Like all journeys in life I found that the best way to approach the Parkrun odyssey was to run straight at it.
Once I had announced my intention to complete each Parkrun in Northern Ireland (https://whatsadaddyfor.blog/2018/09/02/my-parkrun-challenge/) and basked in all of the congratulatory words and messages of good luck, then I really hadn’t left myself any alternative. I was going to have to do this.
And so it began. Travelling to new locations, searching for the starting line, familiarising myself with the route, meeting new runners every week.
I was worried that a sense of staleness or unwelcome obligation might soon set in. But the truth is that every Parkrun is different, they all have their own unique personality.
Wallace Park has the bandstand where everyone gathers for a chat and a sticky bun. Carrickfergus has all of those crazy bends. Victoria Park has the talking toilet and the beautiful views. Valley Park has that brutal hill – which you have to run up twice. And Ormeau Park has the numbers. If you want to run a PB at Ormeau then get yourself near to the front or else you will be swallowed in a sea of good-natured participants.
But there is also a constant theme which unites all the Parkruns. The welcome that you get. The sense that we’re all in it together, regardless of individual levels of fitness.
Often I’ll meet someone I know. If not then I’ll usually find someone new to talk to, sharing some common experience. I’m not much of a conversationalist but the Parkrun gives you a starting point for a chat. How many have you done? What’s your PB? Watch out for the hill.
Since I’ve blogged about the Parkruns I’ve had dozens of messages from other runners and invitations to come to their local courses. I’ll get round them all in time and hope to meet with everyone who has contacted me.
I need to get out of the greater Belfast area soon. Next week I’ll aim for a more distant location.
Ormeau yesterday brought a new experience when I was addressed mid-run by a man who patted me on the shoulder, told me he had read my blog and loved it, and wished me all the best for my tour. It was a lovely moment which helped to sustain me just at a point when my energy was flagging.
And I had anorher welcome encounter. One which perhaps sums up the inherent social value of the Parkrun. The fact that it makes you get up in the morning and go out to see people.
I have an old friend who does the Ormeau run. A work colleague who I sat beside in an office for years. For a long period we probably spent more time with each other than we did with our own spouses.
And then our lives moved in different directions. We both took up different employment opportunities and had families. For longer than I can remember we have been promising to meet up for a coffee, but never quite managing it.
But there she was at the Parkrun. So we swapped stories about our jobs and children and how unfit we have become. Then we did the run. Then we chatted some more and posed for photographs.
As we said goodbye we promised that we’d have to meet for that coffee soon. I also promised to come back to the Ormeau Parkrun. We’ll see which happens first.
The Parkrun challenge goes on…..