Sunday, March 8, 2015

My first parkrun and how I started running

My first parkrun

I was really excited to be taking part in my first ever parkrun in Tunbridge Wells yesterday because it brought back so many memories of my first ever 5k, at the grand old age of 45, 13 years ago. I'll write about how I started running after I've documented the parkrun whilst it's fresh in my mind (see below).

Alzheimer's Research UK had put out a Press release for the local papers and Mike kindly volunteered to be official photographer for the day. It's hard being the support crew for someone like me who runs marathons but he was more than happy to come along to watch a run which would take me 30 minutes or thereabouts (plus, there was the offer of coffee and cake afterwards in lovely Tunbridge Wells which might have swung it!).

As we'd been told there was limited car parking space at the the Park we decided to leave the car in the town centre and walk there and back which was great because it stretched my legs out a bit. We'd never been to Dunorlan Park and it really is pretty. It was quite chilly first thing with a sharp wind.

People were just starting to arrive and the marshals hadn't set up so we wandered off to find the cafe.

Although there were some lovely smells emanating from the cafe it wasn't open. Mike tried staring through the window looking hopeful but to no avail so we went  to get a closer look at the lake.

There were lots of ducks and Greylag geese chilling out and some very pretty purpley coloured ducks (anyone know what breed they are please?)

Here we have the greater-spotted Redhead sporting her new ARUK vest - I know you can't see it but it was too cold to take my jacket off. Please note the colour co-ordinated capri pants with orange flashes  and my turquoise headband to match the new vest! 

I know I really need a new cap but I can't bear to get rid of this one as it's been worn for almost all of my 42 marathons and of course now it's got my special crochet patches on it to remind me of London marathon 2014

Note also that I'm wearing trail shoes as I'd been advised the course was muddy in parts.

We loved the shapes of these amazing trees (pine or cedar?) near the start line .

Before we set off running, all of us first-timers were gathered together and told the procedure. It was a 2 lap course, a mixture of tarmac paths and muddy grassy bits and some updulations (spell-check keeps wanting to change that to undulations!). We were told to be courteous to other park users and there were certainly lots of dog-walkers out and about.

When you sign up to parkrun you are sent a unique barcode which has your name and emergency contact details. You have to print this off and bring it with you each time you take part otherwise you won't have your time recorded.

I had no idea how many people would be taking part but found out later there were 110 runners.

Just before the start at 9am we were called together for a briefing when they explained that you must only go throughout he finish tunnel once as this would mess up the timing system. They also gave out a prize, kindly donated by Sweatshop,  to someone the organisers thought was most deserving (this could be because of their number of parkruns done, improvements made, volunteering) and we first-timers all got a round of applause too.

As you can see, the sun had come out by then and it wasn't as cold although I expect the marshals might have felt chilly just standing around. All the marshals were volunteers and I thanked them all as I went past as I always appreciate the work they do in standing around waiting for us runners to go past. 

Then we were off.

First we ran down the hill towards the lake then alongside it before heading off across some grass. In this sort of run the start is almost always a bit congested, especially when you're running on narrow paths. This means it can be difficult to get into your stride but you just have to accept it and push ahead when you can.

After I'd disappeared out of view, Mike wandered off to explore the park a bit more and found this lovely Grecian Temple. Then he sneaked off for a coffee to warm himself up before coming back to catch me finishing my first lap.

This next photo was taken on the second lap when the field was much more spread out.

There was a real mix of runners and it was wonderful to see some youngsters taking part and running really well too. I saw one little girl stop and she looked rather crestfallen but when I got alongside her I shouted "well done, you're doing really well" and she said thank you and started running again with a big smile on her face. It was wonderful to see several children running with a parent and there were a couple of dogs too.

Here I am, striding out in the last stretch by the lake before heading up the hill towards the finish line.

I think I was trying to spot Mike here.

You can see the marshal who I think is using a stopwatch to mark finish times. As you run into the finish funnel (the 2 strips of yellow tape), you are handed a token with a barcode on it which has your finish time on.

You then take this token together with your own personal barcode and hand them to another marshal. They then scan both barcodes to record your time which is then emailed to you later together with lots of data.

I'd guestimated my finish time to be around 30 minutes as I wasn't going to push as it was a bit too soon after my last marathon so I was delighted to check my GPS watch and see my time as 30:25.

We had a very pleasant walk back to the car so I could get out of my running gear and into more appropriate apparel for wandering around Royal Tunbridge Wells. Mike took a sneaky photo of me getting changed in the car but I think for the sake of my modesty I won't include that here! Then it was time for coffee and cake in a new cafe we found (my piece of chocolate and raspberry torte went down rather well thank you very much).

By the time we got home there was an email telling me my time etc:
Royal Tunbridge Wells parkrun results for event #44. Your time was 00:30:25.
Congratulations on completing your 1st parkrun and your 1st at Royal Tunbridge Wells parkrun today. You finished in 63rd place and were the 14th female out of a field of 110 parkrunners and you came 1st in your age category VW55-59. Take a look at this week's full set of results on our website. Well done on your first run. We have set this as your PB.
You achieved an age-graded score of 60.33%. For an explanation of age-grading, please see the WAVA age grading overview.
You have earned 87 points for this run, giving a total of 87 points in this year's Royal Tunbridge Wells parkrun points competition.
Very efficient and it was interesting looking at the range of finish times which went from 18:46 - 44:03. 

