Steve Darby: Tales from a 500 clubber

When Steve Darby asked me what my record was for post-parkrun chat I knew I was in for a long morning.

We fell way short of his record by a couple of hours, but in my defence I did have to drive the four hours back to Rotorua by mid-afternoon.

Still, I feel we could have still been at the Columbus Café by close if it hadn’t been for that minor detail. The man can talk parkrun.

Steve’s barcode is A22706, which is more than two million parkrunners before mine. He’s run more than three times my parkrun total.

At Whanganui Riverbank parkrun, where we finally got to meet, volunteers in the café were full of amazement.

But as Steve says “it all depends on when you started”.

At Hobsonville Point, Scottairplaning
The first event

It started way back in 2008 when Steve was living in Yorkshire, England.

“I’d run in the past, then had a few years off. I was looking for low key races to get going. I saw something online about a 5km, which was free. I thought that was a great price rate.”

That event is what is now known as Woodhouse Moor parkrun in Leeds, but was then known as Hyde Park Time Trial.

It was started by the now Chief Operating Officer of parkrun, Tom Williams.

In 2007, when working as a lecturer in Sport & Exercise Science at the University of Leeds, Tom helped start up the event, which was at that time the fourth parkrun event and the first outside London.

“I was trying to find out what the catch was to this free event. I was really sceptical. I looked at how many had run the previous week and thought I’d have a look.”

That was November 22, 2008, which gives you a good understanding of how he’s notched up 500 parkruns.

Post parkrun at Porirua with Brent Foster

We could look at Steve’s parkrun profile and draw on any number of things to talk about – how many he’s run, how many different events he’s visited, how despite living in New Zealand for almost three years he’s still not run at all of New Zealand’s courses.

But first we’ll look at how his touring got started.

“Back then they only started one new event a month. For two to three years you could continue to run all the parkruns in the world, but it got to the point where you knew you wouldn’t be able to carry on.

“For me the tourism is a positive aspect because it creates different memories and you get to visit different places. But if you went to a different place every single week you would miss an important part of parkrun.

“I’ve revisited about 150.”

About the 500 Shirt

“When you look at people with 500 you pretty much know them all, because they were going at the same time as you. It might be rare in New Zealand but not Woodhouse Moor.

“Getting to 500 is only a matter of time before there’s lots in New Zealand.”

About volunteering

“I started helping Tom Williams out with new courses because he was getting a bit stretched. This was before the ambassador programme.

“I became event director at Dewsbury and was run director the day Chris Cowell ran his 100th event there. After a year the ambassador programme was set up.

The day Chris Cowell became the first parkrunner to run at 100 different events

“Then the new events started to accelerate. There are some parkrunners who go through your profile to see how many times you’ve volunteered, but event directors are volunteering every week and ambassadors do a lot of work – neither get volunteer credits for it. “

About life or death

“In May 2016 I had a sebaceous carcinoma on my skull; it’s a really aggressive cancer.

“The operation was on a Friday, you’re told you must have seven days complete rest, but they’ve already told you that you’ve three months to live.

“We had a flight booked to Dublin at 6am the next morning to go to Father Collins parkrun, we thought we’d go anyway.

“I had bandages on my head. I thought maybe U could just run slowly, I’ll be okay.

“I ended up getting carried away and coming second to Hannah [Oldroyd].

“I stopped at the end thinking how much blood was coming out? Not much. At the cafe the run director said there was a 10km that evening, so we went and did that.

“Sunday morning the original plan was to run a half marathon, so we obviously did that too.

“Seven days complete rest?

“It probably wasn’t the most sensible thing, however, when I went back to have my healing assessed they said it had healed quickly.

“I went back for my results a month later and they said they couldn’t find them, and to come back the next month – bearing in mind they’d told me I had three months to live.

“When I got the results the consultant said they did have them then, but he wanted a second opinion.

“It was completely harmless and I didn’t need any more check ups.”

About moving to New Zealand

“Hannah was looking for a job in Australia. We’d got permanent residence for Australia and went there for four weeks in 2015.

“When you get permanent residency for Australia you’ve got up to five years to settle there. That’s how we ended up in New Zealand; it’s just become more permanent.

At the cafe after Barry Curtis parkrun

“It was after I’d initially been told I had three months to live.”

About the Longest parkrun

“We did it in 2011 and 2012, but it got a bit mad with 250 to 300 people moving between different venues at the same time as the Olympic torch!”

The longest parkrun was held on the first Sunday after the longest Day (June 21 in the UK). The goal was to run at seven parkrun courses one after the other.

Running the Longest Day 2012

“We also ran 10/10, in 2010 when there was 10 parkruns in Yorkshire. We started thinking about doing them all in one day. It was me, Tom and Guy Willard. We did more than 300 miles in driving as well as running 31 miles. That was on the shortest day of the year. On that day eight out of the 10 were officially cancelled because of ice.

“Tom’s aim was to run a minute quicker at each one, and he did it.”

In 2012 he also ran 20:20 – 20 Yorkshire parkruns over two days (they ran Woodhouse Moor twice). There were two others – John Broom and Simon Newton.

Graves parkrun, the official parkrun for the 20/20 challenge

“Doing all the parkruns in any area is of no interest, you’ll get to them at some point. I wouldn’t go out of my way to run Balclutha parkrun. It has to coincide with some kind of exploration.

“I’ve not run Invercargill parkrun officially, but I’ve done it as a freedom run, Wanaka, Kapiti Coast, haven’t been run officially.

“Bere Island is the most unique parkrun I’ve run. I ran the inaugural and a special one when Paul Sinton-Hewitt and world champion Irish athlete Sonia O’Sullivan were there. There’s only 180 people who live on the island.

“It was very relaxed.”

About New Zealand parkruns

“In New Zealand the parkrun venues are stunning. I can’t think of one that isn’t.

“They’re all good sized, none are over-crowded, which is very different to the UK, and they never will overgrow.

At Whanganui Riverbank parkrun, a first time at the event, though no doubt will return.

“It’s different. It feels like a town in the sense that there’s a network of people across the country who all know each other.”

About the most memorable parkrun

“Where something went wrong.

“I went the wrong way at Worsley Woods and ended up running about 8km.

“The first five times I’ve experienced having a lead bike it’s went wrong.

“Event teams should relax about getting everything perfect. Very few people have got 59:59 to their name because it’s not going to go wrong very often.

“I’ve got one out of 533 events; that’s how reliable the timing is at parkrun.”

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