It’s 9am on Saturday and I’m lined up at parkrun Lanhydrock, with 98 other people who weren’t put off by the hostile weather conditions.
Just as another wintry shower gets underway, we start the sprint downhill, through the park, towards The National Trust’s Lanhydrock House. This is the best bit. As we head up through the woods it gets slippery and runner after runner overtakes me as I go through my wheezy stage.
This is my sixth parkrun since I started running last November (at the age of 43). I know that even though I might feel like I’m hyperventilating, the second wind will come and then it’s the exhilarating downhill wood dash, looking out for tree roots.
The last 2k are the worst: a steady uphill climb, penance for all the early downhill bits. I resort to a heavy-footed shuffle, which I suspect is slower than a walk. It’s still raining heavily and I’m soaked through. I’m almost regretting coming, but I remind myself how great I’ll feel when the massive surge of endorphins kick in at the end. I’ll ride that feeling for a couple of days. Better than a booze high.
At long last I get to the top of the hill and it’s a freewheel to the finish. This is the same bit as at the start, but my legs are tired now, so it’s harder. I run as fast as I can to try and keep ahead of the footsteps behind me (which turned out to be a kid: there’s a lot of sporty youngsters on this, as young as six) and do an unintentional, dramatic skid over the finish line.
Parkrun happens at 9am every Saturday, at 305 different locations in the UK. Free to enter, it’s run by volunteers, and they request that you do your fair share of volunteering to pay back. Before the race, register at www.parkrun.org.uk. You get your own bar code, which is scanned at the end of the race, so your results can be emailed to you, as well as some other stats like position overall and in your age group.
For those, like me, who find running hard, it is motivating to know you are being timed. Hearing someone coming up behind you, or seeing someone slow down in front that you think you could take, makes you push yourself that bit harder.
It’s a fantastic way to start the weekend and it has incentivised me to cut down on drinking on Friday nights, to see if I can improve my results the next day.
Some reasons to run
Potential safeguard against cancer: active people are less likely to develop colon cancer and running can help reduce the risk of breast cancer by up to 30 per cent.
Lose weight: a 160-lb person can burn more than 850 calories an hour. Better than a fasting day.
Healthy heart: running can bring blood pressure down and running for an hour a week can reduce the risk of heart disease by almost half, compared to non-runners.
Other health benefits: running can improve bone density, help with insomnia and reduce symptoms of both stress and dementia.
Mood and depression: runners are more optimistic and positive and those who run outside show improved self-esteem.