Mental Health

How This Activity Revamped Six Women’s Lives

Whether it’s a running sesh, a yoga class or simply playing with your kids – here’s the latest news and views on how to move more this month

It’s 7.30am on a Saturday and rather than having a lay-in, I’m getting ready to head out to my local parkrun, along with 300,000 others* (and counting) who will be walking, running or jogging 5k around their nearest venue this weekend. A simple idea that started in 2004 when 13 fearless runners showed up at Bushy Park, London for the first-ever parkrun that was entirely voluntaryled. 16 years on and parkrun has become a global phenomenon, with more than 20 countries attracting people from all over the world to come together to get fitter and healthier – its mission from the very start. Personally, parkrun provides me with that feel-good endorphin hit and I never regret setting my alarm on a Saturday morning, but how does it affect others? From friendships to marriages, we’ve got some inspiring stories to show you the power of parkrun – you might just sign up after reading this!

Rebecca

“Becoming a regular at Birkenhead parkrun came as a bit of a surprise to myself and those who know me well. I was never a sporty person, I hated PE at school, had sporadic gym memberships as an adult and was pretty unfit in general. I had expected parkrun to be competitive and only for the sporting elite, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Parkrun is the most inclusive community activity I can think of; the encouragement that every runner or walker receives is second to none. I’ve returned to parkrun week after week and one of my proudest personal achievements was reaching my 50th run in the summer of 2019. I’ve gained friends, a sense of community and a way to keep fit that is fun. But, fundamentally, parkrun has given me so much more than that. It has equipped me with a ‘can do’ attitude and an inner determination I never knew I had and the ability to truthfully tell my children that anything is possible if you try!”

Tracey

“After walking a few times a week in a bid to lose a few pounds, my friends suggested I try a parkrun – I didn’t have to run the whole 5k, and I could even walk it if I prefer. The following Saturday, I thought I’d give it a go and my friends were right, it was very welcoming and I met so many different people to chat with and encourage as we passed each other. My fitness improved after each run and I had this overwhelming feeling of enjoyment – I was becoming a real runner! I had always talked so much about parkrun to my husband, Paul and after becoming a convert, he’s also getting personal bests, despite living with Alzheimer’s disease. I could see the change parkrun was having on our mental wellbeing. It’s become such an important part of our weekend and a hobby we can both do together – you cannot underestimate how fantastic you’ll feel after that weekly 5k.”

Ellie

“As an established marathon runner, I was initially sceptical of parkrun: why travel 15 miles to run a non-competitive 5k? But, sacrificing my lie-in one Saturday morning in 2012 to try my local event proved to be a life-changing moment, as it was here, over a post-run coffee (a parkrun tradition), that I met my husband, Matt. In 2014, he proposed after a parkrun tourism trip to the inaugural Tamar Lakes event and we married in 2015 after a pre-wedding themed parkrun the week before – where the volunteers even threw confetti over us! In 2018, I fell pregnant and continued to volunteer and run throughout – though it was more of a park-waddle by week 39! Since giving birth last February, we still attend parkrun most Saturdays, now accompanied by our baby boy in his running buggy. It kick-starts our weekend and we hope our son will also appreciate its associated health and wellbeing benefits. It’s had such a positive impact on my life; I always look forward to my weekend ‘fix’ and I’d urge everyone to give it a go. Trust me, even the sceptics can become parkrun addicts!”

Lucy

“A friend had mentioned parkrun as a good way to get in to the habit of exercise, which was something I always struggled to do. I went along and enjoyed it, and seeing improvements in my fitness weekby- week was a great incentive. After a few runs, I decided to go to Holkham parkrun for the first time and I volunteered before running the route, as I’m quite slow and not very confident in my ability. Now, I wouldn’t be anywhere else on a Saturday morning. I’m re-energised, have tears of laughter rolling down my face and can’t recommend parkrun highly enough. I live with bipolar disorder, which can be a huge challenge at times and parkrun has had such a positive impact on my mental health. There are still times when things are difficult, but they are much more rare now. I’ve recently completed my 100th volunteer stint at the Holkham event and am so very proud to be part of the parkrun team.

David and Rita

“Our first parkrun began at Colwick Park in Nottinghamshire on a cold and wet February morning in 2012. School cross-country activities entered my mind when the PE teacher ran out of ideas, but this was very different. My wife, Rita and I had always been active, but as for actual running, I thought I needed the comfort of a running track. We walked around the first time and, on completion, were struck by the welcome and support that awaited as we entered the funnel. It was this that drew us back and was one of the differences from other sports I have taken part in. Each event is inviting, well-marshalled, informal, friendly and encouraging, from the fastest to the less-abled. In May 2018, I was diagnosed with cancer, which shook my entire family. How could I be so fit and, yet, potentially so ill? My son said to me that the fitness would be a big benefit throughout the coming treatments and he was right. Keeping active is still part of the healing process and I thank parkrun for that. Through these testing times, parkrun is a steadying factor in our lives and on a Saturday morning, I’m just another competitor and not a cancer patient. We have now received our 250 milestone shirts, onto the 500!”

Zana

“I grew up in Nigeria and moved to Southport for work. I didn’t know anyone here and then a few colleagues invited me to parkrun. I decided to go, but was convinced it wasn’t for me even before I started. I thought I wouldn’t fit in and I certainly never intended to go more than once. However, everyone was so friendly and welcoming and strangers would say ‘well done’ as they went past me. Other runners had come alone, or with friends and family and they’d walked, jogged, run, pushed strollers and brought dogs. I surprised myself by returning the next week and whenever I could. I now volunteer as well and enjoy that even more than running the course! Parkrun has been a lifesaver for me, I’ve made some really good friends, I have a social life and feel part of the community.”

How to get started

Feeling inspired by our parkrun-ners? Here’s what you need to do to get ready for your very first parkrun

1. Why not lay your clothes out the night before? Make sure you’ve printed off your barcode and pop it in your trainer – that way you definitely won’t forget it. Not registered or got your barcode yet? Do it here: parkrun.org.uk/register

2. You don’t need the latest sportswear, parkrunners wear everything from jeans and jumpers, to vests and shorts. Anything you’re comfortable completing 5k in is absolutely fine.

3. Set your alarm nice and early and make sure you’ve checked out your parkrun’s event page so you know where to go on the day.

4. Arrive in time to join the first timer’s briefing, there’ll be other first timers and tourist parkrunners from around the world, and a volunteer will tell you about the route.

5. The most important tip for going to parkrun that very first time is to take it easy and enjoy it!

6. You won’t finish last, as our volunteer tail walkers are always the final ones through the finish funnel. You could even invite a friend and do parkrun together.

7. Don’t miss out on the post-parkrun atmosphere at the local cafe. You’ll be able to see where the cafe is on the event’s web page, or just ask one of the parkrun volunteers.

Health & Wellbeing