The London Marathon have published my second blog post. Given the news today, it's turned out to be rather topical....it's about parkrun.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint. How many times in your life have you heard that expression? It’s only when you start training for a marathon that you leave metaphor behind and develop a rather more literal appreciation of what that phrase really means.
I’m sure that nearly everyone understands that a marathon is 26.2 miles long (or at least that it’s a really long way to run)… but it’s only when you train for one that you begin to understand that the run itself is really the easy part: those 26 miles are the last steps of a journey that has seen you spend hours and hours of your life running literally hundreds of miles through the cold and dark of winter.
Actually, funnily enough, even though marathon training is about the steady accumulation of miles, it’s the shortest runs in my training programme that have provided me with the most inspiration. Every Saturday morning, I attend my local parkrun at Colwick Park in Nottingham. Parkrun is a free, timed weekly 5km run that is open to everyone and takes place every Saturday morning in locations all over the world. What I love about it is how inclusive it is: the first finisher (parkrun doesn’t have a winner) might be running the course in 15 minutes, but there will be other people who take closer to an hour to cover the same distance but absolutely everyone is welcomed into the parkrun community.
I’ve met so many extraordinary and inspiring people at parkrun that I find my goodwill levels topped up every week. There are brilliant runners here who happily give up their own time to help other people by volunteering to help make the event happen. I’ve discovered that life is great in the volunteer’s high viz: waving runners in the right direction, manning the stopwatch or scanning people in at the finish… any role is a joy, even in the freezing rain. Whisper it quietly, but marathon training or not, I’ve maybe started to enjoy volunteering more on a Saturday morning than I do running... well, rest is an important part of any training programme, right?
It’s at parkrun too that I first got the opportunity to do some guide running with a visually impaired runner. How can you fail to be inspired and humbled by someone like that? My legs might be aching from a really long training run, but Terry can’t see and he still puts his trainers on most weeks and enjoys a run around the park. Sometimes he falls over, but he always picks himself back up, dusts himself off and keeps on running. It certainly puts all my problems into perspective, anyway.
Running can seem like a solitary sport, especially when you’re at the back end of a 22-mile training run and not a single person has offered you so much as a jelly baby. At parkrun, I’ve discovered a community that stretches well beyond a Saturday morning and it’s definitely changed my life for the better.
SuperKev from the Colwick core team posted this on Facebook today, and I really can't say anything more powerful than this, so I'll just leave it here:
"I met the most remarkable man at parkrun. Actually I've met lots of remarkable people there to be honest but this man stands out for me. He is visually impaired and he hadn't exercised for many years. This despite being an exceptional athlete before his health deteriorated. He has now along with various volunteer guides completed 100+ parkruns and is fitter and healthier than he has been for many, many years. But that's not all!...shortly after meeting a couple of us invited our new friend to join us at the pub. After an enjoyable evening chatting about all the things blokes chat about when at the pub he thanked us and told us that he hadn't been to a pub with his mates for over 10 years. He had effectively been a prisoner in his own home reliant on his wife to look after him. Not anymore...Now he is independent and will jump at the chance to take on new opportunities. I'm so proud of Terry and what he has achieved and I'm privileged to have him as a friend. I defy anyone to tell me that this volunteer lead organisation isn't changing lives for the better and that keeping it free for all isn't the way it should forever remain!"
parkrun is so much more than just a run in a park.