January is typically the month when many people vow to lose weight and/or get fitter, making plans to diet and do more exercise. Whilst to some people, 'exercise' in this month consists of pounding along Oxford Street for the sales, there is a more rewarding option that won't leave you feeling peeved and penny-less.
On Saturday I took part in my first 'parkrun'. This is a weekly 5k run organised by volunteers and held in 305 park locations across the UK (and 561 in the world). Once registered free of charge, runners receive a barcode that allows them to receive their result after each run, which can be in any participating park. The event is open to all ages and abilities, with a junior 2k parkrun being held on Sundays.
My friend had been trying to get me to go to one for ages, but as a student I always had an excuse to make. Firstly, I'd have to take public transport to a host park whereas back then I was living near Regent's Park so could easily run there in the afternoons. Secondly, I would have probably already organised an early-morning date at the library...or just simply wanted a lie-in after a week of early mornings at the library. It's quite shameful that I never went, considering that I was President of my university's running club. Now that I've graduated and am working (and living with this friend), I have fewer excuses.
Nevertheless, I was still quite reluctant to go on the Saturday, because I haven't been training regularly for a few months and so knew my time was bound to be quite slow. Cleaning the kitchen on Saturday morning, my flatmate walked in and asked why I wasn't in my running gear. After my pathetic complaints failed, I had five minutes to get changed before we jogged off to Highbury Fields for the 9am start, my hands still smelling of Cif.
A crowd of nearly 200 lycra-loving people awaited us. I set off and found that I had more energy than I thought, surprising myself by passing a few people on each hill climb. On lap 3/5, I began feeling a little queasy, remembering that I'd only had cereal 20 minutes ago, having not expected to be running. I found a girl to mark and having her as a 'rival' helped me find the energy to dash up the last hill.
On the whole however, it didn't feel like a race against others, but a race against myself. That's really important since people coming to this run have differing aims and levels of fitness. Seeing mums and dads run with their kids was also really pleasing to see. Families are rightly using the many green spaces that London has to spend time together outdoors being active, without having to spend loads of money.
As well as boosting peoples' fitness, this event provides a great opportunity to meet new people - and the gender ratio is very balanced. The volunteers were friendly and supportive, inviting runners to come for coffee afterwards. There was a friendly community feel, with people introducing themselves and talking to others before and after the run. For a moment, I forgot I was in London where the idea of community is often undermined by the silent privacy of a tube journey.
What was also great was that the whole event was finished by 10am, which is really quite early. Rather than experiencing that sluggish feeling you can get after a long lie-in, I was feeling fresh. And I had the rest of my day free to finish cleaning that kitchen...
The results were emailed out within a few hours. I had finished in 99th place out of 194 runners, was the 9th girl and first in my age group. Whilst my time was personally slow, as expected because of my lack of fitness and preparation, I felt really happy. When your fitness has dipped or if you're new to running, the prospect of putting on your trainers can be unappealing, but this was really fun. It's given me a kick to get running properly again. The first step to getting fitter is getting out of bed.
I'd definitely encourage anyone reading this to give parkrun a go, and perhaps even work towards setting one up if it doesn't take place in your area. This coming Saturday is the last of the month, meaning there's technically still time for you to start that loved-and-loathed New Year resolution in the first month of the year! I wish I'd gone sooner, and I'm really looking forward to going back this weekend!