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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!