Paul Groves has had both his hips replaced but that does not mean he’s now taking it easy.
With support from his parkrun friends he has achieved more than he ever thought possible.
My parkrun journey stuttered to life at the beginning of 2011 at Roundshaw Downs parkrun, with 6 runs over about the same number of months. It finally took off at my now home parkrun, Riddlesdown’s inaugural event in July 2011 and for the next 5 years, I rarely missed a week. I was utterly hooked. I loved the event, the community of people and how you could choose to run and/or volunteer each week.
My focus, at the outset, was very much on running hard and competing with the regulars that I had become friends with. In 2012, being inspired by the London Olympics and with lots of training on my rowing machine (1000 miles for the year), I achieved my parkrun PB time of 22:24.
For several years, each June, I challenged the 11 year old pupils I taught (and indeed a fair few parents who joined them), to join me at parkrun as part of their ‘personal challenges’ undertaken before they left primary school. It was so satisfying to see so many taking up my challenge, particularly those who doubted they could complete 5km. It would only be a few more years before I would no longer be able to keep up with one or two of them!
Achieving my milestone 100 t-shirt was something I had aspired to. By now, I was very much part of the Riddlesdown parkrun community and regularly volunteering to help set up the course prior to parkrunning. Each week I looked forward to meeting my parkrun friends as much as completing the actual parkrun itself.
I have had several operations on my eyes over the years and to try and appreciate the experiences of visually impaired runners I decided to complete my 200th parkrun running blindfolded assisted by Les, who acted as my guide. The memory of this parkrun is firmly etched in my mind and I whole heartedly recommend others to experience it. This still remains one of my most memorable parkruns.
In 2017 I reached the ‘Holy Grail’ of the 250 t-shirt and shortly afterwards 250 parkruns at Riddlesdown, the first to do so.
By now my focus had very much switched to supporting and encouraging others in their running. In particular, 2 firm friendships were established: Barry, who was looking to restart his parkrun journey after undergoing major lung surgery; Tim who had discovered parkrun through his young daughter, as part of my school challenge to her. The shared exhilaration from pacing my friends to run quicker times had replaced chasing my own PB. I knew running anywhere near my PB was no longer realistic as arthritis in my left hip had progressed to the point where my running was significantly impinged and increasingly it was my friends who were now supporting and encouraging me around the course.
In January 2018, a week before my hip replacement surgery, I completed my 300th parkrun, walking the Riddlesdown course with the aid of a hiking pole. At this point I felt there was a distinct possibility that I might never be able to run again. As soon as my hip surgery scar had healed I donned my Tri-suit and became a “water baby”, swimming at least 3 times a week. This non-weight bearing activity strengthened not only my hip muscles, but benefitted my whole body. I was about to be proved totally wrong about not being able to return to parkrun and running.
Within 3 months a whole new world of parkrun began to open up. Tim and his wife Carrie encouraged me to join them at Crystal Palace parkrun. The experience of walking facilitated almost an hour’s worth of engaging discussion between Tim, his wife, myself and the tail walker. Being at the back of the parkrun field gave us a completely different perspective of parkrun.
In between each Saturday’s outing, I was well underway with my own personal challenge of swimming a distance of 250 miles (the length of the London Underground) in 12 months. 5 months post hip surgery I felt confident and strong enough to progress to a walk/run strategy, and soon managed to complete a parkrun in a time of 36 minutes. Over the next few months my swimming increased, often attaining 7 miles per week and this, in combination with the support of Tim and Barry, my running times gradually got closer to 31 minutes. I was in territory I never thought feasible, yet there were more surprises to come.
In August 2018, Tim assisted me to a time of 29:34. I was ecstatic. Whilst I was finally physically running freely again, it was the boost to my mental wellbeing that I felt was most significant. Swimming was a major boost to my overall body fitness and gave me plenty of thinking time (I often swam for up to an hour), however, it was no substitute for the feeling of mental wellbeing I experienced from conversations with my friends while parkrunning.
Our group of friends, the ‘Speedster Boys and Girl’ including Tim, Carrie, Barry, 2 Simons and myself built up the sort of team spirit that I remember from my footballing days. It spilled over into the week as we began to also meet up for walks, Pilates and coffee. What’s remarkable is that in spite of the twenty years plus age range, we all get on so well.
On the Saturday when we turned out for Barry’s 200th parkrun, the stars all seemed to align for me. I felt like I was just floating along and ran out of my skin, crossing the finish line in 26:53. Smashing a world record could not have felt any better. The once seemingly unobtainable had been well and truly obliterated. Through the autumn, winter and spring of the following year parkrun, interspersed with increasing amounts of time in the swimming pool, was my exercise regime of each week. By late April , only 40 weeks into my swimming challenge, I recorded my target of 250 miles in the pool (that’s 16,000 lengths). Another massive personal milestone achieved.
