Small Park Big Run 2023 report by Katelyn McKeown

Run date: 17–18 June 2023

Report by Katelyn McKeown

An event like no other, small park BIG RUN returned for their fifth in person event since 2017 on 17th June 2023. This 24-hour community running event is probably the only time of the year where ultra runners and fun runners share a space with such equality. This is because, although it is a running event, small park BIG RUN is so much more, and people return year after year to take part in this joyful, emotive, and thought-provoking activity, whether they are into “that hill” or not.

The concept is simple. There is a one-kilometre course in Meersbrook Park. You sign up to the run, thereby donating much-needed funding to two projects in Palestine. You opt to run as many or as few laps of the park as you like, returning to the run as often as you like during the 24 hours. There are activities alongside the running throughout the event and these are what really create the unique character of spBR. If you are not around on the date – no problem! You can do a DIY activity anywhere in the world and various parts of the event are streamed online so you can feel part of the proceedings. This year Striders Laura and Jim Rangeley beamed in from Amsterdam to send their well wishes.

There is an overriding message to small Park BIG RUN which cannot be ignored; the format of the run replicates, in some small part, the claustrophobic environment Palestinians are subjected to under militant apartheid occupation. It is a celebration of the freedom of movement that we all enjoy and probably take for granted in this country. It is an act of solidarity and defiance. It is also a local 24-hour run and this provides an opportunity for people to challenge themselves and push their boundaries.

This year had a number of firsts. There were the talks in the Palestinian Voices tent. Sunday morning saw organiser Jawad Qasrawi and friends describe their trip to the Palestine Marathon this year and I for one have been so inspired by their endeavours that I have signed up for the 2024 event. A new and incredibly moving element of this year’s spBR was the Big Sing, which saw Sheffield choirs come together to sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” to the community group in Gaza via live audio link; this really sounded gut wrenchingly beautiful and I would urge everyone to watch it online if you haven’t already. Perhaps the most dramatic event of all: Thunder stopped play! For the first time in spBR history there were around 15 minutes in the early hours of Sunday morning when runners were asked to shelter at event HQ while a truly almighty thunderstorm rolled over head. In case anyone doubted that it was a genuine hazard, a house in Sheffield did get hit by lightning and set on fire.

Striders have been a constant presence at the event since it’s inception and this year was no exception. By constant presence, we are not just talking the usual flood of gold and green at the start line, everyone referring to each other as “Go Strider” and taking up inordinate amount of room with gigantic team photos… Oh no, in the spBR-iverse a constant Strider presence means there is at least one of us out on the course throughout the duration.

So, we need to talk about Maggie Vickers. Maggie returned to spBR to complete a full 24-hour effort, following on from her epic contribution last year. Before she began, Maggie was quoted as saying that spBR was her “favourite event of the year”. Maggie’s husband provided race support, opting to spend both his birthday and Father’s Day supervising an ultra-buffet. Maggie completed a fabulous 90 laps and attributed her success to not training. I caught up with Maggie at RSR and although she asserted that she was kind of over running and not really feeling it, she was obviously gearing up for another foot-based adventure – go Maggie!

Maggie was not alone in her 24-hour effort. Not a Strider, but Davor Čakanić joined us from Hertfordshire and knocked out an impressive 139 laps. He attributed his success to a McDonald’s burger he had delivered to the park, which he seemed to feel quite ashamed about. I think this just goes to show that to become a true ultra runner, despite conventional wisdom about strength and conditioning, accumulated tiredness and pushing through invisible barriers, it’s actually about not training at all and eating absolute crap. Well done Maggie and Davor for showing us the way and for your impressive efforts.

According to the spreadsheet, there were only two hours when Maggie was the only Strider out on the course. This means that again, as in all previous years, Striders fielded a 24-hour relay team. It is hard to imagine the running aspect of spBR being as successful without the unwavering support of Sheffield’s most friendly running club – that Big Strider Energy!

