Darren Wood has just completed his 750th parkrun. That’s the most parkruns of anyone in the world. Here he tells us about his parkrun journey to this incredible milestone.
I first heard about parkrun, or Bushy Park Time Trial as it was then known, through the Ranelagh Harriers running club newsletter.
I actually didn’t go along to the very first one, as I thought it was just for fast runners, and that I wasn’t fast enough. But then I saw the results from the event and realised it really was for everyone. Just like parkrun is now.
So, on 9 October 2004, I headed off for my first parkrun. And I loved it. Seems surreal thinking back now, to popping up parkrun out the boot of someone’s car, getting a round disc with a number manually punched in for your finish token, and giving that to a volunteer who wrote your name on a piece of paper.
I went back every week. I wanted to beat my best. It used to be about the time for me in those days. But we always had great banter at the beginning and end, and there was lots of milling around chatting.
I remember volunteering at Wimbledon Common in the early days too, I’ve never actually ran that one! Better put that one on the list!
As parkrun grew, I realised quickly that the running wasn’t actually important. It’s about community and friendship.
The parkrun I found the hardest was one of my most memorable. I was on crutches following foot surgery, and really struggling. Everything was hurting! I wasn’t sure I was going to manage the second lap at (my now home parkrun) Frimley Lodge. I was standing in the mud, when my friend Paula came along with her daughter Abbey and they told me I could do it. “Let’s go” she said, and off we went. I actually felt tearful at the end.
I’ll always remember that, those people giving me strength. And I hear a lot of stories like that from parkrun.
My 500th was a huge moment for me which I’ll never forget – it was just wow. Ten years worth of parkrunning. The support was just amazing. I couldn’t believe how many people took the time to congratulate me. I responded to them all individually, I was so grateful to be able to inspire so many people.
I don’t feel like I have done anything special. It’s bizarre when I see people’s reactions, and they want their picture taken with me, one lady wanted me to have my picture taken with her dog!
It’s the juniors I’m excited about encouraging. They’ll do many more parkruns in their lives than I’ll be able to do. Imagine starting around ten years old now, and how many parkruns they’ll do if they have the dedication and stupidity that I have! I remember how proud I was of my boys when they did their first parkruns. Harry is now 7 and Joshua is 4, they’ve both got the parkrun bug!
There’s another guy that stands out in my mind. He was walking around the course with his family, he told me he was trying to lose weight and that he wasn’t a runner. I was walking as I was recovering from another surgery (knee this time!) so I walked with him. I told him “if you carry on with this, it will change your life”. He did. And it did.
The following week I saw him with a new pair of trainers on, and I said let’s do a 30 second jog. He agreed, and then we walked for a bit, then we did another 30 seconds, and we did that the whole way round.
We started to meet every week and jog a little more and a little more. Now he’s happier and healthier than ever, and is out there getting PBs. Last I heard he was having a go at being the Run Director. I’m honoured to have played a part in his parkrun journey.
Like I said, it did used to be about the times for me, but now my stance has completely changed. It’s about the people and the community, and being a part of all that. Nobody cares how fast or slow you are.
I was going to try for a PB on my 750th but the wind was not in my favour! I didn’t care, I was just happy to be there. I really need to credit Abby and Tess for arranging a lovely surprise for me at Littlehampton Prom parkrun. She’s really been my rock, much like parkrun.
I’m looking forward to my next big milestone – 1000. And I’m about to join the core team of a new parkrun. It’s an honour to help get new parkruns off the ground, even if I might have to miss running a few as a result.
parkrun has helped my mental health so much. It’s something that has always been there for me, every week, helping me through challenging times. Life is tough sometimes, but parkrun always reminds me ‘I can do this’.
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