A year on from open heart surgery, former international athlete Clare Wyngard explains how the inclusive nature of parkrun has played a vital role in her recovery.
In the spring of 2018 I was an experienced international age group triathlete and duathlete. Running was my strongest discipline and I had won individual British Masters titles as well as team ones.
I was also a parkrun enthusiast, wearing my 250 green t-shirt with pride.
But then something intruded on to this scene completely out of the blue.
I had volunteered for a study into endurance veteran athletes by the cardiology department at St George’s Hospital, Tooting. In amongst all of the performance statistics, came the most unwelcome, in fact, utterly devastating, discovery of a severely leaking mitral heart valve.
I had experienced absolutely no symptoms but, apparently, these were sure to appear in due course and quite possibly in catastrophic circumstances.
I would need a valve repair or replacement through open heart surgery and this was duly carried out on 11 January 2019 in a six hour operation.
Every cardiac patient needs a recovery programme and my case was slightly out of the ordinary in that I had not been feeling unwell prior to the operation and I was also used to going out and exercising – a lot! It would not be a case of introducing me to the idea of exercise, it would be more like trying to stop me from doing too much too soon.
I always felt that parkrun could play a key role in all this and I have certainly not been disappointed.
As thousands across the country set off for their parkruns on Saturday 12 January 2019, I was still in St George’s Intensive Care Unit so that one was ruled out!
But I was back at home by the middle of the following week and already setting up a walking schedule with friends and family. I realised that going around with a Tail Walker the following week might just be an option.
I chose the flat Dulwich three lap parkrun and was welcomed by the splendid team there. I eventually completed the course in just over the hour.
Since then I have hardly missed a week of parkrunning or volunteering.
After that first experience I was confident that I could be a Tail Walker myself back in the hillier environs of my home parkrun at Crystal Palace, and this is how I typically do my volunteering stints now.
When not tail walking I could focus on how to use parkrun as a benchmark on the way from walking through to walking/running and then back to running the full distance.
As spring arrived I was walking up the hills of Crystal Palace but running the flat and downhill sections. Eventually the milestones followed. A key one was as a tourist at Hastings in early August when I ran for the full distance.
By this time I had entered an actual race for the first time in well over a year, the Scottish 10k in late September, and my 300th parkrun had come and gone a lot sooner than I had ever thought it would.
Presently I am enjoying running again and seeing, subject to regular medical supervision, how close I can get to my old parkrun times.
The extent to which that eventually happens, or doesn’t happen, does not really matter, as just to be back running again when this time last year I could barely hobble around the block, is amazing.
If you were to ask someone to list the key values of parkrun no doubt at the top of the list, and quite rightly, would be the way in which it encourages people to get into regular exercise who never for a minute had thought of themselves as runners.
This would be closely followed, by the wonderful community spirit it inspires wherever it is set up.
But parkrun is multi-faceted.
The message here is that it can also be a godsend to more experienced runners who face major challenges of various types and at various stages of their careers. I faced the biggest challenge of my athletic career, that had already stretched over three and a half decades, and will always be very grateful for parkrun’s absolutely key part in my continuing recovery.
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