My First Parkrun in Barnsley: Thoughts and Review

People getting ready at Barnsley Parkrun

During the past few weeks of training and talking with the online running community, one word has stuck out. Parkrun.

(For those that might not know, Parkruns are local community runs that happen all across the UK (and the world) every Saturday morning in your local park at 9 am organized by volunteers. These runs are 5K in distance and you get a recorded time at the end. They are free to enter and run and a great excuse to meet other runners and learn how to run in a group before a big race. Check out this page for more info)

So after a few weeks, yesterday I completed my first Parkrun at Locke Park in Barnsley.  I ran my quickest 5K time yet of 36:56 which was fantastic, considering the course is 3 loops of one long hill climb!

I wanted to do a write up of my experience of my first run as it was a real mixed bag. I’ll break it down into Pre-Run, Lap sections and Post Run so you can experience the morning as I did.

The Course

The course is 3 laps of the park. What I thought from the map to be a nice gentle route turned out to be a long hill climb for the majority of the route with a speedy downhill from the top of the park back to the lap start point. From how I felt after, it was a real challenge to get up the hill and maybe not the best route for a beginner, but I can see it being more fun the fitter I get.

Pre-Run

I got to the park nice and early and from the car park was a really nice walk through the park (great for a warm up) to the run meeting point. Here I was shocked to see so many people, I thought these were small affairs but there were at least 200 people. It was a great atmosphere with people all saying hello to friends, limbering up and also great to see a broad range of ages, shapes, and sizes. I didn’t feel like the odd one out at all.

People getting ready at Barnsley Parkrun
Limbering up at the Barnsley Parkrun

The run director took her stand and addressed the crowd with a megaphone telling us any news, welcoming new runners and about some local fundraising that had been happening. As we moved onto information regarding the course and rules etc I had to move closer as the “seasoned” park runners had decided to stop paying attention and started talking amongst themselves. This was the first moment of the day I felt a bit down as the inclusion and fun of the event that had been sold to me had had its first edges rubbed off. Unfortunately, this was not the last time the experience would be knocked. I get that it’s a great social event but even if you’ve been before, there could be new information to hear.

We were instructed to head to the start line so I followed the crowd down the path and took our places. I headed to the back of the pack and waited for the start.

Lap 1

Setting off as a large group was a completely new experience for me. You get swept up in the pace, so I would say the first 200m or so I was running faster than I normally would. As the front runners sped away and the group started to stretch out I found space along the paths and could settle into my pace. I found my own little group of runners all hitting the same pace and for the start of the course, we ran together. Further back from me a lady seemed to be coaching her friend and her encouragement was benefiting us all. As we hit the start of the first climb, as she was telling her friend to lift her feet and keep pushing, I too did the same and made it to the top. I stayed close to these people during the whole run and it was a real benefit to my run.

The marshalls along the way were cheering us on and I could see some were taking pictures. I’m looking forward to seeing what faces I was pulling as I looked up the hill!

The climb to the top of the park was long and steep and it felt like hours till I got to the top. Even though in my training I think I’ve run steeper and further, running an unknown course is always hard as you’ve no idea what’s coming. Every corner had one more climb and that really hurt me mentally.

Luckily once at the top, it’s downhill all the way. I took the time to relax, get my breathing back and enjoy the view. The park is beautiful and has great views over to Barnsley and beyond.

Lap 2

Knowing those hill climbs were to come, my pace eased and I started to really enjoy the run. Some new faces had started to join me and we were all pushing each other on and being super positive! A few people had started to tire by this point and I had to contend with people stopping dead in their tracks in front of me. I thought people would slow down to walk but I got skilled at dodging as many a time I nearly clipped people’s heels. At the same time, we had started to be lapped by the front runners who were impressively running at full tilt past, around and through the group without much warning. I realized at this point that although these were fun activity runs, some folks were taking these as seriously as a big event run and at some points, I felt like I was a hindrance to their times.

Andrew running past the camera at the barnsley parkrun
After the descent and coming into Lap 2

During the briefing, we had been told whilst crossing the start/finish line to stay to the right of the path to allow the faster runners to lap and then veer to the left to the finishers paddock (where you finish and get your time). I took this to mean you stuck to the right the whole way round to let faster runners pass on the left. I wish this had been clearer on the day as through the course runners were all over the path which meant the faster folks struggled to get past. At one point a bunch of people had to veer past a group in front of me onto the grass and some unkind words were spoken to them. Again, clarity to all would help but also we’re all running to or best and a few of the quicker runners made me feel like it was our fault they might not hit a PB!

