Last weekend, I completed my first Parkrun.
If you’re not familiar with the Parkrun movement, it’s a free, volunteer-run weekly 5km run in local parks right around the country – in nearly 400 locations now, and counting. Where I live, Parkrun takes place on a coastal path rather than in a park, but the idea is the same. Essentially, it’s just a fantastic community activity for all ages, and a fun and free way to get in some weekly exercise in the great outdoors.
My husband has been doing them for a while and encouraged me to give it a go. To be honest, I’m not much of a runner; I did well as a kid at cross country but have never really gotten into it as an adult. It does seem to almost be the new midlife crisis – people hit 40 and start running (cheaper than an affair or a Harley I guess!). I know people that spent the first 40 years of their life on the sofa before suddenly bouncing up and becoming runners, smashing out marathons and iron man events before you know it. I have always marvelled at their transition.
Anyway, I have tried a little bit of running of late for a few reasons: wanting to push my body to try something new (it was getting a little comfortable with my regular spin and gym classes), and building on my regular coastal walks during the week (I call them my walks of gratitude). On days I was time poor, I began adding a little running into my walks – running is a really efficient calorie burner for those days when your time is stretched thin. I can’t say I enjoy it as such – I haven’t yet gotten into the zone that others rave about – but like anything new, I’m assuming it takes time and practice.
Anyway, back to my first Parkrun. When my husband encouraged me to give it a try, I thought ‘why not?’ I figured it was a good activity we could do together, and I was feeling inspired by his recent efforts doing Parkrun with his good mate while on holidays in Melbourne. Leading up to the run, I was nervous and worried; worried I would come last, worried I wouldn’t be able to complete the run, worried I would fail somehow. I even worried I would throw up once I hit the finish line. In hindsight that seems a little ridiculous… it’s a community fun run, what was there to fail at and who was judging?
Before the race, the call went out for newbies to raise their hand so I shot mine up quickly, figuring that would earn me a little empathy should I stumble over the finish line last. A round of bolstering applause went up for all my fellow newbies, and I felt a little internal glow. Maybe we really were all in this together? Then the event began, and as the experienced runners powered off and I tried to establish my own pace… but quickly realised I was running a little faster than I normally would.
That first kilometre was a killer. Panic was setting in as I thought: “I can’t do this. I can’t keep this up, I’ll pass out and they’ll have to call an ambulance. Now that would be embarrassing!” My panic grew as more people raced past me; my breathing was becoming more laboured and I desperately wanted to stop, but in that moment a thought popped into my head: “just run your own race, you don’t need to beat anyone and it’s okay if others overtake you”.
My mindset instantly shifted. It dawned on me that it didn’t matter where I finished if I achieved my goal, and that goal was to give Parkrun a go!
By the mid-point I felt like I had found my pace, my groove. I even managed to overtake a few runners! For a minute or so I had to stop and walk, but I kept moving forward repeating my mantra – just run your own race – and managed to cross the finish line at the 28.5-minute mark.
My husband was at the finish line, beaming with pride and full of praise as I crossed. My chest felt like it was on fire, I genuinely thought I was going to throw up – and possibly die. I may have even cursed at my husband for making me do it (bringing back memories of childbirth), but by the time I got home and showered I felt absolutely euphoric…and so very pleased with myself.
It turns out, my first Parkrun was so much more than a simple (ha!) 5km run – it was a timely reminder that:
- Fear can hold us back from attempting new things. Fear that we won’t be good enough, that we’ll fail or fall. We need to just give it a go! The greatest failing comes from not trying, because without trying you’ll never know how good you could have been.
- We are our harshest critic and judge. There is no need for us to put ourselves under the pressure we do. I mean, no one except me really cared how I was going in that run. And that’s the attitude we need to take into life; we need to do what’s right for us, not what we think is right based on the perceived judgement of others.
- We only need to impress ourselves, not others. It’s exhausting trying to impress others all the time. Work on marvelling at yourself. Being an impressive person comes from living the life you want to live and living it well; that automatically inspires others and positions you as someone that lives their own life to the fullest. And that’s a powerful impression to leave – and it’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- You don’t have to be the best. I quite often avoid giving new things a go because I think “what’s the point, there are other people doing it who are so much better; I’ll never be as good as them”. There will always be people more skilled and less skilled than you at different things. You don’t have to be the best at everything you attempt, you just need to give it your best. There will always be people running ahead of you and people running behind. Use the people in front as your inspiration, and be an inspiration for those behind you.
- Run your own race. This is by far the biggest lesson. Trying to keep up with others is exhausting; eventually we run out of puff and all enjoyment is lost. Find your pace, find your groove, stop and take a breath when you need to… but just remember to run your own race. The rewards will be so much more satisfying and sustainable.