OK before I start, no I haven't missed a capital P off parkrun, that's the way its spelt and you can get into trouble for getting it wrong!
There will be a lot of you out there who have no idea what parkrun is and until May last year I'll be honest and say I didn't either. So what is it, for this I will pinch direct from their website "parkrun organise free, weekly, 5km timed runs around the world. They are open to everyone, free, and are safe and easy to take part in. These events take place in pleasant parkland surroundings and we encourage people of every ability to take part; from those taking their first steps in running to Olympians; from juniors to those with more experience; we welcome you all" and that sums it up. You turn up to one of 209 (so far and that's just in this country) parks with a barcode that you have printed off when registered and at 9am you run/jog or walk 5k. Get your barcode scanned at the end and a few hours later you get a time. Simple and a great way to start your weekend. It all started back in 2004 when 13 people took part in a time trial in Bushy park London, last weekend there was over 40,000 running all over the world.
January last year I had started a couch to 5k plan in the gym. I wanted to build up some fitness, mainly as my little boy (now boys) was starting to grow up and I wanted to be able to run round a park with him kicking a football and doing all the dad and lad activities possible. Little did I know this would become addictive.
Anyway I finally got to the stage where I could run 5k on the running machine, it was a tad boring but I never had the confidence to run outside. While having an online chat with a rally friend who had taken up running, it was suggested I should have a look at parkrun. There was 3 options fairly close to home for me to chose from, Bradford Lister Park and in Leeds there was Roundhay and Hyde Park (There is now two more in Leeds - Temple Newsam and Cross Flatts). The only one I had heard of was Roundhay but after doing a bit of digging I decided to give Hyde Park a try out, this was the first one to start outside of London. Tina knew the area, it wasn't far from work and I had a colleague coming with me.
So on Saturday 19th May 2012 I lined up at the start with 314 others, I was rather nervous but had my fan club there in the shape of Tina and Liam. My trainers were nice and shiny and you could tell they had never seen a road or park but I was ready to go. At first glance the park is fairly flat but I soon realised this was not the case. The first part is nice and downhill but then there are a couple of long steady hills before dropping back down at the other side of the park. You have to do 3 laps and there is a few marshals dotted around to make sure you keep to the right route and to offer much needed encouragement. Think it was a shock to the system to be getting lapped so early on and I was surprised how much harder it was to run outside compared to the running machine. I couldn't do the full 5k without a couple of walking breaks but I finished 287th out of 315. My time was 33.39. Nothing special but I was happy enough for a first time. The fastest on the day did it in 17.07, I couldn't have even done that if I had only done 2 laps! In the finish funnel once I could finally speak I remember talking to the lass who had finished behind me, her name was Emma and she had done about half a dozen.
It was a nice feeling later to get the text message through with the times on and then check the email with the full list. The following weekend I went back again and once again I couldn't get round without walking. I was disappointed that my time was slower. I finished near Emma again, this time just behind her and we chatted and we decided that the following week we would run together. This made a huge difference as I finally got round with out walking and I think this is when I realised how much I prefer to run with people. I remember coming into the final turn on the park and was dead on my feet but I was pushed on to keep going all the way to the finish line. It was a new PB and I was buzzing and the parkrun bug had hit me. Its hard to believe that a week shy of a year from my first parkrun Emma and I finished the Leeds Half Marathon together.
Over the next few months I would go to as many as were possible. I was never going to be able to go every weekend what with Tina working and family commitments but I did have a stage where I got 4 PB's in a row. The feeling at the end when you thought you had beat your time was great but then you had to wait for the official text to come through and it got to the stage I was jumping at every text.
Fast forward to today and I have only done 35 in total. 28 have been in Hyde Park where I have my fastest 5k time of 27.10. This was done with help of 3 other runners who gave up there own runs to help me, this is something I have noticed happens a lot at parkrun, many will help others in place of pushing for a time of their own. I did fall out of love with Hyde Park for a short period of time when I was finding the 3 laps were getting to me and I needed a change, which is when I went to Temple Newsam. Now what a venue this is for a run, I did love it and it was very family friendly and Liam loved the farm that is there, but I soon headed back to Hyde Park because of the people I was getting to know. I have also done one at Bradford, a couple at Wolverhampton when I go down to see my family and one at Sewerby whilst on holiday. This one was amazing, running along the cliff top for 2 miles before cross country through the house grounds. Nice cafe and a great family morning out with a lovely zoo.
So how and why did parkrun become so important to me, especially as I can't do every week and 35 isn't that many. Well while doing parkrun I started to see a lot of people running in run club vests and Hyde Park Harriers seemed to be the most common. I decided to check them out and went to one of their Tuesday night runs. I found a very friendly run club who were very welcoming to all levels of ability. parkrun got me a run club which a year on I am now a group leader, on the committee and running a few races.
The other major thing that changed with parkrun was my circle of friends. I had been up in Yorkshire for a few years from Wolverhampton and my friend base wasn't all that big, but this changed through parkrun and joining run club. Not just a new base of friends for me but also my family have been welcomed with open arms, there are some amazing people at parkrun/run club. Liam loves going to the park on a Saturday morning cheering people on and even helped marshal by shouting which way to go. He gets high fives every week and I can't wait till the day I can run one with him.
I have actually lost parkrun now to Tina. This is the lass who said she would never be a runner but decided with her friend to walk one. They did their first one at the end of June walking in a time of 48.58, 4 parkruns later her time is down to 41.49 and is doing a run walk plan with Jaz a good friend who we wouldn't have got to know without parkrun and who is adored by my eldest lad. I don't mind Tina doing this, its great for her and I love cheering people on and am very proud of how well she is doing. I have said she is not allowed to get a 50 t-shirt before me (parkrun give you t-shirts after 50, 100 and 250 runs). So until parkrun start a creche at Leeds, which is starting to be needed, I will take a back seat for now and enjoy seeing the effort everyone puts in.
parkrun takes up about an hour of your morning on a Saturday, or maybe a couple of hours as we have now become fairly regular at the post run cafe - another part that has added to our enjoyment and helped develop new friends.
I would suggest to anyone who is interested in doing something different to get out of bed early on Saturday morning, pull on your trainers and find your local parkrun. There will be one not to far away, there seems to be new ones starting up every week, don't fancy running but like the sound of the event, well they are always after volunteers who are such an important part of the parkrun experience, Marshall's, scanners, time keepers, token sorters they are all needed, just be careful though it could change your life as your weekends will be planned around your run!