Between 1998 to 2001 I ran half marathons, marathons and even the Comrades Marathon. After this, I started to do cycle races, duathlons and adventure racing. My wife and I moved to a new town, started new jobs and a family. Eventually I stopped running altogether in 2003.
I did not do any form of exercise at all until 2017. I put on a lot of weight and was struggling with constant airway infections and heartburn, as well as being overweight.
I tried to start running but didn’t want to join a running club because I was embarrassed of not being able to run 2km. So I started running on my own. This did not go very well. I was not at all motivated and was stiff for days after running a couple of kilometers.
Sterkfontein parkrun opened less than 2km from my home and I thought that this was the perfect opportunity for me to start running again. I rocked up at the second event, very unsure of what to expect but ready to start my transformation.
Boy was I surprised by the friendliness of everyone; runners and especially the volunteers! No one judged or laughed at me. I felt at home from the first second. Everyone enjoyed their run, jog or walk and no one looked down at anyone else. The proverbial bug bit me and I was back there every Saturday I could make.
My runs and fitness started to improve. I made such good friends. My wife started walking and running parkrun as well. I have now completed 40 parkruns at 12 locations in South Africa.
I am now a member of a marathon club and have done the Om Die Dam 50km Ultra Marathon in 2020. I kept exercising through the Covid lockdown and have just entered to participate in the 2022 Comrades Marathon.
Even though a parkrun now seems like a short distance to train compared to Comrades, I return there as often as I can and in summer sometimes do my Saturday long run before parkrun starts and then do the parkrun as well.
Sterkfontein parkrun will therefore be known to me as my ground zero. It is where the new me started life and I am so grateful for it and proud of it.
Deon van der Merwe
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