This morning I ran my 50th parkrun, joining the parkrun 50 club which entitles you to a free red 50 t-shirt and a red t-shirt badge on the results page. It’s taken me nearly 4 years to reach this milestone; little did I realise when I ran my first parkrun at Walthamstow on 9th August 2014 that I was embarking on a journey that would change my life – for the better.
I wrote about my introduction to parkrun in this blog post in 2016: #loveparkrun When I first found out about parkrun I was in the Wadi Rum in Jordan (you’ll have to read the post to find out more!), I was overweight, with high blood-pressure and on the pre-diabetic scale. I had back pain, most probably exacerbated by the extra weight I was carrying, and I couldn’t run for a bus let alone run 5k. I was ashamed at how unfit I was, fed up with my lack of fitness hindering the activities I wanted to do – like going trekking – and yet found it all too easy to come up with excuses as to why I wasn’t fit. And yet Martin in that one moment in Jordan gave me a glimpse of what might be possible – if he in his late 70s could be so fit, why couldn’t I?
I won’t repeat the story behind the lead-up to my first parkrun, but what I didn’t explain in that first parkrun post was that after running that first time in 2014 I went home and went to bed, exhausted. When I got up a couple of hours later I had a nagging pain in the heel of my foot which got worse and worse until it was agony and I was limping around, not able to put any weight on my foot. I realised that I had run my first run before I was ready, in unsuitable shoes for the terrain, and having only got up to week 6 of the NHS couch-to-5k programme I was following. I had also never run outside, as I had been training on a treadmill in the gym, and I soon discovered that running outside on grass and with a hill that had to be traversed 3 times was a very different kettle of fish! Carried away by everyone racing off at the start I tried to keep up and went way too fast for my first run, and then paid the price as I developed plantar fasciitis. It was 11 months before I was able to complete my second parkrun, this time with proper running shoes and having completed the couch-to-5k programme running outside.
Since then I haven’t looked back, and very quickly developed a parkrun habit, also introducing parkrun to a number of friends who have developed their own parkrun habit. No longer are Saturday mornings for lounging around in bed, or watching Saturday Kitchen on the TV, and after discovering parkrun tourism I even find that I can keep up the habit when I’m away. Previously if I was away on holiday it would be a holiday from fitness as well, as being away from my gym and not knowing the area or where to run provided yet another excuse. Now if I’m going away I look up where the nearest parkrun is, and know that I can get a 5k run in without having to work out routes. I have run at 15 different parkruns across the UK, from Exeter to Edinburgh, and although I have yet to run an event outside the UK I’m sure it won’t be too long before I rectify this! I’ve run wearing scary spider’s web make-up for Halloween, wearing a Santa hat at Christmas or in fancy dress like last week when I wore a doctor’s outfit for parkrun’s celebration of 70 years of the NHS. I’ve embraced the alphabet challenge, and the time bingo challenge although I have quite some way to go before I’ve completed both of these challenges. I have yet to run the extra Christmas Day run that some parkruns manage to put on, or done the “double” by running two parkruns on New Year’s Day, but again I hope to manage to do these in the next year or so. I’ve lost two stone in weight, and got my high blood pressure under control. Yes, I’m still very slow but working on it! And away from the parkrun course, I’ve volunteered with my Walthamstow parkrun friends for the last two years at the London Marathon, as we have undertaken to manage one of the baggage trucks at the start, alongside other London parkruns. (Volunteering at the London Marathon)
Another way in which parkrun has changed my life is socially. My “parkrun family” are the – hopefully – lifelong friends I have made at Walthamstow parkrun who I look forward to seeing when I turn up at parkrun, who provide support and encouragement through strava and other social media, and with whom I can socialise with away from the course. But also without parkrun I would never have had the courage to join a running club, thinking that they were more for hares than tortoises like me. But after a couple of years of running at parkrun I joined Eton Manor AC which has opened up a whole new avenue of both running and social opportunities. I joined, and completed, their 5-10k training programme, called Still Love 2 Run, and since then I have taken part in a number of races with them. I’m still getting used to people shouting “Up The Manor” at me as I run in the blue and white club colours, and coming to terms with a new vocabulary – including the common noun “Manorites”! From time to time my running worlds collide when the club holds a “parkrun flashmob” where we all attend a local parkrun, or go to an Eton Manor Ladies’ Breakfast parkrun, which does what it says on the tin – the ladies of the club attend a local parkrun and then go for breakfast together afterwards providing another lovely social occasion. The evening before my 50th parkrun the club held its annual “Pubs On The Run” evening – a run to 5 different pubs with a drink consumed at each one, and allegedly chips also consumed between pubs! Unfortunately I couldn’t make the evening this year but was amazed to see a number of Manorites who did attend and yet still managed to make it out of the door nursing their hangovers to come and support me for my 50th run, three of them getting PBs too!
And so to this morning, where I was touched by the warmth of the support from not only the Eton Manor crew but also by the Core Team at Walthamstow parkrun, and all the regular runners. I had brought along a fantastic cake that was made by the sister of one of my colleagues which was complete with a little mini-me figure made of icing, but the core team had brought drinks, baked another cake, brought amazing cup cakes with a picture of me in icing on the top, and had party poppers for when I crossed the finish line. Regular Walthamstow runners Steve and Louise ran alongside me and encouraged me all the way round, and then Gerry, the event director, presented me with a certificate with a photo of me running at parkrun in the past. It was just a shame that Sharron who founded Walthamstow parkrun and who encouraged me to start running, couldn’t be there this morning, but she was very much missed, and it was lovely to have so many friends there cheering me on and joining the celebration.
So joining the parkrun 50 club has given me so much more than just a free t-shirt. It’s given me a new lease of life, a new social circle, new opportunities and in fact, a whole new lifestyle. So thank you, parkrun, and especially to Walthamstow parkrun – my parkrun family. Maybe I’ll make it to 100 parkruns in less than 4 years! #loveparkrun
Lovely blog Ali – congratulations!