Walking across the grass at Griffeen Park this morning, I’m thinking of making a run for it and I’m not necessarily thinking of the start-line for the 5k… To be honest, I’m nervous and despite just finishing a ‘Couch to 5K’ course with my local running club, Le Chéile AC, I’m not sure if I should be here. I’ve hurt my knee recently and I feel like I’m starting all over again.
Any chance of taking to my heels in the wrong direction quickly disappears when I hear a shout-out from my Le Chéile buddy and Parkrun ‘first-timer’ Laura O’Flynn. Laura’s walking slowly towards me with the same rueful grin that I’m wearing myself. We both burst into giggles and hug quickly before we’re dragged into a friendly huddle with the group of athletes warming up at the start. That’s what keeps bringing me back to Parkrun. The warmth and friendliness of everyone involved.
Julie O’Connor is there at the start-line, she’s another colleague from Le Chéile and is volunteering today – threatening us all with warnings about returning our race tokens after the run, and bringing us all together for the briefing. Volunteers make Parkrun possible. At venues all over the world at 0930 on a Saturday morning, runners gather for a timed run over a set distance of 5k. The route is flagged, and your membership is free. You register beforehand online, print off your barcode, and bring it along on the day. After the run you take your finish token, get your barcode scanned, AND RETURN YOUR TOKEN TO JULIE…. Otherwise next week the process is complicated for the volunteers who have to write in those times by hand. Message delivered? (Hopefully Julie’s just put the cheque in the post).
That’s the technical bit over. What’s harder to relate is the pure pleasure of the run. It’s daunting being a ‘newbie’ for anything, and for folk like me who don’t find running easy, it’s really scary to turn up and run alongside proper athletes. The thing is no-one here thinks any less of you if you’re not a speedie. In fact you just get a louder shout-out from the flag-watchers as you make your way around the course. It’s all about the support and all about the participation.
Laura warms up alongside me for her first ever Parkrun; while Irish International Ultra Runner and Le Chéile star John O’Regan passes us by with a grin and a friendly wave. Then we’re off.
I’m starting slow and getting slower, my knee had 12 stiches and although the sutures have been removed, I’m determined to take it easy. The knee actually feels ok, but I can feel my lack of fitness burning in my lungs as I head off around the first loop. Laura is running beside me and she’s moving easier than I am. It takes a lot of persuading to make her run on ahead. Laura’s being loyal, but the best thing about Parkrun is that although it’s a social event, it’s really a solo-run because you have your own personal time to run against. I’m not running against Laura or any of the runners ahead, and I’m certainly not running against the elite athletes who’ve already finished the course! I’m running against myself, content in the knowledge that the fantastic volunteers will be feeding everyone tea and coffee afterwards, which means the park won’t be empty – even by the time I finish.
Julie jokingly told Laura and me that we had an hour to finish. We didn’t quite need that. Laura’s first Parkrun saw her home in 41:29 – I came home last, exactly 2 minutes behind her at 43:29. It didn’t matter that I was last, and it didn’t matter that my time was in the forties; what matters is that next time I’ll be better. That’s another thing I’ve discovered about Parkrun, it can be just a little bit addictive…