‘Parkrun Jim' set for 250 milestone
A MAN whose life was scarred by the Troubles is preparing to celebrate becoming the first in Ireland to reach a major running milestone.
Jim Clinton from Belfast will be the first athlete, north or south, to complete 250 parkruns when he crosses the finish line at Waterworks Park on February 13.
The weekly, free, timed 5K runs have experienced a massive growth in popularity in recent years.
There are now 22 in the north and 43 in the Republic held every Saturday morning.
Each offers an opportunity for everyone, male or female, young or old, to come together regularly to enjoy a beautiful park and get physically active. Runners also meet afterwards for a chat over tea and coffee, which is seen as important a part of each running community.
Of the 1.4 million people who have taken part in parkrun since its inception, fewer than 500 runners around the world have joined the 250 club, most of them from Britain where the idea was conceived.
Mr Clinton (55) - known on social media as `parkrun Jim' will be the first in Ireland to reach what parkrun describes as "an incredible achievement". Family and friends plan to help him celebrate the milestone.
In 1994, his wife Teresa was killed when loyalist gunmen fired into their home in the lower Ormeau area of Belfast. Running and parkrun in particular, Mr Clinton said, helps him deal with his grief.
"There are mental health benefits. Numerous people who have experienced tragedies say that parkrun helps them," Mr Clinton said.
"I don't know what I would do without running. The fun helps counteract what happened to Teresa. It is part and parcel of my life and there is a not a day that goes past that I don't have fun with parkrun."
Regular parkrunners in Belfast, and further afield, will have heard stories about Mr Clinton, some of which they dismiss as being too far fetched to be plausible - but all are true.
He once interrupted a holiday in Majorca to return and run Falls Park before flying back and rejoining his family. Subsequent and future holidays all run from Saturday evening until the following Friday, so his Saturday mornings remain free.
He sneaked out of a niece's wedding to run Derry parkrun, which crosses the Peace Bridge.
He has a parkrun tattoo on his leg, which will have `250' added in due course. He also permanently wears a parkrun wristband with his personal barcode - needed to record finishing times.
His first run came a few months after Waterworks in north Belfast became the first in Ireland to start parkrun.
"The mix of abilities appealed to me. Anyone could come along and you were running against yourself. Once I started, I continued relentlessly for the next five years. Now, everything in our home revolves around Saturday mornings, including our holidays," he said.
"I thought when I reached 100 I would ease off, but then 101 came and before I knew it I was close to 250."
Each event requires a team of volunteers to make it successful and volunteering is considered as important as running. Mr Clinton said he often got stick for the very low number of times he had volunteered.
"I definitely have to volunteer and I'd like to start a bit of tourism," he said.
Now remarried, Mr Clinton said his wife Roseann was a "parkrun widow".
"She puts up with it but she's running around organising cakes and balloons for the 250. She would always ask me `where are you running tomorrow' or `which parkrun are you doing'. The kids are the same and now the grandkids.
"I've never found anyone to say they have done just one parkrun and never been back. I've now done 16 or 17 marathons and half marathons. This all came about through parkruns."
Parkrun likes to reward persistence and celebrates when a runner reaches a significant milestone. There are numerous special clubs that runners automatically join when they reach a specific target. Each club has its own t-shirt.
Juniors under the age of 18 join the 10 Club, while there are also clubs for runners who complete 50 and 100 events. The 250 Club is described as "an impossible feat for many". There is one member of the newest 500 Club while people who volunteer 25 times or more are also celebrated.