I had a sock incident halfway up the hill and had to quickly whip off my shoe and pull back on. So many people checked I was ok asking if it was an injury, stone in the shoe or if I was ok and that was so great to see! Again the group I was with were incredibly jovial, welcoming and positive!

The climb was a bit easier the second time and as I crested the hill I breathed a big sigh of relief. Coming down the sun had appeared and I was roasting hot, so I stepped to the side to take off my top and carried on. My girlfriend had a prime bench spot, and after cheering me down the hill I gave her the loving gift of a sweaty running top. Unfortunately, everyone else behind seemed to have the same idea so she became the unofficial sweaty top bench protector ha!

To the end of lap 2, a lot of folks had already finished their runs and they were cheering us on at the last corner. Oddly they hadn’t realized we still had a lap to go so their cheers off “that’s it it’s over, well done” fell on deaf ears. Although I appreciate the sentiment, I was gearing myself up for the next climb and the thought of the finish was a long way away.

Lap 3

Running up past the finish paddock and park cafe, a lot of runners who had completed were now walking across the path balancing coffees and some sitting with legs stretched out in the way. Again, just another knock to think that we at the back were irrelevant and that because the speedy folk was done, the run might as well be over.

Even though I had run a few 5K distances, this run had started to take its toll and I realized I was probably running at a faster pace than I had before. Checking my watch I saw this was right and I took the first section of the climb easy. There were groans among my gang of runners but we all shouted its the last one and pushed on through! A nice chap I was running alongside was giving the marshals sweets to say thank you as he went round which was really nice to see (even I got one!).

I’d noticed a group of about 10 teenagers running in the parkrun around the second lap. They had been sprinting super fast, tiring themselves out, walking and then going at it again. I had been leap frogging with them a while, and every time they ran past they were jumping over each other, running purposely through groups of slow runner and generally being distracting. This happened a few times past marshals who didn’t step in to get them to stop and join in properly. After the final hill climb, they ran past me knocking my side and I finally caved and shouted at them to stop. One of them did apologize but the remainder ran past and down to the end. A few of the runners near me said thanks to me, my good deed for the day done.

Starting the descent to the finish, there we also park runners who had finished now running back up the course towards us. Again they were cheering us on, but I felt downhearted that even though this was tough for me, it wasn’t enough for them. I really wish they had carried on in the course direction, held up the rear and given support to those who needed it. If I ever become a super fit chap, I’d totally keep going and ask those at the back if they were ok and needed anything. Would be a great excuse to have folks run water back and forth etc.

The crowd and cheers at the end coming into the finish more than made up for the issues I had running around and it was great to feel like I’d achieved something.

I picked up the pace on the downhill and crossed the line at 36:56, place 195 out of 232 and a PB for my 5K time.

Post Run

I had wanted to stop and chat to the people I had run around the course with but we had a family party to run too. The cafe looked ace and so many people were chatting and laughing and I really look forward to joining in when I come again.

Drinking water before we headed back to the car I did get caught between a runner, her dog, and the lead! Luckily I was bigger than the dog so my legs didn’t fall from under me but it was pretty much the straw that broke the camels back for the day. The walk back to the car I had forgotten I had hit a PB and I just focussed on the bad aspects of the run instead of the overwhelming positivity of the people I had met along the way and their comments and kindness.

Thoughts

I decided to write this today to get some space between yesterday’s parkrun and to mull everything over. Regardless of the bad aspects I had, if there’s a parkrun near you sign up and get down to it! I ran with some lovely people and I look forward to running alongside them again. The park was lovely, it was great to get up on a Saturday and make the day worthwhile and I got my first official time for a run!

I forget that not everyone is like me. I like to think everyone was on a weight loss journey and they started overweight, got into running and lost it all. Some folks won’t know what it’s like to run overweight and as such, I can understand that we seem like a pain or in the way. Being treated as we were in the run can put people off, and if it’s the first time they’ve run, it could potentially be their last.

If anything, it’s made me more determined to prove myself, and after a few more I want to volunteer. I want to be the best marshall cheering everyone on, making sure everyone is safe and behave appropriately. I want to be the back runner cheering everyone on and building up others confidence on the way round. And if I lose my weight, and can run the 5K in 15 minutes, i’ll be there running behind offering my help and support and holding hands if needed.

Parkruns should be about fitness and community and not about vying for the quickest time with your running club chums. Maybe a longer run later for the pros, or a beginner, intermediate, advanced run after each other to build up confidence and run with like-minded people.

I’m going to be back, no doubt about that, but I might visit some other local runs too to see if they are different and less of the troubles I encountered.

