Michael & Sam Smith: dad and son at Parkrun

4 Nov

Everyone has a story. Hackney’s Pressure Drop brewer Sam Smith and his oldest son, 10-year-old Michael, have just completed a running milestone – their 30th Parkrun round Highbury Fields. Parkrun is a British idea – regular free timed runs – which has spread around the world. So what’s motivating this dad and son to get up early every Saturday? And what else do they do together in Islington?

Sam and Michael Smith after Michael's 30th Parkrun.

Sam Smith (who moved to Islington when he was 11) and his son Michael celebrate after Michael’s 30th Parkrun on Highbury Fields.

It’s just after 9am on a crisp autumnal Saturday on Highbury Fields. It’s too early for picnickers but the tarmac path circling the fields is bristling with runners as they tackle the 5km course for today’s Parkrun.

The Highbury Fields Parkrun has been going since 2011, attracting more than 100 runners each week. Most runners are locals, but Parkruns are such a habit that there’s always a few people away from home who turn up for their Saturday running fix. It’s all very friendly too. There are a few officials in high viz jackets guarding bags and bikes. They also deal with first aid, cheer runners on, log times at the finish funnel and encourage people to join the post Parkrun breakfast at The White Swan on Highbury Corner. “It’s a run not a race,” explains one of the volunteers, Tom, who is only on the sidelines because of a running injury. Most of the people at Parkrun seem to love the challenge of competing against their own personal best (or PB as Parkrun runners call it), and many have the joy of being named as the winner in their section (eg, veteran men 40-44).

The runners are evenly split between men and women – and cover all ages. One brave man is running the 5km without shoes.

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A few entrants are running with their children including Islington-based Hackney brewer, Sam Smith, 44, and his Year 6 son, Michael. The pair usually finish in under 27 minutes, as they did today. “My best time is 26.03,” says Michael who is quite laid back about running but has plenty of technical understanding. “Today we started fast because it’s down hill and improves my stride,” he explains.

Dad Sam (PB 22.35) admits that, “I try and set a pace. Normally we run alongside each other. But I don’t want to come across as an awful competitive dad, but Michael says he wants me to say ‘come on’ if he falls behind.”

Parkrun finishers on Highbury Fields. The finishing funnel is on the left.

Parkrun finishers on Highbury Fields. The finishing funnel is on the left.

A Parkrun morning starts with a light breakfast of a coffee for Sam and smoothie for Michael. “We walk most of the way to Highbury Fields but then do a warm up jog. The race starts fast,” explains Michael tucking into a post match juice and almond croissant at Little Gem Coffee shop at 15 Corsica Street.

Byron in Upper Street, near the Angel, is a favourite outing for the Smith family.

Byron in Upper Street, near the Angel, is a favourite outing for the Smith family.

Places Dad Sam & Michael like
to go in Islington

Michael: We go ice skating at the Sobell, it’s like running but less effort. Dad: As a child I used to live in Norway so skate relatively well. I used to play a lot of ice hockey.

Michael: After the kids Park Run on Sunday my friends sometimes go to the playground. Dad: Over the years we’ve spent a lot of time in Highbury Fields and Gillespie Park. We went there when the boys were babies and now to kick a ball.

Sam: We ride bikes round the Emirates. Son: I’ve been on a stadium tour twice – it was interesting that they dye the flowers for different teams, so when Newcastle played they had black and white flowers in the Directors’ Lounge.

Michael: Byron is my favourite. I always get the special burger and an oreo milk shake (at 341 Upper Street). Dad: We quite often go for a cheeky lunch on the other side of the Emirates at X’ian Impression at 117 Benwell Road. Michael doesn’t normally like tofu or cucumber but the cold rice noodles are so good he likes them.

After five laps the pair cross the finishing line with times of 26.50 minutes (Michael) and 26.54 minutes (Sam) but are still fit enough to be able to chat to Islington Faces. What’s more Michael plans to enter the 2km Junior Parkrun the next day (and every Sunday morning). “Today on the run I was thinking about my breathing because my Dad said it helps,” says Michael. “The adult Parkrun is more of a run, but people treat the kids one as more of a race – my brother (Alex, 8) is really determined to win!”

Michael knows about game tactics because he’s also a huge Minecraft fan, often watching You Tuber commentaries from players such as Stampylongnose. Other hobbies include messing about with footballs, the school athletics club held at the Emirates Stadium and playing guitar. “I’m doing my Grade 2 soon,” he adds.

Pressure Drop on sale.

Pressure Drop on sale.

Islington family
Sam, who now runs the Pressure Drop brewery in Hackney Central had a peripatetic childhood until he moved to Islington when he was 11. As many local football fans have found, Arsenal has become a family glue. “I go to football with my Dad, who is Australian but lives near Angel now, and sometimes my sons too,” says Sam, who went to George Orwell School for two years, then to Islington Green and then Islington Sixth Form. He still meets up at the Emirates with friends he made at school – one, Graham O’Brien, is a partner in Pressure Drop.

It’s clear sport plays a big part in the Smith family’s life, which is why they’re also often to be found at the Highbury Fields Parkrun. Even so occasionally Michael won’t make a run – and for this he blames his parents. “If I don’t wake up in time Mum and Dad think I’m tired,” he says looking at his Dad in a puzzled sort of a way. Fortunately this autumn morning all went to plan. And with the run out of the way by 9.30am there’s a lot of day left to enjoy.

  • It’s free to join a Parkrun, but you do need to register and bring your paper barcode along. Entrants can be any age, and are allowed to run with a dog or buggy, although all runners are asked to make way for other path users. See all the info here. Parkruns are held all round the country, including Finsbury Park, Hackney Marshes, Hampstead Heath and Ally Pally. @highburyparkrun 
  • Pressure Drop Brewery was set up by Sam and friends in 2012. Info on the website, or see @PressureDropBrw 
  • Pressure Drop beers are stocked in Islington at Highbury Vintners, 71 Highbury Park, N1; Kris Wines, 394 York Way, N7; The Taproom, 163 Upper Street, N1; Craft Beer Co Islington, 55 White Lion Street, N1; and the Earl of Essex, 25 Danbury Street, N1.

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook or join the Facebook group. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right) or follow me on twitter @nicolabairduk

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

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