A few years ago someone told me that a group of people meet in Fleming Park every Saturday morning to run 5 km. My first thought was “why would they do that?”, swiftly followed by an assumption that it was a training run for a local running club, and wouldn’t be open to non-runners like me.
That’s before I discovered parkrun. I ran my first parkrun – after over 25 years of not running – in March 2015 and since then have been back 100 times – pretty much every week. I think it’s safe to say I’m hooked.
So after my initial scepticism, what makes me and so many others keep going back? There are many answers to that question, including: because it’s there; because it’s rewarding; because you meet like-minded individuals; because it’s free; because it’s better than lying in bed. But above all, because it’s fun.
Contrary to my initial assumption, parkrun is not a training run for a local running club at all; it’s open to everyone – all ages, all abilities, all levels of fitness. It doesn’t even have to be a “run”. You can run a bit, walk a bit. You can even walk all of it. It’s not about coming first; it’s about doing what you can. And if you don’t want to run or walk, there are plenty of volunteer roles available so you can still be part of the phenomenon that is parkrun.
Yes, phenomenon. From its humble beginnings with just 13 runners in 2004 it is now the world’s biggest running event. Some weekends over 100,000 people take part across the UK. It’s also probably one of the easiest sporting events to join. Register once, print a barcode, turn up just before 09:00 on a Saturday morning, and go. The 5-km course is already marked out, marshals are in place to guide and encourage you, stopwatches are ready. All you need to do is complete the course, collect your position token as you finish, then get the token and your barcode scanned. Within a couple of hours, the results will be published and you’ll receive an email or text telling you how well you did. What could possibly be easier?
It’s also grown to be so much more than a run. It’s a social event. It’s a community event. It’s a health event – good for both physical and mental health. Trying to get round a 5-km course in the best time possible is a great way to clear your mind and put problems in perspective. It can be relaxing too – you can forget your to-do list for a while. When you are running you can’t be anywhere else – and sometimes can’t think of anything else. You can’t see that wall that needs painting, that garden that needs weeding, that bin that needs emptying, those emails that need answering. Just live in the moment – “mindfulness”, I think, is the buzz word.
So, what excuses have you got?
“I couldn’t run 5 km.” Doesn’t matter. Run what you can and walk the rest – no one will judge you for it. It’s not a race – it’s a personal achievement.
“I wouldn’t be able to keep up.” It’s not about keeping up, it’s about setting your own pace. There are 300-400 runners at Eastleigh each week. With that number, there’s almost bound to be someone who runs at your speed. My usual tactic goes like this: I’ll try to keep up with this runner” … “OK, I’ll try not to let them get too far ahead” … “I’ll find someone else to keep up with”.
“I’ll be last and everyone will laugh at me.” No, no and no again – wrong on both counts. There is always a tail runner who follows everyone, so you can’t be last. Secondly, nobody laughs at anyone. The last finishers get as much support and encouragement as the first – possibly more, as there are more people around the finish line by then.
“I won’t know anyone.” Maybe not, but you soon will. You’ll soon start to recognise the other people that run at your pace. Before long the pre-run assembly area will be full of familiar and friendly faces. And if you’re still unsure about being alone you know the answer – bring someone along!
“I need breakfast.” The Blackbird Café does excellent coffee and bacon rolls (and other breakfast items).
“I don’t live in Eastleigh.” There are about 450 parkrun events in the UK (and events in 14 other countries), so there’s probably one near you. Check the website to find your nearest. In addition to Eastleigh, local events include Winchester, Southampton, Netley (RVCP), Whitely and Havant. There are also 2 km junior parkruns for 4 – 14 year-olds on a Sunday morning at Southampton and RVCP.
“I’m too old / too young.” Really? At Eastleigh last week the youngest participant was under 10 and the oldest was over 70.
“I’ve got to look after the younglings”. Bring them with you! (under elevens must run with a responsible adult).
“I’ve got to look after the dog”. Bring it with you! (one dog per person, on a short lead).
So, what are you waiting for? I don’t make New Year’s resolutions – I think that if you want to improve your lifestyle you shouldn’t wait for 1 January. So how about a midsummer resolution? See you next Saturday?