65-year-old Ben McGonigle was anything but a runner when he started parkrun. In fact he completed his first 10 events in steel toe cap boots!
Ben, a retired maintenance electrician, talks us through his journey from walker to runner, and proves that age and ability are no barriers to a free weekly timed walk or run in the park every Saturday.
My daughter is a very keen runner and she was home from New Zealand and was going to do parkrun. Myself and my wife Al said ‘ah yeah we’ll walk around behind you as when you’re walking at parkrun there’s a Tail Walker’.
It was quite hard on our legs and after some advice from local legend Chris Keeling, I decided to run 100 metres and it wasn’t bad at all. 100 metres turned into ‘I’ll do today and see if I can make it around running without stopping’. It was killer, but Chris Keeling is very encouraging – but I thought no way I could do the times he was talking about!
Al and I were the people who are most surprised. Before this, the only running I would have done would have been running to the car in the carpark at work when it was raining. I was surprised how easy that first 100 metres felt. It was almost like a joke when I started. Then the times started coming down, and I thought I can’t believe it, this is a wind up!
Our home parkrun is Ardgillan parkrun in Ireland. Everyone should try Ardgillan for the sheer beauty of the place, and the challenge of the hill. Summer and winter, everyone loves the whole setting. The volunteers that applause, when you come towards the end, are brilliant, with people shouting out ‘come on, come on, you’re nearly there’ – the first time I thought they were saying ‘come on, come, you’re nearly dead’!
The people are really lovely. Some of them run down the hill to run up with you. One guy said to me ‘it’s addictive isn’t it?’. That’s exactly what it is. If you look around at end of the event and all you see are teeth – either grimacing or smiling. At the start, they’re jumping around giddy, high as kites.
It’s all about camaraderie. Everyone is good humoured. People are there from 10 years old who are flying around all with the same goal. It’s not a race: it’s a run where you’re racing against yourself.
It could not be parkrun without the volunteers. They’re so cheery and encouraging and they just make it.
I don’t actually talk to anyone while running. When my mouth opens, it opens for breathing. If I say anything it upsets my breathing so I focus on my inner thoughts. I don’t look up at the hills and never look ahead – it looks too far. The first day I looked up and thought ‘that’s terrible’. I looked again and it seemed twice as far away. The hills seem monumental, even the downhill dips are hard going.
Running with my daughter at Hagley parkrun in New Zealand is a parkrun highlight. I got great encouragement on every kilometre. It was amazing to run in NZ with a huge crowd of 350 parkrunners. A great, great, great feeling. That night myself and Al turned on the TV and a film about Jesse Owens just happened to be on. A line from it was ‘don’t worry Jesse it’s only for 10 seconds’ so I also tell myself ‘it can’t be that hard’.
My advice to people considering trying parkrun is to walk around four or five times. Try just running for 50 metres. Then try 100 metres when it suits you. It will work. Age is not a barrier. You will feel absolutely great. Also, don’t start off in steel toe cap boots like I did for first ten parkruns! I got my first pair of runners ever in my life this year. I’d never even tried on runners before that!
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