Saturday, November 3, 2012

They've made a runner out of me

Morwenna and Imogen (and Colin Tebby) arriving for parkrun 

'Congratulations! Our records show that you have completed 50 parkruns. You are now eligible to receive a free parkrun 50 club tee shirt, sponsored by adidas, in recognition of your achievement.’

What parkrunner wouldn't be excited when the above email lands in their mailbox?

50 parkruns! 

That’s 250 kilometres of Saturday morning running with a wonderful crowd of people, many of whom I now class as good friends.

It’s 155 miles circumnavigating the (often muddy) grounds of Tredegar House, mentally ticking off those 1km markers.

It’s 50 separate texts, each one sent to my mobile just after 11am to let me know how my legs have performed that day.

And it's 50 emails noting my overall and  gender positions for that day's run, plus lots of other scintillating statistical information about my own performance and that of my fellow runners (and believe me checking the stats becomes very addictive!).

parkrun is what Saturdays were made for – and what makes it even more of a must-do event is that every week I’m joined by my equally enthusiastic family and friends.

And they're off...
parkrun is now such a massive part of my life that it's impossible to believe that just over a year ago, I’d never even heard of it.

From its humble beginnings at Bushy Park, Teddington, in 2004 (there were just 13 runners for the first run), parkrun is now an international sporting event, providing free, timed weekly 5k runs across the globe.

Founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt wanted to keep parkrun simple. Once a runner is registered, they just turn up unannounced at any event and compete against themselves.

The letters PB resonate with every parkrunner, for they are a constant reminder of the day they exceeded their own expectations and ran the fastest 5k race of their life – their ‘personal best’.

Everyone remembers the turning points in their lives, those moments when everything changes and life will simply never be the same again.

My ‘parkrun moment’ came in late September 2011 when our family was gathered in Caerleon for a meal to celebrate Morwenna’s graduation. My (former) sister-in-law, Catherine, was sitting next to me and, aware I’d taken up running a few years earlier, she asked me if I fancied going along to Tredegar House the following weekend to run a 5k around the lake. It was an organised event, she told me, but a free one. All I had to do was register online in advance and then I’d get timed for my efforts. I’d run the Swansea 10k a year before so the distance wasn't of particular concern. In effect, I was simply going along to hold her hand.

Imogen's efforts are rewarded
A week later, I met Catherine in the car park and the rest, as they say, is history. I was pretty much addicted from day one – though at that point, I had no idea that I’d soon be on first name terms (and Facebook friends) with many of the other runners.

Within weeks Morwenna had joined me, then her father, David, and his other sister, Allyson. The children didn’t want to miss out on the fun so it wasn't long before Amber, 7, Imogen, 6, Megan, 11, Connor, 10, and Abi, 5, were all dashing up the avenue and around the lake. Harri's occasional runs resulted in some impressive results, while his father, Garrod, put his running shoes on for the first time in over 20 years. Morwenna’s school friend Rachel turned up with her fiance (now husband) Wayne and Rachel’s mum, Sue, was soon a regular. 

Julia congratulates Amber on her first parkrun
parkrun was no longer an occasional Saturday morning event but was fast becoming a religion. 

In the Brew House, our after-run family gathering had long outgrown one table and we were regularly ordering tea for eight.

Chatting to fellow volunteers, I learned that one couple – Gareth and Sian – lived a few doors away from me, and I renewed contact with several old school friends and former work colleagues.

As the running bug took hold, Morwenna and I decided to join a club.

Newport parkrun is organised by volunteers from Lliswerry Runners and Caerleon Running Club and we were ‘courted’ by both clubs. After much deliberation, we chose Lliswerry on the basis that the runs were more likely to be flat (Caerleon is far too hilly for my liking).

With encouragement from club members, I achieved the unimaginable in 2012 and completed two half marathons – Llanelli in March and Cardiff in October (with Morwenna).

Nothing can beat the sense of achievement and the exhilaration of running long distances - the changing landscape, the breeze on your face, the adrenalin rush. When it's going well,  I feel like Maria Von Trapp running down those Austrian hillsides.

Tail-running the day before the Cardiff half marathon
When I started running four years ago, I could barely run to the end of Springvale estate without collapsing in a heap.

If anyone had told me then that one day I’d be the proud owner of an exclusive tee-shirt emblazoned with the number 50 to signify that I’d run 50 x 5km races, I’d probably have told them they were bonkers.

But I have. I’ve done it. With a little help from my (running) friends, some weird-looking gel toe tubes from Wilkinsons and lots of orange squash, I’ve become a member of parkrun’s 50 club. I have a big red 50 next to my name on the much-lauded weekly race results page. I have booked a place on my first international half marathon.

At the age of 51, I am proud to call myself a runner.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Enter your comment . . .