Rosy Ryan took part in Waterworks parkrun, Belfast, Northern Ireland, for the first time on an icy New Year’s Day in 2015. She had no idea how far 5k was, and was the final finisher, but was instantly hooked by the support she received from fellow parkrunners.
Later that month Rosy was diagnosed with incurable cancer. Determined to seize every opportunity, she completed Couch to 5k, joined a running club in Belfast and built up to 10k, half marathon and then this year’s London Marathon.
Rosy ran parkruns in the US twice – one of them, a “pre-inaugural” trial run at Fletcher’s Cove. This week, Rosy joined the parkrun 100 Club. This is her story:
I love parkrun. No I mean I really, really LOVE parkrun and I want you to love it as much as I do.
If you meet me you will know how much I love parkrun, I wear my barcode on my shoe, I will ask you what your local parkrun is and if you haven’t done one before be prepared to be extolled on the virtues of parkrun and encouraged to do one whether its running, jogging or walking.
I guess I am not that different from the thousands of other parkrunners who come out every week all across the globe, but maybe if you read on a bit you will find some inspiration from me that you can pass on to others or even use yourself when you are pushing your hardest in your run.
Nothing is going to stop me running. Nothing is going to stop me giving it my all at every run, even if that run turns into a walk or a jog. In or around 2008 I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and told that there were secondary cancers in my liver, thereafter followed a major operation and an extended period of recovery but I had survived and was living to fight another day.
On many occasions since that day I had seen the rainbow of runners jackets floating around Waterworks parkrun in Belfast with no idea that I would eventually be joining the riot of colour on my own running journey.
I did my first parkrun on New Year’s Day in 2015 and today I jointly celebrated my 100th milestone run with my partner Philip McIlwrath. We have joined parkruns all over the world, in France, Denmark, Australia, USA, Ireland and nearly all 24 Northern Ireland parkruns. We love it so much we make our holiday plans around parkrun and we are known to do the run closest to the local airport so we can run and then catch our flights.
Who on earth would go out for their first parkrun on a snowy and very icy January having not run since their teenage years? I wasn’t thinking it at the time, but I am so thankful that my friend Paul Tyro somehow persuaded me at 3am on New Year’s Day to come to my local parkrun at the Waterworks Belfast to try it out. I had no clue what a 5k distance was but I duly registered myself in the middle of the night and turned up a few short hours later to try this mysterious thing called parkrun.
All of the usual runner worries were going through my head: I don’t know anyone, why did I agree to this, this is so embarrassing, I am so slow, my knee is sore, everyone is finishing and I have to go around again, are they sure this is only 5k, because it seems a lot longer?
One thing I didn’t expect though was all the other runners encouraging me along the way. Unsurprisingly, I was the last one in and thank goodness Paul came back at about 4k to encourage me over the finish line which was filled with clapping volunteers. I was still embarrassed, these poor people had to wait for me in the cold and Paul had to come back for me, a feeling I am sure many reading this will be familiar with.
But I no longer feel like this and I now know that if someone comes back to join it’s because they want to support you, not because they have to. If you are the last one in so what? You are still as important to me as if you were the first person in. I am proud of you!
After that first run I was determined to keep going and Philip joined me as well, battling against ourselves each week for an improvement in our times. We both wanted to get more physically active and now we were able to do an activity together rather than wasting away the day. parkrun was a free activity and why not join in where we could see how we compared to other people in the same age range and test ourselves each week to see if we were getting better little by little.
What I haven’t mentioned was that I had been feeling unwell and going for medical tests prior to that first parkrun and I knew that something was not right. At the end of January I was called to hospital to hear the news that my cancer had returned and this time it was incurable; the only thing that could be done was I would be given chemotherapy to try and slow down the progression of the disease and worst of all I was initially told I had a very short potential lifespan (which thankfully has not proven to be correct so far).
What to do? Everyone was so nice at parkrun, other runners would tell me to “keep going” or as they say in Northern Ireland, “keep er lit” as they passed me and no matter when you crossed the line you got a huge, encouraging cheer. I didn’t want to stop, but the effects of the medication were making it quite hard on me so I balanced in my mind the good parkrun was doing for me mentally and physically against the discomfort and I now know the benefits have been incalculable. I have a second family at Waterworks parkrun and we often see each other at many different races and parkruns.
Philip and I were seeing slow improvements in our time but we felt we needed more help and I still couldn’t get through the parkrun without walking. We saw the joy of a parkrun “graduation” run from a Couch to 5k programme and we put our names down for the very popular Jog Belfast programme run by the local running club, the North Belfast Harriers. Many of us continue to run together and I have seen incredible running achievements from everyone who started the course with me with many doing numerous 10ks, half marathons and even marathons and ultra marathons. I couldn’t recommend a course like this highly enough for the physical and health benefits, and also the friendships we made during that course have lasted to today and made us closer to our neighbours and the local community.
On our couch to 5k Graduation Day we all headed to Waterworks parkrun to run together. It was a sea of blue graduation shirts. The atmosphere was electric, we were in this together, fast, slow, walk/joggers, the couch to 5k coaches and my weekly parkrun family. There were hugs and cheers afterwards and a feeling of elation and achievement, many of us having achieved something we never thought possible. I gained so much from Jog Belfast that I now help out encouraging others through to their 5k goal and I am often found volunteering and marshalling at various races.
Where did my running journey go from there? Without out even a second thought, as if my speed wasn’t even a consideration, Philip and I were encouraged by the couch to 5k coaches to join the North Belfast Harriers, our local running club. The old doubts creeped back in: how could I join a running club with all these amazing athletes and a full trophy cabinet? I would be an embarrassment to them and was it possible to bring a whole club’s running statistics down? Not a second thought was given to these fears as we were welcomed with open arms and encouraged by everyone. Being supported in this fantastic way has allowed us to complete numerous 10ks, three half marathons for me and many more for Philip.
This year the support and encouragement from my family and my own club as well as many other running clubs and runners in Northern Ireland gave me the courage and strength to participate in the London Marathon. I was very proud to run not only with my VLM chip but also my parkrun barcode displayed on my other shoe, because from that small beginning a great thing happened. Who would have thought that someone being treated for terminal cancer could do that?
I truly believe that once you tell yourself you can do something you will be able to do it. Don’t ever doubt yourself, don’t speak negatively to yourself when you run and be proud of your achievements. Words are powerful things and just a few positive ones can change the course of their life. If you don’t believe you are an amazing person true just remember that I believe you are! I encourage everyone to try to bring one friend along for their first parkrun, and post a photo with the hashtag #runrosyrun1. That one thing you do together could change their life forever and grow that mighty oak tree.
You never know what parkrun I might turn up at, and if you see me I will be smiling and shouting encouragement to you along the way. If I am not there though, don’t worry. Just remember what I said about how incredible you are.
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We’ve gotten used to the occasional guest appearance – or, at some venues, the seasonal invasion – of the parkrunners from afar: the British Isles, Ireland, Australia, South Africa, and other places. parkrun tourism is one of those reminders that each tightly-knit parkrun community is connected to a greater whole. Over the past months, for…