There were lots of superb Striders efforts over the 24-hour period. Brian Jenkins turned up with a dodgy knee to just see what he could do. This turned out to be a marathon, which then turned into a 51K Ultra. Blimey, imagine what he could do with two dodgy knees – mash it up Brian! Another ultra-er was Adam Connellan who pulled out an awesome 54.7K effort. Paul Middlemas decided to work harder, not smarter and banged out 14 laps in an hour, on which I think we can all agree “XXXX XXXXing XXXX”! Tessa Bainbridge bashed out an impressive 22 laps while Laura Mella contributed 20.

On day 2, I encountered Chris Walker between 7–8 am when I was plodding out my morning offering. Chris had clearly been out for quite a while, but despite this was running the hill (hey?), so the conversation was somewhat fragmented. It went something like “was going to stop earlier…”, “kids getting up soon”, “half a cup of milk”… There were time delays in between as he zipped around the course. At 8ish I gratefully accepted some of the coffee that had been powering Chris’s endeavours. Suffice to say it was so strong that I started hallucinating and I wasn’t even that tired! Anyhoo the rocket-coffee fuelled a really quite gruelling 32 laps from Chris – let’s hope the Father’s Day breakfast lived up to the expectations!

The organisers including Cath Ager are a constant source of support and friendly welcome at small park BIG RUN and this is another aspect which makes the event so special. Whether they are wrangling giant lanterns, calling out messages of support or handing out cake, Cath and volunteers like Jo Rose make sure that everyone enjoys their time at this Ultra/Fun-run/relay. This is why small park BIG RUN is an event that is a genuine highlight of the Sheffield running calendar.

Striders relay team contributed an epic 613 laps to the 2023 event.

Time Runner 1 Runner 2 Runner 3 Runner 4 Runner 5 Runner 6
12-13:00 Jo Rose 8 Cath Ager 8 Zaheer Mahmood 10 Maggie Vickers
13-14:00 Caroline Greenough 10 Martin Greenough 10 Maggie Vickers
14-15:00 Jo Gleig 8 Kevin Wong 8 Maggie Vickers
15-16:00 Seth Kirby 12 Eleanor Bull 8 Maggie Vickers
16-17:00 Karen Clark 16 Brian Jenkins Leslie Brosnan 6 Maggie Vickers
17-18:00 Laura Mella Brian Jenkins Paul Middlemas 14 Maggie Vickers
18-19:00 Laura Mella 20 Brian Jenkins Louis Wood 18 Maggie Vickers Adam Connellan
19-20:00 Richard Adams 10 Brian Jenkins Katelyn McKeown 7 Maggie Vickers Adam Connellan
20-21:00 Ash Mellors Brian Jenkins 51 Fran Marshall 10 Maggie Vickers Adam Connellan
21-22:00 Ash Mellors Neil Schofield 10 Nada Ross 10 Maggie Vickers Adam Connellan
22-23:00 Ash Mellors Neal Pates 10 Maggie Vickers Adam Connellan
23-24:00 Ash Mellors 27 Megan Ohri 12 Maggie Vickers Adam Connellan 54
24-01:00 Maggie Vickers
01-02:00 Maggie Vickers
02-03:00 Maggie Vickers
03-04:00 Chris Walker Maggie Vickers
04-05:00 Chris Walker Tracey Gleadhill 8 Maggie Vickers
05-06:00 Chris Walker 32 Maggie Vickers
06-07:00 Tud Jackson 10 Angie Smith 10 Maggie Vickers
07-08:00 Tessa Bainbridge Gary Roche 10 Steve Blake 10 Maggie Vickers Katelyn McKeown 6
08-09:00 Tessa Bainbridge Angela Lester Maggie Vickers
09-10:00 Tessa Bainbridge 22 Angela Lester 14 Maggie Vickers
10-11:00 Neal Pates 10 Maggie Vickers
11-12:00 Jo Rose 7 Nicole Nield 8 Graham Nield 7 Maggie Vickers 90 Cath Ager 7 Steve Blake 5
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