Milano parkrun

I was an island in a lake of hugging and hollering and happy chaos, and the energy was catching.

I didn’t hear it, but Claire later told me a grab from, ‘The Final Countdown’ was blasted as we gathered. Given I was about to undertake the Milano parkrun its 1980’s bombast was probably a welcome supplement to the mise-en-scène.

By the start line was an Italian flag, and I joined the run briefing in English during which laminated maps were shared around. Unlike home there would be no defibrillator.

With a crescendo of noise, we were away! Fittingly, the initial dash was on cobblestones and these then trended to dirt with a high chance of puddles.

European parkrun time is 9am as opposed to the Australian start of 8am, largely I guess because during the northern winter it’s then still dark. Today’s idyllic with an invigorating air. Milano is famed for its windlessness; it’s the anti-Chicago. This pleases me.

Dominating the north of Lombardy’s central city, Park Nord extends over four municipalities. Our Uber out here was a Mercedes Benz Vito; it’s imposing black finish befitting this fashion capital. Milan seems a wealthy place with smartly dressed folks, stylish attractions, and high-end eateries. I’m yet to spy a K-Mart.

Around the back of my first circuit, I see that most Italian of sporting landmarks: a velodrome. It’s all whizzing blurs of lyrca and metal. I’ve seen very few cyclists in the city, probably given the narrow streets are bunged up with buses, cars, and trams. Being collected by an errant Fiat Panda can be nobody’s aspiration.

Moving past the fields of wild grass into the home straight, I jog through a grove of trees. Glancing at my old Swatch, I’m making reasonable time given we’ve both been crook with colds and I’m still shaking off jetlag. Being in Europe during our footy season I’m always a little surprised upon a weekend awakening that it’s half-time at the MCG. That’s an arresting symbol of our planet’s vastness.

One lap done and from the volunteers I hear lively Italian urgings and I’m electrified for these anonymous gestures. And there’s Claire waving, taking photos and calling out, ‘Go, Mickey Randall!’ How great to be unreservedly supported in this Saturday pursuit.

It’s both a blessing and a curse that I know what to expect on my second trip around.

I push on.

Although I’m about as competitive as lettuce there’s a healthy sense of rivalry in parkrun. I try to keep close to a guy in orange but can’t. The Patawalonga run in Glenelg appears to attract a wider variety of participants. Here, they’re all athletic and coolly confident.  

T-shirts are instructive texts and there’s a few about today. I spot a couple geezers in garb advertising Sussex’s Run Wednesdays and a white-bearded fellow with one announcing he competed in a 100k event (or at least paid his entry fee). As it’s bright yellow and obviously declares my Australian citizenship, I’m in my Singapore Sharks footy shirt. Did you know the Sharks host the world’s biggest Auskick programme?

Exhausted, I cross the line and find Claire. I’ve extended myself and am pleased. I’ve really enjoyed the various enthusiasms of the morning, and how these exist beyond language. I remain embarrassingly monolingual.

Fellow competitors help themselves to a complimentary drink that looks like cola. Curiosity urges me to claim one. It’s boiling and black and I wonder if it’s coffee which isn’t what I’d generally take after hard exercise. Sipping hesitantly, I discover it’s a sweet tea. Nearby is a plate of pastries.

Ahh, Italy.

During my run Claire spoke with a volunteer and of course he has a friend running a bar in Adelaide and I love this universal desire to locate connections.

Despite feeling lousy it’s the fifth best time of my brief parkrun career. Today, Milano hosts a compact but classy field with nearly two dozen runners getting around the five-kilometer course in under twenty minutes. I finish mid-field.

We head south through the park to the Metro and the lilac line. Duomo, mid-afternoon gelato, and the Last Supper await.


Patawalonga River parkrun

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.