(not)parkrun
(not)parkrun
News - 10th October 2021

An anchor of familiarity

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My mental health journey started at university with obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety, but this was 20 years ago when people didn’t talk about mental health. I lived this way for five years at uni followed by a two years backpacking, unsure of what was really going on.

 

I settled down and got a job, met my wife Sarah and had two children. During the first few years of being married and having kids I put on weight, so my first steps as a runner and parkrunner were to lose a few kilos. What parkrun did in particular, however, was get me into the routine of getting up and out of the house first thing every weekend.

 

With a wife, young children, a mortgage and stress at work, the pressure eventually started to show. I was diagnosed with depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and generalised anxiety disorder, which affected my mood and concentration. These diagnoses were a turning point, because I now had labels to help me rationalise and accept who I am.

 

We were living in Cardiff, Wales at that time, and when a junior parkrun started near us we were there as a family every Sunday morning. For anyone who has never been to a junior parkrun, there is nothing as invigorating as seeing 250 kids running towards you with big smiles on their faces. It warms your heart. Sarah and I would take turns each week walking or running with the kids while the other volunteered. As a result we discovered how much fun volunteering is. We still keep in touch with the core volunteer team and go along whenever we go back to Wales – they’re like a mini-family.

 

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My family and I moved to Australia four years ago, where we knew nobody. Australia is very different from the UK when you start to peel back the layers, so we needed an anchor of familiarity to help us adjust to our new life and connect socially. Our local parkrun at The Ponds in Sydney was one of those anchors – an activity that had previously been ‘me time’ was now a weekly family outing that helped us integrate into our new community. Apart from my job, parkrun is still the thing I am connected to most in Australia.

 

parkrun and my mental health are interconnected. parkrun isn’t just a comfort blanket for an hour or two every Saturday morning, it also motivates me to make healthier choices during the week. I am mindful of the hours I sleep, what I eat, and how much I drink.

 

Running gives me a release from the day to day pressures of life. For an hour or two it is my serenity, an outlet that takes away all of the other ‘noise’. There was a time when I ran half marathons and marathons but life got in the way – parkrun is the one constant. Over the past few years I have lost 15 kilos, which I wouldn’t have achieved without parkrun.

 

I now go to parkrun with my daughter, who started at junior parkrun and who is already faster than me! Like me, she can also be quite anxious, but parkrun is something she can focus on.

 

Any new experience can be daunting for anyone, regardless of their mental health. This is why I love to see people encouraged to come to parkrun with somebody else if it’s possible – friends, colleagues, neighbours, family members – it doesn’t matter. If that isn’t an option for you, please come along to the First Timers Welcome when you arrive at parkrun, as it’s a great opportunity to meet one of the volunteers and fellow newbies.

 

Whether you live opposite the park or have moved from the other side of the world, people are social creatures and the value of making those connections at parkrun cannot be underestimated.

 

Andy Sutton
parkrunner A32515

 

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help now, please call triple zero (000). 24-hour support is also available at Lifeline and Beyond Blue.

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