parkrun – I think I finally get it


In September 2013 I turned up, like a nervous teenager, to my first parkrun. I’d started running seriously just over a month before and had stumbled across parkrun while buying my first proper running shoes. I knew nobody there and had no idea whether I would be trailing at the back or crushed in the melee.

The reason I’m writing about this now is because, from that first run, my total focus was getting to 50 runs and claiming my bright red 50 t-shirt. Last Saturday I finally achieved it and while I’m mildly proud of that fact I realise that reaching this goal is purely a product of inevitability and very little to do with achievement. The real success (to paraphrase) is not what I have done but what parkrun has done for me.

Since those first tentative steps over a year ago I have become gradually absorbed into the parkrun ethos. I have found a balance between what I want from parkrun and what I think parkrun asks of me. I wanted to run 50 parkruns in a set period of time but not only does work and life get in the way of running every saturday at 9am but parkrun itself gently, softly and subtly nudges you to maybe, possibly, if you feel you’d like to, spend a bit of time giving back by taking on a volunteering role. Only if you want to, no pressure.

So once I realised that actually getting to 50 was no more important in the scheme of things than getting to 48 or 52 – credit to Danny’s (Norman) Arbitrary Number or DAN – I enjoyed Saturday mornings even more.

I guess what the previous rambling 4 paragraphs are trying to say is that if you are involved in parkrun you should never feel there is a downside to it.

If you have been struggling to beat your PB for a few weeks and it’s getting you down why not chuck in a really slow one? Jog around, smile at the marshals, appreciate that you can run and usually, in a green and pleasant area. Or (and I’m guilty of this) check out other flatter, faster courses to try for a better time.

If you want to join in a bit more and make a wider circle of friends then there is no better way than volunteering. The caveat to this is that no-one should feel forced into volunteering. I’ve only done it 5 times in 15 months and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it each time but people are different, each person has varying time constraints so it isn’t a good fit for everyone.

I’m not parkrun perfect – I’ve had dark thoughts about runners when I volunteer, in the pouring rain, with no-one saying thank you or acknowledging my existence. I’ve spend too many runs obsessing about breaking sub-20 minutes. We even had the first year anniversary delayed a week because one of the run directors was on holiday and wanted to be there which I found against the spirit of the event. On the flip side, I have been that runner in the pouring rain totally focussed on finishing and oblivious to anything in my peripheries, I’ve learnt to relax a bit and know I may never break 20 minutes, and finally I’ve never been a run director so who am I to tut and shake my head when someone bends the rules a bit to be included in a celebration they certainly should be a part of.

I love parkrun; I love that it is free, that it is run by volunteers who want to be volunteers; I love that it is totally inclusive – if you want to walk the whole way round, walk!;  I love that it is, for a brief hour in the week, a community where I can talk to people I would never have otherwise met; I also love that sometimes it gets it wrong but on balance I get it wrong far more often than parkrun does.

Oh, and I love parkun because it does this…