Hard to believe, but it’s been a whole year since I joined the parkrun family. That’s right, last January I finally made my parkrun debut and it was definitely one of the best things I ever did in running. Turning up to my local park on a Saturday morning very quickly became my routine, to the extent that I’m not entirely sure what I used to do with my Saturday mornings, so one year on it’s a topic I want to return to as I consider why it is that I find parkrun to be such a pleasure.
When Steve and I turned up to our first parkrun event last year, the first thing I noted was that we had time to chat to people before the start. Often before a race there’s an air of tension and depending on whether or not you’ve travelled for the race, there may be very few people you actually know. Parkrun is different as each event tends to have a core of regular runners and welcomes first-timers and “tourists” alike. There’s always a friendly atmosphere and even if you don’t know many people to begin with, faces soon become familiar and before you know it you fall into chatting easily to people, bonded by the joy of a shared Saturday morning experience. For my part, I’ve reconnected with people I used to see more regularly when I ran with a club and I’ve met others I’ve run alongside from week to week. For me, that’s one of the things attracting me to the park in all weathers.
Each course is a little different. Some are multiple loops, some are out-and-back, some are flat, some have hills. What each event has in common is that they all take place in a local park and may very well include some running on grass or trails as well as tarmac. Our local course is shaped like a pan and handle, with about half a mile taking place over grass. Underfoot conditions vary throughout the year and depending on the season it could be firm, springy, squelchy, muddy, icy or any combination of them all! Before parkrun I thought I didn’t like running through mud and ice, but it turns out I was wrong: I LOVE it! There’s nothing better than starting the day with getting mud splashed up the backs of your legs (I have a particular pair of “parkrun shoes” that I don’t mind getting muddy and keep old socks and kit for Saturday mornings), then it’s home for a lovely hot shower whilst feeling smug that I’ve got my run done while most people were still having a Saturday lie-in 🙂
The message at the heart of parkrun is that it’s a run not a race: whether you want to run eyeballs out for a PB, take it easy and chat to a friend or anything in between, then this is the event for you. There’s no pressure and everyone can run exactly as they please on any given week. Better yet, you’ll never be last unless you volunteer to be the tail runner! But turning up and running the same course regularly also offers the opportunity to test yourself. My first parkrun time was recorded as 27:06 and I declared then and there that I intended to beat it. And beat it I did. As weather conditions improved and my fitness increased throughout marathon training, I whittled that time down to a speedier 23:59 by late February. I got to work on this again during the summer, finally peaking at 23:14 in late September. Having originally thought I wouldn’t be any quicker than 24:XX, I find this absolutely amazing, but know I would never have achieved that result without regular parkrunning.
The beauty of parkrun is that it’s an event for everyone. On any given start line there will be a mixture of serious-looking whippet-thin youngsters (no doubt dressed in a singlet and shorts, even in the snow!) who will lead the pack; club runners sporting their club colours; recreational runners who will complete the course at a range of speeds; nervous looking newer runners who will give it their all to get round that 5k and be one step nearer their fitness goals; children under orders to stick with a parent; runners with dogs; runners with buggies…the list goes on. There will be those who are done in 15 minutes and those who will be thrilled to finish in 45 minutes, often encouraged by those speedsters from the front of the pack. There will be hard-fought battles, friendly rivalries and, above all, encouragement. Each and every person will be treated the same and encouraged to keep going. Parkrun is for everyone and everyone can parkrun.
My final comment in my post last year was to note how good the volunteers were and to state that I intended to volunteer at some point myself. To date, I’ve volunteered 8 times and it would have been more if our event hadn’t suffered some recent cancellations due to flooding and icy conditions. I’ve been a barcode scanner, dished out finish tokens and am becoming very familiar with the stopwatch as a timekeeper. Being a volunteer is a fantastic opportunity to give something back to the parkrun community which relies on volunteers to make each event work . At the finish line I get to see tears and triumphs, delight and disappointment. I get to see each and every runner, be a friendly face and give them some words of encouragement. Sometimes they smile, sometimes they grimace, but there is always gratitude and plenty of thank yous. Throughout my recent injury I’ve become a regular on the volunteering team so that parkrun can still be part of my weekend routine, even if I can’t actually run it. When I do run, I always thank the volunteers, and now that I’ve done several of those jobs myself I know how valuable each member of the team is to the smooth running of the event. But don’t just take my word for it, you can also see what Tiny Runner had to say in an open letter to parkrun volunteers.
One year on, I feel like part of the family. I’ve enjoyed meeting new people, I’ve enjoyed challenging myself and I’ve enjoyed volunteering. Above all, I’ve enjoyed being part of that parkrun family on Saturday mornings, and while I may not have been there every week in 2015, in 2016 I expect to be a much more regular presence – I may even manage a milestone T-shirt…
So if you’ve been thinking of joining or returning to parkrun, now is a fantastic time and I’d love to see you out there on a Saturday morning. Just remember to than the volunteers!
Are you a parkrun regular?
Do you always go to the same parkrun or do you like to be a parkrun tourist?
How has parkrun made a difference to you?