A couple of weeks ago, I reached my 50th Parkrun milestone – a feat I never would have imagined possible when I turned up at my first Parkrun event around eighteen months ago. Back on that day in late 2018, I was looking for ideas on family-friendly activities for a stint on BBC Radio Scotland, and had persuaded my eldest son to go along with me, assuring him that we would absolutely only go the once. I had never been a keen runner, having spent time in gyms years before running on treadmills and finding the whole experience endlessly boring. I was not a runner. Nope. Not ever. We would do our bit around the local Parkrun course, go home, and never darken the Parkrun finish line again.
Eighteen months on though, and things have turned out a little differently. My eldest son and I have both passed our 50th Parkrun milestones, and myself and my youngest son have also become regulars as volunteers. The whole family gets involved these days, with my husband approaching his 35th event, and our dog, Brody, delighting in joining his pack on 5K Saturday runs around our local riverside. Last year, off the back of my Parkrun addiction, I even completed my first official 10K running event.
So how on earth did this happen?
Am I a runner now, or is there something else going on?
The answer to both questions is probably yes – but there’s a bit more to it than that. Because at that very first Parkrun, eighteen months ago, I discovered that Parkrun was about a lot more than just running – it was about health, connection, getting people in touch with nature – and celebrating community and home. As a kid, I hated sporting events, which I associated with feelings of shame, inadequacy – and always being picked last for the netball team. But this event was nothing like that. This was full of people being encouraging, shouts of ‘well done’ as we rounded corners, volunteers peppering the course with high fives – a literal onslaught of supportive words along the way.
The event started to impact on our family life, as we fell into a ritual of coming home to a post-event family brunch and a routine that would become known as our ‘Parkrun Saturday.’ Rituals are important to family life, I find, and this is one we guard closely, even on the fiercest of winter days.
There is a fear, I think, that can hold people back from signing up to events like Parkrun – the concern that you have to be a ‘proper runner’ before you can even grace the start line. I’ll let you into a little secret – few people feel like a ‘proper runner.’ (Few people feel like a ‘proper’ anything in life. We’re all just winging it, trying to look like we know what’s going on.) I’m the same me who started running eighteen months ago – albeit with better trainers, and a 50th Parkrun t-shirt. It’s unlikely I’ll ever run a marathon, or a half marathon – my injury-prone feet keep telling me not to try. But I’m there, showing up every Saturday and giving whatever my best looks like. Some Saturdays that feels like flying – more often it feels like stumbling and staggering my way around the course.
My 50th Parkrun turned out to be something of an anti-climax if I’m being honest – the weather was truly awful and it was one of my slowest runs in history. But something I’ve learned since starting Parkun is that it isn’t about how fast you can go (winter is not my season of energy) – it’s about turning up, putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward – whatever ‘moving forward’ means to you.
You don’t need to be a ‘proper runner’ to come to Parkrun. You just need to be you, with a willingness to run, walk or volunteer on Saturday mornings.
Because hopefully by now you understand what I’ve been trying to tell you.
That Parkrun can actually teach you quite a lot about living.
And that maybe, Parkrun isn’t about running after all.
Parkrun UK is celebrating International Women’s Day on Saturday 7th March with events around the country encouraging more women to walk, run, jog or volunteer at Parkrun. If you would like to get involved, you’ll find more details on the Parkrun UK website. Why not give it a try this International Women’s Day? You might surprise yourself, like me!