I would like this blog to be an accurate representation of my life and exercise is an incredibly significant part of that. It’s what I’ve spent so much time doing and invested my entire mental energy into, for many years now. There are many experiences I’d like to write about. In the past I had Instagram and briefly a blog about running and swimming but discontinued as it was triggering for my anxiety. I found sharing details like number of kms run per week, my fastest times and regular weekly routine, made me feel pressured- so I need to do this in a mentally healthy way. I know hundreds of runners now, many of which are very fast. I often compare myself, as I shouldn’t do, thinking I’m not good enough. However, in preparing this blog post, I was reminded of where I started. I deserve more credit than I usually allow myself.
parkrun is a 5 kilometre event for runners, walkers and volunteers which takes place on a Saturday morning in locations all over the world. A quick google search would reveal this basic information, so you don’t need me for that. As parkrun has been my regular Saturday morning activity for a few years now, I’m going to share my experience. At the time of writing I have completed over 200 parkruns, volunteered 20 times and visited 33 locations.
I first heard about parkun at work more than 6 years ago. My boss (who was only a few years older and not really like a boss) told me he’d come first on the weekend at a run called parkrun. I was interested to know more and he helped me find parkrun events in my local area (he lived in Melbourne and I am in Sydney). At the time I was very much not a runner. I had never trained for running and didn’t do it as a child. I don’t think I’d ever run a continuous 5k in my life. A few weeks earlier, I’d started swimming laps at the pool for exercise. It was the first time in about 10 years, although I did swim in squads and at swim meets as a child, and wanted to experience this as an adult. I was very unfit at the time but the enjoyment swimming provided, created an interest in parkrun.
I joined a gym near work and started running on the treadmill. The runs were very slow and only about 2-3k in length. It’s funny, in years to come I’d hate treadmill running and see it as not real running. I knew nothing about shoes and bought the cheapest pairs I could find, which weren’t even designed for running, in Cotton On and Trade Secret. I remember forgetting to pack socks after work one day so did the treadmill run without socks. Oh wow, I cringe now, my poor feet. This is a basic aspect of running, proper shoes and socks, which must be taken seriously. After a few weeks at the gym I attended my first parkrun.
My first parkrun was at Parramatta. It was before I had a car so I took the wrong bus and got lost. I found a marshal on the course and asked where the start line was located. He said it was 1km back in a completely different direction so with only 5 minutes before the start no way I could make it in time. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to run the entire 5km so by adding an extra kilometre, I didn’t have much chance. I ran as fast as I could and managed to join the run a few minutes late. The run felt terrible as I was unfit and running outside was nothing like the treadmill. However, as I had surprisingly run continuously without stopping, I felt positive and wanted to return.
It’s interesting, and somewhat sad, to observe my changing expectations. I did that first parkrun in approximately 30 minutes and was happy with it. In the many years which followed, I was disappointed with runs which were significantly faster- 21mins, 22mins, 23mins, 24mins and sometimes even 20mins at the time I was trying to break 20 minutes for 5k. My fastest ever is 19 minutes and 45 seconds, but more on that in another post (I am currently not that fast).
At that first parkrun I noticed the milestone shirts, which runners receive for completing 50 runs, 100 runs and 250 runs. I can’t believe now I’ve done it over 200 times. This actually helps mentally with my tough internal criticism; if I’ve done parkrun over 200 times not every one will be a perfectly executed race at maximum effort level. The longer I’ve run, the more I’ve realised it’s not good physically or mentally to do it as fast as possible each week; it has to fit in with life and other training. There have been fast runs to beat all time personal best to slow runs while managing or returning from injury to all sorts of scenarios in between.
I injured my ankles after only a few parkruns and needed time off. I never had it officially diagnosed or treated but remember attempting some terrible ankle taping and hobbling around the office at work. I was angry and frustrated but not as much as injuries impact me now. In the years that would follow, as I loved running more and became so mentally invested in it, I have struggled to cope with the mental side of injuries. This is a massive topic and needs its own post. The initial ankle injury now makes sense; I know now how many years it takes to adapt the body to the demands of running. I continued to swim and didn’t think too much about parkrun.
The ankle eventually resolved itself and I did a small amount of running with my swimming friends, including returning to parkrun. I have attended consistently for the last 6 years, wherever possible. The thought of missing a week does not enter my mind unless there is absolutely no choice due to injury. I have volunteered many times when injured and, while it can be good to remain involved, it can also be triggering for my anxiety. parkrun was also cancelled for months during two lockdowns and this felt like a massive loss to a Saturday morning.
parkrun is a social experience and most of my current friends and acquaintances, I met there. This was not always the case; in the first few years of parkrun I was completely anonymous until I changed location and joined training at a running club during the week. I now know lots of runners at most parkrun locations and enjoy the Saturday morning chats. I also enjoy running parkrun with my sister when she visits from London.
At the time of writing, and for my own documentation, I have run at the following parkrun locations- Rooty Hill, Parramatta, The Ponds, Rhodes, Rouse Hill, Galston, Whalan, Wentworth Common, Mt Penang, Nepean River, Lithgow, Penrith Lakes, Curl Curl, St Peters, Centennial, North Sydney, East Richmond, Campbelltown, Mosman, Cowpasture Reserve, Greenway, Dolls Point, The Entrance, Coffs Harbour, Lake Mac, Newy, Werrington Lakes, Woy Woy, San Remo, Willoughby, Panania, Chipping Norton, Cooks River. I would like to visit all parkruns in Sydney and only have a few left. It’s great to have goals involving parkrun tourism so the focus is not always on running as fast as possible. As I like my Saturday morning social interaction at my home parkrun (and seeing the kangaroos), the tourism parkruns are more occasional. There’s a wide variety of courses to experience from road to trail to beaches. Lithgow parkrun is one of the more unique locations I have visited.
To conclude this post with a laugh, in the very early days, I’m not sure why I used to wear makeup to parkrun.