I’ll be back Barnsley Parkrun, bringing positivity in bucket loads and making sure I set a good example all the way round!

Am I running for my fitness or to escape?

Thinking about why I go running

Have I been running to get fit, or has it been to escape from my troubles?

This week I ran my furthest distance so far!

8 Kilometres!

9 weeks ago I could barely run 1 minute after another.  The thought of even getting to a 5K was a distant dream.

I hit my 8K because I wasn’t paying attention. I went out with a route in mind and changed it on the fly. It turned out to be a lot further than I thought. Through the run, I felt great and didn’t once look at my watch. When I finally remembered to look, I’d hit 6K and was too far away from home to stop. I carried on, it wasn’t tough, it was liberating and had the most fun I’d had during any run.

View of Yorkshire Countryside
It’s hard not to fall in love with these views and want to explore further!

On those days I run, I am my best, my most productive and my most positive.

On my rest days, it is completely the opposite.

I crave that feeling after a run. I assume it’s like an addiction. Maybe it is an addiction. Craving those endorphins.

At the moment I’m actively looking for work as my own business did not take off in the way I hoped. It’s been tough I won’t deny it, but I don’t want to dwell on it here either. But what I thought was an effort to get fit, may have taken a different turn.

Catching the Bug

When I thought I had caught that running bug, I was running further more often. Last week I ran 3 5K’s. I thought I was trying to push myself further and harder. But in hindsight, I think I was running to get out the house and away from the issues at hand. The longer the run, the less I have to consider my current situation. The freedom of running is akin to freedom from my life.

The odd thing is that after the run, after that rush, I’m at my best. I get applications done in quick time. I can write and think more concisely and for the rest of the day, I’m the best version of myself.

My rest days I’m lethargic, lazy and un-motivated.

So am I running for my fitness? Yes.

Am I running to escape? Yes.

Are you running to get a healthy mind? Yes and this is the most important thing.

The positive effect it has on my mental health is worth persuing. I need to learn how to get over the hump days and bring that energy with me. If I can’t run, I need to find something else that scratches that itch and makes me feel just as good.

Running has changed me over the past 2 months. I’d say for both good and bad, but the main thing is I’m learning. I might be running to escape from my troubles. But if I can focus that energy, use it positively and keep pushing forward, I’ll have less to run from.

It’s time to start running towards something instead.

I caught the running bug!

View of Yorkshire Countryside

Today was supposed to be a rest day.

Yesterday I’d done a 24-minute interval run that went great with 2 nasty hill climbs. I was prepared for today to get some work done, take it easy and get prep work done for a job interview I have tomorrow.

Around 1pm I started to feel really run down. I was getting worried about tomorrow and those creeping thoughts had started to get into my head. I sat on the sofa for a break and went to switch the TV on. As I lifted the remote to turn over from whatever BBC One had on at that moment (the usual couple buying a house but hate it and want to move to the other side of the world but have bad debts and really should be baking with Mary Berry in the countryside kind of thing), when I turned it off and really thought about what would make me feel better.

It used to be that I’d jump to eating food, playing on the Playstation, throwing on an old film or seeing what’s new on YouTube. Today, though, a new thought had crept in.

“Go for a run.” it said.

“Are you sure, I mean it’s my rest day and I ran yesterday and yes I can see it’s a gorgeous day but really?”

“Go For A Run?”

“But…..well I could but you know, isn’t it bad not taking a rest?”

“GO FOR A RUN”

(the above is for dramatic effect like other bloggers do 🙂 … this was more of a conversation with my girlfriend where she suggested a run would do me a world of good and stop me worrying…..she was right!!)

So I got changed. I wanted to go out. I was ready to go out. I knew that after my run I’d be back on top of the world. I’ve trained my body over the past 2 months to crave that endorphin rush at the end and that feeling of achievement.

So what distance to do? Well, it really was nice out and I’d been cooped up all day. Where I live is slap bang in countryside-ville and any route I take can get me up into Hills and Dales pretty quickly. I wanted a bit of an explore, so I thought I’d do another 5K. I know now I can do it, I enjoyed it last week and it sounded like a decent length of time to be out.

The view 5 minutes up the road, that’s Emley Moor TV Mast in the distance.

It was great. I didn’t lose my breath, had a good hill climb at the start and by the end, had shaved 2 minutes off my first 5K run last Saturday.

It was at the end that I knew. The running bug has sunk its teeth in hard!! I never thought I’d even get to a stage when I would use running as a mental kick and not just for losing weight.

