NEIL BONNAR: A day in the life of a (very occasional) Bolton parkrun volunteer

It was no token effort by our own Neil Bonnar when he was given a very important job at Bolton parkrun

It was no token effort by our own Neil Bonnar when he was given a very important job at Bolton parkrun

First published in Sport
Last updated
The Bolton News: Photograph of the Author by , head of sport

Bolton parkrun is one of the big success stories in local sport, providing a free, organised 5k run at Leverhulme Park every Saturday morning.

The number of people taking part has grown from around 70 to 250 since starting less than three years ago.

But it all depends on volunteers doing their bit to help things run smoothly.

The Bolton News head of sport, and Bolton parkrun regular, Neil Bonnar was given one of the top jobs to do today and here he writes about his experience of a day in the life of a Bolton parkrun volunteer.

IN the time honoured tradition of the Bolton parkrun website blogs starting with the words “this is the one when…” followed by some witty ending, this is the one when Neil Bonnar shocked the world and actually volunteered at Bolton parkrun.

I am ashamed to say that I don’t do my full whack when it comes to volunteering at the parkrun.

In fact I scarcely do any whack at all. You’re supposed to do three Saturdays a year. Last year I managed none and in almost three years of doing the Bolton parkrun I’ve volunteered three times.

Not good enough. Simply not good enough, Neil.

I and my good lady wife Judith (for those who follow the parkrun results, yes, she is the one who has never beaten me) put our names down to volunteer on Saturday because we were doing the Bolton 10k the next day and two runs in two days simply isn’t an option.

I felt good about it, I can tell you. Like when you’ve been to the dentist or done something for charity.

I got up out of bed early to check the Bolton parkrun website and find out what job I’d been allocated.

And there, next to my name, large as life were the words: Finish Tokens.

We’re not playing games here. They must fancy me as a serious piece of work to put me on Finish Tokens.

Get that job wrong and the whole shebang goes belly up.

They only put one person on Finish Tokens – no back-up. You’ve got to be on the ball, give every runner a ‘token’ at the ‘finish’ (see where the name comes from?), and in the right order.

And if that’s not enough you’ve got to direct the odd first time runner towards my colleagues on Barcode Scanning (guess what they do).

The pressure was on, and despite feeling worse for wear after attending Bradshaw Cricket Club’s beer festival the previous night, I was up for it.

Judith, by the way had been allocated a job as Marshal. There were 13 of them.

I’ve done Marshal. It basically entails clapping, saying “well done” 500 times and making sure no-one runs off the course. Important job, but no Finish Tokens.

Going in reverse order from Barcode Scanning is Finish Tokens, the wonderfully worded Funnel Management, Timekeeper and Marshal.

Tristan Kent, an excellent runner who generally finishes about 100 places in front of me – who finishes about 100th – when we’re not managing funnels and tokening finishers at Bolton parkrun, was like a coiled spring waiting to manage the funnel if the funnel needed managing.

It didn’t, so basically his job entailed standing at the finish line. Important in its own way, but no Finish Tokens.

Get Finish Tokens wrong and… well, it just doesn’t bear thinking about.

Give the first runner token number one, the second number two, third three and so on until the last person crosses the line and you can collapse on the grass in an emotional heap.

The organisers had done the hard work, meticulously putting all the tokens – little rectangular plastic things with a number (from one to 300) a barcode and a hole in one corner – in the right order in advance.

They had then been slid on to what looked like a piece of string but wasn’t a piece of string but more like a piece of wire that had an unforgiving quality about it when it came to trying to pull the tokens off.

I had been given the advice to take about 30 off at a time to speed things up and prevent runner cloggage in the funnel.

Good advice as it turned out. If I say so myself, the flow was fast and smooth and, as I’m sure Tristan on Funnel Management would verify, the funnel did not need management.

With organisation like this what could possibly go wrong?

Well, for a start, when the first runner, Shaun O’Dwyer, came in I gave him token number 27.

My error was in not looking at the number on the token. Luckily I did look at the token when the second runner, Andy Parker, stuck his hand out.

The panic on seeing number 26 will live with me for the rest of my life.

I turned the bundle of tokens in my hand the other way round and saw the number one staring back at me. I had the tokens upside down.

Thinking on my feet, I called over to Shaun, told him I had given him the wrong token, took it back off him, put it at the bottom of my now right-way-round bundle and replaced it with the correct token number one.

I gave Andy token number two and I was back in control.

This process went on for a good 70 or 80 finishers – tugging a fresh bundle off the stringy wire thing during the lulls – before I was joined by one of the four main event organisers Andy Patterson who handed me fresh bundles when I needed them.

We were two-handed now. Nothing could stop us. Having Andy next to me, a man who had been in this position dozens of times before, who had seen it, done it and had the parkrun T-shirt, made me feel ten feet tall.

I think all the runners on Saturday would be verify Finish Tokens did its job.

And the pleasure I got in doing my whack for once means it won’t be another year or two before I’m back playing a part in the smooth running of Bolton parkrun.

Looking down the list of jobs on the parkrun’s ‘Future Volunteer Roster’ website section I quite fancy New Runners Briefing next time.

Pre-event Setup also looks interesting and I think both are realistic ambitions. But the top job, Run Director; well, that’s just a dream.

• Bolton parkrun is a free, timed 5k run which takes place at Leverhulme Park every Saturday morning at 9am. To take part simply visit http://www.parkrun.org.uk/register/ to register and download a printed barcode which you should take with you to every event.

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