Another runner stopped me in the park this morning to say “thank you”. We met a few months ago when she was asking staff in the Climbers’ Shop about local running clubs, and was turning a little pale at the exploits of Ambleside AC. I couldn’t help joining in. Try the new parkrun, I suggested. We’ve just started one at Fellfoot near Newby Bridge.
She told me today that she had gone along, very nervous, but had found everyone friendly, had loved it, and it had transformed her running. Familiar story. “But I’m moving back to Lancashire. I miss my family and friends too much so I won’t be doing Fellfoot again.” Ah, sad. “But there’s a parkrun just nearby. I’ll be doing that one.” Good news!
The parkrun effect really has transformed exercise for millions of people, and the stories are well known and well told. Tributes to Paul Sinton-Hewitt, who started all this when a group of 13 pals ran round Bushy Park in London just over ten years ago, are gaining momentum.
My sister, who started running in her fifties, has now completed 210 parkruns (oh, and a handful of marathons). She sneered when I was a running fanatic years ago. “Smelly, sweaty habit,” she said then.
But me? Years of pounding downhill on flat feet and inadequate knees, along with the distractions of family life, diminished my own enthusiasm. When I came last in a fell race – so far off the pace that I wasn’t really part of the experience – a very significant part of my life was over. And was rediscovered through parkruns.
I still run on the fells, for the fun of it. But on Saturday mornings I am “competing” among others, reliving the thrill of the sprint finish, or overtaking someone half my age, and loving it. And loving it, too, when I’m beaten by a seven year old neighbour. The community we’re building at Fellfoot is a whole new friendship group of delightful people; the course we’ve created at Fellfoot is gaining accolades from visitors. We have the best views, for sure.
But parkrun enriches the experience of going anywhere, in Britain or the world. My sister went to Iceland to run the one in Reykjavik; I’ve managed Brockwell Park and Gunnersbury Park in London. My old home territory at Heaton Park has a grand route, so does Barrow – possibly the hilliest. Oddly, Keswick, in the heart of the Lake District, has one of the flattest.
All this talk of “competing” and “being beaten” is, apparently, not entirely in the spirit of parkrun. “It’s not a race, it’s just a run,” said a young lad lining up beside me one morning. “Oh yeah?” I said. “If there’s someone in front of you, it’s a race. If there’s no one in front of you, you’re winning the race.” He shot off. And beat me, well and truly.