The race director stands on a chair beneath a gum tree. Speaking into her microphone she itemises the logistics: safety, prams, dogs, coffee, the defibrillator.
Wait. A defibrillator? Oh.
I’m here for the 79th edition of the Patawalonga River parkrun. It’s my debut.
There are knots of folks in the shade. I meet Rohan. He lives just down the road from us and is a veteran of about seventy parkruns. He’s encouraging and affable in his San Francisco Giant cap. I’ve got on my Denver Broncos hat.
At 8am on the dot we’re away! Within moments the young ones and the lithe old ones have scampered. I keep left, as instructed by the race director.
It’s mercifully flat (running by a river helps with this), and vested volunteers take photos and offer quiet encouragement.
We push on past the treatment works (what a treat typing this noun group is) and towards Glenelg. Blokes pushing prams motor by me. In one pram the baby grasps a pear. I had a pear yesterday at work. It was a highlight.
A Jetstar plane approaches the runway, and I can already hear the silent screams of those passengers whose luggage is instead going to Broome or Wagga or Alice.
I pass Rohan and nod at him, ‘Keep going!’ He replies, ‘Good work, Mickey.’ When you’re new, you only need one friend.
It’s quiet and still on the river. Hardly any kayaks. Overhead, no seagulls. I am often surprised by this, especially on the beach. Maybe it’s the absence of nearby hot chip retailers. Attenborough could tell us why.
A big fella with industrial braces on both knees strides past. I’m reminded of Shaun Rehn in the 1997 preliminary final against the Bulldogs when he ripped off his supports and inspired the Crows to victory. I give him space.
Approaching the King Street bridge, I reflect on this moment, and hope it’s an expression of love for Claire, the boys, our shared future, myself. It’s an investment in a better me and a brightening horizon and unfolding joy. I then think about today’s Gawler races and the time-honoured Bung Fritz Cup. The race that stops a smallgoods-loving nation.
Our finish line at the baseball club swims into fuzzy view. I’ve been tailing a wiry, little bloke. He reminds me of Tommy Haffey but in a black shirt. I want to catch him. I dig in.
He powers on and gets there by a cricket pitch.
But I’m happy. I’ve finished the five kilometres in 28:34 and come 45th out of 110 runners.
I’d prepared a paragraph in which I described winning the Kapunda-born, left-arm decidedly pedestrian medium pace bowling, English teacher category for my age group. However, the record shows that I simply won my age group. I thank the other participants in the 55–59-year-old section. Both of you.
The parkrun is brilliant, and I’ll return.
Some of the participants go to a coffee shop but we’ve passport photos to sort. Italy beckons.