“Your first parkrun? You’ll get addicted” – warned the hi-viz volunteer as I arrived at Rushcliffe for my parkrun debut in February 2018. And she was correct: I did indeed get addicted.
I’m not a natural runner. I’m not a natural sportsman. Over the years my hapless attempts at team sports such as cricket and football have only been possible because, generally, there’s been a bunch of teammates who’ve put up with my lack of ability and carried me. I got the cycling bug in the noughties but was soon resigned to riding solo when my fellow (and much faster) riders disappeared up the road – usually within a mile or so of the start of a ride.
Thus my sporting record over the years could be summed up like a school report: ‘Nick tries very hard with a subject that doesn’t come naturally to him’.
And I’d never been that bothered about running. The only times I’d tried running events I felt intimidated by the much better club runners, when my aim was simply to get round and not be last.
But it was a new year conversation with a senior coach at Trent Bridge which inspired me have a another go. He was telling me about the strength and conditioning training they do with the cricketers over the winter months, but then added ‘But there’s only one real way to get fit – and that’s to run. We do all these things with the players, but what really gets them fit is to send them out running’.
I already knew a couple of parkrunners, but I didn’t really ‘get it’. Why travel to Rushcliffe Park to run 5K, when I could do exactly that from my front door? That was, until I did my first parkrun. And I immediately ‘got it’.
On that first day I trotted round with the legend that is Mike MacDonald (pictured - you’ll remember him: just think flip flops and underpants) and was immediately hooked. The email dropped with my result time and the following week I aimed to beat it – as I did the following week, the following week and, well, you can guess the rest.
So what do I love about parkrun?
- I love the fact the only person you’re competing against is yourself. It doesn’t really matter what others do. You have good weeks and bad weeks (depending on the hangover…) but it’s only your own PB - or target that day- that you are taking on.
- I love the informality and ‘pop-up’ event aspect of it. There’s no fees, no medals and no pointless goody bags. A few times I’ve cycled to Rushcliffe and on arriving at 8.35am have had to check I’d got the right day and time. It’s deserted. And then people arrive, and it happens, but by 10.30am you wouldn’t know there’d been a mass-participation event with 400+ people involved.
- I love that fact that I can go away for weekends and there’ll usually be a parkrun nearby, where visitors are warmly welcomed - as we do at Rushcliffe. When finishing her gap year travels, my daughter Katherine ran parkrun in Cairns, Australia, only to run at Rushcliffe seven days later. Two events about as geographically distanced as possible, but united under the parkrun umbrella.
- I love crossing the finish line, meaning that my 23 minutes of pain and agony is over for another week – and I can feel virtuous about it for the rest of the day.
- I love watching the effort and endeavours of others crossing the line. Everyone has their own personal targets. I particularly enjoy the weeks when we see a ‘Couch to 5k’ group taking part. For them, it’s the end point (or possibly a new starting point) of a big effort and it’s great to cheer them home. If ever I’m explaining parkrun to someone, I tell them ‘It’s running for people who don’t really run’(and I’d include myself in that). It’s the Couch to 5k groups – and others just bravely starting out – who get my admiration.
- I love the fact that you can’t be last. The tail walkers ensure that anyone having a go will not be bottom of the results list – which is a worry for nervous first timers I’ve talked to.
- Most of all, I love the volunteers and am humbled by what they do for us. They turn up in even the most terrible weather – always in good humour and always encouraging. We have the easy bit: we just run 5k and go home. They make it happen for us and somehow – magically – get the results to us soon after 10am. But I do feel incredibly guilty that I haven’t volunteered yet. From the start I’ve vowed that if I’m injured or not running for any reason then I’ll help out but, touch wood, I’ve been injury-free so far. My volunteering time will come.
Of the regular volunteers I must mention Sam. You’ll all know her as she’s on usually on the first corner after the start and we pass her three times. Her unending vocal support and encouragement – in sometimes the foulest of weathers – is the inspiration we need to put in that extra bit of effort. It’s so much appreciated, even if I’m usually too exhausted to offer proper thanks – especially on the 2nd and 3rd passes. Thanks for being there Sam – and all the other hi-viz heroes.
This Saturday will be my 100th and I’ll be giving it my best, thanks to the encouragement of the wonderful volunteers. For those finishing around the 24-25 minute mark you’ll almost certainly see me slumped on the bench by the finish line as I stretch my back and rejoice at completing another run.
But how many more parkruns will I manage? Well I’m only 60, so I reckon I have a good few years ahead of me yet, therefore 200 is doable and 300 would be good target. It all depends on health, injuries and other factors.
One this that is guaranteed is that when I’m not able to run it anymore, I’ll be there in a hi-viz jacket to cheer people on and, hopefully, one day will hold the megaphone and tell people that they “don’t have exclusive use of the park” – and it will be an honour.
Oh, and if I’m talking to first-timers I’ll be advising them “Your first parkrun? You’ll get addicted”…
99 parkruns and counting…