On May 25th, I reached my first milestone of 50th parkrun. It was the day before my first anniversary of joining this amazing community.
My beginning was serendipitous. I didn’t plan, and only registered the night before after talking to my dear friend. Back then I didn’t know that planting this tiny seed would lead to such a significant achievement.
When I was young, I loved running, especially sprints. I liked the fact that I could push myself to the limit, then it was over in the blink of an eye. I didn’t mind longer distances, but it required me to be more disciplined. I am fit and healthy but running disappeared completely from my life as I grew older. I would have been content as a strong walker for the rest of my life, until parkrun reignited the joy of running.
Ignorance can be a blessing. I didn’t know much about parkrun when I started, but I knew I could walk the whole 5 km. Perhaps I wouldn’t have considered registering if there wasn’t the option of walking. As I walked my first “Parkwalk”, I noticed a few people wearing T-shirts with number 50 and 100. They were the people in 50 and 100 clubs respectively. I thought to myself ‘They’ve done this 50 or 100 times? Seriously, that’s crazy’. I must admit their dedication though. I completed my first walk, was elated from the buzz of exercise early in the morning.
Everyone was friendly, and I was utterly impressed that the event was run purely by volunteers. I went back the following Saturday, and the new routine was set firmly. Nothing deterred me, and I never looked back. Even when we were on holiday in France and Italy, I looked for the parkrun locations near the places where we were staying, and attended as often as I could. parkrun remains high on the list of many good things that have happened in my life.
Every run is different and memorable. I had my fair share of ups and downs, but some stood out. It was my 36th run. I was chasing my February personal best at the speed of 6 minutes and 15 seconds per kilometre. The problem was I don’t have any fancy device to tell me what pace I was running. I usually run by my intuition.
On that morning, I told my intention to my friend Michelle who was willing to be my pacer. I positioned myself amongst the crowd near the front. Three, two, one, I shot off. I didn’t even feel the slight rising at the start, and kept up the good pace to the Pensioners. Gone were the early struggling days of my attempt to run the whole 5 km: I felt strong. Today was my PB day – I felt it in my bones. Michelle caught up with me after 1 km and took her lead. All I had to do was follow her. She was my trusty pacer for the day.
Michelle is such a giving person. She didn’t say much, but her words were pearls of wisdom when she encouraged me in the critical points of my run on that morning. ‘Mind over matter now. It’s all in your mind, Etsuko. I know you’ve got a strong one’. ‘Take a deep breath and go for the strong finish’. I did. Her words were genuine and came straight from her heart. As an experienced parkrunner, she understood what it took to achieve a new PB. She sacrificed her run for me so that I could achieve my personal best. I was truly grateful.
On approaching the final few hundred meters on my 50th run, I couldn’t believe what I saw. I expected a thin finish-line to mark the occasion. Instead, it was a massive red banner with white number 50 written on it. I knew my friends had been planning something, but the banner totally blew me away. I had to run through it like a proud footballer. I did so strongly with my both arms up. Oh, how sweet the sensation was to complete my 50th run!
My heart swelling with a sense of achievement, I was touched by my friends who put in the time and effort to make sure the occasion was celebrated in style. With 50th cape on my back, countless high-fives and cheering, my celebration was special because it was shared with fellow parkrunners, and especially my close friends. Even my husband Rob got up early to photograph my big moment. This experience will stay up high in my heart amongst all other highlights of my life.
I’m in the midst of a PB drought at the moment, but I know I will continue to run regardless. Like Forrest Gump, I have begun my path and I will continue to run towards a vision of who I want to become.
Running means different things to different people. For me, the challenge of pursuing my personal best, which is always just outside of my comfort zone, propels me forward. No matter how heavy I may feel at the beginning, once I start running, within a few minutes I feel lifted by the rhythm of my footsteps. I observe my thoughts while running. I soon become aware of my breath: a breathing pattern of inhaling for two steps and exhaling for two steps. Sometimes that is my focus for quite a long time during my run. It’s meditative. Everything else falls away, and I gain a sense of clarity. Running makes me feel so alive, and I always feel high spirited after the run.
My next goal is a purple t-shirt, volunteering for 25 times. Then I’ll aim for my 100th run. All is possible because I belong to the inclusive community of Inverloch parkrun, strongly committed to bring health and wellness to everyone who wishes to join. I can assure you, you feel alive and grateful for your health, for friendships and for people who make it possible every Saturday.
Note: Etsuko shared her journey to 50 parkruns with our parkrunners in Japan. Click here to read the Japanese version
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