Having gathered the courage to try parkrun, Bea Conner has found it to be friendly, welcoming and so much more than a ‘run,’ all of which has been beneficial for her mental health.
My whole life, I have been plagued with severe mental illnesses. I lost who I was, and my entire identity became synonymous with being unwell. My self-esteem, confidence and morale hit an all-time low at the start of 2022. I really did hit rock bottom.
But, there has always been a spark inside me (admittedly sometimes minute) which has made me keep going rather than giving up.
I had always been active but was solitary in my exercise. In 2022, via a local community page, I discovered parkrun.
I had a healthy to-and-fro conversation throughout the course of a few months with one of the organisers of a brand new parkrun event in my area. Elder Park was always a safe space for me and the idea of exercising there with fellow parkrunners at first seemed, although daunting, like a good opportunity.
The inaugural event rolled around and my nerves even grew their own nerves, I was that anxious! A rather adrenalin-fuelled me found my way to the starting point next to the magnificent statue of John Elder. “Good morning Mr Elder,” I thought to myself. “Let’s see if I can do myself proud.”
As I started to parkrun, my spirits soared. Three and a half loops on a flat course was ideal for me. It was the volunteers cheering me on that kept me going, particularly in the last half-lap. They weren’t about to let me give up, that was for sure!
I couldn’t believe how friendly everyone was, and I was so reassured to see that parkrun is not a race.
At the finish funnel, a fellow parkrunner said to me, “was that amazing… or was that amazing?” Out of puff, but very happy, I wholeheartedly agreed.
It took me a few weeks to gather the courage to go along to the post-parkrun coffee. By this time, I had learned about milestones and read many stories of what a wonderful family of people the parkrunners and volunteers are. I decided I wanted in.
George immediately made me feel so welcome at St Constantine’s, where the coffee is plentiful and solid friendships are forged.
As the weeks went on, I began to come out of my shell and actually interact with parkrunners and volunteers alike. I began to laugh again, a real laugh, not the horrendous fake boom of laughter that became so typical of me during recent times.
I took the plunge and tried volunteering at the Elder Park juniors parkrun event, where I found joy in cheering the children on, initially as a Marshal. I’ve now tried many of the roles, including my first go as Run Director at the juniors event. In doing so, I have made many new friendships and have become more confident.
I am now 14 parkruns and 12 volunteer roles in with the 25 milestone firmly in my sights for both!
Above all, I have learned that parkrun is so much more than just a run. It has given me hope, strength and resilience. It has given me excellent friends, whom I now cannot imagine a life without. It has given me a sense of fun and curiosity which has taken me to try different parkruns. Most of all, parkrun has made me understand that my own mind, which has previously caused me so much pain, is actually pretty durable. Nearing the end of a 5k, where my legs want to give up, my increasingly positive-thinking mind is what gets me to the finish, week in, week out.
I now finally understand that despite all I have endured, life is not a race. I am exactly where I need to be and that is completely okay.
A recent research paper published in the academic journal Psychology, Health and Medicine has highlighted the wide-ranging benefits of parkrun for those living with a mental health condition. The impacts were found to be greatest for those who walk or run, as well as volunteer. A team of researchers undertook a detailed analysis of…
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