News - 10th October 2021

Like being part of a group hug


I am a 63-year-old woman. I struggled with my weight when I was young, and some members of my family have been diagnosed with anxiety and depression, so there is a genetic disposition.


I was diagnosed with post-natal depression after my second child, aged 40. The prescribed drugs didn’t help, but I did discover I was a calmer person after a good walk. Without a car, I walked or took the bus everywhere.


I read an article in my local newspaper about parkrun when my children were in primary school. I was not confident in crowds or in my personal fitness, so I started by running around my local footy oval in the mornings before all the ‘children-at-school’ related stuff.


I started with one lap, in addition to walking 3km to my local library and taking the bus home. Before long, I was running as well as walking to and from the library.


After one month of running one lap of the oval, I made it two, plus I had to walk up a hill to get to the oval. After six months I was finally running up that hill as well as doing at least three laps, sometimes more. I took it very gradually. I started during daylight saving and I still never run at dusk or darker.


My children were in secondary school by the time I felt confident to try parkrun. 5km seemed like a very long way, but in February 2016 I went along for the first time.


My reluctance was very personal. What would others think? What would others say? Especially, what if I cannot finish? What do I wear? Questioning ourselves can be overwhelming.


Turning up to parkrun felt like a huge leap of faith. Faith in myself. Faith in my ability. Faith in the kindness of others. Particularly the faith in the kindness of others.


I hung around the edges. Listened to the Run Director from a distance. Continually thought everyone was looking at me.


I have never forgotten this overwhelming feeling of exposure. I carry it with me, proudly now, every time I volunteer. Especially when I volunteer for the First Timers Welcome. The first time we try something new is a huge step, the first time we approach an unknown crowd is a significant achievement. Personally, I found it bloody scary.


Holding my breath and crossing my fingers the first time I volunteered was both scary and amazing. I went home that Saturday knowing that “I CAN”. It was, quite honestly, a light bulb moment for my self confidence.


I realised two things that “scared’ me did not really exist. I thought “people will be staring at me, judging my clothes and/or my running”. I finally realised that no, they won’t. No-one was turning around. As for the clothing, I now realise it is just like when you go shopping. You see people walking all around you but, five minutes later, do you remember what any of them are wearing? Nope. Not at all. This works both ways, they do not remember what you are wearing either. No judgement on either side.


I also realised that, although it had helped me personally, I did not need to ‘get fit’ before participating in parkun. Walking, moving, being outside, sharing smiles. All of these are positive. All of these can involve parkrun. If your local parkrun is a two-lap course it is perfectly acceptable, and not even noticeable to any other participant, if you choose to only walk one lap to start with. Your health journey is your own. Do whatever level you feel comfortable with. Give yourself months to aim for improvement. Endorphins are a wonderful thing and we each create our own.


parkrun has given me confidence, self worth, friendships, mentors, laughs, mosquito bites as I stand scanning in wet grass and a complete sense of community. A community that is global.


My advice to people thinking about coming along to parkrun is to start slowly. Tail Walker is such a fun volunteer position. Give it a try. Wearing the high-vis vest feels like a group hug.


When the Run Director asks you to raise your hand when you are a first timer, put up your hand and accept the applause and smiles. From then on, each time you parkrun, you will be one of the people clapping and smiling. You will feel included from day one. One of my joys of parkrun is to be able to pass this inclusiveness on to others.


Throughout lockdowns, being able to log (not)parkruns has also consolidated my community feeling. I have now done more (not)parkruns than actual Saturday morning parkruns, and it fills me with joy to get a parkrun results email each week and to see that others from my home parkrun are also running.


One of my proudest moments was the first time my secondary school aged son finished, then ran back to me and ran with me up the final hill, around the corner and through the flags. Kudos to parents who run with a child in a pram, fitness and strength training all in one. Joyful to see children walking with grandparents – parkrun is inclusive and welcoming for every age.


parkrun has helped my mental health, self awareness and self confidence. It is truly an activity that builds physical self confidence and also contributes to mental health confidence. To be greeted every Saturday morning with a welcome and a smile, certainly lifts your spirits.


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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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