What did I like most about it? That I wasn't competing against anyone except myself. 

We can get bogged down in statistics if we aren't careful and it was nice to just run for the sheer enjoyment of it without worrying how fast, or rather how slow, I was. I have a 10k pb of 52:48 set in Brighton which suggests my 5k time should be less than 26 minutes so should I be disappointed? Not at all; the courses are completely different - Brighton is flat and run on tarmac, Tunbridge Wells is neither.

The person who finishes last covers the same distance as the person who finishes first. You can have good days and bad days but in the scheme of things it really doesn't matter. What does matter is that you get out there and take part. As I do my training runs alone I always enjoy running in company at events.

I know a lot of you reading my blog live outside the UK but please do take a look at the parkrun website where you'll see that the parkrun phenomenum has gone global! From the statistics on my blog I can see that some of the countries you live in appear on there already (Australia, Denmark, Ireland, New Zealand, Poland, Russia and the USA) but if your country isn't there perhaps you could think about starting one yourself?

How I started running and how it saved my life (and my sanity)

When Mike and I were in our early 40s, we decided to have a fitness drive. This involved us donning track suits and training shoes and trying to go for a run. Mike had run a marathon in his early 20s, I had never run before. I struggled, huffing and puffing up the steep hill outside our house until I was bright red in the face and couldn't carry on. I hated every step of it and was mightily relieved when we stopped all that nonsense.

Several years later when we lived closer to London than nowadays, we joined a local gym. Mike gave it up after a while, claiming he was too busy with work to fit it in, but I didn't and boy am I glad that I continued as it became a very important part of my life.

Then I left work to become a full-time carer for my mum. Each day I would head off to the gym whilst Mike kept an eye on mum. I had a 10 minute walk there, 40 minutes on the equipment (including fast walking on a treadmill) and then a 10 minute walk home. That hour I had to myself became very precious as it gave me some time to recharge my batteries.

One day I was searching on-line for something and a small icon kept flashing at me; an advert for the Race for Life, a women-only 5k event to raise money for Cancer Research UK. I had lost a friend to Leukaemia  and I felt I just had to do it to raise money in her memory. I told Mike about it and after we'd stopped laughing hysterically at the very thought of me running 5k I decided that I was going to do it even if I couldn't run all the way.

The next day at the gym, in February 2002, I started to run on the treadmill and after what felt like 15 minutes I had to take a walk-break. I had in fact only managed to run for 2 minutes! I then devised a plan in which I would run for 2 minutes, walk for 3 and repeat this for 30 minutes. Each week I added an extra minute of running and reduced the walk-breaks to 1 minute until finally I could manage to run for the full 30 minutes. Then I had to learn how to run outside which was quite different but I was determined to do it.

I completed my first ever 5k race at the Race for Life in Croydon on my 45th birthday in June 2002. I have no idea what my exact finish time was but it was somewhere around 26 minutes. I have never felt so proud and this photograph lives in my office to remind me how far I've come since then.

I had caught the running bug and wanted to try running further but Mike very sensibly pointed out that I did get very red-faced after a run and perhaps we should get me 'checked out' in case I had an underlying medical condition.

Off I went for a BUPA health  assessment feeling the best I had in years and expecting to get a clean bill of health. However, the various tests discovered that cancer had entered my life unbeknown to us and quite uninvited and we were referred to Professor Albert Singer, one of the leading experts in the management and treatment of cervical cancer, who used to be a marathon runner too. He explained everything to us in great detail stating up-front that my results must be wrong as I'd only had a smear test the year before. Sadly they were not wrong and were in fact much worse than expected. He told me that I was lucky as if I'd been referred to him on the NHS his waiting list was 18 months by which time it would have been too late to do anything.

I was lucky and I'm still here but, to quote Forrest Gump, that's all I have to say about that.

The reason I mention my own experience is that through the work of Cancer Research UK many people survive cancer and that's where Alzheimer's Research UK want to be with dementia asap. In their words:

We have established our Global Clinical Trials Fund to support critical early phase drug trials. It will help push more promising treatments through development and into the hands of people with dementia. We’ll be working with other research funders, charities and industry at home and around the world to make sure all the discoveries you help fund are quickly put to work in creating better treatments, improved diagnosis and preventions. We’ll be doing more than any other charity to find the answers we all need.
A generation ago we took the fight to cancer. People broke down the stigma, talked about their diagnosis and supported research that has made many cancers survivable. We are now in a fightback against dementia. We are putting in place the resources, expertise and an army of scientists that are creating real benefits for people with dementia.
We need your help to grow this further. We need you to talk about dementia, to know that the diseases that cause it – like Alzheimer’s – can be defeated, and to support us in reaching the breakthroughs.

You may have noticed that my latest fund-raising efforts involve me running 13 marathons in 12 months to represent the 13 years I've been running.

Please help me to raise funds for vital research into this devastating disease.

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