Saturday, September 21, 2013

5K on Saturday morning!? You must be 'Conkers'! Nah, Just 'Park' and 'Run' it

Clear... and again.  I can feel a pulse.

Yep, that's the sound of me trying to resurrect this blog from the clutches of impending cardiac arrest.  I think -although still poorly- perhaps I may have just managed it.

Unfortunately drunken ramblings may have to wait for a little while. Although it's five-o'clock somewhere, I have to be a good girl and wait till later. I have a girls' night out later, and it may be poor form to show up as you mean to end up. So, you will just have to deal with my compos-mentis whitterings for a while. Yes, all those who are slightly upset can leave now by your closest exit.

Today, -after procrastinating for the last several weeks, (broken computers, failing networks and lost printer cables; honest)- I managed to run my first ParkRun 5K. To all those new to ParkRun, this is an organised version of a Fat Ass Run. Every Saturday at 9am across countries throughout the world, people gather together to run 5K. Currently there are eight countries that organise ParkRun events. The beauty of this event -apart from being free-, is that it is informal, fun and timed. Everyone who registers with ParkRun, gets a unique barcode. This barcode is then correlated to a timing chip handed to everyone in order at the end of the finish 'tunnel'. Somehow through the magic of science and computer programs (although I do firmly believe Elves and Fairies are really responsible), this bizarre setup creates a 'time' for you at the event. You get shirts for 10, 50 and 100 runs and there is cake at the end. Seriously, what is there not to love?

The event is run by volunteers and utilises public rights of way. No permits, no minimum or maximum age limits, no pressure. The barcode can be used at ANY ParkRun event. Going on holiday and want a quick run on Saturday? Not a problem, if you are lucky to be visiting one of the eight countries, then there is usually a 5K near you.

My local ParkRun is truly local --about ten minutes down the road in fact and is just called 'Conkers' after the activity centre carpark the run uses as it's headquarters. (Did you see what I did there in the post title? Now, is it clearer? No? Darn it, perhaps I should drink before writing these posts).

I was eventually bullied into attending the run by my running mentor, Nikki -who may be secretly trying to kill me with running- and my new-running friend, Roger; both who vowed to hunt down where I live and drag me there. So, at 8:15 I crawled out of bed:  Better to give in gracefully than being dragged by your toenails -- Nikki can be feisty sometimes.

As a ParkRun newbie, you have the usual confusing, 'What the Fudge do I do here?' The lack of chips attached to your shoes and timing mats was very confusing. Luckily the regulars are used to the Newbie asking for help -- although sanity is usually left at the starting point. After a pre-race briefing which usually boils down to 'Don't be a bitch to others, be nice to Volunteers and don't die', you go to the 'Start line' (demarked by an open gate) and you are off.

At the Conkers ParkRun there are about 250-300 runners. Yep, you heard me. I have been to some trail races that don't have that many participants, and this race is a weekly event. There are a number of ParkRun's in the area, but people somehow skip those and come to this one. It's not hard to see why. The people are truly friendly, the volunteers are cheerful, the course is beautiful and the coffee at the end is decent.

I have to admit I was awed by the sight of so many runners stretched over the double wide trail. I had trouble to get my head around that this run was free and I could do it every weekend if I wanted. I was also bowled over by the age of the runners. In most races, there is a minimum age limit of about 10-11 for a 5K. But, as the runs depend on you not being stupid and being responsible for your kids, if you children want to run, then they are able to. There were kids of 6-7 all running 5K, and honestly that was amazing to me.

I met up with Roger just before the midway point and we ran together again. Goofing along as usual. Its nice to already have made connections and have someone to welcome me -as well as drag my sorry arse along the course.

My run today came in a few seconds over thirty minutes - not bad considering that I am only coming back to running. Although, I think my physio, Dave, will have to take me to task. Considering his advice was 'powerwalk with occasional and short bouts of slow running', my mileage of 18 miles this week won't impress him.  It is safe to say, that my back has felt the sudden increase, but nothing that painkillers and alcohol can't fix. It's stiff not broken, and despite the fact I may have to tone down the mileage next week, it is looking good that my back is on the mend. Crack open the pantry and bulk buy the food. I am sure my runners' appetite' will kick in soon.

Today my friend Jason, posted this article from the Wall Street Journal about how finishing times for marathons have been getting progressively slower over the couple of decades.

I read this article after running the ParkRun and frankly it riled me. Today's event just goes to show what is wrong with the article.  It is true that finishing times of Marathons have increased over the last twenty years, but what the article fails to highlight is the number of finishers of Marathons over the last two decades. The number of runners, of all ages and fitnesses who feel comfortable to race.

Twenty years ago, to run a marathon, you had to probably be a high-school or collegiate track athlete. You had to be good and you had to compete. There was no other way around it. You were the best and you had to be the best. Yet, over the last twenty years a change has happened. Running isn't something that track stars do. This is a sport that everyone can achieve. Okay, you may not run it quick and it might not be pretty, however the fact remains, this is an activity that has achieved its 'access all area's' fame.  If you can do the time -or training as it is sometimes called- then you should be able to do the crime. Yes, I know that idiom is the wrong way around, but hey.

Is it wrong that a handful of running stars are lamenting the fact that now races are being run by people who frankly just want a good time? Yes. Running is about pushing your boundaries and finding inner strength. We all achieve this is different ways, but if -like me- goofing around is a way for you to achieve this, then carry on.

The fact of the matter is that running is now no longer an occupation, it's a past-time; a hobby. Running and racing is something people do to relax and they shouldn't be ostricised just because they want to do that slower than a 6:30 minute pace.

The ParkRun today highlighted this. What would the running track stars say if they came to a ParkRun event? Would they lament the fact that ordinary people entered the event -- How dare they believe they can run? Or would they -as I did today- look at the sight of two-hundred-plus people run a 5K race EVERY weekend and marvel at how magnificent that is?

When we go to races we should see every runner as someone who has motivated their behinds and have decided today, they will move further than reaching for the TV remote. When I saw the snaking lines of runners through the trail, I saw this: There are two hundred people who are reducing their chances or heart disease, strokes, cancer and pretty much every major disease plaguing modern living. There are two hundred people who are socialising and using physical activity to make personal connections. There are two hundred people who are showing everyone, young and old, that you can run if you want to; there is no size, age or gender that is unable to run.

Frankly, the authors and contributors to that article can run -at high speed- off a short bridge as far as I am concerned.  They don't see the bigger picture -- but secretly, I think that was their aim. The ParkRun today just highlighted the beauty of like-minded people getting together and doing something they love.

Now, if that is not a reason to drag my sorry arse out of bed at 8:15 on a Saturday morning, then I don't know what is.

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