Catherine Ward, one of parkrun’s Champions for Endometriosis, explains how her recent recovery from surgery has helped her fall in love with volunteering.
On a sunny Saturday in August I visited Rothwell parkrun for a spot of tourism and a good run and a catch up with my parkrun friends. It’s always fun going to another parkrun course, but I returned to the car feeling sad. I knew that due to my impending surgery to treat my endometriosis, this would be my last parkrun for some time.
Endometriosis is a common yet debilitating condition which is estimated to affect more than 1.5 million women in the UK. It occurs when cells like those found in the lining of the womb (uterus) are found elsewhere in the body. Each month, these cells react in the same way to those in the womb, building up and then breaking down and bleeding. Unlike the cells in the womb that leave the body as a period, this blood has no way to escape. Endometriosis can cause painful or heavy period and may also lead to chronic fatigue, depression, social isolation, bowel and bladder problems and lead to infertility.
This would be my third procedure to diagnose and treat endometriosis, which had infiltrated my bladder and bowel as well as causing my uterus and fallopian tubes to become fused. I was keen to undergo surgery in order to improve my quality of life but was all too aware of the impact this type of abdominal surgery would have on my physical and mental well-being.
Since taking part in my first parkrun in 2012 my weekly Saturday 5k has become a great coping strategy in helping me to deal with my condition. Whilst I know that running isn’t actually improving my endometriosis symptoms in any way (in fact sometimes any exercise can be very difficult and painful) I know that taking part in parkrun does make a huge difference to my confidence and mental well-being.
I’m lucky enough to live within shouting distance of the start of my local parkrun, so on the first Saturday morning after my surgery I could hear every word of the Run Director’s briefing and was only too aware of what I was missing out on. Whilst sitting up in bed without an elaborate tower of cushions was proving to be a challenge, I knew that it would be a long time until I would be lacing up my running shoes to take part again. Spurred on by messages of support and achievement from my parkrun endometriosis group, I knew that it was important for me to start getting my regular parkrun ‘well-being fix’ way before I was healed and ready to run again.
I had tried volunteering lots of times before and enjoyed it, but in the past I had always opted to volunteer on occasions when I didn’t want to run. Volunteering was fun but never as fulfilling as taking part in a run or walk. Thankfully this was about to change! Two weeks after my operation I decided to try volunteering as my ‘well-being fix – alternative to running’. I won’t deny that I was anxious whether I would be able to manage. I had six wounds from my surgery which were still sore and my mobility wasn’t great, I wondered whether I would be able to remain standing for the duration of the event and walk back and forth from the start and finish of the run. I contacted the Run Director responsible for the event and explained my concerns. He was only too happy to help and suggest some adjustments to help me feel more confident and reassured, as well as offering to gift me a lift there and back! (I had opted to record unscannable barcodes which meant that I could do the role sitting down and I knew from previous experience that it wouldn’t be too physically demanding). There was no need to worry. I managed the role just fine and even if I had needed a break I know it would not have been a problem. I felt great and so uplifted! It was good to catch up with friends and I honestly think that ‘feel good energy’ emitted by those who had run or walked was contagious. I went home feeling the most positive, energised and happy that I had done since my surgery.
This is the reason why I have decided to share my experience. I know that suffering with the symptoms of endometriosis can be a real barrier to running. I also know that for some women affected by endometriosis, running or walking a 5k may seem completely unachievable. For me, volunteering offered a great boost to my well-being whilst I recovered from surgery and became fit enough to run and walk again. However, during the weeks of marshalling, scanning barcodes and time keeping I learned that it wasn’t just the running element of parkrun I loved – it was being part of the parkrun community. I know that I’m not alone in this and that is why so many people are keen to put on high-vis vests and volunteer each week. If you can’t take part in running or walking a parkrun for any reason – why don’t you see if you can fall in love with not running too?
parkrun provides free-to- enter 5k events on Saturday mornings with a companion series of 2k events, junior parkrun, for 4-14 year olds on Sunday mornings. parkrun or junior parkrun is available at over 650 UK locations. You’re free to run, jog or walk, there’s no time pressure and everyone is equally welcomed and celebrated. Our mission is to make the world a healthier, happier planet and we’re keen to welcome people living with endometriosis to our events. You can register here.
Catherine and Philippa Allen, as parkrun’s Champions for Endometriosis, have set up parkrun UK’s official Facebook group for parkrunners affected by endometriosis to share advice, tips, opinions and stories on all things related to parkrun. If you’re affected by endometriosis they’d love to welcome you into the group.
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