Hi everyone, it's Marie back with another great interview, this time with Lillie parkrun founder Stephanie E. Let’s start with you telling us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Steph, I am 31 years old and I am from Leeds, England, although I currently live near London with my husband Richard.
How did you and Richard meet?
We met through a friend that I used to hang out with after school every Monday. One of our outings was to see her friend’s band play at a bar in Leeds, the friend turned out to be Richard!
Awesome story! How long have you been married?
We have been married 4 and a half years! We were together for 9 years and decided to get married before I finished my PhD and started a job in London, so we were only engaged for four weeks!
After nine years together, I don’t think a long engagement was necessary.
When did you start running seriously?
I started running almost 9 years ago. I had just completed a sprint triathlon with some colleagues from a restaurant that I worked at and I was terrible at the running part. A friend told me about an event her then boyfriend used to go to called parkrun and I signed up right away and started walking/jogging there regularly. I roped in a friend from my masters program and also my Mum (who was not a runner at all) and we started going most weeks, although then it was very easy to find an excuse of “it’s too cold” or “I’m not going running in the rain.” I realized I was becoming a “proper” runner when I started enjoying the cold and wet runs and it became an issue of “it’s too hot to run”! About 6 months after starting parkrun my mum and I joined our local running club, the South Leeds Lakers, and I was hooked from then on.
Lillie parkrun recently celebrated their 2nd anniversary. You were the driving force behind getting it started. I would hope that you feel a sense of pride when you see how much Lillie has grown over the years. Would you mind telling us how it all came about?
I do feel proud of Lillie parkrun, but mostly I am proud of the volunteers that have kept it going all of this time! All parkruns are the same in that they wouldn’t exist without volunteers.
I was offered a job in Ann Arbor starting in January 2018. By that time I was already over 100 parkruns in and I was hooked and I knew that the nearest parkrun was ~30 miles away in Livonia which was pretty far without a car (in England there are over 100 different parkrun events within a 30 mile radius of my house). I'm a natural problem solver so when faced with a parkrun drought my first instinct was "oh well, we will have to just start up one in Ann Arbor" so even before we moved Richard and I were scouring google maps to look for places to start a parkrun. There are two main requirements for new events, a safe route with no roads to cross, and a coffee shop close by for post-event socialising, and Lillie turned out to be the ideal candidate. When we eventually moved I had forgotten all about the trail we had chosen and spent some time checking out local routes with some friends from Livonia but none of them were really suitable (Gallup Park was too busy, County Farm Park too difficult to set up a simple course on). Then Rich remembered the trail he had suggested all those months before and that turned out to be Lillie! After visiting the trail I met with the team from Pittsfield Township and they were really excited and encouraging about what we wanted to do, so Lillie parkrun was born! Over the months that followed, I held regular walking meetups in the park on Saturday mornings and met people like Rajiv who came along week after week until we were finally ready to launch with help from our ambassador Andrea from College Park parkrun. I often think about that first morning and how nervous we were that nobody would come but we ended up with around 65 runners, a record that stood for a long time before we started smashing it regularly over summer!
Such an awesome legacy you’ve left behind.
Where is your favorite place to go running and hiking?
Oh that is a tough one! I love the beach and being by the water and I used to adore the Poto trail when I was living in Ann Arbor, but my favourite place to hike in the UK is a place called Ingleton. If I am wearing the right type of shoes I really love trail running in the countryside… the muddier the better!
All that mud must remind you of Lillie Park in the spring.
What do you like about Lillie parkrun?
I feel like this gets echoed a lot when this question is asked, but I love the chance to meet different people! I met some of my best friends from Michigan at parkrun! I also love the accountability of it, there is nothing that will make you show up like somebody asking where you have been.
We never tire of hearing how great the parkrunners are at Lillie.
What’s your favorite volunteer role at parkrun?
My favourite role has always been tail walker as you get to chat to so many different people, and my worst is definitely the run briefing! I have a very strong Yorkshire (York-sher, not shire!) accent and I speak very quickly so it is not the ideal role for me.
Any tips for parkrunners or first timers who are coming to visit Lillie parkrun?
Talk to people! If you are nervous about introducing yourself to people in general, seek out someone in a parkrun hi-viz. These people are likely to be long term parkrunners and the friendliest people you will ever meet.
If you’ve toured at other parkrun events, are there any tips or favorite memories you want to share?
I have done 210 parkruns at 39 different events in 4 different countries, and I have 3 events that have been my “home” runs. This touring includes 7 in the US. When I am travelling I like to squeeze in a parkrun if possible. The furthest I have travelled for a parkrun was when Barbara and I had a wonderful trip to Durham, NC, but the most ridiculous was the day a group of Michigan parkrunners drove all the way to London, Ontario for an extra Canada Day parkrun! It was a 7hr round trip for ~30 minutes of running but it was a great experience as I had a friend visiting from the UK and another English parkrunner happened to be in the US that day too so came along for the ride!
Wow! Your parkrun history is impressive. And seven hours for a parkrun is dedication!
Are there other activities that you really enjoy?
As well as running I am a triathlete training for my second Ironman event in 2021 so lots of cycling and swimming (although most of my swim training at the moment is done on dry land using swim cords).
Another Ironman participant! Where was your first Ironman?
My Ironman was in Louisville, Kentucky. It was wet, windy, and cold but also a wonderful experience!
Do you have any hobbies?
I love reading! I will read absolutely anything but I particularly enjoy reading pop-sci books.
Do you have any pets?
I have a 10 year old lionhead rabbit called Jim, and we are currently looking after the family dog Rusty. She’s a little overweight so I’m gradually training her to run with me but she is super cute and lots of fun!
Rusty does look like she prefers a warm bed over running the countryside, while Jim has that look: “Don’t even think about asking me to go out for a run!”
Do you like to travel?
I love to travel, my favourite trip ever was to Kenya for a friend’s wedding. We got to go on safari for 3 days and it was amazing! I would love to go back to Africa. When COVID restrictions are lifted I am planning on getting out to the Netherlands to see a friend and take part in a parkrun there, and also go to Poland to run Cieszyn parkrun, where the course strays across the border into the Czech Republic so we can literally run between the two countries.
Both sound like great trips for post COVID times. I hope that a visit to Lillie will be on your list of future parkruns.
Steph, I want to thank you for taking part in this interview. I also want to thank you for your drive and dedication that it took to get Lillie parkrun established. I hope that one day we can once again meet in person, until then, take care and stay safe.
Check Steph's globetrotting parkrun history here.