If you’re following a Couch to 5K plan then targeting your local parkrun at the end of the six week plan is a fantastic idea.
To get a feel for it, you could offer to volunteer now or even just go down and support other participants. If you’re feeling brave enough, why not just join in?
You don’t have to wait until you’ve finished your six week plan. Don’t worry if you can’t run the whole thing as there will be plenty of other people run/walking so you won’t be alone.
There are hundreds of parkruns taking place across the country (and other parts of the world) every Saturday morning all year round at 9am, and they are all completely free.
They are perfect for your first venture over 3.1 miles as they are ‘timed 5ks’ rather than races with a relaxed, friendly atmosphere so you don’t need to be competitive or super speedy to take part.
They are suitable for all ages and abilities – you can run alone, with friends, family or even your dog. There’s always a few people taking part with running buggies as well so you can take your children with you.
The inclusive, open-to-all nature of parkrun is one of the many things I love about it. I love the fact I can turn up to my local park every Saturday morning and have other like-minded, friendly people to run with who never judge you. They just smile and offer encouragement.
It has been important for me mentally, just as much as physically, over the past three years, when at times my own motivation has run a bit low.
So I can’t recommend parkrun enough and I urge you to give it a go, you won’t regret it!
If you do decide to take part, here are my tips showing you what to expect and how to run well…
This stands for Don’t Forget Your Barcode. Without one you won’t appear in the results and get your time. It’s free to register, all you need to do is provide your details at www.parkrun.org.uk and print off your barcode.
Take it with you on the day and it will be scanned at the finish along with another token you will be given in the finishing funnel. The results are then online by midday and they will also be emailed to you if you register your address.
Appearing in the results will give you a great sense of achievement and then you can track your progress and improvement on future runs.
IT’S NOT A RACE (UNLESS YOU WANT IT TO BE!)
Parkrun prides itself in being a ‘timed run’ and not a race so although results are published, there are no winners (and certainly no losers). This means if you want to just turn up and get round at whatever pace you can go that is fine. It also means if you want to get there and run as hard and as fast as you can you can also do so.
If you do want to be competitive, you can race the people around you or try and beat your time from the previous week. Personally I always look forward to seeing my ‘age grading’ which reveals how my time compares to other people my age around the world.
YOU CAN’T COME LAST
I know some people fear taking part in parkrun as they worry they will come last but trust me, this is not possible! Every parkrun has a tail runner who walks the course at the back to ensure no one is lost or left behind.
There is no shame in being at the back of the field. Every runner is equal when it comes to parkrun – it’s a cliché but it’s true that it is the taking part that counts, not who finishes the fastest.
If you are worried about making it round the whole distance, then don’t go off too fast. It is tempting to do so as you will be full of energy and enthusiasm to begin with but try and stick to a comfortable, controlled pace.
Then if you can pick up speed towards the end, you will feel much better than if you go off too fast and then struggle to finish (believe me, I have been there!).
DON’T WORRY IF YOU HAVE TO WALK
If you can’t manage to run the whole thing continuously then don’t worry. It is fine to take walking breaks. I have seen some people walk the whole parkrun from start to finish as it stills means they are out being active and covering the distance.
The average walking pace is three miles per hour which gives you an indication of how long it will take if you do have to walk the whole way.
THANK THE VOLUNTEERS (AND BECOME ONE YOURSELF)
Parkrun wouldn’t happen without the friendly and helpful volunteers who give their time and energy for free on a Saturday morning. They pace, marshal, offer encouragement, scan your barcode and compile the results among other tasks.
I have volunteered to help on numerous occasions and it is such a rewarding experience and a great way to give something back.
Parkruns are held in scenic locations where you can take in stunning views or run through woods, round lakes and alongside seafronts. So make sure you take it all in and enjoy being out in the great outdoors when you take part, it certainly beats being on a treadmill.
Some days you might not run as well as you hoped but learn from what went wrong ( Did you eat too close to running and get a stitch? Did you drink too much the night before?!etc) and remember you can always try again next week.
Good luck, keep on running and never give up!