I ran my 49th Parkrun this week. Before I reach the milestone 50th I’ll reflect on how I reached this point.
Two hundred and forty five Parkrun kilometres ago (153 miles) I was a ‘first timer’ having just completed a ‘Couch to 5k’ programme because I had never run for fitness before. I’d cycled but running engages another set of muscles and techniques and I didn’t want to damage my ageing limbs.
I registered on the Parkrun website, printed my unique barcode and stood with the crowd of runners at the start line on the Knavesmire in York.
The first surprise was the range of people standing with me. They were not all athletes in the Olympic Games sense. But they were all up for the challenge. A great briefing from the run director preceded the starting countdown. Those reaching milestones were congratulated; first timers welcomed; ‘tourists’ shouted out their home run; applause for everyone; countdown and we were off. That was in October 2016. In reality it’s not a race. The only person I run against is myself. Can I beat my PB (personal best time). It’s some encouragement that on the first week everyone gets a PB – incentive to return next week to beat it.
I’d completed a few 5k runs before joining the York Parkrun so I was confident of reaching ‘The Funnel’ in reasonable shape. As you cross the finish line the timer clicks the watch. “Stay in order” calls a marshal as we are lined up in the funnel. Staying in order is vital to preserve your finishing position until you reach the first volunteer handing out the position tags with a barcode and a number; your finishing position. Mine was 392 (out of 496). Next another volunteer scans your position tag and your unique barcode. Later a bit of computer number crunching matches your position with the stopwatch click and spews out your result. It’s sent to me by email and text. My first Parkrun result – 30 minutes and 47 seconds. Since then I’ve knocked off over 4½ minutes. My PB now is 26:07.
It has to be said that York Knavesmire is a route to which many Parkrunners flock to set a PB. It’s flat, has a good surface with no odd bends or obstacles. I have run other Parkruns where the paths are narrow leading to congestion; sharp bends slow you down; hills, mud, puddles, underpasses, narrow bridges, tree roots – all kinds of handicaps for the determined PB setter.
But the pursuit of a good time is really secondary to the main benefit of running. Fitness. I’ve lost weight, strengthened my heart, improved my lung capacity and visibly toned my leg muscles. Running has driven me to discover exercises and stretches to warm up and warm down to avoid injury and to generally make sure the rest of my body keeps up with my legs! The sense of wellbeing after a run is worth all the effort.
All this has prepared me to be more adventurous. 10k runs, 10 mile runs and the odd half marathon. This September I will run the Great North Run for the second time. Half a marathon (13.1 miles) on roads from Newcastle to South Shields in a crowd of 57,000 other runners. I’m running for Shelter. You can sponsor me here.
Lots of people ask when I’ll run a marathon. I won’t. I’m 70 next year and I’d like to keep running for many years yet. I think a marathon takes its toll on any body – and mine probably hasn’t many tolls left to take. So I’ll stick to 13 miles as my limit. Having said that there are half marathons and half marathons. In October I’m going to the Lake District to run the Langdale Half. That’s likely to be tougher than a run in the park. But it’s where I was born – returning after 69 years to run the roads my father knew so well seems like a challenge I can’t refuse even if some of the inclines are 25%.
[Talking to a friend who shares my birth year I realised I’ll always be a 49er because I was born in 1949]
On Saturday 1st Sept 2018 I run my 50th Parkrun. Will it be a PB? I’ll run it at York’s Knavesmire to be in with a fighting chance.
(49er was the nickname given to speculators who flocked to California in 1849 for the Goldrush. It generally became slang for any miner and an American Football team in San Francisco the city founded as a result of the goldrush)