It was my friend Kate who first introduced me to Parkrun. As I’ve written previously she and I both coincidentally started running for the first time in more than 10 years during the same week. I wasn’t sure at first about running so publicly when I couldn’t run for more than a few minutes without getting out of breath… but she persuaded me, and our other friend Cerys, to give it a go. And I’m so glad I did because I loved my first Parkrun so much it’s now become a huge part of my life (and indeed that of my children who attend the 2K Junior Parkrun).
I attend Cardiff Parkrun which takes place in Bute Park (starting near Tesco on Western Avenue). But Cardiff is just one of more than 1,400 locations in 23 countries across five continents hosting the free weekly timed 5K runs.
This month marks one year since I attended my first Parkrun and although life as a busy working mum of three means I don’t get to attend as often as I’d like I absolutely love it when I do.
Here are 12 things I’ve learned in my first year as a Parkrunner.
Have you ever been to Parkrun? Are you thinking of joining a run? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below; on the Cardiff Mummy Says Facebook page or you can tweet me on @cardiffmummy
1. It is for everybody.
Yes, there are elite athletes. Yes, there are world record holders (the record for the fastest ever female time was set in Cardiff earlier this month in fact). Yes, there are people who will make you wonder how it is humanly possible to run that fast.
But there are also people stepping out for the first time who run a bit, walk a bit, puff a bit, walk a bit more. In fact, as this Guardian article explains, “In 2005, the average finish time was 22 minutes and 16 seconds. Last year, having risen every year since then, it was 29:06.
“It might sound paradoxical, but Parkrun is absolutely delighted that average times have got so much slower. It shows that its guiding ethos of creating an environment that is inclusive – whether the runner is a beginner or an Olympian – is working.”
It’s the same distance whether you run it in 15 minutes or 55 minutes. When I attended my first Parkrun this time last year I was so worried about being rubbish that I didn’t print out my barcode, which you need to get an official time on the results page, because I was worried people would laugh at me. Guess what? Nobody laughed at me. Which brings me onto my next point.
2. The atmosphere is so supportive.
Each week we start by giving a cheer to all those attending Cardiff Parkrun for the first time and we celebrate those hitting milestones such as 50th or 100th Parkrun. All the way around the course, the volunteers and marshals cheer you on. In the early weeks when I would struggle to complete the 5K course without stopping, you could guarantee someone would ask me if I was okay and tell me “you can do this”. Their encouragement always got me running again. I’ve since been able to offer the same support to other runners. The supportive atmosphere makes it my favourite run of the week.
3. The volunteers and organisers are incredible.
Parkrun wouldn’t exist without the efforts of the volunteers needed to organise and marshal every run. From the people marking out the start, to those offering encouragement along the course route, to those recording times, taking photos and all the other jobs you had no idea about, these people enable others to complete a timed race every week for free. They are there in the cold and the rain, often forgoing their own run, to support others. I especially love the ones with their children excitedly giving high fives. I always thank as many of the marshals as I can along the route, and am hoping to do my first volunteer stint soon.
4. Running in the rain isn’t as bad as you think.
I was a fair weather runner when I started Parkrun. I’d only go when it was dry. But then I signed up to do two 10K races and a half marathon and figured that living in Wales, the likelihood of racing in the rain was high so I’d better get used to it. My first rainy Parkrun I started off cautiously running around the puddles in Bute Park. Then I realised everyone else was splashing straight through them and so I followed suit. I was soaked to the skin by the end with soggy socks, but oh my, it felt good! So liberating and fun. I even got a personal best (PB) and as runners will know…
5. The thrill of a PB is amazing.
A couple of hours after the race your phone will beep with your official time and I love that moment! I time my runs myself too and have noticed that sometimes it’s slightly out – the timing takes place from the moment the whistle goes rather than from when you personally cross the starting line as with some races. If you’re way at the back of the crowd at a busy Parkrun like Cardiff, then this will definitely add a minute or two to your time. But some weeks everything flows and your phone beeps with those magical number that lets you know you have recorded your best time ever. It’s such a brilliant feeling. Go me!!
