I registered a number of years ago for the almost ubiquitous ‘parkrun’, I had semi great intentions of going – either to St. Anne’s or Marlay Park for the 9.30 Saturday morning 5km run…maybe they were just a little bit too far away…or maybe it was because they clashed with one of my favourite yoga classes but I always had a good excuse…until it arrived on my on my doorstep - the Poolbeg park run – the mountain had come to Muhammad.
My friend and neighbor Elaine was all over it and the morning of the first Poolbeg Park Run found her banging on my door…well ok she was texting me, our enthusiasm levels however weren’t quite on a par.
Parkrun was founded in Bushy Park in London in 2004 by a group of friends who simply wanted to run together. Now the community has grown to hundreds of thousands worldwide with volunteers organizing free 5k runs every Saturday morning.
In secondary school I absolutely loved running…short distances. The 100m and the 100m relay…200m was a bit of a drag, 400m a drudge and 800m was pure hell. And don’t even start me on the dreaded winter season puke inducing cross country.
Last Saturday however I woke up early. Following a dinner party conversation the night before I was reminded how very attached I am to my comfort zone and somehow park run slipped into my mind.
I texted Elaine. Yep she was up for it.
The morning sun shone as we strolled down towards the start line, being overtaken by our fellow park runners, running down. We arrived just in time for the bit in the briefing where they ask if it’s anyone’s first Park Run, I came clean and got a clap from the crowd. It was feeling a little like Runners Anonymous.
I can’t remember if there was a starter’s gun or what but we all got moving, running along the path towards the park, around the park back along the path, out towards Poolbeg, keeping to the left, trying not to mow down innocent walkers and then turned around and ran back towards the park and around the park again and back up that path and we finished where we started.
Half way along the route my hip flexors started screaming at me, “what the hell are you doing picking your knees up like this? We should be in yoga class right now getting a nice stretch!”. I offered somewhere between a smile and a grimace to the very kind volunteers who shouted words of direction and encouragement. Elaine was chatting as she ran, telling me about some amazing black pudding sandwich from a food market. My lungs were too busy to spare any breath to respond. All I could think is how much I hate black pudding…and running.
In the last minutes of my run, I remembered a chi running course I’d done a few years previously, when I’d had running notions, with the brilliant Catriona McKiernan and all those tips came flooding back. Peel your heels, pump your arms, tilt slightly forward.
The finish line was finally in sight. As we paced along, folks who’d finished the race already (smug bastards) cheered us on. Putting my cynical out of breath self aside - the atmosphere was smashing, the spirit of camaraderie is alive and well in parkrun life. I’m pretty sure I looked like Phoebe Buffay as I approached the line. But I did it. I think it was a combination of my competitive streak, the encouragement and Elaine that got me through.
There were high fives and selfies. There was stretching and Invites for post run coffee. Elaine and I discussed actually doing some training before the next race. Yes, we were already talking about ‘next time’. I think I might have even said “that was brilliant”, albeit possibly a case of lack of oxygen to the brain.
Parkrun, I’m not saying I’m going to be there every Saturday, but you haven’t seen the last of me.