Tag Archives: parkrun

Being last, not fast

“There is more to life than increasing its speed” Mahatma Gandhi

My dear old dad hated school sports. He told me he was so determined not to come last in running races (he had standards…) that he once ended up in second place and was annoyed that he had to run again in another heat!

At the weekend I recalled my dad’s remark about not coming last when attending my local parkrun. I’ve written other blog posts about my love of parkrun – particularly that it’s about community rather than competition – but last Saturday’s experience was a first for me – I came last!

My time was 00.55.41 for the 5K – the slowest of 304 parkrunners – but that was all part of the plan as I was a ‘tail walker’. It involves making sure everyone returns safe and sound at the end of their run/walk/whatever. My hour-long walk around the route was a joy – very fresh air (a good blow in bright sunshine), great exercise in beautiful National Trust surroundings, and friendly chat – mainly with my co-tail walker who’s recovering from a hamstring injury. We talked about everything from sports injuries obviously, to dogs, caring duties, films, and the NHS.

It wasn’t quite a stroll in the park, but I was pleased there was no pressure (self-imposed or otherwise) to do other than finish the 5K circuit… last. I feel society is increasingly inclined to make us think that fast is desirable – that cramming more and more into our already busy lives is ‘a good thing’.

The idea of slowing things down is, of course, nothing new – the slow food movement in Italy dates back to the late 1980s https://www.slowfood.com.  I bought Carl Honore’s intriguing bestseller In Praise of Slow soon after it was published in 2004  https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Carl-Honore/In-Praise-of-Slow–How-a-Worldwide-Movement-is-Challengin/1980344 and I’d probably buy The Idler (a bi-monthly magazine for people who like to live in the slow lane https://www.idler.co.uk) if I had time to read it.

On a similar theme, if there was a competition for firing up your laptop, mine would probably come last. Every time I sit there after switching on my computer, I’m reminded of an early marketing database I used which allowed me time enough to make a cup of tea while it was selecting records from a list of 10,000 book-buyers. Fast forward three decades and, for all my impatience while waiting to use my computer, I’m grateful for the enforced delay as an opportunity for some mindful reflection at the beginning on the working day.

To coincide with its 15th anniversary, parkrun-UK commissioned some research  https://blog.parkrun.com/uk/2019/10/05/not-just-run-park. Two findings particularly interested me – firstly, that volunteering at parkrun was found to be better for our health and well-being than just running or walking the 5K. Interestingly the role of tail walker has been renamed in recent years – it used to be ‘tail runner’ – and this relates to a second research finding; that the average time for the 5K circuit had increased year-on-year – reflecting the growing number of people taking up parkrun (and running?) for the first time.

Looking more widely at slowing down society I don’t think I’m inclined to start a ‘come last’ campaign, but anything we can do to find more flexible ways of working (I’m right behind the campaign for a four day working week https://www.4dayweek.co.uk ) and to reduce the pressure on the next generation, is to be welcomed as a route to improved well-being.

Related blog posts:

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2017/08/16/counting-what-counts

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2019/06/01/coming-from-behind

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2019/07/29/my-four-day-weekend

Coming from behind

No – despite the title, this is not going to a piece about the Conservative leadership contest; it’s about a much more inspiring line-up of runners and riders – at Wimpole parkrun.

I came late to the joys of running (the subject of another blog post) – it certainly wasn’t parental influence! My dear old dad hated school sports and his only rule was ‘don’t come last’ – to sustain a modicum of self-respect. He was once trying to do this so hard he came third and had to run in another heat which, he said, annoyed him for the rest of his life!

This Saturday morning, I was a car park marshal at our local parkrun – one lap around the beautiful Wimpole Estate near Cambridge. I’m not telling you this to get brownie points (although brownie points are one thing you do get for volunteering…) but to explain the new experience that followed.

Despite the beauty of the Wimpole course, a major problem is that it’s pretty much only accessible by car – a steady stream starts around 8.30am and continues until 9am – so, although volunteer car park attendants can officially step down at 8.50am to join other runners for the start, there are still many cars still to be parked at that time.

