The start of a new year is seen a fresh start for many; a chance to put the past behind us and embrace a shiny new dawn where we promise we will eat better, drink less (dry January anyone?) and get fitter. A staggering 563 people did just that to kick off 2019 as Tilgate hosted the first opportunity for many to do the coveted new year ‘double’ as New Years Day is the only day of the year where parkrunners are given the opportunity to run 5k twice in one day! There were some amazing achievements as, not only did we have a large number of athletes taking part, we also had 42 wonderful volunteers - many of whom gave up the chance to double up by volunteering for us before moving onto other parkruns in the area. We also had 92 first timers to Tilgate and 82 people began the new year by scoring themselves brand spanking new PBs.
Jacob Cann from Horsham Blue Star Harriers was first finisher with a new PB of 17:19, and then, incidentally, went on to become first finisher at Horsham parkrun with 17:30 – great consistent running there Jacob, well done. Our second finisher was Ben Short (17:35) and third was Thomas James (17:30). Our first lady finisher was Kate Drew of Taunton AC in 18:53, followed by Caroline Wood (20:35) and Kat Owens (20:37).
As I was contemplating my stint as Run Director, I was thinking about the run report and how, traditionally, new year is an opportunity for many for reflection and the inevitable ‘new year, new me’ mantras. However, I thought I would talk about how for many, myself included, a new year is an opportunity to get the ‘old me’ back. In 2018, research was published by Staffordshire University which claimed that parkrun was found to have a positive effect on mental health, not just for athletes but for volunteers too. This research led to the establishment of over 500 ‘parkrun practices’ which are GP surgeries who ‘prescribe’ parkrun to those with mental health issues to complement or even replace traditional, medicinal treatment routes. As a person who has suffered with mental health issues, I can personally rate the virtues of parkrun and the effect it has had on me over the almost 5 years I have been attending. I have found enjoyment through running, fulfilment through volunteering and a sense of having an extended family who will be there if I need them. Nobody is claiming that parkrun alone is a magical ‘cure’ for depression or anxiety, but it’s certainly a great foundation towards improved mood and outlook. I know I am not alone in our parkrun community to have suffered injury, poor health and loss of a loved one in recent times, but whatever challenge has come our way, parkrun has been the one constant. Knowing that I would be among 400+ friends every Saturday morning at 9am got me out of bed on days when I could happily have stayed under my duvet troughing Maltesers by the kilo.
Recently however, after a difficult period of mental health, I took a hiatus from parkrun and did indeed spend most Saturday mornings under my duvet (sadly without the Maltesers!). The more weeks I missed, the more anxious I became about returning but, what kept me going was messages from my parkrun ‘family’. In my mind I knew that returning to Tilgate and back on my exercise journey would be the first step to getting the ‘old me’ back. The fact that all athletes are welcome from runners to walkers meant that I didn’t have to stress about getting anywhere near the PB I set back in 2015, but the ‘broken’ part of me had built my return up into such a big deal, I was terrified. Then another parkrunner suggested that I come back as a volunteer alongside her which was the best advice ever and my small volunteering stint gave me the confidence to come back. I have since (slowly!) walked my first parkrun in over 6 months and then, today, returned to my favourite role of Run Director. I won’t lie, I didn’t sleep the night before and I was shaking like a leaf, especially when I realised how many athletes were in front of me, but the buzz I got afterwards from all the achievements, high fives and thank you’s I received has lifted me right back up. My feelings of achievement, connection and inclusion exactly match the findings of the University boffins’ research!
It’s natural to praise the athletes who work hard to achieve milestones and achieve their PBs and rightly so, however I think those for whom getting out of bed and mixing with people is a challenge also need to be congratulated. I know that others, like myself, have lost their way with health and fitness but parkrun and the support of the community can be enough to get us back on track. So, for all those with a ‘new year, new me’ outlook for 2019, I salute you and may you be successful in all your endeavours. For those like me who have been a little lost, I hope that you navigate your way back on course and that you join me at Tilgate this year whether it’s as a parkrunner or a volunteer – especially as I have now laid my intentions out in public and don’t want to be on my own! You don’t have to be crazy to be a parkrunner – but in the cold of winter it certainly helps!
Normal parkrun resumes this Saturday 5 January for a 9am start by the boathouse. I hope to see lots of you there and #DFYB!