I am a big fan of parkrun.
I started running parkrun three years ago and initially I just wasn’t very good at it. It's five kilometres and although I had put in some solo practice before my first attempt, it still felt a very long way to run.
Week by week I gradually improved until I could run the distance without stopping. And then I became more competitive with myself, wanting to beat my personal best time each week. I could say that lockdown is the reason I am two years on from my last personal best, but I am doubtful that I will beat it ever again as both age and commitment are against me.
In December 2019 I was boosted by the difference having another birthday made to my age adjusted ranking and every Saturday morning, I felt it was worth putting on my shorts and heading to the promenade park to run along the estuary.
Each week’s parkrun had its own characteristics. Some weeks we felt a refreshing breeze, and the tide was out, other weeks the water was high, and a cold wind blew. Whether the day was icy, mild or hot I would always end up exhausted, but with a sense of achievement. The Saturday morning run was my main exercise for the week and my hobby. It also provided some of the framework for looking after my mental health.
When the first lockdown kept us all at home, except for exercise, I remember getting up very early one Saturday and running the parkrun course, eerily alone, feeling on edge about being more than 3 miles from home, which probably was an offence.
In the Summer of last year I could run with one other person, and then the second lockdown meant that wasn't allowed either and I had to find the motivation to keep going, running by myself, holding on to the hope that it might not be long before parkrun friends would be able to run together again.
There is a motivating familiarity to the process of a parkrun, hearing the repetition of instructions at the start of the run, the countdown to go, and the encouragement from the marshals as we round the corner for the second time, up the hill for the last time, and then finally cross the line to collect our finish token and head to the pavilion for a well-earned drink.
I miss it so much. Parkrun was my self-care routine for looking after my physical and mental health. It has been the inspiration for the gifts bought for me by family and friends. Part of my identity is the number of parkruns that I have completed, which has stood frozen at 97. For over a year I've waited to complete my 100 parkruns. I've done another 40 or so unofficial 5ks, but they don't count towards the t-shirt.
I wouldn’t say I actually enjoy parkrun. I don’t look forward to the effort and the pain, but there is something about getting to the other side of that discomfort which helps me feel good. I like the satisfaction of clocking up another run, but there’s also something beneficial about it being a shared experience that somehow we just have to get through. We are all running alongside others, and whether we have a better or worse experience on a particular day, we are all simply trying to do the distance, just grinding it out until we get to the end.
Last year and the coming months seem like a long and arduous run, battling the numerous challenges the pandemic has presented to us. I look around and I see so many examples where we are supporting one another. I believe that running this course together is itself a source of mental strength for me, and I hope it is for you too.