Paul Chatterton started his parkrun journey in January 2018. As someone who has Bipolar Disorder, Paul reveals how something that started as a New Year’s Resolution soon become a vital tool in managing and improving his physical and mental wellbeing.
I was one of those New Year’s Resolution newbies swelling the numbers at parkrun in the first week of January 2018. Prior to that, my last organised running event that I attended was at high school, over 25 years ago!
I began running at parkrun last January for health reasons, to help manage a Bipolar Disorder mental health condition. I’m 44 now and received my diagnosis of this condition when I was 21, we’ve been on a long journey together!
My condition has been well-managed now for many years, but at times it has also been a difficult condition to live with. I had a hospital admission for my mental health aged 30, as well as three overdoses when I was 19-20 years old. I have to take daily mood-stabiliser medication but as well as that, I am always conscious to do my best to keep in good health and live a healthy lifestyle, with the aim of also maintaining my mental wellbeing.
Prior to joining parkrun, I recognised that I had been increasingly struggling to sleep due to stress, and also due to physical inactivity as someone who is self-employed and works from home. Maintaining good sleep hygiene is very important for managing Bipolar Disorder, so I committed to getting fitter, to help with getting a better night’s sleep.
I started exercising regularly with the aim of being fit enough to go to my first parkrun two months later, which I did! I had actually put off going to parkrun for two years because I thought it was only for experienced runners and didn’t think I would be fast enough to join in. However, I could not have been more wrong!
By the end of 2018, I had run a total of 40 parkruns, including 34 of my runs at Fulham Palace parkrun in London, which is a fantastic three-lapper around Bishop’s Park, a scenic tree-lined Victorian park in London right beside the Thames River.
I was thrilled to end the year on a high and cross the parkrun 5k finish line in 21:35 minutes on the last Saturday of December. This was over 10 minutes faster than my first ever parkrun on the first Saturday of January 2018, when I finished in 32:18 minutes.
I was also a regular volunteer at Fulham Palace parkrun during the year, usually combining running with a pre or post event volunteer role such as Pre-Event setup or Token Sorting. For those that don’t know Token Sorting involves putting all the finish tokens that were given out to parkrunners back into numerical order, ready to be used again the next week.
Token Sorting, in particular, introduced me to the post-parkrun socialising aspect of parkrun that usually takes place in the café afterwards, and at Fulham Palace parkrun the café is actually located in the palace!
On some weeks when I didn’t run, I volunteered as Funnel Manager and a Marshal, which allowed me to watch people running parkrun at the same pace as me and appreciate my own progress. I have also made some great friends there with other members of the volunteer team.
Fulham Palace parkrun has some dedicated and very knowledgeable Run Directors (thank you Donna, Elisa, Farah, Richard and Tom!). In the post-run café I came to realise just how much care, time and effort the Run Director puts into producing the parkrun results, and they really do deserve a medal!
I was proud later in 2018 to run in my purple Volunteer V25 t-shirt, which I’m convinced gives you a few extra seconds of speed on the course (this isn’t an advertised feature of the volunteer t-shirt!).
The social aspect of parkrun continued as I tried out two other parkruns, Victoria Dock parkrun (flat and fast!) and Cleethorpes parkrun (three laps around a lake). What struck me about all three parkruns was the warmth of the parkrun community and welcoming volunteers.
As a result of the confidence and fitness I built up during my first year at parkrun, I completed two 5k races in London. What struck me most was the veteran runners in their 70s and 80s finishing the races strongly in great times, which shows how accessible running really is. If I have one long term goal for running it is longevity, to still be able to run and complete a 5k event at that age!
During the year, it was a fellow parkrun volunteer and runner that encouraged me to join Fulham Running Club (a big thanks to Jilly). It was thanks to volunteering at parkrun that I’ve developed a much deeper connection with the running community, have learnt techniques to improve my running and discovered races that I can build up to in future.
My running goals for 2019 are to try and run more often, increase my distance to participate in a few 10k races and (hopefully!) run a sub-20-minute parkrun!
At the age of 44, it has been a great and unexpected joy to discover running as a hobby. My first year at parkrun meant a huge amount to me in managing my mental wellbeing, improving my overall fitness and the chance it provided to meet a great group of people at parkruns… and to enjoy the whole experience!
I look forward to representing my second Veteran Category from mid-2019, the VM45-49’s. Switching Veteran Categories feels like a double birthday this year!
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