September 3, 2015 - Written by:

My Parkrun Experience – The Strength of a Running Community

A few weeks ago, I went down to Southampton to spend the weekend with my dear friend Ollie. We’ve grown up together and I had yet to visit him in his lovely new house, and meet his crazy labradoodle, Oscar.

We didn’t really have much of a plan of what to do whilst I was down there, but one thing was absolutely certain – he was making me do Parkrun with him. And needless to say, I was a bit nervous.

So, what is Parkrun?

Parkrun is the free, international running community that holds 5km runs in open spaces. It is open to all ages and abilities, and usually takes place in your local park. From beginners to Olympians, absolutely everyone is welcome to join in. Everyone goes at their own pace and enjoys the camaraderie.

Sounds like a great idea, right? So why was I so nervous?

Everyone has their own jogging groove. And as someone who has been running (albeit intermittently) for around 3 years now, I thought it was something I knew how to do my own way. My usual routine would be to pick a route depending on where I was, strap my phone to my arm, hit my special playlist of running music and go.

But this was going to be completely different. I was running with a friend so I couldn’t plug in and be anti-social. I was also running further than I ever have in my entire life – 5k. Ollie does this every week and I hadn’t been on a run in about a month, let alone a 5k with hundreds of other people! Yikes! I was pretty certain I was going to die. The only reassuring thing would be that my good friend was going to be by my side the whole way.

The clear-blue sky was a good start. When we got to Southampton Common, there were literally hundreds of people ready to take to the track. I joined a huddle for first-time runners to get an introduction, and started to feel quite excited.

Ollie and I aren’t the best runners, so we started somewhere between the middle and the back. I was determined that we would begin and finish together, and we would encourage one another at the difficult points.

During the first 2k, which included a bit of an uphill jog, I felt the burn the most. Dads with hi-tech jogging prams whizzed past us smugly. We started getting tired and I didn’t know if I was going to get through The Wall for a whole 5k. You know, that Wall of Pain that creeps up towards you and tells you to stop. And with every fibre of your being, your body is shouting at you to cease this uncomfortable physical activity.

But it’s a trick! All your body’s really saying is ‘Whoa, what the hell, I wasn’t ready for this, what do you think you’re doing?!’ But ignore it, because at some point, it’ll resign and say ‘Okay fine, you’re obviously not listening. I guess I’ll just have to get into it…’

At every corner there were Parkrun stewards cheering us on, which helped enormously. Suddenly, I found myself running at a steady pace, sweaty but not panting and actively enjoying myself. Ollie and I chatted away, and it was so wonderful being able to begin our weekend together in such a constructive, healthy way.

Ollie needed to stop to walk a couple of times, but we were halfway there and I didn’t feel like stopping! So, reluctantly and on Ollie’s command, I powered ahead. I felt a sudden burst of energy and did as much of a sprint as I could muster. I could see Ollie in the distance and waved – and with my friend cheering me on from across the common, I pelted through the finish line.

For the first time ever, I had completed a 5k run! And it felt AMAZING.

Shiraz Run

Turns out that running on my own with my headphones blaring wasn’t the best way to run after all. But running with a big group of people, and especially with a friend at your side, made a massive difference to my jogging style. I went faster and further than I ever had. It was a real eye-opener.

Upon reflection, my Parkrun experience taught me quite a few things about life in general:

1. You may think you know what’s good for you if you’ve been doing something for a long time, but it’s always worth trying it a new way, even once.

2. By trying things in new ways, you’ll learn to stretch and challenge yourself more.

3. You may find out things about yourself you never knew, and we could all do with some more self-awareness, no matter what stage of life we’re at.

As we both recovered at the finish line, I told Ollie, ‘I’m really proud of myself for doing that!’, and a middle-aged woman turned round and said, ‘I don’t even know you and I’m proud of you!’

There was also a photographer at the run, so I couldn’t resist making this for future motivation:

Shiraz ThisGirlCan

In short, it was the best running experience I had ever had. Parkrun was uplifting for the body and the soul, and I even forgot about the fact that I had to wake up at 8am on a Saturday! But most of all, running with a good friend beats a lone run every time.

So if you’re a runner, find a Parkrun near you, grab a mate and give it a go!

If you enjoyed this article, why not check out: ‘Old habits die hard. Or do they?‘?




  • Sunstone

    Excellent advice! I couldn’t be happier with my progress on my current workout journey and I’ve learned so much about myself along the way. You’re absolutely right about that Wall of pain, too.

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