On World Mental Health Day, parkrun world record holder and mental health awareness campaigner Andy Baddeley reveals why he runs.
The ovation I received in London in August 2012 is one I will never forget. Standing there on the start line, shoulder to shoulder with my fellow runners, about to go for glory.
And then we were off.
My plan was simple. I had worked out my splits and my coach Andy Hobdell was there to keep me on track. Right from the beginning though, the pace felt too quick – I felt like I was flat out but I was still behind my target. Working hard, lungs already burning, I finally caught up, only to hear Andy yelling that I needed to speed up.
And then, finally, the moment I’ll never forget. Rounding that final bend, spotting the finish and dipping across the line. Gasping for breath, with my hands on my knees, I glanced at the timekeeper. A nod, a smile, then confirmation – 13:48. I had broken the parkrun world record by 12 seconds.
It was truly a surreal experience. Earlier that week I had raced against the fastest 1500-metre runners in the world in the biggest competition on earth. In the end, an agonising third of a second separated me from a second successive Olympic final in front of a 90,000-strong home crowd.
But that third of a second also meant that six days later I would have another of my proudest moments as a runner – in a park on the other side of London.
I was no stranger to Bushy parkrun, having used it as part of my training prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympics where I finished eighth in the 1500m.
Sometimes I ran with my barcode, whilst other times I paced friends around who had a particular goal in mind – incorporating it into a longer run and enjoying being surrounded by anyone else crazy enough to be in a frosty royal park early on a Saturday morning!
For me, this is what running is all about. It’s why I run. Running is about people, about going out with family and friends and meeting people who will become friends. It’s about sharing that joy with those closest to you, and bonding with those you’ve only just met. My coach was also my best man at my wedding, and one of my training partners is my daughter’s godfather. Shared experiences, goals, and struggles make for important and lasting relationships.
It is these struggles that can sometimes lead to our most defining moments. I’ll be honest. After the Olympic semi-final I felt empty. I felt lost and without a purpose. Another four years of training to come so desperately close to reaching a dream. But when I arrived at Bushy parkrun on that August morning and the run director introduced me on the start line, I felt anything but empty and lost. It was genuinely the most heartfelt reception I have ever received and the round of applause was deeply moving. The good will that people showed me – both before and after the run – was a touching experience. It epitomised everything that makes running – and runners – so special.*
When I speak in schools or to audiences now, I often ask to be introduced as a parkrunner as well as an Olympian. Not many people know what it means to run a 60-second lap of the track, or a sub-four minute mile. But so many people know what it’s like to run 5km around their local park. They can relate to it, and when they find out that I ran 13:48 it means something to them.
It gives us something in common. Yes we are runners, but it’s more than that – we are all parkrunners.
* During a particularly difficult time, I was reminded of just how special the running community can be. I chronicled some of my difficulties in a blog, and the response I received was overwhelming. A huge thank you to everyone who reached out to me, and I would encourage anyone with struggles of their own to talk to someone, and to keep parkrunning!
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