Behind The Half Marathon Finishing Line

two volunteers wearing bright yellow race jackets

On Sunday, a friend and i decided to volunteer at the Belfast half marathon.

A few months ago, I saw a tweet looking for volunteers for the Belfast half marathon. I thought it would be brilliant to do so approached my friend to see if she fancied doing it. Originally, I had thought we could volunteer at a water station, but that was already being taken care of by the 5 charities who had been selected for the marathon. The other volunteer job that needed doing was marshalling, but we weren’t too sure about that either. Eventually, we settled on being situated somewhere near the finish line, handing out medals and goody bags or whatever they wanted us to do.

After we sorted out what role we would be doing, we attended a short, informal session on what our roles would Intale and what time we needed to be there at. We also received our bright yellow jackets and t shirts that we would wear on the day. The only thing we needed to do now was to wait and see what the day had in store.

On Saturday, i attended my local parkrun first, before jumping on the train as i was co-delivering some training for Guide dogs so needed to be up in Belfast early.

We had decided to stay overnight at a Premier inn as we were expected to be at Ormeau park where the half marathon would start and finish for 7 o’clock the next morning. There are no trains on a Sunday that early so i was glad we were staying over.

After the training had finished at Guide dogs, we headed off to the hotel to get checked in, before heading out for something to eat and to get some water and stuff for the morning.

We were up with the lark on Sunday morning. The breakfast service in the hotel didn’t start until 7, so i brought some porridge pots with me and they did just the job until we got down to Ormeau park.

When we arrived, we made ourselves known to the volunteer co-ordinator whilst they decided what role we actually would have for the day. We were eventually assigned the orange station. We were going to be split up, but we explained that it would probably be better if we stayed together and they were grand with that. We weren’t needed until about 10 o’clock, so it was off to chat and mingle with people, before settling down with a nice cup of tea.

unfortunately, just as the runners all took off, the heavens opened with torrential rain for about an hour. Thankfully, we were able to take shelter under the bag drop markee until it calmed down to just a light drizzle. One of the organisers went and got us ponchoes too in case the rain continued which was lovely.

Finally, the first runner was on his way, so we went out to our station. We literally had big storage boxes full of pre-sliced oranges. The time really did fly by once we got in to the swing of things, but the oranges weren’t shifting easily. I found it hard to know when people were coming up to me or if they had taken an orange, so i just asked people constantly if they wanted an orange. I am sure they were sick hearing it. It was suggested to me by others who had done this sort of thing who were visually impaired that i might want to have something identifying me as a visually impaired volunteer, but i decided against this. I am not sure if i would want to wear something, but i suppose it would have its’ advantages as people would know that they would have to speak to me for example, before taking an orange.

Before we knew it, it was 12 o’clock and most of the runners had finished. There were still a few coming in, but not too many. We still had boxes of oranges left over but apparently they were going to be given to a homeless organisation or something. I was glad about that as i would have hated them all to go to waste. It was back to the hotel for us so that we could pick up our bags, before a sandwich and a bun for our lunch, before getting the train back home.

I had a great time and it was good to be on the other side of the finish line as it were, and to be able to really congratulate the runners as they came through. I would like to thank the marathon organisers for allowing me to volunteer and to my friend for being my guide and for agreeing to do it in the first place.

a huge well done to all the runners whether you were able to complete it or not. at least you tried and that’s all that matters. I am sure it wasn’t easy running 13.1 miles but you all did it and you should be very proud of that. I may possibly see you all again next year 🙂

The Parkrun Experience

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Me Time.”

Which is kind of a weird title, i’ve decided to write about something i do every Saturday morning, and many others do to, as the theme for this post was what you do on a Saturday.

II am of course talking about something called
I can’t even remember how i heard of Parkrun, but all i know is that i signed up for it in about March last year as i wanted to make sure i would be able to walk the 8 miles of the Belfast Marathon, so thought i’d join Parkrun. You have to register online, so that you can get a barcode. All parkruns operate a “no barcode, no time, no exceptions” rule, so when you register, as long as you bring along either your printed barcode, or a
Durable one from ERS
then you can join any parkrun in the world. All you have to do is turn up and get your barcode scanned at the end of the run.

I was initially very nervous about signing up to parkrun, so i tentatively sent an email to the event director at my local parkrun explaining that i had a guide dog and that i wasn’t running the course. I thought “There’s no way they’ll let me join in”, but i got an email saying that i just had to turn up on the Saturday and they would arrange for a guide or “Marshil” to accompany me around the course. I have never looked back. I was made to feel so welcome, and it was great to be part of something where your disability wasn’t the main focus of the event. Sure the volunteers and runners would ask, but there is no harm in that is there? Each week a marshil has been provided to accompany me and Ushi around the course without fail. I would never do it on my own as it is so open. All i have to do is tell whoever is accompanying me wwhat i need, and if i don’t have Ushi, i will just take their elbo.

