This weekend I finally joined the thousands of people across the UK (and now the world) who, instead of a lie-in and a bacon sandwich, start their Saturday meeting a whole bunch of strangers to get out of breath and sweaty.
parkrun UK now organise hundreds of free, weekly, timed events all across the country offering safe, marshalled runs in parkland settings. Totally manned by volunteers and funded by corporate sponsors, these events are free to participate in and open to anyone and everyone.
The emphasis is very much on joining in; it is not a race, but if you print off a barcode to take with you you can get an official time which you can improve on week on week.
Seaton’s parkrun had its first event last week, with over 180 runners taking part. It is a totally flat course (rare in these parts!) along the esplanade, and this week took place in bright, if freezing, sunshine. Having spoken to a few people yesterday who took part last week and really enjoyed it, I couldn’t really think of a legitimate excuse not to do it, so me, my friend and my son all trooped down to Seaton and joined the multi-coloured throng on the seafront. There were people of all ages, shapes, fitness levels and abilities; some in lycra or parkrun t-shirts, others in whatever they could find, which was very encouraging for a newcomer, and all the volunteers were cheerful, encouraging and helpful. Many people go for a coffee in Pebbles afterwards, so it it is sociable, too, and felt very inclusive all round. I’m sure many friendships have been forged over post-run coffees.
The run was a couple of lengths of the esplanade, with a very short but killer few yards on the beach at one end to turn around. We were quickly lapped by the front-runners, including one young guy who just appeared to be sprinting all the way, but there were people strung out along the route, all going at their own pace. I have to say, mine was pretty dreadful. I have done a few runs recently, but all off-road and quite often I get dropped at the top of our (huge) hill and run down through the woods – it turns out there doesn’t seem to be much fitness benefit to this! My chest was not co-operating, but I had the mantra of “it’s only week one” going on, and just getting out there is a minor victory these days, so at least now I have a time to improve on (and I haven’t exactly set myself an impossible target there!) My son (11 years old) did very well, coming in nearly ten minutes before me! There were quite a few children, but under 11s have to run with an adult alongside, and at this particular run, no dogs are allowed.
It is very easy to join in – you just register online, print out a barcode and turn up. Times are on the website afterwards once they have been processed. Once you have registered, you can do any parkrun, and in fact some people make a hobby of travelling to other parkruns around the country, especially first ones. This seems a bit keen to me for what is essentially a town 5k, but the atmosphere is good, and I can see the attraction of a measurable time & distance that can be compared week on week. (A few hours later, I’ve just got an email with times for me and my son, with our positions in terms of age category etc, which is quite satisfying despite my dismal results.)
There are other parkruns at either end of Lyme Bay, at Weymouth & Exeter, and Exeter has a Junior parkrun, which is 2km for 4-14year-olds, on a Sunday morning.
I was impressed by the happy, supportive atmosphere of the runners, volunteers and supporters, and it is certainly an easy way to get a measurable target if you need an incentive to dust off the trainers and get out there again, or if you are an accomplished runner, you will enjoy the opportunity to improve week on week. Straight lines on tarmac is not really my sort of running personally – I much prefer woods, fields, cliff tops or lanes as I use it as a means of exploring as much as a form of exercise, but if you’re nervous of running alone, or want a feel of a race environment without the pressure of winning or losing, for example, it’s perfect. Seaton does also have the advantage of a fantastic esplanade with sweeping sea views, and it’s worth repeating, it is totally flat, which is impossible to find around here!
It is brilliant to have an event like this which is free of charge, as many races are £10 if not £20 per race, and all you really get extra is a medal and some marketing materials in a goody bag at the end, so I would definitely encourage you to give a parkrun a go if you’re curious – you have nothing to lose, and will get some free exercise, some (very) fresh air and a sense of self-satisfaction that I’m hoping will last until at least the end of Saturday. Personally, though, what I got most out of it was a kick up the bum. No more running downhill – I really need to get fit again!!!!!!