As this post gets published, I am likely getting ready to run my 9th parkrun - on a beach!
Yes, I am being a 'tourist' today and making the most of my weekend by being up the north coast of Ireland and running the Portrush parkrun before a surf (finally some swell!)!
But what is parkrun? And why do I love it so much?
Let me give you some background on my running - let's just say it dates back to...hmm... just a few months ago! Yes, one day in February I decided to start running. No particular reasons apart from the fact that I always hated the idea of running, and I decided it was time to face the hate and trying to see if I could understand why so many people love it ( I know I know I sound mental...).
My first running attempt was a 5 Km of mixed walk and run which lasted a whole 45 minutes and left me exhausted. Exhausted but also happy. And so I gave it a couple more attempts, getting slowly better, until the walk and run became continuous run for 15 then 20 then 25 and eventually a whole 30 minutes..
Some of my surfing friends were talking about parkruns and one day I decided to challenge myself and join them in their local 'Ormeau parkrun'. I remember that Saturday morning, so worried that I wasn't going to be able to finish the 5Km, let alone finish them in a reasonable amount of time. Worried I will come last. Worried people would have to wait for me. Planning my escape route just in case. And yet there I was, at the start line, surrounded by at least 2-300 people who looked like runners. 3,2,1 GO - first loop, 2 Km, done. Second loop, harder, pushing through, tired and yet surrounded by others like me, encouraging smiles. One of my surfing friends next to me running at a similar pace, faces that I recognise in the crowds. Volunteers at every corners, telling you where to go, clapping, smiling, 'nearly there' one says. People ahead (many), people behind (some). Finally crossed the finish line, a chip gets handed to me, my barcode scanned - my time will be online soon. A few hours later, my time is online. 29:45 - I am proud to have done it, let alone done it sub 30.
8 Park runs later I have a personal best of 24:25 (hopefully to be closer to 24:00 soon), and the faces in the crowd have become more and more recognisable. I find myself smiling as I overtake, challenging the person just next to me as we continuously overtake each other, and smiling at that tall dad pushing twins that manages every week without a doubt to zoom past me.
I have been taking other running challenges since, signed up for races and take up running alone in my own time, yet the 9.30 saturday morning run is my favourite. There is something about familiarity, community, encouragement, smiling faces, everyone being on the same boat - up early on a saturday to run.
I love that this run is run entirely by volunteers - many of them. From the ones organising 'behind the scenes', via the ones at corners telling you where to go and clapping as you go past, to the ones recording and organising the times. I owe them a huge thank you - they transformed my hate in love!
I guess I didn't answer the 'what is parkrun' question:
An extract from their site : 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.
As you can see is very inclusive. Through the map you can easily find the running circuits closer to your home, or to your current location. After you sign up and get your personal barcode you can also be a 'tourist' (as they call them at my local parkrun) and attend other runs, maybe for convenience or for a change of scenery and path. I am really excited about my beachrun this weekend, and hope it goes well. I am super thankful to the organisers who quickly responded to my facebook enquiry about beach running shoes vs barefoot for providing me with great info in a super quick time (and remember they are volunteers!).
I love this kind of community efforts, I believe they are so important - so let's keep them going!
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