News - 23rd August 2023

A Journey of Health and Community


Ken, a regular parkrunner at Hamlet Park parkrun*, recounts his story of how parkrun helped him recover from a series of atrial fibrillation events. Realizing he needed to make lifestyle changes, he attended parkrun and gradually incorporated running into his routine.  He found his health improved and formed meaningful connections in his community.


*Before we get going, Ken correctly makes several references to Hamlet Park parkrun. This parkrun is currently closed for construction work, but the community has moved over nearby to new Kingston park parkrun.


On February 24, 2022, I sat down after dinner and I did not feel well. My heart started racing over 150 BPM and it felt like my heart was in my throat. What was happening? Was I having a heart attack?


I went to get checked out and found out that no, I was not having a heart attack. I was experiencing an atrial fibrillation event. I had a second event on May 30th and a third on August 5th. My cardiologist ordered a number of tests and it was not clear what was causing the atrial fibrillation events. However, I was way overweight and out of shape. I asked him what I should do about exercise. He strongly encouraged me to exercise every day. I was doing some walking, but it wasn’t helping me lose weight. I was 57 years old and I knew I had to make some changes.


I thought that maybe if I had a walking group to join that I might get more motivated. I did an internet search for a walking group in my hometown of Eagan, MN and I found parkrun, which is a weekly 5K run/walk. I went to my first parkrun on New Year’s Eve in Eagan I walked it in just over 45 minutes. A week later, I walked it again on a cold, 2 degree day. In between those two events, two things happened. One, I had a fourth Afib event on Jan. 2 and two, I joined a local gym and hired a personal trainer.


I started working out daily and watched very carefully what I ate. I started losing weight quickly and getting stronger. Unfortunately, though, the Eagan parkrun course was suffering from the brutal winter and week after week, the course was too icy. I was quite disappointed.




It turns out, though, that Cottage Grove, MN has a parkrun, Hamlet Park parkrun*. I decided to go over there and start participating. What I found there was an incredibly fun and supportive group of people, including Tom and Kelsey Anderson. I started running a little part of the 5k each week and my times started to drop. At about the end of February, I told Kelsey that I had a goal of breaking 30 minutes by the end of the year. It’s a modest goal, to be sure, but I thought that if I could make it, that would be a satisfying accomplishment.


Surprisingly, I started to approach 30 minutes much faster than I thought I would. Many of my fellow runners took note and encouraged me to keep going. Five weeks ago, I ran sub 31. And then, for four more weeks, I was between 30 and 31 minutes, with a best time of 30:08, which really made me mad. Eight seconds from my goal! So close! Along the way, I injured my right ankle (unrelated to my workouts). I probably should have taken a week off at some point, but I wanted to be a part of the parkrun so badly.


Last week, Tom came up to me before the start and said just nine seconds. But my ankle was still hurting and I didn’t meet my goal.


Today, though was a different day. It was cool. My ankle was better. Could today be the day? Tom said he smelled a personal best in the air. I smiled and hoped he was right.




It turned out that yes, today was the day. I felt strong from the beginning of the run and I was able to complete my 5k in 28:50. I was ecstatic to meet that goal! During this fitness journey, in addition to my progress on my 5k time, I’ve lost eighty pounds. My blood pressure is way down. I haven’t had a single Afib event since January 2nd. I feel great.


parkrun has been such a wonderful thing for me. Yes, it is part of my wellness plan. Every week, I treated the event as a measuring stick to track my fitness progress. parkrun became a motivating factor for me during the week. I badly wanted to improve my time and I worked out with that in mind, however, it’s become more than that to me. I have met some wonderful people who are so supportive of me. I think some of the folks there were just as excited as I was when I finally got below 30 minutes. It because just as important to be with my fellow runners as it was to run faster. They bought me a “Congratulations” balloon to celebrate today. That felt really good.


All along this journey, they have provided me with so much positive energy. Thank you Tom and Kelsey. Thanks, too, to Jayson, Sara, Brett, Bill, and all the rest of the people there who have encouraged me. Finishing in under 30 minutes is a milestone, but not the end. My fitness journey will continue. I will continue to participate and try to do better and to reach for new goals. I look forward to many more Saturday mornings at the Cottage Grove parkrun with my friends there.


If you are looking for an event to walk or run to work on your wellness, let me suggest to you Hamlet Park parkrun*. It is really a great place to be on a Saturday morning.


Kenneth Brandt



*Hamlet Park parkrun is currently closed for construction, check out nearby Kingston Park parkrun instead!





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