What does parkrun mean to me ?
Sometime in the second half of 2019, a friend who has been a parkrunner for years described me as someone who does parkrun, but isn’t a runner. At the time I thought it was an accurate description, maybe a little harsh, but fair.
So why do I get up and start every possible Saturday (pre Coronavirus) with a parkrun ?
I had heard about parkrun before it started in Uckfield, my friend had mentioned he knew that one was being organised, but I hadn’t run since school, 35 years ago, and it wasn’t my strong point then, so although mildly interesting, I had no plans to take part. After all, I’m not a runner.
For Uckfield’s third parkrun, I went along as a way to encourage my son to do it, thinking he would enjoy it. I never intended to do it again, but after that first try, we were buzzing all day, waiting for the text message to confirm our times, analysing our performances and thinking where we could improve. For me there was a lot of improvement possible. Running the whole way being the most obvious. Yes, my time was almost double his, but that didn’t matter. We couldn’t wait to go back and try again a week later.
After a few runs, I decided I couldn’t keep coming along to this free event without contributing something , so I started volunteering, wherever possible running as well, but if not, helping out with whatever was needed.
Then came winter.
My son stopped coming along as he didn’t enjoy getting wet and muddy, or being slowed by the conditions. By now though, getting up early on a Saturday to help set up, do the first timers briefing, and run through the swamps, mud and streams that had appeared, was just a part of my Saturday, and I always looked forward to it. My times were slower, but I knew that come the spring and a dry course, I would be prepared for a new personal best.
When the Christmas Day parkrun was announced, my wife simply said ‘No. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. No’. Fortunately, she changed her mind. Then on New Year’s Day my son and I headed down to Seaford for a nice flat tarmac course, and of course a parkrun outright personal best, which I have since improved at Bognor Regis, another nice flat tarmac parkrun.
More parkrun courses beckon once parkrun starts up again, but Uckfield parkrun is where I will be most Saturdays.
At the last parkrun to be held, I wrote my first run report stating that next week I would be earning my 25 Volunteer T-Shirt. It turns out I have to wait a bit longer for that one, but whenever it turns out to be, I’ll be there.
In February 2020, I joined Uckfield Runners, and have entered my first 10k, although the date keeps getting put back (which I’m actually pleased about because it gives me more time to prepare), but I am running several times a week now, and looking forward to parkrun starting again. I’m never going to be as quick as my son, unless I can find a time machine somewhere, but I’m going to get the gap as low as I can, and when he’s as old as I am now, he’ll have a target to beat.
So, back to the original question, what does parkrun mean to me ?
Well, first of all, it’s not about the running, because one of the many great things about parkrun is you don’t need to run to join in. Of course most people run or jog, at least some of the course, but plenty of people also just walk, often as a starting point to build up to jogging, but there’s no requirement to. I still haven’t run, alright, jogged, all the way at Uckfield parkrun.
I enjoy improving my time, but the satisfaction I get afterwards, even without a personal best, outweighs the momentary suffering of getting wet and muddy in the winter, or hot and sweaty in the summer. I also enjoy the volunteering, and you don’t have to be a runner to volunteer, or a volunteer to run, but you can combine both.
I often do the first timers briefing (as shown above) and I enjoy meeting both new parkrunners, and experienced visitors, hearing their parkrun stories, and then chatting afterwards about their thoughts on the Uckfield course. I’ve made new friends, and my fitness is still improving, but the biggest thing for me is being involved in something that is so much bigger than just a timed 5k run. It’s knowing that across the world at 9AM on a Saturday, hundreds of thousands of others are doing exactly the same, for so many different reasons, each with their own story to tell, and my running is just a tiny part of that.
I’ve also found a better description for myself. ‘I run. It doesn’t matter how far or how fast. I run, so I’m a runner.’ I know I’m never going to beat any records, except my own, but the most important person for me to beat is me, and that’s okay.
Why not tell us your parkrun story ?