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“I simply loved it!” Julie McPherson makes her debut as run director

There were 34 first-timers at RTW parkrun on Saturday 8th June, 19 of whom were visiting Dunorlan Park for the first time and 15 were taking part in their very first parkrun.

It was a beautiful morning so hopefully all of them had a ‘first time’ to remember. There was another first-timer on the day too, the person in the blue hi-vis with ‘Run Director’ written on her back. Because RTW parkrun #438 was Julie McPherson’s first time in charge of our favourite event.

Julie remembers being “a little apprehensive” when she was a first-time parkrunner at Dunorlan herself back in September 2019 and not surprisingly was “quite nervous” before her big day on Saturday too. “Using the megaphone was my biggest worry, and that my voice still wouldn’t be loud enough,” she said. “I’m also a natural introvert so having all eyes on me puts me way out of my comfort zone.”

“Overseeing a class of 30 children is far more nerve-racking,” said Julie. “Maybe Parkrun is easier because I’m not trying to explain long division!” Credit: RTW parkrun.

But facing 267 parkrunners and delivering the pre-event briefing is not the hardest thing Julie has had to do. As a teaching assistant at a Tunbridge Wells primary school, she sometimes has to cover for teacher absences and take a class of year six pupils. “Overseeing a class of 30 children is far more nerve-racking,” said Julie.

“Maybe parkrun is easier because I’m not trying to explain long division!” Although explaining to everyone why they must take a finish token and stay in order through the finish funnel might seem like teaching maths sometimes.”

From where I was standing in the starting funnel Julie seemed like a natural at the run director briefing. The assembled parkrunners and walkers were quiet and attentive – thank you everyone! – and she even managed a joke. “I tried to talk loudly, clearly and positively,” she said afterwards. “Everyone clapped at the appropriate milestone mentions and even when I talked about the parkrun social night, I joked they could clap if they wanted to!”

And with the megaphone finally switched off, Julie could relax – at least for a minute. “It was a joy to watch everyone set off and I could take a breath as the scariest bit was done.”

There were still a few moments to test the new run director. “We did have a faller, which demonstrated the importance of having an experienced team of volunteers using radios to react in a timely way,” Julie said. “A special thank you to Huw and Ryland, who both administered first aid. Thankfully, it was not serious, and I checked in with the runner a couple of times to make sure he was all right.”

And processing the results – the ultimate responsibility of the RD – caused a few problems too. But Julie was again quick to praise the teamwork behind the scenes. “The meticulous notes and feedback of the volunteers doing number checking and bar code scanning helped iron out a couple of issues we had.”

What struck me talking to Julie, as with so many people at RTW parkrun, is how much the community means to her. After that first parkun in 2019, she quickly rediscovered the enthusiasm she’d had for running as a teenager.

Julie McPherson compared notes with experienced Run Director, Robin Barwick, beforehand. Credit: RTW parkrun.

Not only that, but “I met lots of lovely people too”. Julie has now completed 92 parkruns, “which isn’t as many as I’d like but that’s due to a couple of injuries, the big one being an Achilles injury”. As she points out, though, “being injured is the perfect opportunity to volunteer”. Starting out as a marshal, she has now tried every volunteering role in her preparation for being a run director and has now volunteered 73 times.

But whether she is taking part in the 5k or volunteering, the satisfaction she gets from parkrun is enormous. “It never fails to move me how wonderful it is, seeing so many people up early on a Saturday morning moving their bodies and being outside.”

There was one final surprise to cap Julie’s morning – a celebratory cake. “That was a lovely touch, and I was completely shocked,” she said. “The kindness of my parkrun friends is wonderful. They have been there for me when life has been challenging and I’ll be forever indebted. It’s a truly supportive and non-judgemental community, and I simply love it.”

Fancy taking part in the next RTW parkrun at Dunorlan Park, please visit parkrun.org.uk/royaltunbridgewells for further information and forthcoming events, including socials.

• This report was written by RTW Parkrun’s Communications Volunteer David Edwards.

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