Chris Nöthling achieved a remarkable parkrun double by hitting the Club 50 and Volunteer 25 milestones all at the same time. How did he do it? He used a clever strategy of using volunteering to get him out the door every Saturday. This subsequently entrenched him deep into the parkrun community which in turn motivated him to run more. And best of all, it helped him combat his ongoing battle with depression. Here is Chris’ story.
I first started running in 1976 when I was 13 years old. I was a keen athlete and participated in middle distance track events, cross country and road running. By my mid-thirties my running started to take a toll on me with repeated injuries and over time I stopped running altogether.
Twenty years later (and 30kg heavier) I noticed that one of my friends, Shane Hatch, kept posting about a parkrun event in Meadowbrook. I asked him if parkrun welcomes walkers because I didn’t want to embarrass myself amongst competitive runners. He reassured me that parkrun was not only for competitive runners but accommodated walkers and joggers, and that no-one would be left behind.
So, with much trepidation, I fronted up on the morning of 26 March 2016 with my barcode clutched in my sweaty hand to do my first run in 20 years at The Ponds. To my surprise there were about 300 runners, but I did manage to keep in front of 30 of them, completing the walk/jog in 40 minutes and 10 seconds (did I mention that I was stiff for three days afterwards?). At the finish line, a young kid was soliciting for people to volunteer as marshals. So, in a moment of finisher’s euphoria, I offered to assist the following Saturday. This turned out to be a good strategy as I convinced myself I couldn’t run two weeks in a row. Henceforth, I did my best impersonation of a run one Saturday and marshalled the next. This run/rest strategy worked fine for a couple of cycles – that is until it got to winter of 2016. It was just too easy to switch my alarm off and roll over and continue sleeping. Then I came up with another strategy. I would commit myself to showing up by volunteering. If you look at my results, you will notice I missed most of May, all of June and July, and a good chunk of August before I eventually got to “run” again. And this time I was seven minutes slower. After a few more cycles of run/marshal, I finally convinced myself by October that I could actually run every week. And my times were improving too. By late October, I managed to get under 36 minutes.
By the end of 2016, I had run 16 times and had marshalled in just as many. Marshalling was a great way to be involved and to become part of the community. Every time a runner thanked me for marshalling and used my name, I became a bit more established in the parkrun community. You guys made me feel like I was important and doing something valuable, so I kept coming back for more. And the more I marshalled, the more I wanted to run. I managed to get my wife to join me occasionally and her 74-year-old mother visiting from South Africa. To be quite honest, I have become a bit of a parkrun junkie, always planning my weekend around parkrun, telling my friends and colleagues about parkrun, posting my runs on Strava, and reposting my parkrun photos.
In 2017, I broadened my horizons by participating in running events, something I had not done for over 20 years. I did the Sydney Harbour 10K, the Blacktown Running Festival 10K, and City2Surf’s 14K. For the latter event, I raised over $1,000 for Beyond Blue, a cause close to my own heart. This is probably the place where I should mention my other life framing issue. I suffer from depression and anxiety. I was first formally diagnosed with depression in 1993, but I can recognise symptoms of my first major depressive disorder as far back as 1981. My diagnosis has subsequently been broadened to include General Anxiety Disorder. I have had several bouts of major depressive events every few years and have been on a range of medications. I have also invested several years in counselling.
I understand there are many people who suffer from depression in private. Many of us suffer the social stigma of our affliction. Since I started sharing my story, a lot of people (more people than I would have imagined) have told me about how they have experienced some skirmish with depression too but have lived with their story in silence. Depression is not uncommon. Yet people carry their pain privately. There are probably a hundred reasons why we choose to keep our experience with depression private. I suspect that the social stigma attached to mental illness is probably one of them. I decided to take a public stand and share my story because I hope people will recognise some of these symptoms in themselves, and ask for help and support. I am in a relatively good phase in my journey now. My story is not a cry for help. I think of it more as a stubborn declaration that despite having this “disability” for 30 years, I have endured and survived.
Depression is a clinical disease, similar in ways to diabetes. It is not a choice and certainly not a lack of character! We still get up and do stuff every day. It’s a bit like a guy without a leg: we learn to walk and get on with life. Many of the people I speak with report the onset of their depression because of a negative life experience. The death of a loved one, a relationship break up, poor health, or a bad turn of financial affairs can spark a depressive period in life. The psychological term for this is a “reactive depression”. For many people, these events provide something to hang on to as the “spark” that resulted in their condition. But there are cases of depression with no apparent link to external events, or worse yet may actually happen when external events are going well. The psychological term for these sufferers is “endogenous depression.” For people who have lived with depression for most of their lives, their depression is not linked to their relationships, work, finances, or health. This is difficult to comprehend. But if you will, try and understand this: I have lived with depression every day over the last 30 years. During that time, I have had relationship highs, career successes, and personal achievements. I have also experienced relationship breakdowns, setbacks, and failures in a variety of forms.
Without a doubt, my involvement with The Ponds parkrun is a crucial part of my current treatment program. parkrun has created a time and place for me to exercise regularly, be a part of a community, develop a sense of belonging and have an opportunity to give back through volunteering. I love seeing families from different backgrounds with their children, grandparents, and pets participating. We are united by our enjoyment of a Saturday morning run and a social cup of coffee. Uniquely, parkrun is a role model for how a community can come together. I am inspired by it and I love being part of it.
Which brings me back to my parkrun story. In November 2017 my mate (the aforementioned Shane Hatch – run director at Meadowbrook parkrun) visited Sydney to participate in the Penrith triathlon. On parkrunday, Shane and his wife Kirsty (pushing a pram with William and Joe) joined us at The Ponds. With Shane leading the way (and me hanging on) I managed to run 32:02! But my parkrun highlight for 2017, was yet to happen. By the 23rd of December, I had completed 49 runs and 24 marshal roles. My wife, her mother, and I volunteered as tail-walkers and on a blistering December morning we set off to complete my Club 50/Volunteer 25 double milestone. And what a blast it was! True to form, my parkrun tribe made a big fuss of it. They mentioned my milestone at the pre-run briefing for both my 50th and 51st parkrun, took lots of photos, and they even taught me to do the obligatory jump-shot (fortunately Charina knows all the tricks to make me look good.)
So, thank you to my home parkrun at The Ponds. You are my tribe, my friends, my family and you are good for both my physical and emotional health!
The Ponds parkrunner
Lena Charles and Bonnie Smith are Health Promotion Officers (and Best Friends) at the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS) in Melbourne. They are passionate and love empowering their Aboriginal community to make healthy lifelong changes. One way they do this is by promoting the benefits of parkrun. They love spending their Saturday mornings at parkrun…
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