6. But a PB isn’t everything.
Showing up and running for the love of running is what it’s about. Getting out of bed for 9am on a Saturday morning to do something active. Stepping outside of your comfort zone. Achieving something you never thought possible. Seeing progress and improvement in yourself. Gaining confidence. Feeling better about yourself, physically and mentally. It’s about so much more than your official time.
7. Parkrunners amaze and inspire me every week.
I don’t just mean the super fast runners (although I think they are incredible too). I mean the ordinary runners achieving extraordinary things. Like the visually impaired woman I see running week in week out with a guide runner showing the way. Like the overweight people making positive changes in their lives. Like the people in their 60s, 70s and beyond showing that age is no barrier. And the youngsters running with their parents and leaving me for dust. The mums and dads with the buggies, some with double buggies, showing their children that health and well-being is a priority in their family. Last week I saw a mum with a baby in a buggy and a toddler on a buggy board – I remember how hard that combination is to walk with, never mind run. These are the people who inspire me beyond words.
8. Parkrun is a wonderful stepping stone to other running events.
If you’d told me at my first Parkrun that within 10 months I would have run a half marathon in just over two hours, I would never have believed you. I couldn’t even run 5K without stopping. But slowly I got better at running 5K and I thought ‘well, maybe I can run 10K’. And so I did and I have two medals to prove it. And then came the Cardiff Half Marathon, a wonderful event with a supportive atmosphere and beautiful route taking in my home city which enabled me to raise several hundred pounds for Ty Hafan children’s hospice. If it hadn’t been for Parkrun, I don’t know if any of that would have happened.
9. You find yourself changing your life to fit in Parkrun.
Having three young children means it’s often difficult to get to Parkrun (I think I make about one in three) but it’s become a big part of our family routine and I do my best to be there as often as I can. I’ve gone out on a Friday night and not drunk a drop and gone home early because I wanted to do Parkrun the next day. I’ve structured family activities and meet-ups so that I can run first. I’m lucky I have a supportive husband and children enabling me to do this – they know how much I love it and are really rooting for me each week. In fact, my children have become regular Junior Parkrunners on a Sunday morning, taking on the 2K route at Llandaff Fields as often as we can.
10. My success at Parkrun doesn’t mean someone else loses.
I’ve never really been one for competitive team sports. I’m competitive with myself, in that I’m striving to be the best I can physically, but I love the non-competitive nature of Parkrun. Perhaps it’s different for the elite runners up front vying for the top spot and record times, but I love how us average runners are as equally happy about our friends’ achievements as we are about our own. Me doing well doesn’t mean the other runners can’t also do well, and vice versa. I’m genuinely thrilled when one of my friends gets a new PB. I’m genuinely thrilled when a friend comes along for the first time. I’m genuinely thrilled when I see the success stories on the Parkrun social media channels. Other people’s victories inspire me to keep on trying too.
11. Running with that many people at 9am on a Saturday morning is such an amazing motivator.
I mostly run on my own. It’s not often I manage to coordinate running with friends. However I do find running surrounded by other people really motivating and I’m always faster at events and races than I am when I run on my own. Maybe it’s the energy buzzing around, maybe it’s thinking ‘well if all these people can do it, so can I’. Whatever. Running with 800 other people on a Saturday morning is awesome.
12. Being part of Parkrun is being part of something amazingly special.
I don’t know that many people at our Parkrun. I have a few friends I meet there sometimes, although we’re all busy mums so we can go for weeks without being there together. I often see people I know well enough to have a little chat with at the end. But some weeks I go and none of my friends are there, and I don’t really know to anyone else. Yet the friendly nature of the event and the support along the route means someone always speaks to me or encourages me and I really feel like I’m part of something amazing. Knowing that all across the county, and indeed the world, thousands upon thousands of people are doing exactly the same as me, is amazing.