Kick Off Your Weekend With Parkrun
For the 73rd time I’m up at a time of the morning I wouldn’t consider civilised at a weekend, lining up with about a hundred other people to go and run around a local park. Over the last two years I’ve left my alarm clock set and given up a lie-in. There’s been running in the cold damp autumn, one memorable occasion in the snow, very windy mornings and surprisingly few downpours. Saturday mornings are given to parkrun, and myself and 821,027 other members of this group pull on our trainers, head to a park or a wood or a trail or a racetrack and at 9am we all set off on a 5k walk, jog or run.
Parkrun organise free, weekly, 5k, timed runs around the world. They are open to everyone, free, and are safe and easy to take part in. There will be one very near you and if there isn’t it’s very simple to set one up. To take part all you need is to register on the parkrun website and print off a barcode, and remember to take it with you when you head out. There are no cut-off time limits and people won’t wander off home if you’re taking over an hour to get around the course. In fact the people who come in last are often those who get the biggest cheer, because they found the motivation to do some exercise.
The whole parkrun thing started in London in 2004 as a time trial exercise, but in 2007 Woodhouse Moor in Leeds became home of one of the first new parkrun events with 15 people getting out and having a go, with times ranging from 17 to 58 minutes. These days Woodhouse Moor is one of the most popular parkruns with around 400 runners, which can be a bit scary if you’ve never run in a big race before. Thankfully in Leeds there are four other parkruns you can choose from, at Roundhay park, Temple Newsam, Bramley and Cross Flatts. My favourite is Cross Flatts simply because there’s fewer people there. There are other events quite close; Pontefract parkrun is at the racecourse, Oakwell Hall is a lovely country park in Batley, Nostell Priory is a beautiful National Trust estate with plenty to distract as you try to find a rhythm on the woodland trails. If you find yourself getting bored with one parkrun you can visit any other without needing to register for it, just don’t forget your barcode.
When first hearing about parkrun, the thing I remembered most was the tagline “walk, jog, run” which sums up the spirit of these Saturday mornings; it isn’t about getting a fast time or coming in the top ten, but more about doing what you can, and aiming to get better. There’s an emphasis on “PB” or “personal bests” where the only person you’re really competing against is yourself, and if you start off with walking, one day you’ll start jogging and before long you’ll be running, continuously improving one way or another with every run.
Jogging around a park doesn’t require lots of complicated technical gear. You don’t even need a watch as parkrun will email you your time when the results have been sorted out (waiting for that email is a definite highlight, especially if you think you did well). What is essential is comfortable clothes and trainers. There’s plenty of advice on getting the right trainers but the important thing is that they fit well, feel comfortable and that your toe doesn’t hit against the front of the trainer when you’re going downhill. Go to a specialised shop and get gait analysis if you want to, but those trainers will cost you. Ladies: buy a sports bra. Take advice from friends, go for a fitting and your chest and back will love you for it. Every week I see people jogging in heavy tracksuits and plimsolls and it makes me wince every time their heel hits the ground.
We can talk technique, too… parkrun is all about finishing the run, not doing the first mile in seven minutes and then being unable to do any more, having to drop out. You need to think about pacing and your energy levels. 5 kilometers is 3.1 miles, and at a brisk walk that’ll still take 45 minutes. It is very easy to get drawn into the energy that the pack gets when the starter is saying “ready… set…” and set off at a blistering pace with the best of the runners, only to be passed by the slowest on the second lap. A 5k is a long run for many people and a measured start, picking up the pace if you think you can in the second half of the race, is a good habit to have. Remember: in such a mixed field the only person you should be trying to beat is yourself.
If you can’t run for whatever reason you can still go to parkrun. Every event is volunteer driven and there is always a need for marshals, timekeepers, flag holders, token givers, people to write down people’s barcodes when the scanners don’t work, cheerleaders, and people to act as the tail markers so that the rest of the volunteers know where abouts the field is. Here’s a nice thing: if you volunteer 25 times you get a technical fabric t-shirt, absolutely free. You get a similar shirt, in different colours when you’ve run 50, 100, 250 and 500 runs. A really nice part of parkrun is seeing other runners and their different shirts and trying to work out just how much of a commitment that meant, from turning up 25 times to show people the way round, right up to going out for a run Saturday morning for ten years.
The best part about parkrun, however, is the sense of how you’re running with friends. Everybody is incredibly supportive and encouraging towards new runners, and everyone looks out for each other; if a runner is having trouble then other runners will slow and offer a hand. Everybody congratulates the fastest runners and the slowest walkers on finishing, and some will go to a cafe for a chat and some breakfast afterwards. There’s a nice social aspect too, where parkruns will organise their own Christmas parties or group trips to other parkruns. Several running groups have started from parkrun as well, such as the South Leeds Lakers and the Hyde Park Harriers who only exist because people who knew each other only for an hour a week wanted to get better at running and wanted some mates to go out with.
Parkrun is like a family, in the end. 821,029 people (the number went up since I started writing this) across the UK and more across the world get up, pull on some trainers and pound the ground all at the same time. It’s making people fitter, healthier and happier and it’s a great family to be a part of.
All the parkruns in Leeds can be found here: http://runleeds.co.uk/events/
Fancy a bit of parkrun tourism in Yorkshire and beyond? click through here: http://runleeds.co.uk/r/parkrun-event-list/
Photo credit – Anne Akers