With parkruns being in the news today with Stoke Gifford Parish Council deciding to charge the organisation, I thought that I would write about my own experience of parkrunning. It was last July that I decided to do my first parkrun. I wasn't a runner, but I cycled from time to time (road and mountain biking) and I walked a bit too, how hard could running 5k be? John is a keen road cyclist but I'm not keen on traffic and I thought that I could go out running in the mornings whilst he was out cycling. So I registered with the main site and then told John what I had done, asking him to join me. His first reaction was "No way, you're on your own". Ten minutes later he came back and said that he was more than willing to help me get fit and so he'd come and run with me. Registering means that your time to finish the 5K is put up on the website with your name and how many parkruns you've completed, along with your finish position.
My very first parkrun was 4th July 2015 at Tamar Lakes and although a little nervous, I felt sure that this was well within my capabilities. Unfortunately my assessment of my fitness and reality didn't quite match. We ran over the dam and before we'd gone much further I was walking and, other than the official tail runners, last. Once I'd recovered I ran again, then walked, etc etc until we finally reached the end. Or rather, the hill at the end. Somehow I made it up the hill and then John encouraged me to run to the finish line. No one was more surprised than me to find people cheering me on. It was great. This was my first introduction to the parkrun community support. People wait around at the end to cheer others in. OK, so with a time of 48:05 I was, to put it mildly, slow. But as someone said to me, "You're faster than all those sitting at home",
We joined the large group now heading off to the cafe at the Upper Lake for coffee. I definately felt that I deserved it. This was the start of our getting to know the regulars, and made parkrun something that I wanted to do.
The next few days were agony walking. My muscles were screaming at me for using them in such a brutal manner. No way could I run during the week. But the following Saturday saw me back at the start line on the dam. My time was slower, but my initial run was longer. Week in, week out I ran. I even started to run during the week. Then, in September, I joined the Bude Rats Beginners' group which builds up to a 5K run over the course of 8 weeks. So now I was running twice a week with organised groups and once on my own. My times got better and on 10 October my PB was 45:01, three minutes faster than my first week. Quite apart from that I knew that I was getting fitter in my everyday life. I'd also run one week in the rain, something I couldn't imagine at the start of my journey.
Then disaster hit. A freak road accident landed me in hospital with a badly broken femur at the start of November. A major operation followed by six and a half weeks of touch weight bearing ensured that my fitness level was shot to pieces. It wasn't until January that I returned to the parkrun, to sit at the finish line with a blanket wrapped round me whilst John ran. Despite his initial protests, he now enjoys the parkrun. Since then I've been volunteering and seeing parkrun from a different angle. It's a chance to chat to people at the end, especially if you're scanning bar codes. We still go for coffee and I've got to know a whole new group of people. I'm looking forward to running round Tamar Lakes again, but I've been told that it will be one to two years before I can.
In my view parkruns are a great way of getting fitter and a lovely community to run with. It caters for everyone from marathon runners, triathletes and iron men down to people like me who didn't realise just how unfit they were. As you run week in, week out you find the people who are similar speed to you and a friendly rivalry ensues. It's inclusive and gives you a real sense of achievement when you cross the finish line. It encourages the unfit to take up exercise. I'm so pleased that one day last July I decided to register to run.