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Well, I guess if you went along the weekend just gone it might have been, but in today’s Halloween inspired post I want to explore what the fears are around going to parkrun are and how to overcome them.

I did my first parkrun in 2008 with a friend. The movement was still in its infancy back then really, and I didn’t even have a barcode I just had to leave my email address with a man holding a clipboard. The experience was an enjoyable one on the whole, but I am not going to lie I was a little anxious about how it all worked and coming in last…I don’t think I did quite, but I wasn’t far off…back then I don’t think there were tail runners either which shows just how far the whole thing has come.

I have since done a further 67 parkruns, across 9 locations, including the most exciting one of all…Greenpoint Park in Cape Town in April this year when I was speaking at a conference in South Africa…it was EPIC!!

Now imagine if I had let fear get the better of me and I hadn’t got into parkrun?

I have worked with thousands of women over the past 4 years in person and as part of the online programmes I lead for overweight and inactive women, and I always encourage women to check out their local parkrun, for 5 weeks to 5K many women use their local event as their final run of the programme, many taking part for the first time.

However, there are still women who say,

parkrun? no, its far too scary!!!

So here are the 10 most scary aspects of trying parkrun for the first time, and how you should perhaps shift your thinking around it

1. I don’t know how it all works, I don’t want to look like an idiot and get it all wrong.

So, lets look at the basics. All parkruns are free but you should register in advance. If you don’t you still get to run you just won’t get a time, so if registering seems scary just turn up. Nobody will know any different. But once registered with parkrun, you can participate in any of their 478 events at any time without letting them know that you are coming. If you want to be a parkrunner, you only need to register once and print out your barcode.

This piece of paper is what needs to be scanned at the end of your run, alongside a small piece of plastic which a volunteer will give to you as you finish. This will give you your position and timing.

You don’t need to do anything when you arrive, although there is a briefing for new comers where the course details are shared and you get to ask questions. parkrun is led by volunteers and everyone is super friendly.

2. I don’t know if I can run 5K

Not a problem at all. You can walk it. Worried you can’t walk it all? Some events have loops, and there is nothing wrong with just doing one loop, although you won’t need to get your barcode scanned. In all the parkruns I have gone to there have always been walkers. The faster runners just do their thing, everyone is running their own run, nobody will be judging you. If you are really worried about having to walk, perhaps contact the event director before hand to warn them that you are coming and intending to walk. I have always found if I know there are volunteers waiting for me, I am more likely to move my arse and get round as fast as I can. It can be a great motivator. Plus how do you know unless you try?

3. I am worried I will come last

I can’t remember a time I ever came last at parkrun, and if I did it was because of terrible race conditions which kept lots of other folk away…or when I was coming back from maternity leave. It didn’t have much of an effect on me if it did happen, because I have no recollection. Look the thing is, someone has to come last thats just a reality of running events. parkrun have brought in tail runners who walk behind the last participants so technically speaking they come in last. So what if you come last? You are saving someone else that experience. You are ahead of everyone still in bed on a Saturday morning.

4. It will just be full of proper runners

Some might be like this, but the ones I go to in East London are full of all kinds of people. Runners who have been part of the sport for donkeys years, and people newer to it. Including older people, young people, kids, disabled people…all sorts. Thats what makes it so great. Besides, once you start running you are a proper runner too. Yes, there will be runners who can cover the 5K in 15 minutes, but also people who take well over an hour…all as important as each other in my view.

5. I don’t want to feel patronised

This is a big one parkrun. Often volunteers and supporters just want to encourage you and help get you round with calls of “Well done” and applause. And I also know some tail runners like to get chatting to folk at the back reassuring them that they are doing great. This can feel a bit patronising. I know for some women, they just want to be left alone to complete their 5K. They don’t want a fuss. I don’t really have a solution other than to communicate what you need. If you don’t want the tail runner to talk to you or run alongside them, just tell them and explain your reasons why. Or have a change of heart, and try not to see it as patronising.

6. I don’t have the right kit

As long as you have some comfortable shoes and some lose clothing to walk in you should be OK. I have seen folks in all kind of attire do parkrun. Yes there are the lycra brigade, but equally I have seen older asian ladies in Sari’s and men in jeans (yep I have). If you are a slower runner of walker, think about taking gloves and a hat if the weather is cold. Also, don’t dismiss running in the rain. It can make you feel epic.

7. I just think its all too serious for me

Really? Have you seen the pictures shared by parkrun each week? Take clubhouse member Lucy for example, she is a regular participant and volunteer at her local event…does she look like she takes it too serious? I have found parkrun to be great for making friends and having fun. I often get to the Christmas Day event and find runners in all kinds of fancy dress…including my pal Maud who runs in a camel suit.

8. I might not like it

Look, I love parkrun…but some people just don’t and that is fine too. I have a number of ladies in my coaching groups that have tried it a few times and just not enjoyed it. Thats OK seriously. You are not weird, strange or ungrateful for not being a parkrun fan. But how will you know if you don’t at least try it once…you never have to go back again if you hate it.

9. I can’t go every week

Neither can I. I used to go religiously every Saturday. But now I am a single parent and travel a lot, I just can’t always get to them. I do go whenever I can now and it always feels like a real treat, I never feel embarrassed that it has been such a long time, which I do when I go to running club…nobody is keeping scores or checking that you are turning up.

10. I might actually like it

I know…its a scary thought. You might get hooked. You might turn into someone you don’t recognise. You might surprise yourself and others. You might become a runner, a runner that runs regularly. you might make new friends, want to do more races. Your health may improve, your speed may increase, who knows you might even lose some weight or gain in confidence.

Then what?

Have a look online and do some research about your local event, turn up and see what its all about, offer to volunteer if you haven’t yet built up the confidence to run….and who knows, you might become a raving fan like me.

For more information about parkrun check out www.parkrun.com, I can be found occasionally at the following events in East London

  • Wanstead Park
  • Hackney Marshes
  • Mile End
  • Barking Park

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