The Hackney Marshes Massacre

With my half marathon looming, I decided to do the sensible thing and not run today.  Instead I volunteered my services to Hackney Marshes parkrun, where I was placed in the rather nervewracking role of timekeeper for the second time.  I know how disappointing it is when you get a great parkrun time and your result is wrong – I never blame the volunteers because I know first hand how hard it is – but not having anyone to blame doesn’t make it any less disappointing.  As the run started, I nervously watched my phone, terrified it would randomly switch itself off or start counting the local squirrels crossing the line.

About ten minutes into the run, one of the marshals suddenly appeared on a contraption, looking rather red in the face and calling for the Run Director, Ben.  Apparently a maintenance truck had appeared on the course and told the marshal to “stop the race” because they wanted to come through.  (We all known parkrun is not a race.  But this probably wasn’t the time to argue the toss.)  Of course, the marshal couldn’t have stopped the “race” if he’d tried, because after ten minutes everyone is completely spread out on the out-and-back course and it wouldn’t be possible to get word to everyone, and even if he had, they would all have had to return to the start at walking pace anyway, causing just as much obstruction as when they were running.  And anyway, why should we stop?  It wasn’t an emergency, there were other ways round, they could just wait half an hour for the run to finish.  Hackney Marshes parkrun has taken place every Saturday for the last four hundred and ninety-one weeks, surely the council should know that and not send maintenance vans along the course at this time?

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The arrival of the first finisher was drawing closer, so I assumed my position at the mouth of the finish funnel while Ben the RD ran off truck-wards and started making phone calls (I presume to the council).  I was under the impression everything was sorted and the van was going to wait for us, and got down to the job in hand.  For the first twenty eight minutes, everything went swimmingly.  The other timekeeper and I were in perfect sync, and both of us were in sync with the token giver outerer.

Then, about 28 minutes into the run, which is peak time for finishers at Hackney Marshes, there was a rumble in the distance.  A white truck, which I think was towing another truck, was plowing through the runners.  The course is narrow and flanked by trees and slippery banks so the runners couldn’t just simply dodge out of its way and it was passing dangerously close. Apparently it had been doing this all the way along the course.  A friend said that she had been held up by the van twice and had passed it when safe to do so, only to be overtaken by it again.  Not only did the driver not seem to care that he was ruining the event for everyone, he didn’t seem to care that he was putting people’s lives in danger.

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A quick-thinking volunteer started moving the finish funnel posts and rope and attempting to make order of the chaos.  Runners, spectators and volunteers ran in all directions attempting to evade the van and reach the finish without getting flattened.  As it passed me I leapt to the right but of course several runners passed the van on the left, and I only realised they had finished without being timed after the van had passed.  I had no idea how many I had missed and the runners were still coming thick and fast so there was no time to try to right the problem. After all the chaos had subsided, I was out of sync with the other timer, and both of us were out with the token people.  Fortunately with a bit of hard work I think someone managed to sort the results (at least, the people who finished before and after the truck incident had correct times – those who finished at the same time might not be so lucky).

I think this is one of the most ridiculous, spiteful and dangerous things I have ever seen at a parkrun and I will certainly be sending Hackney Council this post.  I wish I’d got a photo but I was using my phone for timing – hopefully someone else did.  I hope whoever was driving that van isn’t allowed to get away with it.

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