“I love this photo of me at parkrun. For someone with low confidence to love a photo of them where there are jiggly bits, sweat, no makeup and no posing is highly unusual – but this is now my Facebook profile picture and I share it with pride. It shows the joy and sheer happiness that I have discovered thanks to parkrun, and it shows Jarrod my tail runner that day who stayed with me the whole time and who I now consider a friend.”
Few photos in parkrun history have been shared on social media more times than this image of Dawn Nisbet at Oldham parkrun.
With record numbers of parkrun first-timers taking part at the weekend and New Year’s resolutions in full swing, Dawn explains the story behind the photo and reveals her hope that it will inspire and motivate other people to make positive changes in their lives.
In April 2016, a very close family member was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Feeling very powerless to help or do anything I decided to do the Pretty Muddy Race for Life planned for July, that way I felt I was helping and doing my part and showing my love.
My cousins sadly lost their grandfather to cancer around this time so we signed up to the Race for Life as a team to support each other and hopefully have a little fun along the way. I have to add that at that point I was very overweight, completely inactive except walking my two dogs and at the point where any exercise was difficult and not fun at all. Being so unfit and unhealthy, my opinion of self was low which limited a lot of my activity and self-confidence.
Over the next few months we trained (mostly in the evenings under the cover of dark). None of it was pretty, although somewhere along the way I noticed I started to enjoy the mostly walking with a little running and a lot of sweating. I noticed also that my sense of pride through achieving what I had thought was the impossible was improving and my self-confidence that each day I was going out and proving myself (and others) wrong was rising in leaps and bounds. To cut a long story short, we did the race in July and had such a laugh, although the mud did linger a little.
A couple of weeks before the race I realised that once I had completed it, with nothing to aim for it was highly likely I would stop running and revert to my old unhealthy ways where I had no pride in myself, and really didn’t want to do that.
A colleague at work mentioned ‘parkrun’ to me. I’d never heard of it before as quite frankly it’s not something I would have ever considered as for me. I researched it on the internet and sent an initial email to Oldham parkrun which is local to me to test the water – I think if I’m honest I was hoping they would say “no you’re too slow and don’t run the whole 5k so thanks but no thanks” which would have meant I had tried and it wasn’t my decision not to go.
But they were wonderful, so welcoming, happy for me to walk the whole thing or whatever suited me. They explained about the tail runner always being last and staying there if I needed them. They even told me the name of the tailrunner the week I planned to come so I could look out for him, and the name of the Run Director so again I could say hi!
So the first Saturday after the race I went to my first parkrun. I went super early and was really nervous. I said hello to the run director and then just sat on the outskirts, watching lots of runners who were super fit and who obviously knew each other really well.
I did feel scared as I couldn’t see any particularly overweight runners. Then I found my tail runner ‘Tom’ and said how nervous I was and how slow I was and I wouldn’t stop saying sorry to him for having to stay with me. Every time we passed a marshal I apologised for being so slow – but they all smiled and cheered me on.
Tom was a lifesaver and just talked to me the whole way around, running with me when I wanted to and walking with me too. Don’t get me wrong – it hurt and I did cry – but the determination to prove I could do it spurred me on. I don’t know where this comes from as when I look at my 18 years of inactivity, giving up on anything difficult or challenging was a common theme.
I made it! I was so slow and everyone else had finished but there was a cheer from the remaining runners and volunteers as I passed the finish line. There was no smile that day or arms in the air as I was crying so hard from pride that I had done it, and probably also a bit of pain and panic as I tried to catch my breath as a sprint to the finish was in order.
‘That’ photo of me smiling was taken during my sixth parkrun and I love it. For someone with low confidence to love a photo of them where there are jiggly bits, sweat, no makeup and no posing is highly unusual – but this is now my profile picture and I share it with pride. It shows joy, it shows Jarrod my tail runner that day who stayed with me the whole time and who I now consider a friend (and who has since offered to pace me to improve my time even though he is one of the fastest runners at our parkrun). I know a few people have seen my picture and the general comments are that it shows the joy, sheer happiness and pride that I have discovered thanks to parkrun.
I would love for my photo to encourage anyone considering joining parkrun by showing the community that supports such a great event and the inclusivity to all, regardless of age or ability. And every time I look at my picture I know I can do anything I set my mind to and I inspire myself, which is an amazing place to be. I have two daughters and I hope that they see their mum going out and achieving her goals and I hope this inspires them to be the best they can be and to never give up, even when it seems really tough and to be proud.
I volunteer regularly at parkrun to pay back to those who have helped me so much. We never leave until the last runner/walker has finished. It doesn’t matter how fast you do it – 5k is still 5k. Don’t get me wrong, I am still slow and it’s still tough, but when you’re the final finisher you get the biggest cheer. Now I’ve done a few, other runners smile and say hello and I have met some friends there too.
During 2017 I aim to cover 500k in total, which means lots of parkruns. I am so excited for my year ahead!
Photo courtesy of Val Lovatt
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