When I first started running back in September, my friend, a running pro, began sitting on my shoulder and whispering sweet nothings in my ear. By that, I mean she messaged me incessantly about how I was getting on.
“Fine?” I guess.
“You should aim as a goal to do a parkrun by the end of the course.”
“Jess, a goal for me is stepping outside the door in the first place, I’m hardly thinking of running a full 5k surrounded by Other People as a goal right now.”
“Just think about it…”
I didn’t. Throughout the Couch to 5k course all I thought about was putting one foot in front of the other and trying to breathe without my lungs panicking and leaking out through my nose.
Fast-forward four months and I’d finished the course… and signed myself up for the Vitality British 10k in London. Sure, a 5k parkrun with a few hundred people sounds like hell, but a 10k through central London with thousands of others? Why not. Sounds great.
This was like when I signed up to the Anthony Nolan register (giving blood for four hours if you’re a match) when I kick up a fuss at a one-vial blood test.
I was still running three times a week, I had to actually train for an actual proper actual run now after all, but parkrun still wasn’t my thing.
Parkrun still not being my thing.
“Louise, I have an idea…”
Most of my misendeavours come from messages from my friends ending in ellipses. There is a theme, don’t think I haven’t spotted it.
“Katie, consider your next thought…”
“It’s a good one this time, I promise…”
It was, to give her credit. She’d spotted that mental health charity Mind were running a campaign on using sport to support your mental health and wanted case studies. Ding ding ding, I had found my calling.
I emailed the guy in charge, saying something like, “Hey I nearly killed myself but then I bought some trainers and now I’m fine,” and got a reply saying something like, “Cool story bro, fancy doing a parkrun and letting us film it?”
And thus, the planets aligned. I was actually going to do a parkrun.
Parkrun is a simple concept. You sign up to the community as a whole, print off your barcode, find a course you want to do, and turn up. You don’t have to sign up week by week, you don’t have to pay, you’re not obligated to do anything, not even run. You can walk it. Crawl it for all they care.
There are some other bits to note such as parkrun using some sort of digital technology to track your time, that’s where your barcode comes in that gets scanned as you cross the finish line, but I literally have no clue how that shit works, and don’t intend to find out. It’s hard enough working out how to run without dying, let alone how that run is tracked. I leave that to the professionals.
My first parkrun was… notable. I had a guy on rollerblades following me around the course and filming me with a super fancy camera. I was full of anxiety that the other regular parkrunners thought I was an idiot, or getting in their way, or *enter any other bad thought here*, and I can assure you that the irony was not lost on me. But soon I got into it, and I fell into the piggyback atmosphere. I was carried the whole way by the parkrun effect…
Filming with Mind was awesome. Not just because I was taking part in a brilliant campaign with the country’s leading mental health charity, but because I had my first parkrun documented. And my God, it was THRILLING. For real. I’ve now done seven, at four different courses, and I’m already compiling a birthday list (September 9th – can never be too prepared) comprised solely of parkrun merch. Although I have just bought a homerun running top for a bit of parkrun patriotism.
The Parkrun Effect
- It’s easy. It’s so easy. You sign up, you print off your barcode, you turn up. You can just go to one, you can go to one every Saturday. You’re in control.
- You can be a ‘parkrun tourist’. Some people go to a different parkrun every Saturday. As in, all over the country. Even the world! They have parkruns in France, South Africa, and America. Apparently parkrun is super popular in Poland. Who knew?
- The volunteers are invaluable. There are parkrun volunteers dotted around the parkrun course who cheer and clap you to the finish line. Although it may seem like a yeah-and-what-we-know-what-support-is comment, when you’re a novice runner, those people carry you around that course. I can’t help but beam at them every time I run past.
- You love people lapping you. Seriously. There are parkrunners who can do 5k in 15 minutes. Bastards. And they will lap you twice over, but they give you a thumbs up as they pass you. They’re not the cool kids, and you are not the peasants eating your lunch in the toilet. You’re all in this together. (And when you notice that your boyfriend hasn’t lapped you this time, you will be so bloody smug. Just saying…)
- Oh, apart from the kids. When the kids lap you, you want to kick ‘em over, naturally.
- You will sprint the last straight. No matter how knackered you are, no matter how loudly your lungs are screaming, no matter how much you’re squelching in sweat, the cheers and beautiful, sparkling, golden finish line will give you a serious last minute kick up the arse. You’ll feel like Mo fucking Farah.
- You’ll be a part of a community. It’s cliché, I know. The community feel, the community spirit. But whether you’re 11 or 81, guy or girl, stick thin or carrying some weight, you’re a valid part of parkrun. People are there for all sorts of reasons; to beat personal bests, to train for marathons, to get fit, to lose weight, to meet up with friends, to hope that puppies on walks will follow them, to fix up their mental health…