‘Walk@parkrun’ #ParkWalk is an initiative in Northern Ireland to engage people of all fitness abilities. It’s incorporated in conjunction with nine Northern Ireland parkrun events and is funded under the Active Clubs Programme by Sport NI and Big Lottery NI.
Two participants in the scheme, Paul Greene and Heather Patterson, explain the impact that parkrun has had on them.
Paul Greene from Craigavon, Co. Armagh in Northern Ireland is a familiar face at City Park parkrun. Inspired to start running by his sister Linda he quickly caught the ‘running bug’. The freedom running brought was what made it most enjoyable and he could be found running around the picturesque Craigavon lakes clearing his head in the early mornings before work.
“Once I started and got my first time I couldn’t wait to see if I could beat it the following week. Many Saturday mornings I got on that start line and said I’m going to take it easy this morning, but once that whistle went I gave it all I had I got so caught up.”
Paul’s aim was to run for the sought after 100 Milestone t-shirt and by January 2016 having completed his 86th parkrun he was well on his way to achieving his goal. Unfortunately, a few days later a serious accident in work resulted in life changing injuries and called a halt to his running.
A broken back, five broken ribs, broken sternum, broken heel and a damaged right knee, Paul spent 16 days in hospital after smashing the vertebrae and needed a spinal fusion and spinal rods put into his back to support it.
But that’s not where the story of Paul’s involvement with parkrun ends. Determined to get back up and walk again following further surgery to reconstruct his knee, Paul returned to City Park parkrun with his wife too get involved with ‘Walk @ parkrun’ #ParkWalk.
Accompanied by his sister Fiona and her husband Shane, Paul who is limited to walking a few metres due to severe back pain, is gradually with a little help from his wheelchair building the walking distance up. Speaking of his achievement to date at #ParkWalk Paul says “It is great to still get out and be a part of parkrun again, getting the chance to spend time with the friends I had made before when I was running.”
When asked what his aim was now he commented “My ambition is to walk the parkrun unaided. It seems quite a bit off yet but in my case I think you need to set yourself these goals. I want to get that 100 t-shirt… that in itself would be a massive achievement.”
When asked why others should get involved Paul remarked, “I would encourage anyone no matter what age of fitness level to get out there on a Saturday morning. There are parkrun/walks all over the country and new ones starting up all the time. It is great to get it done on a Saturday morning as I feel it sets you up for the weekend and give you that feel-good factor afterwards. I would also like to take this opportunity to say a massive thank you to the volunteers who week by week make parkrun/walk possible.”
Sometimes you have to walk before you can run, as Heather Patterson (parkrunner A3075792) who has been attending Wallace parkrun since January 2017 explains:
I have always enjoyed walking and when ‘Walk @ pakrun’ #ParkWalk alongside Wallace parkrun was advertised locally, a friend suggested that we should sign up and give it a go. Both feeling that it would be a nice change from our usual route we signed up for our barcodes with great enthusiasm.
Our first Park Walk was in January 2017 and we were given a great welcome by the team and amazed at the number of other walkers. From the first moment, I knew this was something I needed to make part of my weekly exercise routine. Even with my friend unable to join me after the first week I decided this wouldn’t put me off and that I would keep going along by myself as I had found everyone so friendly. That is the fantastic thing about parkrun – you feel a part of a community!
Week by week I felt that I was getting fitter and with the encouragement of wonderful marshals and volunteers I began to get quicker and include short spells of jogging. I was “hooked” and found myself eagerly watching out for the results email each week to see if my performance was improving. I have now improved my personal best considerably and find I can often jog the whole 5k course – albeit with a beetroot face by the time I reach the finish line! Every week there are more than 200 participants and most of them finish in front of me! However, I have no problem with that!
After parkrun, I feel really invigorated and have even been motivated to walk and jog a couple of times a week between parkruns to improve my level of fitness. It is a highlight of my week and I’m always disappointed if I have a clashing engagement and am unable to take part. When I had a ‘niggly’ knee for a few weeks, I decided to volunteer instead of running. What a lucky decision! I got to know many more people, the craic was good and I am pleased to be able to contribute something to the event, as I get so much out of it. It was great to be able to cheer on those people who are coming to walk for the first time and encourage them just like the volunteers did with me on my first week. The fantastic thing about knowing there are people walking at the parkrun is I know I can slow the pace down or walk the route as part of my recovery. parkrun is such a great idea and it’s free! ‘Walk @ parkrun’ was my first steps into this event and I would highly recommend that those who feel they can’t run the 5k to consider coming and walking it. A Tail Walker means that you will never be last! I’m only sorry that I didn’t discover it years ago.
I have continued to enjoy volunteering regularly and in January I joined the “Volunteer 25 Club” having helped out on 25 different occasions. I also do parkrun whenever I can and run a couple of other times during the week. My performance has gradually improved and I have been able to run under 30 minutes on a couple of occasions. As I have started running rather late in life, I don’t expect to make much further improvement in speed but I have set myself a challenge of running 500 miles this year and, so far, I am on target. As I have said previously, my only regret is that I didn’t discover parkrun years ago!
The participating walk@parkrun events are Wallace parkrun (Lisburn), City Park parkrun (Craigavon), Waterworks parkrun (Belfast), Valley parkrun (Newtownabbey), Victoria parkrun (Belfast), Antrim parkrun (Antrim), Colin Glen parkrun (Belfast), MUSA Cookstown parkrun (Cookstown), Castlewellan parkrun (Castlewellan).
For more information on walk@parkrun please contact the Walking In Your Community Participation Team using this email or phoning 028 9030 3930.
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