Over in the UK, parkrunner Mel Gordon from Bexley parkrun was diagnosed with cancer early this year while on 243 parkruns. Having now joined the 250 Club, Mel explains how his goal of reaching the 250 parkrun milestone (5 years of parkruns!) has played a significant part in his therapy. As he has progressed from a runner chasing fast times to a walker determined to make it through the 5k, parkrun has played a more important role in his life.
I believe the majority of people who start going to parkrun start off slowly and then go chasing PBs and get faster. Well, I am the opposite. Let me take you back to the start of my parkrunning journey.
I first started running back in 2009 when I entered the 2010 London Marathon to support a small charity who had helped my family when our daughter was born with an underdeveloped eye (nothing like a challenge; no Couch to 5k program for me, it was Couch to Marathon.) With 11 months training, I managed to run the marathon in just over four and a half hours and, at the same time, reduce my weight from 250 to 180 pounds and get into a much healthier lifestyle. But having ended up in the First Aid tent, having collapsed about an hour after the run when I first ate some food, I swore never to run seriously again.
Then one day when jogging in Crystal Palace Park whilst my son was soccer training in the National Sports Centre next door, I was swamped by 50 to 60 runners, all of whom seemed to be really enjoying themselves. I gingerly tagged along at the back and picked up the courage to ask a young lady at the rear what was going on and she suggested that I Google “parkrun”. The following Saturday I timidly sneaked in at the rear of the pack gathering at the start and set out on my parkrun adventure. I was made to feel really welcome and really enjoyed running at Crystal Palace parkrun, as well as enjoying the odd volunteer stint, and was disappointed when my son stopped training next door to the park.
What I didn’t know at the time was that parkrun was all over the place and I soon found myself running at Greenwich parkrun which was not too far from where I live. And then, I heard that Bexley Council were looking to set up a parkrun so, as my son was now training in Bexleyheath on Saturday mornings, I went along to a meeting. I was somewhat disappointed to find out that the chosen location was Danson Park whereas my son trained at Hall Place so I would not be able to get along as often as I would have liked. But, the general consensus of those in attendance was that this was good thing if I was to become Event Director.
I was hooked, and to the extent that parkrun got me back into running marathons and I managed to run seven in the following seven years, including the London Marathon twice more, and New York, Berlin and Chicago twice. parkrun became a fundamental part of my training and I found that my times would always peak at the time of my marathons to be in the 22 minutes although my normal times would be in the 24 to 26 minutes range.
I am no longer Event Director at Bexley parkrun. It all got a little too much for me with the numbers expanding from less than 100 to 300-400, so I handed over the reins to joint EDs Paul Dallison and Richard Furze who are still doing an admirable job. I helped set up Lesnes Abbey Woods junior parkrun [weekly 2k events for kids held on Sundays in the UK], where I am still joint ED today, so my daughter had somewhere local to run (although she promptly gave up running for gymnastics!).
Whilst training for the 2018 Tokyo Marathon, I managed to hurt my back. Having seen a physio (which never really helped) and an osteopath (which made it worse) I decided to try to run through the pain, or should I say jog, and my times were in the low 30 minutes. This was back in Spring 2017. It was not until Easter when I was forced to go to the emergency room by my wife where I found that I had actually broken my back in two places. And, worse still, when the hospital looked into why a healthy regular marathon runner should break his back (my first recollection of pain was whilst vacuuming) I was diagnosed with Myeloma which is cancer in the bone-marrow, which weakens the bones.
My doctor knew my background and said that the best thing I could do was exercise and told me to get out of bed and walk down to the hospital café…this was when I could hardly even get to the toilet on the ward. But it gave me something to aim for: parkrun that is. Marathons are now off the agenda as running is a non-starter as it has too much impact on the bones. The trouble was, I had to go through extensive chemotherapy before I could walk any distance. But, with the encouragement of my fellow parkrunners at Bexley and volunteer team at Lesnes Abbey Woods, and the fact that parkrun were actively encouraging walkers to come along (something that I would never have dreamt of doing before) I managed to get back in the summer, with times in the mid 40 minutes. And I have even been joined at the back by fellow parkrunners, especially Tessa Hales, my joint ED at Lesnes Abbey Woods junior parkrun.
Why is this so important? At the start of the year when I first hurt my back, I was on run number 238. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I was on run 243. I managed to get to 248 runs but then had a setback which reduced the distance I could walk. However, I managed to get through this period and, as I was much slower, volunteered to Tail Walk at Dartford for my 249th parkrun and then at my home parkrun, Bexley, for my coveted 250th parkrun. It was a really wonderful occasion, as word had got out and many of my parkrun friends came along to celebrate with me (there must have been a record number of walkers that day). I was even asked to start the event.
As I was slower than normal I was worried about being a burden, but I knew that I would be welcome; there is no shame in being at the back of the pack, and I have found that the volunteers are always more than happy to wait for you to finish. Renaming Tail Runner to Tail Walker was a great idea.
So, parkrun is helping me get through this challenge and has been as important as all of the drugs that I have been taking and the therapy that I am going through.
Thank you for being there for me parkrun.
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On Saturday 7 July, with the temperature nudging 85 degrees, 38 parkrunners aged 80 and over gathered at the birthplace of parkrun, Bushy Park in London. One of the participants, Richard Pitcairn-Knowles, tells us more: Several regular local parkrunners were joined by many oldies from as far afield as Scotland, Wales, the West Country, Essex…