Park Run

park runs are Great!

‘Well done for being here’ the mega phone lady called out to us all

Park Runs are free, weekly community events all around the world. They take place at the weekends and are a 5km run in a public open space that anyone can join.

It took me one year and thirty-five minutes to complete my first Park Run. The thirty-five minutes was the time it took me to complete the run. And the extra year, well, that’s how long it took me to summon up enough courage to take part.

When I look back now, it seems ludicrous to have wasted a year worrying, rather than taking part. But sometimes (no matter how much you want to do something), fear, anxiety and self-doubt can stop you in your tracks

Here’s how they played out in my head during that frustrating year:

Me:I think I might take part in a Park Run.
Anxiety:But we don’t know anything about ‘Park Runs’. They might be full of weirdos.
Me:Um… well I’m looking on the website and they don’t look like weirdos. They look like normal, people going for a run.
Self-doubt:Yes, look how healthy they all look. I bet they’re all really fit and they’ve been running for years. What would they want you there for? You’ve only been running five minutes.
Me:It does say everyone is welcome.
Anxiety:Yes, but you can just about run 5km and you’re not very fast. You’re going to get in the way and make a nuisance of yourself.
Fear:Oh my God. What if you come last? What if they are all standing at the finish line waiting for you – pointing at the slow coach? You’ll be a laughing stock. Please don’t go. Please let’s just stay at home.
Me:I don’t want that to be laughed at. That would be awful. But, I really don’t think they would. It’s a charitable organisation that welcomes people of all ages.
Anxiety:Yes, they say that but it doesn’t necessarily mean all ages will be there. What if everyone is twenty years younger than you? It’ll look like they’re out running with their mum.
Self Doubt:Imagine having to keep up with the youngsters.
Me:I’m not that old. Besides I know plenty of men and women my age that go running.
Anxiety:Men! Now hang on a minute! You’ve only just become single again and don’t want to look like you’re out on the pull. For all we know these Park Runs could be a smoke screen for an unofficial dating venue.
Me:Oh God no! It’s the last thing I want having people chatting me up.
Fear: Anxiety’s got a point. It’s not a risk worth taking. Keep running on your own, you’ve got us to keep you company. You don’t want to go out there with all those …those…PEOPLE.
Me: Goodness, there’s so much to think about, my instinct was to go and take part, but now, well, I don’t really know what to do.
Fear:Exactly our point. We know you better than anyone. And we know what you need. We’re just looking out for you and have your best interests at heart. Like we always do. Why do you get these silly ideas in your head?
Self Doubt:Fear’s right. It’s a silly idea. You don’t want to go somewhere new and meet new people. You haven’t got any decent running clothes to wear anyway. I think we should forget all this nonsense and go and have a nice cup of tea and a handful of biscuits.
Me:I like biscuits. They’re my go-to-item that cheers me up when I’m feeling a bit bad about myself.
Anxiety:We know!
Self Doubt:Oh sorry, have we made you feel bad about yourself then?
Me: It doesn’t matter. It was a silly idea anyway. I’ll put the kettle on.

I’m making fun of myself here, but, when playing out in real life this negative cycle can keep you trapped in a rut for a long time. But, eventually I overcame them.

On the morning of my first run, I arrived thirty minutes early and sat in my car watching other people arrive and greet each other. Eventually, I pushed myself from my car-cocoon to join the group. I hovered on the periphery, stretching self-consciously whilst focusing on the nearby river avoiding eye contact.

A lady with a megaphone announced for new runners to join her. I noticed other people standing as unsure as I was beginning to walk in her direction. There were ten new runners that day. We were welcomed, given a briefing about the course, an explanation of the etiquette of keeping out of the way of other park users and introduced to the volunteers. The briefing ended with a friendly round of applause. As we joined the rest of the runners more people were getting applauded. Those celebrating birthdays, people who were visiting from other Park Runs and people who had reached milestone runs such of twenty-five, fifty and even one hundred runs completed.

‘Well done for being here’ the mega phone lady called out to us all. And, my eyes filled with tears at pride for finally overcoming my fears and being part of it. I saw other runners smile at themselves too and, at that moment, I realised that I wasn’t alone. We all had our story and our reason for being there.

The runners consisted of people from all walks of life. I saw dad’s running with young babies in special off road pushchairs, shouting encouragement to their partners who were running ahead with a look of elation for their half hour of ‘me’ time. I saw a group of retired men – who met each week to encourage each other to keep active – discussing where they would go for brunch afterwards. I saw family outings with even the dog taking part. I saw a father and his teenage son who were hardly speaking to each other but enjoying the silence of their male bonding time. And, when I finished my run and stood cheering the last runners at the finish line with the rest of the friendly, welcoming participants, I watched a lady come in last, walking in triumphant pain, with tears running down her face.

‘I never thought I’d be able to do this again, after my operation.’ She said rubbing her stomach with one hand and collecting her time ticket with the other. But she did. We all did.

So, my first Park Run may have taken a year and thirty five minutes to complete. But, from then on I got quicker. Not just because I got fitter – but because I didn’t waste any more time listening to fear, anxiety and self-doubt.

If you are interested in taking part in a Park Run please visit their website to find out more

My first Park Run
Poppy the Pacemaker improving my time!

And, my eyes filled with tears at pride for myself for finally overcoming my fears and being part of it.