The running world is a family of conflicting personalities, a community made up of a multitude of different, yet definable characters. There are the elite – head to toe in lycra compression, with an agonised twist at the lips and a glint of determination in the eye. There are the newbies, decked out in sweat pants and nervously giggling with new found newbie buddies. The veterans, still in the short shorts of the 70s jogging craze, usually seen jogging on the spot (whilst the Elite’s perform physio-advised stretches, and the newbies start copying the stretches the remember from Mr Motivator of GMTV..). The group I most admire are the elites in newbie clothing. Like wolves dressed as lambs, rippling muscles extend from simple cotton, and powerful legs hide just behind a pair of £4 sweats. Each of these types of the species can be found at your local weekly park run.
Park Run began in 2004, with a group of 13 runners who decided to see how fast they could run 5k. Since then, Park Run has grown and grown, now taking place in 41 locations, with runs comfortably attracting hundreds of hopeful time trailers a week. In 41 locations, groups of shivering, sweltering of comfortably warm runners huddle together for a 9am Saturday morning start, safe in the knowledge that all over the country, others are doing the same – some suffering the same nerves, others enjoying the same excitement, all there because this week, they want to see their 5k time get a little bit quicker.
My own local Park Run – I use the term local loosely, as a non-car owning cyclist, nothing is as local as it could be – takes place in Hove Park. The start line is always bustling, and most runs attract over 100. Before the run begins, a call is given to applaud new, first time runners, and tshirts are awarded to the dedicated, who have reached their 50th, 100th or (wow!) 150th Park Run. Finally, luck to all, a few warnings about now mowing down dog walkers and the elderly, and the call to run goes.
As the herd moves, there is always a fair amount of jostling and jiggling as people find their place in the crowd. Lap one begins, legs continue to move (always good), lap one ends, lap two begins. Each lap has a gentle incline, and it is this incline of lap three where, when I take on the Park Run, I start to think about looking who’s around me to gage how I’m doing. There are a couple of elites who ran a marathon last week enjoying a ‘gentle jog’, a wolf-in-lambs-clothing overtakes me – I start to figure out what time I might get If I keep up the pace – not bad.
That’s what I like about Park Run – the chance to run with such a diverse group, ranging in ability and agility, from fair to god-like. It is a chance to meet some other local runners, away from the pressure of track sessions and actual races, a chance to gently take on something mildly competitive, safe in the knowledge that if it’s just not ‘your day’, it can just be your day next week. Every week there is a new, fresh opportunity to have a go at self improvement.
Park Run brings together the elite, the newbies, and the somewhere-in-betweens, puts them together in the washing machine of the start line, and then pops them out, one by one, allowing the old hacks to inspire the fresh faced new members of the running community, and the fresh faced to remind the old hacks that running only ever started as a fun hobby, or a way to keep fit. Running has seen its fair share of revolutions, and Park Run is undoubtedly one of them.