On 2 April this year I turned up as usual to be the volunteer photographer at Lee-on-the-Solent parkrun. Photography was what had brought me to parkrun initially, because I wanted to learn how to photograph moving people.
Just before the start though, something came over me and I decided I was going to take part instead. After a quick word with the Run Director away I went, staying just in front of the tail runner and dressed in completely inappropriate clothing for running! That didn’t matter though; the tail runner was incredibly supportive and I cherished every second of it. It made me remember how much I used to love the feeling running gave me.
You see, six years earlier and after 11 years of intermittent pain, I’d finally called time on my running career due to osteoporosis of the spine.
I started running in 1978 when, overweight, I met someone who ran to keep fit for squash. He suggested I also try running, and a year later I joined Plymouth Athletic Club and right away started running in their cross country team. In my first race I finished dead last, but by the end of the season I was up to sixth. Cross country became my love, and in the early 1980s I was Southern Veterans Cross Country Champion two years running.
After my two first places in the Southern Vets, I was asked to compete in the Nationals where I came third. I was delighted with that result as it was the Nationals! I also ran in the 1500 metres in Edinburgh, finishing behind the fabulous Yvonne Murray (now an MBE) who was the equivalent of Laura Muir today.
I also ran 13 marathons, with a personal best of 2:58:02.
I continued to run for fun for many years, but when my osteoporosis started in 2001 I had to curb my running as it hurt too much. Then in 2010 I was forced to stop altogether.
After that first parkrun in April I couldn’t stop smiling all day. I wanted to tell everyone on the bus home that I’d just done 5k! Deep down I was worried I would be in pain the following day, but I wasn’t, so the following week I returned to parkrun more comfortably dressed. I started out with the tail runner, who then suggested I try running from one park bench to the next. So I did. Park bench to park bench. I left him behind, and I pushed on and finished six minutes faster than the previous week. And that is how it continued, steadily improving my times week on week.
“I couldn’t stop smiling all day. I wanted to tell everyone on the bus home that I’d just done 5k!”
I hurt my ankle in September but I’m back at parkrun now. Being injured did have an upside though, because it gave me the chance to do some more volunteering. I have been a marshal, sorted the finish tokens and done some more photography.
At 72 years young parkrun has provided me with the opportunity to get out there and try running again, and the realisation that running no longer causes me back pain has been transformational. parkrun is now my life and without it I would be bereft.
Despite the fact that I can now run the full 5k, this photo of me from that first parkrun is still utterly memorable. Walking into the finish, barcode in hand – the smile says it all!
When John Ramsden turned 70 he marked the occasion by walking 700 miles from John O’Groats to Land’s End. 15 years later he has added the parkrun 250 Club to his list of achievements. We asked this former London cabbie, who has been running since the 1960s, to share his secret of running longevity…
People have been asking me a lot lately why I am always taking photos at parkrun and never actually running, so I thought I would explain how not being able to run has helped me fall in love with volunteering. After a successful marathon last year, and running parkrun through the winter, I fractured…