If I ever get divorced Parkrun will be cited in the proceedings. Like so many other people it has changed my life, and given me back something that was crushed out of me during school PE lessons. I hated exercise at school, was rubbish at team games, not very competitive, and often felt humiliated by over testosteroned uptight teachers looking for the golden sport child. I spent the last 2 years at school bunking off games and was so successful that the games dept didn’t even know I existed. Needless to say after almost 2 years of rectifying school damage at Parkrun I am not the same person my wife married.
I started running just about 2 years ago, a friend persuded me to enter a half marathon. “How hard can it be?” I thought, ran 300 metres and almost died. At that point I decided I needed to get out and do some actual running. For about 2 months I went out on my own, I found a training plan on line that talked about time on feet, so I did down the road and back, not caring about pace or distance. All I knew was that my plan expected me to be able to run for 2 hours in 3 months time. A couple of times the chap who had started me running came with me, and one day he told me about a timed 5k run near to him and asked if I would go. I did, he didn’t.
So the 3rd of August 2013 I ran my first Parkrun alone, I spoke to a chap who was showing newbies the route, and the person who checked my barcode at the end. I ran the 5k course in 34:22. The next week I was back again, waiting for the result had been nerve racking and I was sure I could go a little faster. Especially as I tried really hard on my short training runs that week. I downloaded an app for my phone which told me how far and fast I was going. Sure enough a week later I ran a 33:06. Now I had a target. Sub 30 min Parkrun!
I didn’t mind that I was left alone to run for myself, in fact I liked it. I had my own agenda and at that moment I was not there for a social life. Things change though, and inevitably I would see the same faces around me. By the time I reached my first sub 30, 29:10 on the 14th of Sept I was nodding acquaintance of several regular runners of a similar pace. Not long after that I became more sociable with the odd bit of encouraging banter, and the occasional greeting before I even started running!
The day before I ran that half marathon,I volunteered to help, and was welcomed into the fold in a very gracious way, checking bar-codes. I wanted to give something back to a group that had helped me sustain a routine of running and get a sniff away of achieving my first big running goal. All without making me feel obliged or making any demands. Without realizing it I had actually started to feel that I belonged at Parkrun. I had arrived at my own pace and in my own way. After the Half I went out like a bat out of hell to try and get faster, one day I would run a sub 28. Fatal rookie mistake, I crippled myself. The doctor told me to take a month off and that might have been it for my running career, however I took the opportunity to do some more volunteering. I had become a Parkrun addict.
Parkrun worked for me in a way that school exercise never had. People always cheer you in regardless of what pace you run. They don’t single you out or make snide remarks they are just happy for someone to have discovered the joy of moving faster than their walking pace. It’s not like a formalised training or weight loss club, if you turn up you turn up, nobody is going to phone you asking where you are, there is no pressure to ‘belong’. If you want to talk to others they will be friendly, and not in a weird in your face over the top way. If you just want to keep your head down and pound round the course in ever faster times that is ok too. For a gobshite, I’m actually a bit insular and so this laid back approach worked fantastically for me and I now cannot imagine a weekend without doing my 5k, which incidentally has become my short run of the week.
Oh and for those that might wonder, I did do a sub 28, my PB now you ask, why that stands at 23:36 set on the 24/4/15 20 months after my first weekly 5k!