My reflections on a year of Peterborough parkrunning

I confess. I have become a parkrun addict.
I have always been active.   Saturdays, for a large proportion of my life at school, University and beyond, consisted of running up and down a hockey pitch.  As my old mate Blanksie used to say, “Saturday is sport day”.  It was integrated into my life as a routine, the best and healthiest way for exercise to be.  However, the last 10 years or so, my fitness levels have dropped due to “life” taking over.  Running a business, developing my career and bringing up a young  family meant that I was not getting the exercise my body deserves.  Like many, I had lots of “exercuses” (thanks to @exerciseworks for that gem!). And, baring in mind that I give advice regarding physical activity to every patient that I see, it is important as a physio that I practise what I preach. If you need convincing of the importance of getting regular physical activity (150 mins of moderate physical activity is the government recommendation) then watch this:
I decided I needed to step up to the mark with my fitness levels at the beginning of 2014 and the parkrun seemed an excellent medium to help me on my path.  From the first week of my New Years resolution, I was hooked.  It is perfect timing for a working Mum: 9am on a Saturday morning, home by 10am!
I have treated runners for years yet never been part of a running community before.  I have always imagined it to be a competitive independent environment but it couldn’t be further from the truth.  Everyone is so friendly and welcoming at the parkrun.  The more weeks that you run, the more people you get to know: particularly those that do similar times to yourself. And what people often fail to understand is that, while it is a run, many people start by either walking the 5K or by walk/running . It is quite unique: elite level athletes run it yet so do weekend warriors and people just getting starting their journey into exercise.
I have learnt so much personally and professionally over the last year through the parkrun.
My Saturday run is absolutely a personal journey.  For the first few weeks, it was a journey of self doubt: could I even make it round without stopping? For me, there is something about the complete focus and concentration every Saturday morning to take my body to perform at its best. I just find that the endorphin rush of completing the course sets me up for a great weekend, whether I have reached a personal best or not! It also makes me want to train in the week to try and improve on my performance.
It has also been an interesting professional journey.  When you are a physiotherapist, you cannot help but analyse the way in which people move: it is at the heart of what we do.  The range of running styles and movement patterns are as diverse as the shapes and sizes of the people who run with them.  Watching these while running over the past year has only reinforced to me the message around the multi-dimensional nature of pain.  If you put the majority of people running the parkrun on a gait analysis treadmill, you would find that they have an “abnormal gait pattern” by textbook definition.  However, the vast majority do not have pain associated with that gait pattern.  So is it really abnormal?  I would say not. Provided that they are loading their bodies appropriately (ie with steady, graded training programmes), the body is very capable of adapting to its natural being.   My colleague, Tom Goom, has an excellent running injury blog page covering this very topic (and many others): I wholeheartedly recommend it as a go to resource
Something I commonly hear from non runners is that running is not “good for the knees” or any other body part they choose to have an opinion about.  There is no scientific proof that I am aware of (and believe me, I geek on reading research) that shows that running “wears out joints” or in fact is bad for you.  Our joints are not like tyres, they don’t  suffer “wear and tear” or wear out in the same way.  Sure, running can cause injuries, but up to 80% of injuries are due to poor training error not due to biomechanics.  While of course biomechanics do play a part in some injuries, they are only part of the jigsaw.
I talk about a “see saw” of loading with my patients.  Muscles, joints, bones, tendons all need loading.  This is how they develop strength, how they know how to repair.  The skill is knowing where the see saw balances in the middle, with underload being on one side and overload the other. This is optimal loading.
You see, exercise is medicine.  Our joints actually work on a “wear and repair” basis.  They are constantly assessing the state of play and exercise helps to stimulate a repair cycle.  It is also an evidence based treatment tool for many longer term health problems such as diabetes, heart disease and low back pain. Exercise works your brain too, and this is actually where pain originates from.
Ask George here.  photo (23)He is an inspiration to us all.  80 plus years of age and still running.! While of course there are health reasons why certain people with certain health conditions should not run (I would always recommend discussing starting running with a healthcare professional before starting if you have not run before), there are also lots of myths and misconceptions about running and lots of “exercuses” why people say they should not do it.  Running is certainly not for everyone.  It is damned hard work, it hurts.  But equally gives you the best endorphin shot around I reckon.
So, a year on, I have managed 38 parkruns during 2014 and hope, God willing, to complete more in 2015.  I have become quite evangelical in my own way about parkrun.  I recommend it to everyone! There are now many of my patients and fellow school parents that I see running every Saturday which adds to the community aspect of the run.
And for those of you that are interested in trying it out, why not pop along tomorrow? It has a one off start time of 10.30 as a special New Years Day run, details here .  I will be largely walking it tomorrow as my 2 children have been asking to do it for weeks and we are aiming to wean into it (nothing to do with the likelihood of a sore head, obviously!).  Be warned though, it is highly addictive!
My personal thanks goes to the whole Peterborough parkrun team who I think are superstars and my heroes of 2014! To think the whole thing is voluntary speaks volumes to the ethos of the event. Pat on the back people.

  • Gordon Pearson – Event      Director
  • Mark Hazlehurst – Run Director
  • Craig Douglas – Run Director
  • Dave Richmond – Run Director
  • Steve Megson – Run Director
  • Sarah Matthews – Run Director
  • Andy Short – Run Director
  • Mike Blackledge – Run Director
  • Laura Conway – Volunteer      Co-ordinator & Run Director

Thank you to you all.  My life has definitely changed for the better.
Helen Preston
Chartered Physiotherapist
Parkrun addict.