“I’m not a runner.” Many of us have uttered this phrase, however the line between “runner” and “non-runner” seems to vary from person to person. Many self-proclaimed “non-runners” may actually move their bodies in a way that the majority of the population would classify as a run. However, they themselves don’t think of themselves as “real runners” because they don’t run every day, don’t compete in races or aren’t particularly fast.
Well, we’d like to share John Bingham’s thoughts on the subject: “If you run, you are a runner. It doesn’t matter how fast or how far. It doesn’t matter if today is your first day or if you’ve been running for twenty years. There is no test to pass, no license to earn, no membership card to get. You just run.”
parkrun welcomes every type of runner, prospective runners and walkers. We encourage everyone to participate at their level of fitness and hope to inspire habitual physical activity for a healthy lifestyle. Erin Munsell and Mark Gillatt are two parkrunners who made the transition from “not a runner” to “runner” and have come to include parkrun as part of their long-term healthy lifestyle goals.
Erin’s Story (parkrun USA)
Growing up, I was never the athletic one in my family. My younger brother Eric (more on him later) was great at soccer, baseball, cross-country, track, pickup basketball, skiing, even ping pong! Although I didn’t realize it at the time (as a definite non-runner), one of his more impressive displays of athleticism occurred when he would frequently jump in at Mile 20 of the Boston Marathon to pace my Aunt Cindy (more on her later, too) to the end of the grueling race. As for my athletic abilities, although I was a decent gymnast for a few years, I quit in the 7th grade when I felt that I had too much schoolwork to continue the 6 hours/week of practice and my activity levels were basically nonexistent for the next almost 20 years.
In the summer of 2016, I began suffering from debilitating stomach pain (that most often occurred after enjoying a plate of greasy bacon and eggs at my favorite breakfast spot). One particularly bad episode resulted in an emergency room visit where doctors informed me that my gallbladder had to go. Although I had been thin for over 5 years (I had lost about 75 lbs in the couple years after college, entirely by changing solely my diet with zero exercise), during my recovery from surgery I realized just how out of shape I was, despite outward appearances. It was almost impossible to move around due to the incisions in my abdomen, as the muscle mass that I was carrying must have been near zero.
As soon as I was sufficiently recovered, I downloaded one of those Couch to 5K apps and began the run/walk program on a gym treadmill. I had never had an interest in running or really any physical activity before but after my tough surgery recovery, I never again wanted to feel so physically unable to do as simple of a task as taking a shower or getting out of bed.
I moved to the DC area in November 2016 for work. While looking for more permanent housing, I lived with my aunt and uncle, Cindy and Carleton Conant. Both of them are fantastic runners, but Cindy in particular, is an inspiration (previously featured on parkrun blog). I was all of a sudden living under the same roof as a world class runner. Her dedication to her craft was obvious. As I headed out the door for work, usually by 6:30 am, she would already be returning from her morning run. Cindy runs to challenge herself and to see how fast she can go, but above all because she loves it. It was easy to maintain motivation in this kind of environment.
By the spring of 2017 I felt ready to try a 5K race, but I stressed to Cindy that I wanted something super low-key (usually her favorite kinds of races as well!) She did not hesitate to recommend that we go to College Park parkrun and I ran my first 5K on May 13th, 2017. I like setting goals for myself so that morning I tried to 1) finish the race (check), 2) run the entire course (almost made it, took a walking break at 2.9 miles when I had no clue how close I was to the finish, haha oops), and 3) finish under 30 minutes (28:53 woohoo!) It took me a couple of months for my body to adjust to the increase in activity and I had some beginner injuries that held me back a bit during that summer. But I remained motivated to see how much I could improve, and by the fall I was running College Park parkrun almost every Saturday.