Once one hip has been replaced, I learned that it is likely the other may follow suit at some stage. By midsummer 2019, I ran my 350th parkrun with my daughter Sara, but once again, I was experiencing all the discomfort I had previously had with my left hip, this time on my right. Visiting my orthopaedic consultant, he confirmed the inevitable, my right hip was also in need of replacement. This operation took place in November 2018. Aged 59 years old I was now the proud owner of two ‘active sports model’ hip replacements. However, my consultant encouraged me to continue to cross train and run sparingly and preferably off road, to lessen the impact of running. All the fears of not being able to run again re-emerged, although this time I knew what to expect and how to approach and aid my recovery. On January 1st 2020, 6 weeks post surgery I returned, once again, to comfortably walk a parkrun.
Through a specific daily stretching and strengthening exercise programme, based around hip rehabilitation and with more swimming, I felt my right hip growing stronger. Again my friends helped me progress from a walk/run strategy at parkrun to a ‘rolling jog’ that saw my times improve. Through February I was able to lower my PDHR (post double hip replacement) PB each week to a previously unimaginable 29:55 and not far off times I was achieving a year earlier.
With the arrival of the Covid lockdown and the closing of parkrun my running temporarily halted. I felt somewhat lost and bereft, missing the regular meeting with my parkrun friends and not being able to swim. As lockdown eased I once again began meeting with my ‘Speedster’ buddies and running 5k once a week. These meetings brought it home to me how important running with friends is for our mental wellbeing.
Born out of reading an article about how a collective group of runners broke the parkrun world record I suggested to our running group that we have a go at our own collective PB. With our aggregate age at nearly 300 yrs and with various injuries, ailments and body part replacements between the 5 of us, we reckoned we must be able to muster 1 good athlete’s body between us! We ran a relay of 21:30, a time none of us have ever managed individually. It was certainly an eye opener as to how fast the legs must need to turn over to run a sub 20 minute parkrun!
Saturday morning meet ups, within government guidelines, running in pairs, once more enabled our run and talk strategy, which aided both our physical and mental health. In mid August, I ran with one of the Simons and was only just able to hold a conversation. I felt I was either really struggling or running at a significantly faster pace than I usually managed. We went through halfway in 13:45 confirming it was the latter that was true. Immediately I had both a mental and physical wobble as I was certain I would no longer be able to continue to run at such a pace. As we had so often discussed, when a run is going well it is worthwhile just hanging on in there just to see what was possible. With Simon’s encouragement I focussed on ticking off small segments of our home parkrun course that I knew so well and tried to maintain a relaxed rhythm. Into the final kilometre I recognised this was going to be a truly special run. It’s fascinating that when running on the edge, the closer you get to the finishing line the more the mind and body want to revolt, tempting you at every step to ease up, or even just walk. Fighting off these inner voices I just focussed on Simon’s feet in front of me and sought to run in his footsteps, until the final 100 metres when he sprinted away, leaving me to try and just maintain my momentum through to the finishing line. How can it be that you can experience such elation and such pain at the same time? Doubled over and desperately trying to get as much oxygen into my depleted lungs as possible, through gasping breaths, I enquired as to my time, hoping I had managed to break 28 minutes. His response? I had to ask for it to be repeated as I was sure I had misheard was 26:45. I had just run the quickest since May 2017. Albeit this was a (not)parkrun registered time, I was absolutely blown away. Should this run go down as a ‘double hip replacement assisted time’ or a ‘despite a double hip replacement time?’ Another seemingly impossible achievement had been accomplished. Don’t tell my wife though. She still tells me each Saturday to take it easy and walk!
Each and every Saturday at parkrun is a treasured experience. Every parkrun I have completed is unique and has its own memorable story.
I have had the honour of sharing my parkrun journey at times with my wife, my two daughters Sara and Olivia, my sister, my father (as an encouraging 80 year old spectator), my ‘Speedster Boys and Girl’ buddies and numerous other friends I’ve made through parkrun. My long term parkrun goal has always been to be able to continue participating deep into old age. My belief is that with a continued careful exercise plan that involves swimming and cross training, a sub 30 minute parkrun time should continue to be achievable.
I am now not quite sure what I may be capable of and what I might go on to achieve at parkrun when it returns. I am certainly looking forward to my 400th run (only another 13 to go). I have my eyes firmly fixed on becoming a member of the milestone 500 Club.
Whatever happens in the future, there is no doubt that when parkrun returns, my Saturdays will once again begin with meeting up with my Speedster parkrun buddies and attending parkrun to the mutual benefit of our physical and mental wellbeing and absolutely loving it.
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