Disclaimer: This is not a weight loss post. The aim of Rightly or Leftly is to champion positive change, no matter on what scale, and to promote those who encourage that change. The parkrun community is inclusive, welcoming and loves seeing people achieve more than they even they thought possible. I’ve seen people of all shapes and sizes complete the free, weekly, timed 5k “run”; this isn’t a weigh loss post, because the parkrun is about so much more than that.
I run, primarily, for the sausage sandwich promised to me at the end. There was a time, around a year and a half ago, where my better half and I would complete the run every Saturday morning without fail. I would turn up at 9am and will these short Celtic legs of mine around the local countryside- cheeks burning in the wind and lungs sucking in the fresh morning air- all the time drawn by the anticipation of a delicious, garlicky Toulouse or three between soft, oaty bread (or a sweet chilli banger with avocado, or pork and apple left in the pan just those few seconds longer than they should- caramelised to perfection….). I digress. I began travelling with work, and soon the winter kicked in and the sight of this little Welsh creature huffing and puffing around the course became ever rarer. Soon the runs stopped altogether, but the sausage sandwich tradition never faltered. I’ll leave you to fill in the blanks here… Dreaming of the sausage sandwiches… [taken by a parkrun volunteer, source]
[FAST FORWARD TO PRESENT DAY]
Well, three weeks ago actually. A visit back to the Welsh valleys proved a rather eye opening experience for me; my very own lightbulb moment. I decided to take part in my first parkrun in longer than I cared to admit, and was astounded at how my level of fitness had plummeted (through months of physical inactivity- who would have thought?!). Long story short, I lost my breath halfway through and started having a panic attack. That tightness in the chest, the desperate hu-hu-hu-pffff as I tried to control my hyperventilation; I’ve had panic attacks in the past, but knowing what is happening is by no means comforting when in the midst of it. As I halted my jog and bent at the waist to try and at least keep the blood flowing to my head, and great big hand took mine. “Come on, don’t stop”. It was my Dad. “You can slow down but you’ve got to keep moving forward”. Well, guys and girls, he held my hand for the rest of the course as I sobbed and stumbled and wiped my snotty face with his knuckles (he’s my Dad, he’s used to it.). By the time we hit the final loop of the rugby field, I knew the end was in sight and I fought through the feelings of nausea to drag myself to within an inch of the finish line. Then, with a glint in my eye and the last shred of energy I could muster, I pushed him to one side and finished one glorious second ahead!* 😉
The following weekend I was back here in Oxfordshire with the memory of the previous week weighing heavily on my chest. I was worried it would happen again, and I wouldn’t have Dad to help me through. We were trying a different course too, what if I couldn’t finish? I voiced my concerns, jokingly, at the start line and was met with reassurance from the volunteers and the other runners. As one lady put it:
“Whether you finish in twenty minutes or an hour, you’ve all still done the same distance. Crawl if you need to!”
Somehow, I did it. Whether it was the change of scenery (the course is much flatter here in Oxfordshire!), the buoying enthusiasm from everyone around me, or the sheer stubborn mindedness that I couldn’t let it beat me, something worked. Even though I had needed to walk for parts of it, crossing that finish line never felt so good…Feeling euphoric at the finish line! [source]
Until this week- when I ran 5km start to finish without slowing to a walk once! I couldn’t have done it without the lovely tail runner Louise telling me stories and encouraging me the entire way. The feeling of euphoria when I limped across the line and reached out for my time token was indescribable.
To have progressed so substantially in the space of three weeks is a testament to the success of the parkrun, and I wanted to share a few reasons why I think it works so well.
- Everyone is welcome. If i had felt that the event was in any way elitist I would have been embarrassed to even turn up, particularly after my “incident” back at home. As the parkrun website itself proudly states: It’s not about racing, it’s about running.
- Nobody comes last. Ok, I did, technically, come last. But at each parkrun one of the volunteers acts as a tail runner, to chivy along those who are struggling and make sure nobody gets left behind. They also take a time token, so even if you do have to crawl those last 500 metres they’ll crawl with you and then courteously let you cross the finish before them. You’re never going to be at the bottom of that results page.
- It’s free! Yep, you register for a barcode and turn up in your trainers ready for 9am. No catch.
- It’s a great start to the weekend. If the weather is pleasant you can focus on the sound of the birds and the grass swaying in the wind. Each footstep will feel like the beat of a drum against the Earth. If (and let’s face it, it’s more likely in this country) the weather is against you, you can treat it as a cathartic experience and wash away the stress of the week. Nature is pretty beautiful in all it’s forms, so get out there and enjoy it. And when you’ve done enough of that for the weekend, it is completely justified to go home and flop onto the sofa and watch cookery programs all day. Oh, and it totally justifies a sausage sandwich! 😉
You can find out more about parkrun, and sign up for your local event for free through their website: http://www.parkrun.com/
*My Dad is a superhero. It’s fair to say he discovered running later in life, but at 56 years old he is just preparing to run his second 10k. I’m so proud of him I could burst! I pushed him aside because I knew it would be the only time I would ever finish a race before him but, you know what? I couldn’t be happier about that! Well done Dad!
**I sure do love a sausage sandwich. Did I mention it? It is, however, an indulgence that needs to be shared with a like-minded soul. As Mr LittleWelsh was away this weekend, it just didn’t feel right to sausage on alone, so I whipped up some poached eggs on crumpets. I can tell you, that felt all kinds of right.