Harry Judd shot to fame as the drummer for pop rock band McFly and he is also a former winner of Strictly Come Dancing. He credits running as the reason he gave up smoking five years ago and can now be found on Saturday mornings at his local parkrun.
Have you ever seen the movie Fight Club? The first rule of Fight Club is that you don’t talk about Fight Club, and the second rule is that you don’t talk about Fight Club.
Well for my best mate and I, parkrun has the opposite motto, and it’s one that we have come to live by since last November: the first rule of parkrun is to tell everyone you see that you did parkrun! And why wouldn’t you? There’s nothing wrong with feeling smug about waking up early on a Saturday, getting into the fresh air and catching up with your mates. And if you throw in a walk or a run or pull on a volunteer vest then even better.
It hasn’t always been like this for me though.
I vividly remember New Year’s Day 2013. I had been a smoker for about nine years and I had a place in that year’s London Marathon. I was determined to do some training for it but I knew I had a choice to make. I’ll never forget the moment, at about 4pm, when I looked outside and saw it was damp and dark. I had a packet of cigarettes within reach of one hand, and my trainers within reach of the other. Thankfully I made a choice that would change the rest of my life – not just to rediscover my love of physical activity but to do so in a clean and healthy way. I remember how much my lungs hurt during that run, and that made me realise more than anything else how much damage I had done to them and how important it was that I quit smoking.
I was a high energy child and my mum says I was always a nightmare to keep entertained! In my first year of secondary school I won a cross-country race and realised then and there that I was good at endurance sports, but it was ball sports rather than athletics that became my main passions, in particular rugby, football and cricket.
When I started to take my music more seriously at age 15 I was still a far more accomplished sportsman than musician. However I joined a band that was instantly successful, and when the music took over I was whisked off into the crazy world of pop music, and sport took a back seat for the next couple of years.
Luckily for me I did discover sport again, in particular running, and it’s had a profound impact on my life. Not only was it the catalyst for me to stop smoking, it has also improved my mental health. We’ve all heard lots of stories from parkrunners who believe that running has saved their life, and when you think about the positive powers of running you can quickly see how this can be. Running can feel like a struggle, let’s be honest, and even more so if you don’t feel you’re in the right place at that time. It’s easy to say ‘it’s just going outside and putting one foot in front of the other’ but in reality it’s not always that easy.
When you do find the strength to get out and run though, the positive powers you feel are almost endless – I love all sorts of exercise but there is no other endorphin release like running. There’s something therapeutic about the physical, emotional and health benefits, and the sense of achievement. And for me, as someone who is really competitive, having targets to focus on is really important. This is where parkrun comes in.
I discovered parkrun purely by accident when my mate and I decided to go for a run in the park next to his house. We hadn’t been out together for ages, and it wasn’t long before we saw hundreds of people walking and jogging and chatting together. We asked them what was happening and they explained it was parkrun, a free 5k that took place in the park at 9am each week. Before we knew it we were standing on the start line!
Of course we didn’t have barcodes that morning so it was an unofficial parkrun, but that didn’t matter. We were just stoked that having a heap of people to run alongside helped us to run at a faster pace than we would have normally, and the atmosphere was brilliant. We went home, signed up, printed our barcodes and went along the very next Saturday.
I enjoy going to the gym, but what I like about parkrun is that it motivates me to do some cardio too. I’m steadily chipping away at my time – I’ve recently broken 20 minutes and the next target is to go sub-19. If I didn’t have this target then I know I’d be a fairweather runner.
Juggling a young family and other commitments can be challenging, but whenever I am free on a Saturday morning (unless there’s snow like there was last weekend!) I make my way along to parkrun. I’ve roped other friends in as well, including another mate who was adamant that he is not a runner. After he signed up for parkrun he admitted he’s doing some training! Another friend of mine was looking to do some running, and his girlfriend was a top runner in America when she was a teenager and is looking to get back into it, so they both have different reasons for coming along.
That’s what’s great about parkrun – it’s something different for everyone. You can just turn up in whatever clothes you like and do it whenever you want to, however you want to. For me it brings out a competitive streak and gives me focus during the week, a friendly race with my mates on the day, and the runner’s high afterwards. And when I look around I see people with so many other reasons for going: seeing your friends, being outside, being part of a community, meeting new people. parkrun is so many things to so many people.
When I find something I love I have always felt the need to tell everyone I know about it, so please join me in continuing to spread the word about parkrun!
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