This past spring I ran my first 10K, and my first 10-mile race at the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler. I’ve signed up for my first half-marathon in September. parkrun is part of my weekly routine. At some point within the last year, I’ve obviously turned into a “runner”. How I felt after surgery motivated me to start, and being around Aunt Cindy inspired me to stick with it. Setting small and achievable milestones along the way has prevented any running goal from seeming impossible to reach (so far).
Now when it starts getting tough towards the end of a long workout and I’m searching for some additional motivation, I let my mind wander towards that athletically-inclined brother of mine. We lost Eric in 2014 to an unfortunate accident, but when I feel like I can’t take another step I channel his energy and determination to continue moving.
Who knows, maybe someday I’ll be able to “fill his shoes” and pace Cindy to the end of a big race. Or maybe I’ll just run it myself. This runner will see where the road takes her.
Mark’s Story (parkrun UK & parkrun USA tourism)
My running journey begins more than 40 years ago. I was the fat kid at school and although I took part in sport and PE I was always the last one to be picked for teams. The one sport I really couldn’t do was cross country running at Blackpool’s Stanley Park. The PE teachers were understanding and allowed me to walk a much shortened route. It did nothing for my self esteem but at least I finished at the same time as the other kids.
Fast forward 35 years and I decided to learn to ride a bike. Yes that’s right. I never rode a bike when I was a kid. So at 47 years old I wobbled around a parking lot on two wheels for the first time. It only took a few sessions to master the balance and I now regularly cycle. Physically it was hard, though, and I wanted to go further and faster. Still the fat kid but many years older, someone suggested varying my activity to increase my strength and stamina. They suggested running! How I laughed.
When the laughter subsided though I looked into the UK National Health Service Couch to 5K program. The beginning of my C25K journey began New Year’s Day 2017, huffing and puffing on Blackpool promenade. Walking and jogging I followed the weekly program, overdid it and hurt myself but kept going.
I was vaguely aware of parkrun, a weekly timed run that occurred all over the UK. That’s all I knew, but as I got fitter and keener I investigated more. I was delighted to find that Blackpool parkrun was about to launch in Stanley Park on February 4, 2017. I plucked up courage, dragged the family along and went to the start wondering what the heck I was doing there and who I thought I was. In my mind I knew I could walk 5K in an hour and that I’d get around eventually.
I set off jogging and yes, it was hard. The company of others and constant encouragement from other participants and volunteers got me around the first lap and I was still running! “Amazing,” I thought, “I’ll see how far I can keep running.” I crossed the finish line in about 42 minutes to cheers and applause from the friendliest strangers I’ve ever met. It felt amazing and I was hooked. Since then I’ve run or volunteered nearly every Saturday.
On a recent Saturday I had the enormous pleasure of attending my first parkrun USA event at Mountain Goat Trail. I came to the US to attend a concert in Atlanta and while planning my trip, searched for a parkrun. I found Durham NC but was dismayed to find it was 500 miles away. I contacted the parkrun USA Facebook page to see if they knew if any new events were planned. A lovely lady, Joyce Adams, replied and told me about Sewanee and its start date. 120 miles was much more like it. I kept an eye on it and when the Mountain Goat Trail parkrun Facebook page was set up, I followed it and messaged them after their first event. Their ED, who I now know to be Kristin, replied and we stayed in touch. I was pleased to see the event growing week by week.
My partner and I checked out the meeting point the evening before the run to make sure we knew exactly where to go. We arrived around 8:45 the next morning and apart from the volunteers, we were the first ones there. Therefore, I met all the other participants before the run. I thought at the time “This must be the closest you can get to experiencing the first ever parkrun at Bushy Park.” With 13 participants, it felt like a run with a small group of friends.
We enjoyed an awesome breakfast and conversation with other participants afterward and it was nice that Kirstin and Brad joined in the socialization rather than rushing to process the results. Other US events may be larger but MGT was really special and it’s definitely my second favourite parkrun, after Blackpool of course. I’m pleased I found it and I thoroughly recommend it.
No matter where you go, parkruns are always different, always the same and always life affirming. I love it.
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