It’s amazing to think my body now craves that feeling. That the next time I’m feeling concerned or troubled I can lace up and brush it off. The best thing was, it gave me time to review all my prep for tomorrow and meant I came back feeling ready for a different kind of challenge.

It’s the end of 8 weeks since I first launched this blog and the idea of running a 5K felt like a huge challenge and a monumental task for a very overweight guy. Turns out, 8 weeks is really short and you’ll be shocked at how much you’ve changed, not only in the mirror but also inside your own head.

After tweeting my success I got a great reply from Barrie Williams which I’ve included below. It’s a very succinct quote and one that I think will ring true for me and also a lot of you guys too. Don’t over think it, and if you gotta run, RUN!

Till next time!

A

Hitting my first 5K : When you stop wondering and just go get on with it!

After a pretty successful week of interval training, cycling and spotting Lego Dinosaurs in a retired Coal Mine a thought started to seep into my head.

“When will I be ready to hit the 5K mark?”

When I woke up this morning, I couldn’t shake that thought.  It was like someone had been bullying me in my sleep telling me I’d never do it! We had a few errands to run … including picking up some bike racks from an eBay seller and me fantastically falling over all their stuff in the garage, knocking a hyper expensive bike of its mount in the process. Not fun!

Over a coffee on the way home, I was still reeling from feeling like a buffoon, and with that thought of the 5K distance in my head, I decided enough was enough.

I was going to get out there and do it.

I had a route in mind that I had walked not long ago that was around the right distance and if I was short I’d just run a bit of my normal interval route. Saying that, the start of the run was going to be a near kilometer and a half of steep uphill running. When getting ready, I was planning my rests as it was obvious I was going to stop at some point, so decided on 30 second rests if I was finding it really hard, enough time to catch a breather and crack on.

After a 5 minute warm up, I got to the start of the hill climb and set off…

46 minutes later and I’d done it! My first 5K. I didn’t stop, I wasn’t in pain and that hill climb I just took in my stride. I smiled so hard at the end of that, and to be honest, I’ve not yet been able to wipe it off my face.

After 7 weeks of training and eating well, 11 lbs lighter and with a cracking pair of running leggings (yep, those) I hit my first 5K. I can’t believe I made it! But hey, it all totally works, and taking it slow and building up is the way to do it, all it costs is your time!

I still have 3 weeks left on the 5K plan, and I’m still going to finish it. At least now those 20-30 minute intervals should now be less of a strain on my mind and I can really enjoy the run. Plus sticking to the plan should mean I have a better time to compare today with the final 5K I do in 3 weeks.

I wouldn’t say I’d encourage you to do what I did today, but if you fancy going at it early, do what I did and plan ahead what you’ll do if you need to stop and how far you’ll push yourself before you call it quits.

It’s crazy how much has changed in the last few months, but now I’m more excited than daunted about completing my next milestones. Plus a lot of people have suggested I get down to a parkrun and now, I’m more confident than ever to give it a go!

 

The Hidden Community: How I found strength in strangers

When I set out on my running journey I thought it would be a mostly solo affair. I knew that once I got stronger and fitter, I’d be able to join in a ParkRun or local 10k and maybe meet some people there that were in the same boat as me!

What I didn’t expect from sharing my story and videos online, is that I would find a hidden community of runners and fitness enthusiasts whose sole purpose is to keep pushing each other forward. There are hundreds and thousands of people just like me out there who share their thoughts, tips, good and bad days (and sometimes really bad days), to make sure you know you’re not alone on your journey. Each one of them is ready to drop you a line, answer your questions and just give you a positive push in the right direction that makes that next run feel less lonely.

In the past two weeks since I’ve been using my twitter account, I’ve had great conversations with complete strangers. We’ve talked about running gear, what to think about when running, how to get over distance humps and suggestions for my first 10k race! (I’ve also discussed lots of off topic things like Lego collections too!)

The thing is, I’ve never used twitter for this before. In my past twitter life, I’ve had an account, followed a few things I’ve been interested in and generally been a bit snarky to people. But over the past few weeks, I’ve come to discover the real use of social media (I guess the clue is in the name!) and how no matter what community you might be looking for, it’s out there and ready to take you in with open arms. Don’t be afraid to ask people for advice or their opinions, most are ready to message to you back straight away and give you a helping hand.

So the next time I head out on the road, I know I’m not running solo, I’ve got a whole team behind me, pushing me on to do better, to run that bit harder and reminding me to inspire the next group of would-be runners to get their shoes on!

Thank you to everyone who follows me, I really value your time and your willingness to help. I hope one day I can repay the favor.

Andrew