News - 17th February 2017

A life changing decision

Emma Benstead

I was in a car accident when I was a child, resulting in part of the inside of my foot being crushed. My big toe has no bone and doesn’t function as a big toe, which impacts my stability and balance.


On top of that, in 2012 I was diagnosed with cervical cancer and underwent radiotherapy and chemotherapy. It took time to recover and I lost motivation to exercise in the gym.


However, when I started back to the gym last January everyone seemed to be running on a treadmill, and I wanted to see if I could do it. My original aim was just to run a little bit as part of my gym workout, but I quickly realised that I was much more capable of running than I had previously thought.


So after building up my running on a treadmill and with a handful of outdoor runs, I went along on my own to Greenock parkrun for the first time.


When I arrived that first day I saw all of these ‘experienced’ runners warming up. I immediately phoned my husband from the car and said I thought I’d made a mistake because everyone looked fast and professional! Eventually I mustered up the courage to get out the car and join in and I am so glad I did – it was a life changing decision.


The run director and the volunteer team made me feel instantly welcome, ensuring I knew the course, explaining how it all worked and encouraging me to have a go.


There is a loop back at Greenock that is great because all the people in front of you pass you and shout encouragement to keep going. At the turn I realised I was last (except for the tail runner), and got quite upset with myself for being so slow, but there were a few runners encouraging me to keep going and I continued to the finish. The cheering from the volunteers to cross the line was great and I was never made to feel any less for being the final finisher.


What became apparent to me that morning is that parkrun is completely different to running alone. The sense of achievement, receiving an official time to benchmark yourself against, and being part of a community provide real motivation to keep going.


I wanted to see if I could improve my time and I also got my husband to join me. Although he has run for many years he had never been to parkrun, and we both get a lot from going even though we run at a different pace.


I have met a lot of very nice people through Greenock parkrun and my running has also improved – a couple of weeks ago I broke 30 minutes for the first time! I am a lot more confident in my running ability and will happily run with others or outside on my own. I have been working on running longer distances and have entered my first race later this month. I don’t expect to come first, but I also won’t mind at all if I come last.


parkrun is something I decided to do for myself and luckily I have found it is something that I love to do. It is not always easy and I have to be mindful of my own limitations. However, I can do this and while it might take a bit longer than others and I will never be as fast as some people, parkrun has allowed me to see what I can achieve and has motivated me to improve.


I do need to ensure I am fitted for the right shoes to support my foot and I have to listen to my body – any pain or injuries and I have to stop running until it heals. I am very lucky that despite my foot injuries I run with no pain, and as long as I continue to do this and get treatment and rest for any injuries that I do incur I should be able to run for a long time.


And as far as the cancer goes, I have since completed my remission and am now cured.


The community spirit at parkrun is what has really impressed me; everyone is made to feel welcome and there are all types of people there. Club runners who are looking to go fast and set records, first-time runners, and lots and lots of people like me who simply love to run. I get as much encouragement each week from those at the front as from those at the back.


My advice to other first-timers is not to be put off by how fit or experienced other people may appear. Everyone has their own story and reason for being at parkrun and you can’t tell that by looking at them. Get out of your car and take part – it is scary but it is very rewarding if you do.


Emma Benstead
parkrunner A2547467

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