I initially heard about parkrun (intentionally spelled with a small p, NEVER a capital!) about 2 years ago when a lady I worked with announced she’d done her first parkrun on the weekend. I had no idea what parkrun was – but from the way she said it, it was clear it was ‘a thing’ so I nodded enthusiastically and said ‘Well done! Go you!’ or something like that. Then I snuck back to my desk and Googled it.
So for those who don’t know, parkrun is a running community founded on the internet. You register once and they send you your very own barcode, which you can use to show up and take part in any of the weekly runs that they organise, anywhere in the world. See www.parkrun.com
All parkruns take place somewhere park-like, from what I can tell – the clue is in the name really. Although most of them stick to paths and walkways as their tracks. They’re all 5km in length and take place on a Saturday morning (them’s the rules) and in QLD, all parkruns start at 7am. They’re all entirely free, but they’re timed as well so that you can try and beat your previous run’s time. Every age and ability is encouraged to take part, even if you know you’ll be walking by the end.
It’s a simple concept but pretty cool – you don’t have to ‘join a club’ or wear certain clothes or even have ever run anywhere before. You’re timed using your barcode, but only so you can try and beat the clock when you go next time. There is no big clock on display, mocking you. By logging in to the website you can see your history of runs, including your PBs (personal best times) at each of the courses you have tried.
A quick Google search has taught me that the idea was founded in the UK but it has had factions in existence in Australia since 2009ish, and has spread to quite a few other countries around the world.
It seems like a lifetime ago now, but a couple of weeks before Christmas there was a small ad in our local paper claiming that a new weekly parkrun event would be starting in Caboolture that week. So I thought I’d get online and check it out as part of my triathlon training.
parkrun appealed to me because I like how casual it is – register once, never ever turn up for all anyone cares, or turn up and run badly, or turn up and be a superstar and still no one really cares. I thought it would hopefully give me the vibe of running a race and a chance to run somewhere a bit different, without costingmoney or requiring extra training. So I got myself a barcode.
Unfortunately, the first Saturday I woke up to grey skies, and when I checked the weather radar, this is the picture I was presented with:
So I chickened out and went to the gym instead.
Then a week later I injured my hip and couldn’t run.
So it has taken a while for me to get around to reconsidering the parkrun commitment. Although, since registering all those weeks ago, I’ve been receiving a weekly newsletter from the parkrun Australia HQ which I have been surprised to find I really enjoy reading – and that has kept me interested. Each week they interview a few runners and include their ‘story’ as part of the newsletter. There are lots of people just like me taking part – everyday locals who can’t really run but like to give it a go anyway.
This week, after getting an all-clear from the Physio to increase my runs to 6km, I was ready to join in.
I must admit that the parkrun ‘casual vibes’ that had initially seemed so attractive actually stressed me out a bit, when push came to shove. It had been raining all night and when I checked before I left the house, once again the radar showed small patches of rain all over the place (although not a complete blanket of rain as before)
I was worried that the run had been cancelled and nobody would bother to announce it – you know, because of the casual vibes. Honestly, there is just no pleasing me sometimes.
As soon as I pulled up at Central Lakes in Caboolture it was clear the race was well and truly ON. There were lots of cars parked around the lake, with people in colourful running attire walking towards a spot on the far side that I assumed was the start. I found a parking spot and as soon as I turned off the ignition, it started to pour with rain.
I had no excuses now; I could see the run was going ahead because there were almost a hundred people huddled under a wooden shelter about 100 metres away. I felt a bit stressed about getting my new shoes wet and muddy, thus ruining them before I had even properly broken them in. But I was there to run, so I got out of the car, took a selfie in the rain (see above) and followed a family of runners that were piling out of a big people carrier, to the start line.
With ten minutes to go it occurred to me that the order of events did not include a warm-up. There were some announcements of the regular runners’ Personal Best times from last week, with applause and heckling. A few tips on the course for us newbies, including where to look out for dog poop. A brief run-down of the names of this week’s volunteers, and where they would be stationed. But no stretching or moving.
So I had to warm up by myself, on the edge of the crowd as they all stood patiently listening to the information being provided. And I felt like an absolute moron but I knew that it was either that or suffer the consequences of probably not walking for the next three days. Or possibly not even making it all the way around the course.
I surreptitiously tried to do some squats, pretending I was checking my shoelaces or scratching my shins. Twelve times. Even one of the dogs looked at me sideways like I was a freak.
At two minutes to 7, we had the call to make our way to the flags where we would start. I kept to the back of the pack to try and fit in a bit more warm-up, which I am sure made all the difference. When the countdown started I moved toward the middle of the pack (in front of the prams and dog-runners) and was ready to go.
For the first kilometre I had to overtake a lot of people. Which was fantastic therapy for my suffering ego, still bruised and battered from Frogwoman’s night of terror. I recognised one lady who runs around my neighbourhood almost every day (and has done so for years) and I overtook her and didn’t see her again. Eat my dust!
Then I overtook one of my archenemies from the gym (ok, maybe I don’t really have archenemies. But if I did, she would be one) which was one of those moments where I had to stop myself from jumping into the air and fist-pumping.
Overall the first kilometre was fun and I didn’t mind the rain at all. After that I just settled into my rhythm and stuck to it. About 2 kilometres into the run, some super-fast runners started coming back towards me and I realised that there must be a turnaround point further up the course. After another 7 kilometres I reached the turnaround eventually and the volunteer who was stationed there clapped and smiled and yelled that we were half way. Yay!
Once I knew I was 2.5 kilometres through I felt a bit more confident. Without a GPS or some distance markers, it’s hard to know for sure if you’re going too fast or slow. But at the turnaround I felt good and knew I could get back. So I set my sights on a couple of ladies in front of me and chased them down on my way back in.
The rain picked up for the last 1.5kms and the final 500 metres was a bit of a slog. Some kid that I had overtaken about 6 times (only to have her come pounding up behind me after she’d had a walk) had a sudden sprint to the finish and beat me, which means I’m going to have to return in a couple of weeks’ time to set the record straight on that battle. But it was a great run and a lovely atmosphere.
I got to the finish line and was handed my special time code, which was then scanned along with my personal barcode. The volunteers were so friendly and kind, it was a really nice community moment. I felt proud to be part of the event.
There was an invite to stay for coffee at the local cafe, which many of the participants do each week apparently. I am not sure who their physios are, but mine has given me strict instructions on cool-down stretches and foam rolling that is simply non-negotiable, so I had to pass. Instead I wandered back to my car feeling very wet but happy. And then I spotted a nice rainbow and took it as a sign that I’d reached a good place.
I received an email from parkrun a few hours later, with my time and placing and my PB – which is today’s time, obviously. As previously discussed, nobody cares what my time was but I can reveal that I came 4th out of the ladies in my age group (30-34) which I was rather pleased about!
My shoes are drying on the windowsill as I type, but I expect to be putting them back on for another parkrun in the not-too-distant future, because it was fun. I highly recommend it.