I did my first parkrun at the first Gunnersbury parkrun four years ago and in these days of running less, I’m falling in love with it more. It’s taking me longer to start running after each treatment; this time it was 10 days before I ventured out, but having managed a stumbly couple of miles on Friday, I knew that I would be parkrun-ready for the next day. We were in Bath for the weekend visiting friends, and so headed to Combe Down for Bath Skyline parkrun, a beautiful route through woods with stunning views over the city.
Even when you’re visiting a new location as a tourist, there’s a wonderful sense of familiarity about every parkrun – from the streams of runners making their way to the start, to the briefing about the route, from the genuine welcome to first timers and the heartfelt thanks to all the volunteers. I always think that these are my people; this is where I would start to make friends if I ever moved to a new town.
If you haven’t been before, parkrun is where marathon finisher shirts line up next to not-been-worn-since-school plimsolls. It’s where children take part alongside adults as soon as they feel ready to, and quickly find out they are can beat a fair few of them. It’s where dogs pull their owners round and athletic parents push children in buggies. Its 5k distance is long enough to present a real challenge to new runners, and difficult enough to keep even the most experienced coming back to chase down pbs. parkrun is for people who include it in their marathon training plan, and for those for whom its their sole form of exercise. It’s for people like me who on Saturday felt I couldn’t go any further, but who a couple of days later find that actually they can. No one is too slow for parkrun. You can’t get lost or left behind.
parkrun is the quiet witness to countless people turning their lives around, where good intentions to exercise first become a reality, where dreams of running a marathon ‘someday’ start to become a possibility. parkrun asks nothing of you, but gives you wonderful opportunities to contribute and engage, and a community to belong to if that’s what you’re looking for.
My Bath Skyline parkrun was slow and I had to walk up the woodland steps near the start, while other runners bounded past me. Jonny had to wait for me a couple of times and I don’t think I would have run all the way if he hadn’t been next to me, but I loved it. I’ve realised how much I’ve taken for granted being able to run long distances, and it’s made me appreciate how this distance is a good challenge for people starting out. I enjoy being able to describe myself as a ‘marathon runner’ normally, but for the next few months I’m happy to call myself a parkrunner – it’s a great place to be.