Going to parkrun was non-negotiable for Tess, but over time she fell out of love and “felt like a burden”.
After hearing about the parkwalk initiative she returned to parkrun, feeling welcome and accepted within the community.
I got involved relatively early on with parkrun – I was even on the start line of the first parkrun in the North! I’m not going to lie, I’m a bit smug about my low parkrun number (A7714).
However, my attendance has been very patchy over the last decade. I totally fell out of love with running, in fact I think I never really was in love with it. I loved the people, the camaraderie, the support, the cheers, but my body never really liked it. And my brain definitely did not.
On the whole, I am a pretty positive person, but for some reason I started having negative thoughts when it came to parkrun. I felt the pressure of getting around and I was worried about letting my friends down, as they were at the back with me. I thought they were sacrificing their parkruns, and I was worried about making the amazing volunteers wait in the cold for me to finish.
Missing a parkrun was non-negotiable, but I started to think, “Well one missed parkrun won’t matter.” This pretty much turned into never going back, apart from special occasions.
I know parkrun is not a race, I think it’s wonderful that as an organisation it aims to increase the average times. It is truly committed to bringing in people who may be intimidated by exercise or who struggle with the physical challenge.
However, it doesn’t matter how many people told me this previously, I still felt like a burden. I thought that I should have been improving my times, or that I should be running the whole way round. Instead, I looked around to find other exercise which filled me with as much joy as people got from running, and I found dance – particularly carnival/soca dancing.
After hearing about the new parkwalk initiative in October 2022, I genuinely felt the motivation again to get up and go to a cold park on a Saturday morning, when I could have been lying in my lovely warm bed!
I love that there are dedicated parkwalkers that will walk with you, and they understand that this is probably going to be as fast as I am going to get. I’m also at parkrun in whatever I want to wear. It could be exercise gear, but it could also be a dress with comfy shoes.
It’s been such a different experience for me. I’ve felt no pressure, genuinely! My body is moving for over an hour and it can go at a pace it feels comfortable with.
I’m also outside getting fresh air and have earned that smug post-exercise glow. And of course, it’s a lovely chance to catch up with old friends and meet new ones over a coffee.
From buying kit to being worried about people’s mean remarks, exercise can be intimidating as a larger woman. Outside parkrun, I’ve been shouted at whilst out jogging in the past (like most women) and they shout out, “You are fat.” Why judge me if I’m exercising?
parkrun has never been like this in my experience. The parkrunners are genuinely delighted that I am taking part, I’ve always been made to feel welcome and as important as the fastest runner. It’s a community that doesn’t judge, it welcomes everyone no matter your race, gender, sexuality and profession and I love that!
There’s no pressure for me to attend, I know that parkrun will carry on with or without me. I’m still not going every week, but during the warmer, lighter seasons you might find me at the back, probably complaining, but secretly not minding it at all!
Tess Hornsby Smith
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