Strava and parkrun have joined forces, two of the biggest running communities have been brought together. Over the last few weeks we’ve explained why Strava and parkrun make for such a great partnership, we’ve heard from the founder, Paul Sinton-Hewitt and elite parkrunner Steve Way. Now we get to hear from parkrunners new and old from across the UK, from a woman who has completed 250 parkruns and knocked over 15 minutes off her PB, to Tom Williams, co-host of the excellent Marathon Talk podcast and Managing Director of parkrun UK.
Tom Williams — 40, Harrogate
My first degree was in Human Biology, Exercise and Health and I was working in a gym as a personal trainer and fitness consultant. That led me to a masters degree in Sport and Exercise Science at Leeds Metropolitan University, which in turn led to me helping out at Leeds United football club. I was living my dream, working in elite sport, but I started to realise that that environment didn’t satisfy me – yeah, you can take an elite athlete and get them back earning a fortune, but it’s not the same feeling you get when you help someone to take up exercise.
I left that area in 2006 and went to work at the University of Leeds with a special interest in physical activity and health promotion. In 2007 I started Leeds parkrun as part of my work at the university, really as a means of engaging students with the community. I wrote the delivery of the parkrun (and bear in mind there were only three in the world at the time) into the students’ degrees, so they had to be there at 8am on Saturday to organise it, do the timing and marshal to pass their module. I’ve been involved with parkrun ever since.
I think I was definitely looking for something like parkrun. In running most events sold out really quickly and were really expensive, or there were lots of great local events, but they didn’t attract the masses.
For many of us, with parkrun it’s the volunteering that has changed our lives. Prior to this, I was a competitive Ironman triathlete, so running 5k once per week was never going to change my life – I did that or the equivalent every day – but, I’d never really volunteered for anything.
What volunteering gave me is friendship, community and a common goal.
When you’re running, it’s usually about you, and that’s great, but you don’t get a huge amount of feel good. When you volunteer at an event regularly, the act of volunteering is really enjoyable – cheering people on, high fiving the kids, that’s fun, and I think in running we forget fun too much, and fun’s a really good reason for doing something.
We work really hard to position parkrun as a run not a race and the idea is, that if you want to race within our run, you can (I’ve had some amazing races at parkruns, mostly with Paul Sinton-Hewitt!) but if you’re racing your mate, you’re still in a run, you still have to give way to other park users, it’s not about winning and losing. It’s a low pressure, low key, timed run.
I think 5k is the perfect distance – anyone can really race it if they want to, and if you walk it, it won’t take that long. You can’t say that about a marathon. One of the things about the marathon is that at a grassroots level, the distance is such a challenge it puts the majority of the focus on completion, which is fine, but with the 5k, it allows people of all abilities to really focus on their own performance and getting better in themselves.
There are so many thousands of inspirational parkrun stories that I really don’t think I could single out one in particular. We’re all aware of the benefits of doing positive things in social environments and also how exercise can support not only physical health but mental health. A number of times during my parkrun journey people have come up to me and explained, with absolute sincerity, that during certain times in their lives, when they’ve been at their absolute lowest, turning up at parkrun on a Saturday morning has literally been the difference between life and death.
I can barely describe the feelings when someone looks you in the eye and says that parkrun has saved their life.
That’s testimony to the amazing human spirit shown every week by runners and volunteers across the entire parkrun family. I feel extremely proud to be parkrunner A6013.
Jaz Kaur Bangerh – 44, Leeds
I first started running in May 2007 and I came to the very first Leeds parkrun in October of that year. I have to confess I hated running and if it weren’t for the people and all the support and encouragement I would probably have given up ages ago. It’s probably one of the few things that I’ve managed to stick at, and on the tenth anniversary of parkrun, known as International parkrun Day I was very proud to become the first woman of Indian heritage to achieve 250 parkruns.
There are so many things I’d like to say about parkrun. I’ve lost weight, got fitter and improved my health. I’ve met hundreds of truly inspirational, lovely people including Olympic and Paralympic medallists. I’ve improved my parkrun time at Leeds from 44.34 to 28.12. I’ve gone from believing that 5k would be the only distance my little legs could cope with to having competed in my very first London Marathon in April 2013.
Probably for me the best thing about parkrun is the sense of community, family and friendship. No one cares about your shape, size, ability, age, background or what you do etc. You are a parkrunner, it’s as simple as that.
To share the same ground with the fittest and the fastest is awesome but to see the ordinary become the extraordinary is so inspirational.
I love to meet new parkrunners and watch them improve, increase in confidence and then fly! I love the fact that parkrun celebrates achievements no matter how great or small; I love the courage and persistence in people whether it’s to just get to the start line, to finish the course or to simply put one foot in front of the other. It really is a beautiful, heart-warming, soul-lifting experience!
Finally, I love the fact that all my family are parkrunners and that we are doing something outside of our cultural norm, and hopefully helping encourage others to do the same.
Alister Robson – 42, Durham
I volunteer almost every week and still absolutely love it. Seeing runners progress from beginners to improvers, and improvers to club runners is absolutely fantastic. It’s been a while since I last ran a PB, and while running for yourself is great, it’s only really satisfying for you personally. In an hour of volunteering at Durham parkrun every Saturday I can see 30 or more PBs in one morning and the satisfaction you get from that is immense.
Laura Markwardt – 33, Hackney Marshes
I wasn’t convinced by the idea of parkrun at first. Even though I’ve been running for over ten years, I enjoy going alone and have never really felt the need to race or challenge myself. My boyfriend promised me that parkrun was friendly and inclusive, so I decided to give it a chance and signed up.
The first time I ran was a huge learning curve. I wore way too many clothes and paced myself ridiculously fast at the beginning. I thought I’d be strong all the way and it really put my fitness in context. I promised myself to try again the next week and right where I’d gone wrong.
That was the start of it. Since April of this year I’ve managed to take almost two minutes off my PB and parkrun has become part of my Saturday routine. There’s such an encouraging atmosphere and mix of abilities and really no pressure from anyone else but yourself.
It’s definitely opened my eyes to the wider running community, from local clubs to the volunteers that give their own time to make the run happen. It’s also made me look at other running events, which I never thought I would – I’ve entered the Lisbon Half Marathon in March 2015. With parkrun as a mainstay of my winter training, I’ve begun to see races as a fun, realistic challenge.
We would love to hear your parkrun stories, tell us what it means to you and why you can’t wait to get to the start line on a Saturday morning. Share you stories or questions in the comments below.
To find out more about the Strava and parkrun partnership and for information on how to connect profiles click here.
Photos: Andy Waterman