So You Want to Try Parkrun?

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If relentless endorsements of my favourite Saturday morning event have finally worn you down and you’re considering joining the lovely Parkrun community, at the request of my good friend Louise, I bring you every piece of advice that my months of weekly runs have taught me. From what you’ll need to bring along, to what you should expect, allow me to be your Obi Wan…

All You Need Is…

YOUR BARCODE. When you sign up for Parkrun on the website, you’ll get your own personal barcode to print off. Print it. Take it. You’re all set. This is the only absolute necessity.

I choose to also run with my Fitbit, my iPod (in an oh-so-chic bum bag) and a water bottle. England Athletics have become much tighter on headphone restrictions at road races so bear this in mind when entering other events, but at my time of writing you are still allowed headphones at Parkrun.

Start Line Protocol

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Poole Parkrun start line

Because Parkrun events attract a lot of newbies, the start lines can be a little more chaotic than your typical road race owing to the lower level of experience.

For those less versed in start line protocol, the front of the pack will likely be your sub-18 minute runners. Chances are, if it’s your first time, you’ll be closer to the back. At my Parkrun, there are often over 600 runners, and if a 35-minute runner plonked themselves in with the frontrunners, they would get swallowed as soon as the whistle went – or they’d go off too fast in a misguided attempt to keep up. That’s not fun for you or the runners attempting to get past you. But you do also want to avoid going too far back as it can then be hard to get through the crowd. It’s about figuring out your sweet spot. Basically, don’t be afraid to assert yourself but also be considerate to other runners. If you aren’t sure where you should be, talk to the people around you and ask about their goal times – if it matches up to yours, you’re probably in the right place.

#goals

Set goals. Go out with an agenda and push to achieve whatever goal you have set yourself – whether that be long-term or short-term. It will give you a focus. And when you succeed, it feels damn good. If you’re starting from a low level of fitness, the Couch to 5k app might be the perfect way to build up to a Parkrun. You can then set out with the goal of running the whole route without stopping, and then perhaps attempt to better your own Personal Best each week.

Reward yourself with PBPs. My friend Jen introduced me to the concept of Personal Best Presents. The goals we just talked about? Once you achieve ‘em, treat yo self ™. You’ll know you’re hooked when your PBPs end up being new running gloves or a high vis jacket. Reward systems work (I’m pretty sure Supernanny will back me up here), from big treats for major breakthroughs to celebrating sticking to your training plan with a favourite meal. After a few 5ks, you will start craving the achievement of a Personal Best time – and what do Personal Bests mean? Presents!

There May Be Laps Ahead

Most Parkruns have laps. Probably two, maybe more. Don’t be disheartened if you get lapped. When I first got into Parkruns, my little brother used to lap me every single time. Make it your goal to get a little further each time before the frontrunners catch up with you and it will become only another way to map your progress. Bear in mind that the front of the field might be as fast as sub-16 minutes on a flat course. (They’re basically that kid from The Incredibles.) Bitter as you may feel about their superpowers, make sure to give them enough room to get through.

Stay Sharp

There are dogs, buggies and, if you’re really lucky, maybe even a few errant geese, so alertness is key at Parkrun events. If you’ve got headphones in, don’t turn up your music – or audiotape, if that’s your play – so loud that you can’t hear instructions. Quite often marshals will be out on the course to warn you of potential hazards, other times you might have a few dozen runners yelling “bollards!” as you hurtle towards a waist-height metal post. You’ll want to heed those warnings.

 Tech and Tracking

If you’re appy and you know it, get your phone out. If you want the added support of the fancy tech that will track just about every detail of your runs, there are Garmins and Fitbits galore. However, if you’re just starting out, I’d recommend using some of the free apps available as an alternative. There’s the aforementioned Couch to 5k app for beginners, as well as the Runkeeper app, which allows you to record all of your runs (with splits, pause option, mid-run updates and playlists) onto your phone.

No One’s Staring at You

I promise. Parkrun is a supportive community, welcoming to all abilities.

Finish Line Protocol

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Stock photo of girl getting scanned.

Everyone loves a showy finish. Once you’ve clapped eyes on the line, give us a sprint all the way. For those with no race experience, as you cross the line, you’ll be guided straight into a funnel. Keep moving along the funnel, catch your breath and get your barcode ready. As you come out, you will be given a finish token with a number on it. This number is your place. With this and your barcode, you simply queue up for the scanners and they will scan the two together to register your run.

Under no conditions skip picking up your finish token – this will affect the way all the results work as places are then matched up to times recorded on the stopwatches.

Stretch!

A stretching routine will make all the difference to your recovery. When you finish your run, walk or jog it off for a minute before going into a few simple stretches. No matter the temptation, don’t collapse onto the ground. Here’s a nice picture of Lupita Nyong’o practicing her stretches during a Vogue photoshoot to remind you that you can always style those stretches out…

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If you have more questions or advice of your own to add, you’re welcome to leave a comment!

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