I’m pretty sure that I am very late to this party. That everyone else reading this post will be thinking “you’ve only just discovered Parkrun, where have you been hiding for the past few years?”
Just in case there’s anyone out there thinking “I have no idea what you’re talking about” Parkrun is a series of free timed 5K runs held in parks all across the UK on Saturday mornings. Run by volunteers they attract people of all ages and abilities. Registration is free and easy. Sign up, get sent a personal barcode which you print off and take with you to make sure that your time is recorded.
Sounds good, right? So how come I’ve only just got involved? In truth, I’ve known about my local Parkrun for a long time. It’s a 10-15 min stroll from my house at most, so hardly difficult to get to. But knowing about it and deciding to drag myself out of bed on a Saturday morning in time for the 9am start are two different things. I’d previously found all sorts of reasons not to go along. Some of them were even good ones.
But recently I’ve not been running much, well at all. My knee/leg injury has taken a long time to heal and anything high impact has been off the cards. Thankfully things seem to be on the mend and I wanted to give my legs a test – I figured that a 5K that I could run partially on grass was probably a good place to start. I was also getting increasingly curious about what my 5K time would be these days. It’s been over 2 years since I timed myself properly over the distance.
So last Saturday I set my alarm and wandered up the canal path to Mile End Parkrun. It was easy to find and I soon got chatting to another runner. Everyone seemed really friendly. First time runners were given a quick introductory chat – two laps of the course, stay on the right hand side, turn around at a blue cone and the finish line would be on the grass. Pick up my token and take it, and my personal barcode to be scanned. All seemed very straightforward.
There were around 70 people there by the time we were ready to start. All ages, all shapes and sizes. It felt like a really inclusive event and there were people who clearly knew each other well from coming along every week. We were started at 9am on the dot and I made my usual mistake of going off far too quickly and then having to reign my speed back in to make sure that I could keep going!
I had decided to use this run as a chance to do some Fartlek training as well. I’d heard that there were a couple of hills on the course so I’d decided to sprint up those and then walk/jog back down the other side. It might not make for my best time ever but I was getting some additional benefit from the run.
I could definitely feel that I hadn’t run for a while – my lungs took a while to warm up and it was only on my second lap that I started to feel comfortable, with my breathing a bit more under control. Sprinting up the hills was hard work – I could feel my legs and lungs burning but in a satisfying way that I’ve not felt for a while since I’ve been on the running bench.
I crossed the finish line in 33:45 and was delighted. The last time I was timed over 5K it had taken me close to 38 minutes. I was really pleased with the improvement but knew that I could do better.
So this week I went back again to see if I could and proved myself right by taking another minute off that new PB. I also ended up in a sprint finish against two young girls, they must have been 10 or 11. We’d been playing leapfrog all the way along the course. Not actual leapfrog you understand, just taking it in turns to overtake each other. I was pretty sure that I’d got them both beaten but at the very last second one of them ducked under the line ahead of me. I actually groaned with disappointment and then promptly took myself off to one side to have a word with myself!
After having my token and barcode scanned I picked up a bottle of water from the coffee van and stayed to cheer home the last runners. There’s a back marker who stays with the last runner on the course and runs the whole thing with them, no matter how slow. I really like that.
People have told me that Parkrun is addictive and I can totally see why. I am sure that I can knock some more time off my PB and I am even more sure that the little girl will not get the better of me next time! Bring on next Saturday!