Claudia Burrough, who ran her first parkrun after her mum passed away, started to lose her ability to walk soon after and now takes part in a wheelchair. The Bushy parkrunner, who joined the 50 Club just 53 weeks after her first event, reveals the challenges she has overcome to reach her milestone and explains how parkrun has given her a positive focus in an incredibly challenging time.
I achieved my 50th parkrun exactly 53 weeks after completing my first parkrun last year. I credit parkrun as the biggest help in dealing with the grief of losing mum last year and improving my mental health. It has also hugely improved my confidence.
At the time of completing my first parkrun I was struggling to leave the house by myself so it was a huge step come my second parkrun when I attended on my own. Bushy parkrun (my home run and the birth place of parkrun) is also the largest in the UK with usually well over 1,000 parkrunners each week. This presents another problem, crowds. I really struggle in crowds and whilst it has got easier through my cricket volunteering it is still something I find really difficult.
For the first couple of months of parkrun I stood as far back as possible (adding about 25 metres to my run and definitely taking up a lot of valuable time) gradually I became settled and added to my own personal competitiveness I would move further forward and become part of the pack. I still didn’t know anyone there but that was fine, it generally eliminated small talk and conversation with people.
I was happy and enjoying running and was taking about 30 seconds off my PB every fortnight. I enjoyed the fact that when I was running I didn’t feel any different to any other parkrunners, it helped release energy as a result of my ADHD and my ASD didn’t matter at all on the course.
Then in March this year, I started to lose the ability to walk. I was adamant that I was still going to parkrun and each week along with my trusty flatmate I would stagger around the parkrun course, PBs were a thing of the past and instead I was grateful to simply cross the finishing line. This also gave me the chance to do some Tail Walking which I really enjoyed as well.
My condition deteriorated further and walking any distance without falling over became incredibly challenging, so not for the first time in my life I was on crutches. I was really worried I wasn’t going to be allowed to parkrun on crutches but was relieved to know I wasn’t the only mad person who had considered the idea.
My first ‘run’ on crutches was more about seeing if it was possible. I soon realised that I could go quite quickly on crutches and started setting myself targets and aiming for a new crutches PB each week. I am still incredibly proud of my crutches PB of 34:42.
Being on crutches did present a new challenge though, other parkrunners started to talk to me! They were just being nice, I know, but for me I found this incredibly difficult. Being on the Autism Spectrum means I can find communication difficult especially with people I don’t know and in an environment I’m still a little unsure about. Gradually though I got used to the questions and became more comfortable around other parkrunners and began to get to know a few.
In mid-July though I was really struggling to just get around the course on my crutches and day to day life on crutches was becoming equally challenging. I had already signed up for a half marathon and London Marathon at this point and was desperate to still participate in the events.
Apparently, there was no way on earth I was doing my half marathon on crutches so it was suggested that to make my life easier and to keep ‘running’ I should invest in a wheelchair (short term). I was gutted but determined to still be able to parkrun, I took a couple of weeks off due to other commitments and worked on trying to get around the course.
The first attempt failed miserably with my front wheels getting stuck in the gravel paths and the grass sections impossible. I invested in a FreeWheel which has enabled me to do so much more. I managed to complete the course in just over an hour in practice. Doing parkrun in a wheelchair also presents other challenges such as something going wrong with my chair, negotiating other parkrunners and getting stuck in inaccessible patches.
My first wheelchair parkrun was great and I think I did it in about 40 minutes must faster than my practice attempt. Since then I completed 13 wheelchair parkruns getting my wheelchair PB doing to 27:35 an achievement I am immensely proud of.
My wheelchair parkruns have had other brilliant ‘side-effects’. I know so many more people and love seeing everyone every week and have really benefited from the community side of parkrun, one which I previously dreaded. I have even been to the cafe after parkrun which I never thought I would.
The day of my 50th parkrun was a real mix of emotions. I was so excited because it’s the first time my dad had been to a parkrun, let alone seen me complete one, and it meant a huge amount to me that he was there. My best friend had organised a cake for the celebrations and a group of friends from university also came down which was unexpected and lovely.
Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t really on my side and it rained pretty much the whole time but it didn’t dampen my spirits – I loved the whole occasion and chatting to other parkrunners, which is something I never dreamed I’d be able to do, let alone enjoy doing.
The occasion also gave me a chance to reflect on everything that had happened in the year since I started my parkrun journey. Having completed my first parkrun the day before my mum passed away I thought a lot about her as I went around the course, I still miss her immensely but I took comfort in how far I had come since my first run.
My 50th parkrun turned out to be my slowest in my wheelchair but it was lovely that there was a group of parkrunners at the end applauding and cheering when I crossed the finish line. I didn’t care how long it took me, parkrun has become far more than a 5K on a Saturday morning it has completely changed my life and helped me overcome so many barriers.
I am so grateful for parkrun and am so excited to have joined the 50 Club, showing a level of commitment to something that traditionally I have not managed. I have learnt that parkrun is open to anyone, despite having Autism, ADHD, mental health challenges, heart issues and not being able to walk I have still managed to parkrun nearly every week in the last year.
It’s been there for me despite everything that has happened over the past year. I am now a parkrun addict and planning trips to other parkruns.
One day I hope to be able to walk and run Bushy parkrun again but at the moment that feels a long way off so, for now, I will continue to try and beat my wheelchair PB.
Huge thank you to everyone at Bushy parkrun for all your support and help and especially the past few months. Special thank you to Fiona McAnena, and thank you also to Pat, Lorraine, Simon, Ravi, Mark, Sue, Wendy, Nat and Fiona for running/waling alongside me.
Also, a thank you to Jenny Craig for the months of convincing me to go to parkrun and for finally getting me there for SIMMIE Girls Can. Finally, a huge thank you to Paul Sinton-Hewitt for creating the incredible thing that is parkrun.
Claudia Burrough has a parkrun PB list shared by only a few others:
Running (PB: 22:51)
Walking (PB: 45:20)
Crutches (PB: 34:42)
Wheelchair (PB: 27:35)
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