This week we introduce you to self-confessed parkrun addict Kath Donkersley. Almost 6 years after her first parkrun, Kath tells us about the huge impact it has had on her life, not just for an hour on a Saturday morning, about the informal Cally-Camden lockdown (not)parkrun (now immortalised on an apricot T-shirt) and celebrating her 250th parkrun (unofficially!) during lockdown.
When & where did you start parkrunning?
My first parkrun was on 10th January 2015 in Daventry. I did it with my Dad. The following week I went to my then local - Ally Pally - but was a bit of a princess about all the hills and mud so didn't get to another London one for a couple of months. Despite several closer events I then picked Highbury Fields on the basis of there being a door-to-Fields bus. I absolutely loved it, volunteered for the first time a few weeks later and have been a fully-fledged parkrun addict ever since.
What prompted you to join parkrun?
I was training for the London Marathon at the time and it seemed like a fun way to mix things up a bit.
What did you think after your first parkrun?
Why is my dad so much faster than me?! Years later and having just turned 65 he still is - I'll catch him one day! I believe thoughts two, three and four were: how much fun it is, I can't believe it's free and I'll have to find one at home in London next week.
How, if at all, has Highbury Fields parkrun changed over your years of being involved?
It's much busier! And I now live a lot closer so the bus is no longer necessary.
What’s your most memorable parkrun?
Oh that's a hard question - far too many to choose from! Highbury Fields aside (which is obviously the best of all!), I've absolutely loved my couple of pilgrimages to Bushy (the home of the original parkrun) so that's pretty high on the list.
What do you like most about parkrun?
Gosh, how long have you got?! I could go on all day about all the wonderful things about parkrun, but for me the absolute number one is the local community at Highbury Fields. All of those little friendly chats about how your run was add up to so much more than the sum of their parts.
Nearly six years later it's no exaggeration to say that the parkrun community has changed my life for the better. Many of my closest friends are from parkrun and there are so so many great things in my life now as a result of that community. There are so many examples. The big ones - I've been on two running trips to Kenya with parkrun friends, something I would've never experienced otherwise.
So many fun travels for races and parkrun tourism - I have lots of happy memories of early Saturday morning roadtrips! It's through parkrun friends that I became familiar with the Running Charity - I've been trustee and treasurer for the last two years and getting involved with them is one of the most rewarding decisions I've ever made. And all the times my parkrun friends have been there for me (and I hope vice versa!) when things have been a bit tough - putting me up when I found myself stuck between flats when moving home, visiting and cheering me up when I injured my back and couldn't get out... I could go on!
And then there's all of the little examples which are possibly even more important. The countless runs, coffees, cakes, sausage rolls, beers, walks, Netflix dates, hours spent cheering the junior parkrunners round on a Sunday morning... individually these things are small but what being part of such a wonderful local community has brought to my life is huge. I'm grateful for it every day.
Volunteering at parkrun - your thoughts?
I love it! My favourite thing about volunteering is that it's the best way to get to know other parkrunners - in reality it often proves to be a morning of chatting with a bit of barcode scanning or similar thrown in for good measure. As I also love running I tend to volunteer on a Saturday when I'm tapering or recovering from a race, or injured. A lot of the parkrun volunteering I've done is at the Sunday junior event. There's a super group of Highbury Fielders who regularly volunteer on a Sunday and it's a lot of fun.
How are you coping without parkrun?
When it first stopped, even though I knew it was the absolute right decision, on a personal level I was devastated. Saturday mornings have become easily my favourite time of the week and the absence of parkrun definitely left a hole in my life.
However, I'm all for making the best of whatever life throws at you. So in the week between the last parkrun event and the following Saturday I worked out a 5k loop starting and finishing at my door and have done it every Saturday morning since (aka Cally-Camden lockdown (not)parkrun - it now even has its very own apricot t-shirt...). For the first few months I did it on my own but once we were allowed to meet outside in small groups again a few Highbury-Fielders have joined in. So we now have our own miniature non-parkrun to help fill the hole and Saturday morning is back to being my favourite time of the week. One of those events was my "fake" 250th parkrun. No green t-shirt (yet!) but having my wonderful parkrun friends come along for a run, cake and prosecco in the park to celebrate anyway during that crazy time meant a lot to me.
In fact, six months on I look back and consider myself to have been extremely lucky in what could've been a very difficult year - and has been for so many people. I've never been more grateful for the parkrun community than during lockdown. Admittedly it had to move onto zoom for a while but it never went away! Almost by definition, the parkrun community is a very local one so just as soon as we were allowed to meet another person outside again it was extremely easy to do so. Without my parkrun friends I could quite easily have gone many many months without seeing anyone in person. However, that hasn't happened and if anything I feel closer to my friends now than I did before the pandemic started. Strange and difficult though it's been, the last year has shown how kind people can be and how amazingly well local communities can pull together in a crisis.
Any other thoughts?
I just can't wait for my green (250) t-shirt....