What makes Parkrun even better is that nobody cares what time you do. You always get a cheer and a round of applause at the end of the run. You don’t have to run it either so that is good too. I always felt like i was being pulled around when i ran at school, so i’m not too keen, although many visually impaired people do and can run very well in fact. I do sometimes think that i am being a burden on the parkrun, but most of the people who accompany me can’t run anyway as they are injured in some way so it’s better for them to walk.

I have ran, or walked, in my case, 37 parkruns to date. When you reach 50, you get a club t shirt which has the parkrun logo on the front, and a big red 50 at the back. There are also 100 and 150 runs i think.

My local parkrun has been going for nearly 3 years, and has about 105 runners each week. Some of the runs i have been to have about 2 or 300 so it’s different depending on where you go. Each parkrun relies on a total of about 8 volunteers. Without the volunteers, there would be no parkrun. Volunteers are needed to over see the whole event, scann the barcodes, hand out finishing tokens which are matched up to your barcode with your time, be a time keeper and backup timer, be a tail runner, who is someone who stays at the back of all the runners. Once the tail runner comes in, then the parkrun has finished. There are also people who have to set up, and of course a marshil to accompany me.

Every parkrun i have attended have welcomed me with open arms, as long as i email a new parkrun about a week in advance before just turning up. The best thing is that nobody cares that i walk and have no intention of running.

The parkruns are free to attend for anybody.

Some of the parkruns have even got guides trained up in how to guide a blind or partially sighted runner, should this be desired.

It is so hard to keep active if you’re visually impaired, so i think parkrun is fantastic for that. Obviously it would depend on the person but i feel if you like walking or running, then parkrun is perfect.

The amount of people i randomly mention parkrun to is quite amazing. I even have got a few people involved with it.

If i miss a parkrun for whatever reason, i feel rather strange. You can be really tired in the morning before a parkrun, but when you turn up the craic and buzz of it all soon gets you motivated to do it. Plus, if god forbid, you happened to have an injury or fall, a runner will soon stop to make sure you are okay.

So i shall end by thanking parkrun for welcoming everyone, no matter what size, ability, four legs or 2, or even wheels, you are awesome.

So has anyone heard of Parkrun, and if so how did you get involved? What other things do people like to do on a Saturday morning?


Wow i’ve been quiet on here lately. I’ve just had nothing to really write about. I’m not even sure i’ve got any readers left 😦 oh well i shall write anyway.

I’ve recently decided to join Parkrun. Parkrun is a 5 kilometre route or 3.1 miles i think, which takes place every Saturday morning at half 9. Each person can go at their own speed and you can either walk or run. I decided to walk.

I’m not long back from my third parkrun. I must say it’s great craic. You have to register before you can attend a parkrun. You are then given a barcode which means you can record your time. If you don’t have a barcode your time doesn’t get recorded. You can then take part in any run across the uk or even the world as i think it’s all over the world.

I emailed our local parkrun because i wanted to make sure that i would have someone to accompany me around the course. They said they would have someone there no problem but i was still a little nervous in case there was nobody there but they were true to their word. I decided to do the walk with Ushi. Normally she goes for a run there but i wanted to get her used to working in that kind of environment because when we do the Belfast city marathon 9 mile walk she obviously won’t be off her lead so i want her to get used to walking a route like that with me. The guide just walked around and told me when to turn left and right etc.

The last couple of weeks we’ve started with the others and we are always the last ones in, not that that matters. I would have always put a bit of pressure on myself though since i was the last one in, so my guide suggested that we start at 9 instead of the half 9 start. That meant that we finished along with everyone else which was nice. So i think we’ll do that from now on.

I was amazed at how many kids are out running and it’s lovely to see. I’m going to sound like an old foggie now but most kids nowadays sit in front of computers and wouldn’t even dream of walking or running. That’s certainly the case with my two younger brothers anyway lol. It was just so nice to see loads of kids doing it. They seemed to enjoy it too.

The parkrun is run by volunteers who love running. I love how it’s enclusive and there is no compitition. It’s just an all round great way to spend a saturday morning. I would highly recommend it, especially for visually impaired people as they are so helpful, or they seem to be anyway. As long as you let them know you’re coming they can usually provide someone to do the course with you. Even if i knew the route as it’s the same route each week, i’d rather have someone do it with me because it’s company for a start and also it can get so so so quiet once everyone has passed you.

If anyone would like to register for the parkrun, you can go to
Parkruns Uk website
And pick your nearist event. Once you fill in your details then you can go to a parkrun and you can even pay for your barcode to be put on a hard plastic card so you don’t have to worry about the paper barcodes getting wet.

In conclusion, i’d really recommend going. Plus you usually get a free cup of tea afterwards so that’s a bonus :).