‘It’s a combination of fear and determination. The fear of going back to where I was and the determination to not go back there’.
Paul Webb has lost 80kgs, tackled social anxiety and made friends on a journey that’s taken him from first timer and volunteer to sub 30-minute parkrunner and Run Director.
Brooke van Nooten spoke with Paul about his parkrun story.
As I sit across from Paul at a table in a café, it’s hard to believe I’m looking at the same person I met three years ago just around the corner at the launch of Bellerive parkrun.
For a start, we had just enjoyed a leisurely six-kilometre run around the bluff, chatting along the way about Paul’s journey so far. A journey that four years ago would not have included running for fun, let alone socialising with friends in a café.
I first met Paul in April 2018. He was 12 months post lap band surgery and 35kg into his weight loss journey. It was a big deal to turn up to his first parkrun which he completed in 47.05. “My first impression was there was an awful lot of people there and not a single person I knew,” he said.
It was a few weeks later when I managed to drag (his words) Paul to the nearby cafe after parkrun. As we chatted about how far he’d come since then, I asked if he enjoyed it?
“To be brutally honest, no. I was severely out of my comfort zone but I knew from doing the work with the psychologist I had to work on the social anxiety and one of the ways of doing that was to do things that were uncomfortable and I knew as I got to know people better I would get more comfortable. I knew if I went often enough it would go from being uncomfortable to situation normal” Paul said.
We reflected on how long it took for him to feel comfortable in that social environment. Paul has gone from being reluctant to join us, to the last to leave.
“Ask me when I get there. It’s a work in progress I’m not there yet but I am certainly an awful lot closer to when I started,” said Paul who through both participating and volunteering has gained confidence and formed friendships.
Paul was quick to put his hand up to volunteer at parkrun, initially as a marshal and timekeeper. But it’s his first experience as tail walker that sticks in his mind. “I left with someone from the start line and when she turned back at the 1.5 kilometre mark I realised she wasn’t a participant and I was a good kilometre behind the last actual walker,” Paul laughed.
Then someone (probably me) suggested he become a Run Director.
“I said that’s not going to happen,” Paul added.
But sure enough, Paul came around and after seeing a gap on the roster agreed to RD his first event, as long as I did the talking. It was pouring rain and we had our smallest turn out ever. I introduced Paul but explained I’d be doing the briefing and it would be his turn the following week. ‘That next week there were hundreds there and I was wishing I’d have done it the week before,” laughed Paul, who was holding the clip board up over his face. “Over time, the clipboard has been lowered and my voice has got louder,” said Paul who is now a valued member of the Bellerive parkrun event team.
If all of this wasn’t enough of an achievement, Paul has kept on with his transformation. He’s now lost 80kgs and is literally almost half the man (in weight) he was.
“I wouldn’t have believed it in the slightest, even two years ago I probably still wouldn’t have believed it,” said Paul. “Everybody says how well I’m going, but there’s only some who have been there for the entire journey, and can really tell the difference,” he said.
Some fellow parkrunners surprised Paul with a certificate to mark his 100th parkrun. It featured some pretty special statistics and of course photos to document his journey. “I couldn’t believe people would spend that much time scrawling Facebook to find photos to make that for me,’ Paul said.
It’s a constant reminder of how far he has come.
“I wake up every morning and sit up in bed and I see that. When I sit and use the computer I can see it. It reminds me how much my life has changed,” he said.
Like I did for his 50th, I was lucky enough to pace Paul for his milestone. His PB was 31.14 and he set out to do a sub 30 minute parkrun.
Not only did Paul achieve that, he took a massive one minute 38 off his PB to cross the line in 29.35. “All I can remember about crossing the line is feeling solidly stuffed. I left every ounce of energy out there on the course … I was hoping I might do enough to get sub 30 but as long as I got the PB I was going to be happy, the fact I got both was a bonus,” said Paul who is awaiting the arrival of his much smaller sized milestone t-shirt, unlike the 50 version that hangs off him.
On Easter Sunday Paul completed his first official half marathon. “It’s not until I sit back and reflect that I realise how much has changed. It’s been a steady process. I’m happy it’s happened and impressed that I’ve stuck to it. Instead of using my lap band as a solution, I’ve used it as a tool.”
We took another big step forward last Saturday as 5k events returned in Denmark, the ninth country to see events restart post-COVID, plus we welcomed back junior parkrun events in Scotland. In total nearly 60,000 people took part in 775 events around the world last weekend, including nearly 2,500 for the very first time….
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