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!

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How To Catch Buses and Alienate Yourself

I’m a very experienced bus-catcher. For proof of this, see my tweets and then imagine me communicating all of them from a bus. As many of you can attest, catching the bus is about as enjoyable as catching the flu. But, never fear, the many hours I’ve spent ridin’ ‘round town in a yellow double decker have taught me a few tricks…

  1. Always check for late risers! This one has caught out many public transport novices over the years. I get it. It’s cold and you’ve been on your feet all day; you’re eager to get on that bus. But wait. The 82 year old in the second row’s decided to wait a good 10 seconds after the bus has completely stopped before indicating she’s getting off, and you’re already trying to pay the driver. Rookie mistake. You must survey the bus for late risers before stepping on (basic bus etiquette).
  2. Bring iPod. Obvious but effective. If you’ve got headphones in, it drastically reduces the number of people who will attempt to talk to you. Pro tip: it doesn’t matter if your iPod is charged.
  3. The upstairs, downstairs trick. Imagine it: you’re sat upstairs and some drunken youths (you’re younger than them but they’re drinking on public transport so all bets are off) sit very close to you. You sense they may heckle you, or worse, try to initiate conversation. My solution: pretend it’s your stop and get your ass downstairs.
  4. The stinky food solution. Friends, Romans, countrymen, this is a timeless classic. Effective on any form of public transport (most useful on coaches, FYI), stinky food is your solution to company. Sick of people trying to sit next to you? Buy yourself some Frazzles or an egg sandwich and Bob’s your uncle*, no one wants to come within a good double seat of you.
  5. Bags need seats too. Another obvious one for avoiding company. When you take your window seat, dump your bag in the aisle seat to put off any prospective seat-sharers. It is effective up until the point where the only seats left are the bag seats, and then it’s anyone’s guess who the over-perfumed Avon lady’s going to sit next to. Obviously, move the bag when things fill up – you’re not an asshole. Pro tip: when seats are running low, move your bag early if you see a non-creepy-looking person. Don’t leave it to chance (CHANCE IS NOT YOUR FRIEND).
  6. NEVER make eye contact. I cannot stress this enough. Eye contact is the cardinal sin of catching the bus. Once done, it cannot be undone. If you want to stare at strangers on the bus (and let’s face it, you do), just watch via their reflection in the window. They think you’re gazing out of the window, you know different.
  7. Invisibility cloak. This is particularly effective when travelling with riotous schoolchildren behaving like pack animals. They will approach. They will annoy. The best solution is to whip out your invisibility cloak and disappear. Warning: they may sit on you.
  8. Speed dial a friend. Much like Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, repeat bus travel requires a ‘Phone A Friend’ option. Use only in the case of an emergency (e.g. you haven’t even got headphones that you can pretend are plugged into something).

Follow these simple steps and you’re guaranteed to a safe, interaction-free journey home. Good luck friends.

*DNA test proven