days. Maybe the flame will flutter and flare once more.
Until then, who needs to sign on for Parkrun to go for a 5 km trot in the country? One free of Contra’s buy buy buy pestering.
Now, where’s that much-loved old tee …?