Countryman Club: Andy Mears

Achieving countryman status is a challenging feat in itself.

When your home parkrun is the most northerly in New Zealand that makes it an extraordinary accomplishment.

Andy Mears finally joined the countryman club – and completed his Cow (50 different events) on January 15 when he ran at Ōtaki River parkrun.

It marked three weeks in a row on the road. Andy says despite already attending many New Zealand parkruns the desire to join the Countryman Club didn’t really appear until last year when he was about halfway there.

In 2018 he completed 18 different events with two in Australia and eight each in New Zealand and the UK.

“One of the UK courses I ran was East Grinstead because that was within walking distance of home to our very dear friend Amanda who we were staying with.

“She told me I had an obsession for parkrun and could never understand my enthusiasm for getting up ridiculously early on a Saturday morning in whatever weather conditions to run 5km wherever I was.

“It became a standing joke and it lives on to this day.

“At the start of 2021 I knew I had to complete the full set in New Zealand.

“That joke with Amanda now had to be turned into some small tribute as sadly we had lost her to cancer in 2020.

“In my head I’d be finishing the set in memory of her. That’s why I ran 16 different New Zealand parkruns that year in a desperate bid to complete countryman status before a personal landmark birthday in September.

“Sadly lockdown stopped me two short, and then Ōtaki River opened to add one more!”

How it started

Andy started parkrun when Whangarei parkrun launched on February 13 2016 with 63 finishers and nine volunteers.

“It’s amazing to look through the list of touring finishers that day and realise how many have become friends.

“The Lower Hutt mob, for example, meant nothing at the time, but they were nearly all there.

“It didn’t escape me that Chrissy and Martin O’Sullivan, and Brent Foster were all at that first day at Whangarei and at Ōtaki. I know Gina Foster would have been too if school hadn’t taken priority.”

Andy at Ōtaki River with Brent and Gina Foster

Andy found out about parkrun from a friend in the UK who had noticed he was running quite regularly.

He mentioned parkrun and asked if it had taken off in New Zealand. As chance would have it Whangarei parkrun was about to launch.

“Andrew was very enthusiastic about the whole thing, explaining everything and how it cost nothing and that there was absolutely no catch.

“I was hooked and have been ever since!

“Living in Whangarei means you have to be prepared to travel in order to get to the many different parkruns around the country. Our two nearest alternatives for example are at Millwater (128km) and Sherwood Reserve (145km).

First tourist event

“My first ‘awayday’ was a run at Taupō in April 2017.

“It set a trend in that we stopped overnight on the way to a concert at Napier. That one was The Dixie Chicks.

“I enjoyed the run at Taupō, drove on to Napier and saw a superb concert.

“I did the same with a run at Pegasus followed by a Phil Collins concert.

“Then I had a superb birthday special on September 8 2018. I ran at Western Springs and then that evening went to see the amazing Pink! in concert on her 40th birthday.

“She happens to share the same birthday as me, although she’s not quite the same age.

“I’ve managed to tie in with some sporting events too – Test Cricket and Australian Open Tennis being just two examples.”

Andy says touring grew on him, especially with a number of visits to family and friends in the UK providing “unmissable” parkrun tourism opportunities.

He ran a parkrun in each of England, Scotland and Wales in consecutive weeks.

Then in 2018 he had his 18 in 18 challenge, which finished at Puarenga parkrun.

“It happened to be the 100th run of a well known author/blogger/parkrun [editor’s note – it was me].

“That was quite a return drive on one day!

“Of those 18 courses that year it’s sad to note that Mulbarton in Norfolk, England, has now closed.”

Andy says 2019 was a bit quieter, though he added Canada to his parkrun countries.

“We were picking up a cruise in Vancouver which meant I could run at Richmond Olympic parkrun before heading off to Alaska.

“I totalled nine venues that year, and although I visited the UK it was for sad reasons and I only ran one parkrun while there as there were more important things.

Closing in on the full set

“At the start of 2020 we were back in Melbourne for the tennis, and the food, and me for parkrun. Amanda should have been with us if all had gone to plan.

“At the end of 2020 overseas was not as appealing prospect, and we headed for the far south to explore a part of the country which we hadn’t seen enough of.

“That also afforded the chance that holiday season of four parkruns in 10 days – Queenstown, Wanaka, Balclutha, and Invercargill.

“I had to admit that Queenstown event director Chris Seymour was right about the stunning beauty of the Queenstown course, but he still needs to come visit Whangarei one day!

“Wanaka isn’t far behind for spectacular views. To be honest, I loved all four.”

Andy says as soon as it became apparent that parkrun could return at the end of 2021 he made plans for Greytown Woodside Trail, Flaxmere and Ōtaki River, all on the North Island.

He says there have been many memories along the way but one that stands out was a bumper travel weekend in March last year.

“On the Friday morning I drove from Whangarei to Auckland and caught a flight to Wellington. Then I got a train, then a ferry to Picton and a bus to Blenheim where I stayed the night.

“On Saturday morning I ran Blenheim parkrun and was then very kindly given a lift back to Picton to catch the return ferry.

“I stayed the night at a motel in Petone before being at Lower Hutt for the start of Bruce’s Bus Tour to experience six parkruns in one day.

“They were all freedom runs of course but it was brilliant organisation with wonderful people. I was shot to pieces by the end but very happy!

“During the day our driver got injured and there’s a rare picture of me volunteering to drive the bus. It wasn’t taken up for some reason, possibly my infamous sense of direction (I got lost when I self-drove on a previous iteration).”

Bucket list

On his bucket list are three in three different countries.

“Sandgate parkrun, Brisbane – the one where you run out to the end of the pier and back!

“I want to do that run, and if I’m in Brisbane it means I’m there to see a dear friend who we haven’t seen for far too long.

“Portrush in Northern Ireland, another country, and running on a beach.

“Treviso parkrun, Italy. Prosecco country. There may be an ulterior motive involved here.”

Andy says he loves everything about parkrun but he is looking forward to celebrating other parkrunner’s achievements as well as his own.

“I love the positivity around parkrun. I’m not the speediest, and I’m not into any competitive aspect other than against my own times.

“I dearly want to maintain that hard earned Countryman status because it really is a wonderful way to discover parts of the country you might not otherwise see.

“To finally complete 250 parkruns and earn a green milestone shirt is a big personal goal, which is within reach.

Colin Thorne

“But more than that I’d love to be there to see our own Colin Thorne (pictured above) at Whangarei reach his 100th parkrun.

“As I write he is on 89, and but for covid he would have his shirt, which he so deserves at 98 years young!! I hope it happens soon for him.

“Finally, you certainly meet amazing people through parkrun and for me one example is Steve Darby (in blue in the bottom photo).

“He’s a remarkable man with a big fight on his hands right now.

“We’re all wishing him a full recovery.”

2 replies on “Countryman Club: Andy Mears”

Brilliant story Andy and congrats on your countryman status! parkrun and prosecco in Italy sounds perfect!

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