Tuesday, 18 June 2013

How parkrun got me running

The start of my running story

While I’ve not always run, running has been there, just out of reach for most of my life. I think all of my family have been runners to some extent at some point, with my Dad being by far the most keen. He’s run a few marathons among other races and has been a long time member of Preston Harriers.

So, with running apparently in my blood, why haven’t I always been a runner? That would be a very good question!

The pre-parkrun and pre-Garmin days

With my job tying me to a computer for most of the time, a few years ago I noticed that I was becoming increasingly sedentary and my weight increased to a lifetime high. I’ve always been quite a spindly thing and my belly was becoming an issue!

I did the sensible, middle-aged thing and joined a local gym, which I enjoyed for a while. I gradually gravitated more and more towards the treadmill, slowly building up to 10km. I certainly wouldn’t have called myself a runner - 10km indoors felt like a hollow victory - I more and more wanted to be running outside.

Tentatively, I started doing short outdoor runs, no more than 2 or 3km. It really felt a lot harder running outside. There were corners, hills, potholes; it rained, snowed and the sun beat down, very occasionally!

To my detriment though, I was running alone with no advice or encouragement, where at times I could probably have used some of each. This was partly on purpose - other runners felt like superhumans. I’d seen them whizzing round the park, running twice as fast as I could have managed or imagined.

There’s also a running mentality in some quarters that I find quite elitist. Its easy to find posts on the internet saying things like, “You’re not a runner if can’t run X miles in less than Y minutes”. I find that very unappealing and it put me off talking to other runners. I shouldn’t have let it though and please don’t make that same mistake.


When my old trainers finally started to cause me problems in late 2010, I popped to a local running specialist shop to get some decent running shoes. It was there that I first heard the term parkrun!

I checked out the parkrun website and found that the Coventry parkrun start line was less than 1km from home. The parkrun ethos seemed right up my street and on the 15th of January, 2011, I turned up for my first parkrun. However, in a somewhat inauspicious start to my parkrun story, I went to the wrong start line, the route having recently changed, so missed the start of the run.

Encouraged by a really friendly marshal, I decided to join in anyway, and the marshal would be my start and finish line. I really enjoyed it and finished in a little over 26 minutes, which I was very pleased with.

I became an occasional parkrunner - not weekly by any stretch. However, gaining confidence with the help of other runs through the week my times gradually improved and I ended the year with a 23:20 PB.


* other GPS sports watches are available

The addition of a GPS watch to my running kit meant that I could finally get my geek on and paw over pace, elevation & heart rate graphs! In all seriousness though, being able to easily log my runs and performance over time was very motivating and with the Olympics hoo-ha in full swing, I challenged myself to finish the year with a sub 20 minute PB at Coventry parkrun.

As it happens, I wish I’d been more careful in my choice of challenge - had it been for 20 minutes or less, I would have done it, but with a time of 20:00, I failed!

The volunteers

The focus I gained with the 20 minute challenge improved my running no end and I became a much more regular parkrunner. I certainly felt more inclined to call myself a runner.

parkrun though, isn't just about the running. Without the fabulous volunteers who stage parkrun at (time of writing), 267 locations every week, parkrun couldn't exist. So, when I'm not running, I'm volunteering - I've had a go at most of the roles now, the most recent being the Run Director role.

Despite initial terror, the great support I got form the Event Director, Jason, as well as the rest of the volunteer team on the day, meant that it went very smoothly and I’m looking forward to next time.

parkrun again

because this is what parkrun is all about

After having gradually chipped away at my PB in early 2013 - down to 19:44 - I arrived at Memorial Park on an unremarkable 4th of May & began the parkrun well. I managed to keep up a good pace into the second and third kilometres, further than usual, and felt good. A lovely thing then happened - a lovely parkrun thing. Somewhere between the third and fourth kilometres, a friend pulled alongside. Ian would normally be finishing a couple of minutes ahead of me, but was recovering from injury and he’d started from the back of the field, taking it relatively easy as he worked his way forward. We exchanged a few words and he and I realised that I had a significant PB within my grasp, so he joined me for the rest of the run, no questions asked.

His words of encouragement were exactly what I needed - I gritted my teeth, dug deep and crossed the line in 19:10, a 31s PB! I was staggered that I’d managed it & really grateful to Ian, who after all, could have just run on.

I've had similar parkrun experiences in the past where marshals and runners, friends and strangers have offered encouragement just at the right time, and that really does make a difference. While parkrun isn't overtly competitive, at least in the race sense, it is about challenging yourself and aiming high, but in a friendly nurturing environment. The support of your fellow runners can help you achieve your goals - and achieving your running goals can give you confidence to go on and achieve goals in other walks of life. I really believe that.

At the end of the day

So can I call myself a runner? For me, the thing that tips the balance firmly to Yes, is that I've recently picked up a running injury. I wear it like a badge of honour. I'm quite foolishly, ridiculously even, proud of it. I have finally landed!

And the only advice I'd offer, if I felt qualified to give it, would be to talk to other runners. You'll find you're not alone in your misgivings and you'll learn a lot from more experienced runners.

That, and don't forget your barcode. #dfyb

Happy parkrunning!


  1. Mathew, I have run for over 50 yrs. 40 yrs ago I could run 5 min miles. Now I can just about run 8 min miles. I am still a runner and will always be a runner, no matter what min miles I run. Running is in your mind and heart as well as in your legs. Keep up the fantastic progress!

  2. Thank you Stan! Good of you to say. I already feel it in my mind and legs, but I'm beginning to feel it in my heart too! Long may you do the same. Happy running!


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