Jen Glassford is a parkrunner at home and overseas, a HighburyFields parkrun volunteer, a HighburyFields junior parkrun volunteer, an international parkrun volunteer, a Mama Mermaid, a member of the #hackneyvaxpack and all round bundle of happiness and positivity.
She tells us how, for her, like so many others, parkrun is so much more than a 5k run on a Saturday morning.
When & where did you start parkrunning?
My first parkrun was at Highbury Fields in October 2014. I arrived nervously and early at the start line as I had never participated in an organised run. A friend had told me about this free community run but I thought I must have misunderstood as no one was there. I was so relieved when I realised that people congregate at the finish line and only arrive at the start a couple of minutes before 9. It was so exciting to see more than a 100 people arriving for a morning run.
What prompted you to join parkrun?
I was never a runner - it was always something that other people did...until my husband bought me an amazing book 'Running like a girl'. I loved Alexandra Heminsley's story of learning to love running and it encouraged me to give it a try. A year later (I am a slow learner), I bought running shoes and slowly started to run around my neighbourhood. I started to enjoy myself but I also knew that I needed some structure and goals in order for it to become a routine. My friend Andy, a very keen runner, was the one who recommended parkrun.
What did you think after your first parkrun?
I was amazed that I had finished 5k and that I wasn't the slowest person there. Even though I didn't know anyone I felt this wonderful feeling of achievement and fun. There was also the atmosphere of welcome and encouragement which made me want to go back. So before I knew it, no matter how many other activities we were doing as a family, Saturday always started with parkrun.
What’s your most memorable parkrun?
Like most people I have many memorable parkruns - getting my 1st milestone shirt, those 1st PBs, parkrun tourism in Montreal, Vancouver, Perth, WA and especially the girls weekend at Jersey parkrun - the list is wonderfully long. If I have to choose a specific run though I would select the New Year's Day Double - 9:00am Highbury Fields followed by 10:30am at Southwark. Even though I am not a huge fan of New Year's Eve there is this wonderful sense of optimism and new possibilities on January 1st. The idea of going for a run with my parkrun family is so uplifting and then the sense of adventure mixed with a little craziness as we all rush to catch the train to get to Southwark to do it all over again. I can honestly say it was one of the best ways to start a year.
What do you like most about parkrun?
For me, parkrun is all about the people. I joined this community event in order to develop a consistent, healthy running routine and ended up forming lasting friendships with an amazing group of people. Although I have lived in London for more than 30 years, I can definitely say that the simple act of joining parkrun has transformed my sense of belonging. I know that every Saturday, whether running or volunteering, I will get to catch-up with some friends, meet new people and contribute to the parkrun experience. At the end of every parkrun I leave with a smile in anticipation of the next parkrun event.
Volunteering at parkrun - your thoughts?
For me volunteering is the best part of parkrun!
In the beginning, volunteering was simply my way of giving a little back and making sure that the event could happen every week. I decided that I would try to volunteer after every 10 runs. I found that I really enjoyed parkrun even more as a volunteer, as I got to meet new people and I was able to contribute to the welcoming and fun atmosphere. It turns out that my extroverted Canadian (loud) voice works well for cheering & funnel management. I particularly love being the funnel manager (cheering with a little bit of traffic management) or handing out finish tokens in which you can congratulate everyone for achieving another (or a 1st) parkrun.
Volunteering soon became a family affair, as my son Felix started volunteering as part of his Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) program. He started volunteering on Sundays at Highbury Fields Junior parkrun and by the time he was doing his Gold Award he had joined the Highbury Fields parkrun core volunteer team and his sister Ruby had started her Bronze Award. I injured my foot in 2019 so volunteering at parkrun turned into a family event that culminated in post-event breakfast & token sorting.
How are you coping without parkrun?
Like most people, I really miss my parkrun routine, whether this was running or volunteering, I loved starting my weekend surrounded by my parkrun community. My family and many friends are in Canada and Australia, so not being able to travel has been a real shock to my system.
Even though we have not been able to take part in our regular events, I can't imagine what life would be like for me without my parkrun friends. At the start of the pandemic it was the simple joy of bumping into parkrun friends on the street as we adapted to local lockdowns. As we realised that the pandemic was here for more than a couple of weeks, we adjusted our routine so that we cycled, walked or swam in small groups. Big shout out to our #FridayWalkTalk group - 6 of us walking the co-editor of these profiles, Jo Hislop, to school on a Friday morning and #SwimmingFeminists - 4 of us who 'discovered' the Amazing West Reservoir and continued swimming until Jan 1st and a water temperature of 4 degrees! I can't wait for swimming to re-open and to be allowed to be with 6 people again.
More recently the kids and I have joined several other Highbury Field parkrunners (Alex Chase, Deb, John, Colleen, Anthony, Marina, Adrienne, Lizzy P to name just a few) by volunteering at Volunteer Centre Hackney. Once or twice a week we have the opportunity to use our parkrun skills of greeting people, briefing & marshalling them as they make their way through the vaccine process. After months of working from home, it has been such a joy to see people again and to be able to support and help, as well as to cheer the amazing NHS staff. So a big shout out and thank you to Alex Chase for getting the job coordinating the volunteers for Volunteer Centre Hackney and giving us an opportunity to give back and be there for our community until parkrun returns.