Well, there were this morning which meant I joined the back of the pack after the start, as the leaders where disappearing over the horizon. Which is not to say I would have been a front-runner – I wouldn’t – but nor would I be starting from the back. This was new for me – experiencing the difference between passing others in front, rather than having people passing me, as we ticked off the five kilometres. No doubt there’s a parkrun statistic to show whether running from the front is more motivating than catching up from the back – ultimately it probably depends on personality.

I’m not competitive but, as readers of my past parkrun blog posts will know, like my dad before me I try to sustain a modicum of self-respect by being in the top third of finishers, by being in the top five in my age group, and by finishing under 26 minutes.

So how did I get on this morning? Two out of three – 158th of 477 runners, fifth in my age group. I was nearly two minutes behind my best time this year – not too bad, and it gave me something to write about here!

My love affair with running https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2019/04/09/my-love-affair-with-running

My love affair with running

Last Saturday I ran my 100th parkrun. No big deal in itself – there are parkrunners who have gone well beyond the 250 mark and many who are much older than me – but I celebrated with a beer all the same. I’m not competitive, but my aim each Saturday I run is to be in the top third of all runners, in the top five for my age group, and to finish under 26 minutes. I’m pleased to report that last Saturday I achieved all three.

The magic that is the parkrun family and all it stands for (thank you Wimpole parkrun where I’ve run 65 of the 100) is just one of the reasons for my love of running. When I joined parkrun I was told ‘it’s not about the running, it’s about community’ – that says it all.

Next month is the sixth anniversary of my relationship with parkrun, but that’s just the last 6 years of almost exactly twenty years of on and off road-running. Just to be clear, my relationship with running has been solid for the past two decades (I’ve fairly consistently kept up four runs a week, excluding holidays) it’s the running surface that’s been on-and-off.

Like many, I started running for my health – in my case it was living with mental ill health and, while running wasn’t the ‘magic bullet’, it did get me out of bed when other prospects in those dark days were far less inviting. I was introduced to running by someone far better than I – he paid the price for his obsession and has since turned to successful race walking, which puts less demands on his knees.

There are objective reasons why running is ‘a good thing’ – uplifting our spirits when we’re feeling low and keeping our bodies working better (knees notwithstanding) for longer. It’s low-cost (only the price of a pair of decent trainers) and convenient – I can run any time of day or night on any day of the year – and I do! It takes you places you might never go and starts conversations with friends and fellow runners that would otherwise remain unspoken. On one particular run, many years ago, five of us talked about everything from God to guinea pigs in the space of ten miles!

When running alone I use my time for thinking freely, or doing the opposite. I often take out a problem I’m wrestling with and, by the time I get home, it either doesn’t seem so bad or I’ve sorted out something completely different. Some great ideas come when I run (well, I think they’re good, but many don’t seem so when I’ve warmed down). Then there’s my mindful running; identifying the sounds I can hear around me; focusing on how I’m feeling as the run develops (a bodyscan); or just concentrating on the metre ahead of me – striding with purpose, oblivious to pretty much everything else around me – the secret of some of my best parkrun times.

Of course, it’s easy to get sentimental about something you love. It probably won’t sound sincere from me, so I urge you to read Running Free by fellrunner Richard Askwith. The book’s sub-title is A runner’s journey back to nature and, to quote the publicity blurb: Not convinced running had to be all about pounding pavements, buying fancy kit and racking up extreme challenges, [Richard Askwith] looked for ways to liberate himself. His solution: running through muddy fields and up rocky fells, running with his dog at dawn, running because he’s being (voluntarily) chased by a pack of bloodhounds, running to get hopelessly, enjoyably lost, running fast for the sheer thrill of it…. Running Free is about getting back to the basics of why we love to run”

https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Richard-Askwith/Running-Free–A-Runners-Journey-Back-to-Nature/16498647 (order online through Hive and you support local bookshops)

For my other ‘love affairs’ in this series, go to https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/my-love-affair-with