I knew I wanted to acknowledge and celebrate the NHS on my blog given it’s the big birthday today (Thursday 5th July) but it took me a while to decide what to write about. I started thinking about how the NHS had provided me and my family with top notch care over the years, then I moved on to ways we could protect and nurture the NHS going forward…but I couldn’t get passed the first couple of paragraphs. Zero inspiration. Nada.
And then I thought about the NHS70 celebrations that have been ongoing the past few weeks and I kept coming back to parkrun and the NHS themed event in June…so why not explain how couch to 5k and parkrun have changed me and what they can offer to other people? The NHS parkrun was special. A lot of us NHS workers ran in uniform and there were huge numbers of supporters on the side lines cheering us on.
I feel like a broken record talking about parkrun sometimes but I really cannot over-estimate how much good it has done me and some of my patients.
To start with, why did I start running?
I am not a natural runner. I have always hated running in fact. I used to look at people jogging in the street and roll my eyes. People running on holiday? Even weirder! I have become one of them and I’m not entirely sure how it happened! It started one evening in January 2017 at a work meal out… One of the partners suggested we all do York 10k in the August (he is a seasoned runner) and I remember thinking how far and impossible that sounded, but after a glass of vino, I signed up.
I started my running journey using the NHS couch to 5k program which is a way of slowly getting in to running; you start walking and then add in increasing amounts of running over time. I found it hugely challenging for the first 3-4 weeks and then got in to the routine. I really started to enjoy the me-time and headspace running gave me, having a busy work and home life, some time-out was so therapeutic. Just a 20 minute jog would make me feel so much better, I tended to run with my headphones and forget about the rest of the world. I started to build playlists of good running tunes and soon got in to a habit of going out a couple of times a week, whatever the weather.
I remember my first parkrun, my work bud Shona encouraged me to attend as she regularly went (thank you!!), I had never ever run a full 5k before. My biggest fear was coming last and looking really slow. I was so anxious the night before…what happens if everyone looks and laughs at me? What happens if I have to walk? I can’t do it. I nearly bailed. So close to not getting out of my car that morning.
I walked on to York knavesmire and there were 500+ other people there! Anxious much?
There was a shout out for ‘first timers’ so I walked over to the new runner briefing. This reassured me. I had remembered my barcode (this is how you get a time every week, I’ll post a link further down re the process). Then came the lining up and there was a buzz of chatter, runner-looking types in vests and baggy shorts, young mums with running buggies, 40 somethings with their dogs and retirees looking healthy and happy. I was in awe of a chap next to me; he had a guide runner, and chatted to me about his journey to parkrun.
Next was the run director giving some instructions over the megaphone. He was giving shout outs to the parkrunners that had reached milestones, 50, 100…250 (!!!) parkruns. The applaud was deafening. Then came the ‘any tourists?’ bellow and the ‘any first timers?’ cheer.
Eventually it must have reached the magic time. 9am…parkrun-o-clock…and we were sent on our way. 35.46 minutes later I crossed the line and collected my token. My first ever 5k run and my first ever parkrun DONE. And the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
So what can parkrun provide?
All across the country, and world, parkrun provides a free, timed 5k (3.1 mile) walk/run at 9am (9.30am in Scotland) nearly every Saturday of the year. All you need is to sign up and bring your barcode. You get emailed or texted your time every week.
A year later, I have now completed 27 parkruns and have managed a PB of 28.53mins recently. So chuffed that I have gotten nearly 7 minutes faster! I love the feeling of achievement, I am not racing the other parkrunners, I am trying to better my own times, challenging myself.
It is not just for walkers and runners. It is for those of you that like to help out. Volunteering is a huge part of parkrun and there are so many roles. Cheering, scanning barcodes, timing, taking photos, writing a run report…all sorts! I did my first stint as a volunteer recently and I loved the warm and fuzzy feeling afterwards..cliche, I know.
Some assumptions quashed:
- “I want to walk, I am so slow and I will come last”There is a tail walker, they come last and chat away to the folk that are enjoying a slower pace of life. You can look at the stats of each run online – I assure you it doesn’t matter how slow you think you are, you will never ever come last.
- “All those runner types are strange, they are keen and will look down on me”It really is open to everyone, yes there are those that zoom past and run 5k in 16 minutes but they are not looking down on you. They are rooting for you!
- “I look wobbly and go bright red when I run, everyone is looking at me”We all have wobbly bits and not many people look their best in lycra. No one cares. Be strong, put those jazzy leggings on and join us!
- “I have to look after the kids on a Saturday morning, I can’t go”Children can attend parkrun, if under 11 then they need to stay with their allocated adult. (A lot of runs also allow dogs too). Maybe start off volunteering as a family? Also, there is junior parkrun on a Sunday morning which is just for kids.
The whole ethos of parkrun is inclusivity, not speed. The average times have been getting slower and parkrun loves this stat. The aim is to get as many people up and active, moving instead of sitting on the couch. In a few months I went from someone who did no regular exercise, to a happy runner of 3-4k and then to a regular parkrunner. I have done a few 10ks and am awaiting my first half marathon later in the year. I love a bit of ‘parkrun tourism’ i.e. getting up early and driving to another town/county to run their parkrun. Shout outs for Pontefract and Fountains Abbey, both fab courses.
After I run I love the rush of endorphins and overall feeling of wellbeing, but most of all, I appreciate the friends that running has provided me with. There is a great social network on social media for running (@UKrunchat on twitter, @runmummyrun on facebook for example) and these groups really do emphasize that running is for all, not just the elite. Parkrun is a social outing for me (yes being a working mum of two, it is a treat!), a 9am run. I tend to run on my lonesome with my headphones on but can sometimes be found having a chatty plod with my pals. You will usually find me lip syncing to the Greatest Showman soundtrack or some oldies like Dire Straits. After our run we (me, Shona and Trev) usually grab a chance to catch up over a coffee despite looking bright red and sweaty.
I always feel a sense of pride when I have ‘converted’ someone to parkrun. I regularly recommend it to patients as a way to slowly increase activity levels or as a way to improve confidence and self esteem through volunteering. My twin sister has been my biggest win, now becoming a regular at Macclesfield parkrun. Who to target next…?!!! Shona converted me, and we have since had practice nurses and receptionists become regular attendees. If you are York-based, me and Shona are regularly at York or Heslington parkrun and will always give you a friendly wave or word of encouragement any time.
Looking back at this post is does sound like I am gushing about couch to 5k, running and parkrun. I can definitely tell I am a happier, fitter and more energetic person thanks to running. I apologise if I have come across as a keen do-gooder, but as a population we have to change. The Royal College of GPs has recently announced a partnership with parkrun to get more practices involved in encouraging patients to get more active. We must get moving and avoid obesity-related illness if we can, in both adults and children. I have been one of those eye-rolling non active people but if you choose to, you can change. Small steps.
Finally, just a thank you to the NHS on its birthday. Thank you for looking after me and my family… for part-funding my degree and employing me for the last ten years. I am forever grateful. We all have a responsibility to protect the NHS, keeping it going for another 70 years by looking after ourselves.
Some useful links:
NHS 70 – read all about what celebrations are going on for the 70th birthday
NHS couch to 5k – download the app!
RCGP – if you are a GP and interested in registering as a parkrun practice
parkrun – all the information you would want on parkrun, you can find your local page on there