Hello, my name is Ai Lyn Tan, and I’m a parkrunner! I was instantly hooked from my first parkrun more than six years ago. I registered on a Friday, completed my first parkrun the next day, and tweeted the following:
Almost 300 parkruns later, looking back, parkrun to me has been mysterious, a way of life, and my therapy all rolled into one. Let me tell you why…
It was out of sheer curiosity that I went along to parkrun at Woodhouse Moor. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I certainly did not do it to get faster, fitter or healthier – these were welcome bonuses, well, at least for the latter reasons. That first parkrun was shrouded in mystery to me! What was it, on that Saturday morning after running with hundreds of strangers, that made me want to shout out at the top of my voice: ‘this is it’! That momentous tweet reminded that I had so much fun! I enjoy running anyway, so it must be some other magic of parkrun other that the running; I believed the magic must be the friendliness of parkrunners, the enthusiasm of the volunteers, and the fact that it is such a sociable community!
The other mystery that parkrun conjured for me, is the age old ‘what did I used to do on Saturday mornings before parkrun?!’. I have a confession: when it comes to running, I have a bit of an OCD! I have a very detailed spreadsheet with a record of every single run I have done for the past seven years, down to what I wore! This obsession preceded my first parkrun, so I am able to tell you that I also used to run on Saturday mornings. But I look back at that, and have this really strange puzzling feeling that I could ever run on Saturday mornings, anywhere other than at a parkrun! It’s like putting your left shoe on your right foot.
My pre-parkrun self was like a stranger to me. I know it is a cliché, but I’m proud to admit that parkrun has given me a new life. Having parkrun in our lives is a bit like owning a mobile phone. Some of you may be fortunate enough to appreciate life before, and since having mobile phones – life was fine as it was, we managed to communicate somehow; and then our lives were enhanced when mobile phones came along, now we cannot do without them! For those lucky people who grew up with mobile phones, or parkruns, I envy you! For a start, you will achieve many more parkrun milestones than I will ever do!
parkrun has made me even more ambitious, not just with wanting to get better at running, but also the satisfaction from volunteering on almost 50 occasions at parkrun has made me hungrier for more opportunities. Thanks to parkrun, I have since enjoyed volunteering adventures in major international sporting events like the Tour de France, World Triathlon Series, Rugby World Cup, Tour de Yorkshire, London 2017 World Athletics Championships and Glasgow 2018 European Championships.
But the best volunteer role has got to be being an ambassador on the parkun UK social media team. It is an absolute dream to be involved in my best passions – running, parkrun and social media! I feel like the luckiest person as I get to indulge in interacting with so many parkrunners in a virtual world, especially on Saturdays, sharing their elation of personal bests and their joy from volunteering. It is like the buzz we get from being at parkruns, except I get to extend that buzz beyond Saturday mornings!
Two years ago, I broke my foot whilst running. My left foot went over during the Great North Run, about a ‘parkrun’ into the run! I knew I had broken my foot instantly, but driven by adrenaline, I ran another ‘3 parkruns’ and completed the half marathon! That bravado was soon replaced by me climbing up the walls with frustrations of not being able to run. parkrun became my therapy. I love that even when I could not run, I could still be a part of the parkrun family. One of my favourite parkrun volunteering roles is being the tail walker! This is where I get to talk to some of the most inspirational parkrunners and admire their determination to complete the distance.
One of the best things about breaking my foot and parkrun is, that parkrun helped rekindle the joy of running in me. I had taken running for granted, and was glad to be reminded about the fun in running. I did not have to run against any measures, I was just enjoying being able to run again, and parkrun helped me to appreciate my abilities, whether it was managing to walk the 5k during my recovery from my broken foot, or sprinting towards a PB with every bit of effort I could squeeze out of me!
When the opportunity to apply to become a parkrun ambassador for arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions arose, I jumped at this perfect gift! As a rheumatologist, I already ‘prescribe’ parkrun to my patients. So this important role means a lot to me to be able to help raise awareness further regarding the health benefits of parkrun. I think that, as important as the health benefits of parkrun as a form of physical activity, the mental health benefits are equally unquantifiable! I found that recommendation by word of mouth is the most powerful way to share something so good. I have introduced many friends and colleagues to their first parkruns, it’s so heart-warming to see them enjoying being part of the parkrun family. “Come and just hang around, you don’t have to run or walk, or even volunteer!” is often what I tell my patients; I believe that the friendliness of the parkrun community will magically draw them into eventually participating at parkrun.
What is even better is that I get to shout about all my running and parkrun on social media. It is the perfect platform I use share my parkrun joy and to inspire potential parkrunners! That feeling of gushes of fresh air into the lungs after a parkrun, the homely and friendly atmosphere that brings out smiles and laughter, the supportive congratulations exchanged between all, that is why I #loveparkrun so much! I am a parkrunner, and I am proud of it!
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