by Brenda Daly

Parkrun celebrated International parkrunday on Saturday the 1st of October 2016. Since its start over 12 years ago 1,803,793 people have participated in a 5km parkrun worldwide, including several of my friends and relatives. I decided it was about time I checked into my local run at Osterley Park to find out what all these people are up to.

Recently I have been trying to change my fitness routine and to encourage my husband to do regular exercise. We are both mid 40s and prefer sedentary pleasures involving knives, forks, glasses and remote controls. I find the very thought of going for a run exhausting. Previously I have managed to run, hyperventilate and fast-walk 4km on the gym treadmill, but I always felt it was too much like hard work and I never stuck with it.

On the morning of my run I woke early half hoping that bad weather would prevail and the run would be called off; I was wrong on both counts. The sun lit up the October sky on a crisp autumnal day. We skipped breakfast to avoid any running discomfort and headed to Osterley by car—although cycling, walking or other more carbon-friendly means of transport are encouraged—and made our way over to a crowd of about 100 who were stretching and chatting on the lawn opposite Osterley House. The mix of ages ranged from 11 to 69 and they were not all wearing lycra.

To be an ‘official’ parkrunner, you have to register online, a quick and straightforward process. You’re then emailed a unique number in the form of a barcode. At the end of your run, this is scanned to give you detailed statistics—your time, your position within the group, where you came in your age and gender group, as well as details of other runners—which is emailed to you within a day of the run.

As soon as we reached the lawn we were taken care of. A friendly lady showed us where to leave our post-run gear safely, where to start, the route that we would be running and where to scan our barcodes at the end. The course consisted of three laps around the park at Osterley, following a gravelled path, through woodland then a grassy field. Sensing the look of trepidation on our faces, she explained she was running her 100th run that day but was really not a runner either.

Before the run began, one of the volunteers welcomed us all cheerfully and asked were there any newcomers. We raised our hands tentatively and were reassured to see we weren’t the only ones and weren’t about to be asked to do some weird initiation ceremony—instead we were clapped and cheered on. Then the speaker asked if anyone was celebrating a special run. A few people were on their 50th run and a few on their 100th, including the 60-something lady who had welcomed us. Everyone cheered for everyone; then the whistle blew and we were off.

It felt strange to be running alongside so many people, and the competitive me wanted to go at my fastest sprint from the off. I quickly realised, however, that pacing myself was necessary to stay the course. Finishing the 5km distance for the very first time was all important. We tried to run together, which worked well, but conversation was difficult due to our need to breathe. Words of encouragement were given by the amazing volunteers who support this weekly run. The glorious sun continued for the first 20 minutes—then we had a light cooling shower of rain. The run was not stopped, and we continued our last lap a little soggy but determined to finish.

We completed the run in approximately 35 minutes and went to have a debrief and stretch with our new parkrunner friends. At the Osterley Stables Café we rewarded ourselves with egg butties and cups of tea. The sense of achievement was really wonderful. We were in the last 10 to complete the course, but it is not a race—it really is the taking part that counts.

Since our first run we have both been on a couple of practice runs during the week, completed our second run and looking forward to our third this weekend. Our 13-year-old daughter plans to join us and our 10-year-old boy is beginning to get curious about what this is all about.

There are many great things about parkrun: you can probably find a local one wherever you are in the UK and further afield. Children can register and take part. You get special offers and discounts on products. You get to meet lots of other people, many of them local to the place where you are running, and all of them friendly. It is free. It is outdoors. It is highly motivating.

For more information, visit www.parkrun.org.uk.

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