My First Parkrun

My first Fit & Active post. On Saturday, I was up bright and early (nothing unusual there), I donned my running gear and drove to Burnley’s Towneley Park to take part in the phenomenon that is ‘parkrun’. It’s now nearly 6 months since Jude was born and I am slowly but surely trying to get back into shape. Let’s get this straight. I’m not an elite athlete, but I’m not a novice runner either. Confession: I ran a marathon once, so I do have some running experience. However over the last few years I haven’t been in the habit of running regularly. So I’ve decided to do something about it.

If you haven’t heard about parkrun before, let me enlighten you (if you have, skip to the next paragraph!). Starting in 2004, parkrun was set up as a weekly 5k timed race for local runners in Bushy Park, London run by volunteers. Over the next few years it expanded to different locations in the UK with everyone meeting at the same time, 9am on a Saturday morning. Eleven years on, parkrun now takes place in a 10 other countries including South Africa, Russia and the USA and is still run by volunteers.

Anyone can sign up and register. It takes a few minutes on the parkrun.org website and then you are emailed your personal ID along with a barcode. In order to take part you just have to turn up with your printed barcode. Thanks to my crafty mother, mine is even laminated! Once registered, you can take part in any parkrun … in the world!

There are hundreds of events in the UK alone, and in my locality (the North West) there are over 30 to choose from. Although my local event is Pendle, I chose the Burnley parkrun which is just a few miles further away because a) it attracts more runners (so it’s easier to get lost in the crowd), b) I know the park really well having walked, run and played there both as a child and parent and c) it is a slightly easier route.

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Towneley Hall

Towneley Park is a beautiful location. Locals refer to it as the jewel in Burnley’s crown. On a sunny and ever so slightly chilly Saturday morning, it didn’t disappoint. I parked up and as my husband recommended, just followed the crowd of runners. I had that nervous feeling in my tummy walking up the ‘avenue’ to Towneley Hall. Initially it seems as though everyone looks like an A grade, Olympic standard athlete. Whilst there were some very lean and fit people there, on looking around a bit I saw a few more runners like myself – slightly shabby running gear (you know the cheap stuff from Sports Direct) and maybe carrying a bit of extra weight around the middle!

There were a couple of announcements before the race got underway. Because the course route has recently changed, one person gave a quick explanation to us newbies and anyone who hadn’t run it before. The person in charge (or the one with the megaphone at least!) then announced the pace runners. These were 6 volunteer runners with bright yellow tabards and numbers on the back, representing the time they were going to complete the course in – 20, 22, 24, 26, 28 and 30 minutes. I completely ignored everyone except the 30 minute pace runner – there was no way I was getting anywhere near the others.

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At the start. My slightly nervous smile!

Before I knew it, the sound went to signal the start of the race. And we were off! I kept to the back and just settled down to follow everyone. I am not a fast runner by any stretch of the imagination. I can sprint, but only for about 20 metres maximum. I would call myself a plodder. I am the person you might drive past on the road and feel a bit sorry for, thinking I have been running for an hour (when in fact it has been 10 minutes). Anyway I decided not to go hell for leather and instead settled into my ploddy pace.

The race is about 2 ½ loops of the same route. This means that approximately 7 minutes in, the slower runners (like me) start to see the much faster runners on their way back towards us, already having doubled the distance we have run. It could be slightly demoralising. However I pretended they were just super-humans and ‘normal’ me put my head down and plodded on.

I won’t bore you with every inch of the race. Suffice it to say that I finished. Not in the most spectacular time, but I finished all the same. And I was happy. Happy to get off the mark and get my first parkrun under my belt. I received my timing chip and handed my barcode (in all its laminated glory) to be scanned. I knew it wouldn’t be till later on that day that I would find out my time and position in the race.

As I was walking to the car park, I bumped into my old primary school teacher. He was always one of my favourite teachers and actually encouraged me to run at the age of 8. I reminded him that he would take a group of us cross country running in the dead of winter in the pouring rain. We gave up our lunchtimes willingly and voluntarily! I felt slightly embarrassed when on discussing the race he told me he had completed it in around 24 minutes. The guy is almost twice my age! I knew that I was a good 7 or 8 minutes behind that.

A couple of hours later I received a text message. My time was 31 minutes and 32 seconds. Not bad I guess for a first effort. My aim was around 30 minutes, so I wasn’t too far behind. I now I can focus on beating that in races to come. As well as the text, there is a webpage with all the day’s statistics. You can see how many took part (254), your position (176th), the winner (not me) and their time (17 minutes 12 seconds!!!!). I could also see that there were 100 women who took part and I was 52nd (hmm not bad). You can also see every other runner’s statistics if you are bored and want to look at that level of detail (I did …. Just for a nosey and research purposes obviously!).

So that was it, my first parkrun complete. I am hoping, childcare permitting, to do many more. Actually, if I had one of those fancy off-road buggies, I could take Baby Rainbow Jude with me, but I don’t. Children are welcome too. I know someone who takes her 7 year old (and he gets a better time than me), but under 11’s have to be under adult supervision at all times. Maybe I’ll wait until Dylan is a bit older, and in the meantime concentrate on smashing the 30 minute barrier!

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