I was never sporty at secondary school. I hated PE and all it entailed. What was the point? Teachers seemed to enjoy watching us miserably run round the field while they stood on the sidelines chatting, offering no words of encouragement, no motivation to strive to do better nor feel any sort of belief in our physical ability. For any self-doubting teenager that’s enough to put you off sport for life.
Now in my 30s and with 2 pre-school children, I have discovered a spark of competitiveness and determination inside me, and running is immensely rewarding and achievable. I enjoy a weekly 5km run at my local parkrun on the weekend plus some mid-week training on my own or with my local club Shepperton Running Group.
At parkrun I see many women (and men) try their first run and then go from strength and strength, knocking chunks off their PB (personal best) and running the whole distance when previously thought they could ‘never’ run 5km. The benefits are abundant – weight loss, toning up, fitness, getting out of the house and into fresh air. I went back to parkrun 8 weeks after my second was born and it literally felt like I was running away from all the chaos… so liberating (though maybe not for my husband left holding the baby).
But yeah, my memories of long distance running at school are pretty grim. If yours were also the stuff of nightmares, here are 7 reasons why you need to forget the past, dust off your trainers and get into running.
1. Wear what you want
‘PE kit’ was particularly awful – forced to wear unflattering shorts, socks and T-shirt in all conditions. Enough to put off any body-conscious fair-weather teenager – no wonder we tried our hardest to get out of it. Well now you’re an adult you can wear whatever you want! Whether that’s tracksuit bottoms and a hoody or running leggings and a vest, sports clothes come in all sizes and fabrics. Sports bras and fitted underwear are a godsend. There are no rules around colour, style or T-shirts with slogans. Don your shades or baseball cap, no-one’s going to tell you off.
2. No-one shouts at you
There are no teachers or adolescent hecklers watching you run past yelling unfounded insults or telling you you’re giving up or not trying. No-one shouts at you at parkrun apart from to cheer you on and offer encouragement. You’ll feel immense pride. If you venture onto bigger events such as 10k, triathalons or half marathons, the support from the crowd is amazing. There are no words to describe it, feeling like you’re Mo Farah / Jessica Ennis, about to smash the world record.
3. No confiscated headphones
iPod, MP3 or your phone, whack it in a nifty arm strap, create a playlist and let the tunes pull you along. My eclectic range includes Bonnie Tyler, Fleetwood Mac, Belinda Carlisle and Hardcore Anthems. You don’t have to listen to music, some people enjoy a podcast or motivational content like the NHS running plan Couch to 5K. Personally I like a beat to run to, and get in ‘the zone’ (a state of mind where you really don’t notice/care what is going on around. You are running and you are on FIRE.)
4. Set the pace
Walk, jog, run, sprint. Mix it up. Have a rest. No-one is going to tell you you’re giving up / slowing down / not trying. Some days are harder than others and some days you get an energy spurt. Either way, you’re in control and no-one is going to make you feel like you failed. Remember, you’ve lapped the non-runner sat on the couch watching telly. And there’s always next time if you feel a little defeated.
5. No-one’s laughing
You might feel self-conscious running. Don’t. No-one is out to belittle you. Anyone who sees you is either feeling (a) nothing (b) inspired (c) proud. Running solo can feel intimidating so joining a community event like parkrun is great. Supportive and friendly, everyone wants you to do well. There’s no room for show offs.
Showering in damp changing rooms with teachers breathing down your neck, precisely 4 minutes to get washed, dried, dressed and into your next class – and you’ve forgotten your deodorant? Nightmare, and practically impossible. Who wants to shower in front of their classmates. Thankfully now you can freshen up in private with all your toiletries to hand, ample time to get dressed and enjoy a post-run reward (coffee/tea/cake/big breakfast etc). Phew.
7. It’s the taking part that counts – honestly
A bit of a cliche, but true. At parkrun it is explicitly NOT a race, it is a run and it is you against the clock. Sure, someone comes first and someone comes last, but your time is measured against your previous results, so you always have a realistic target to beat. Seeing two magic words on the results table ‘New PB!’ makes my weekend! And if you don’t get the result you were after, you’ll be even more determined to come back with a vengeance.
I kind of wish I’d had the foresight to try harder on that school field, despite discouragement. At least I’m making up for it now, building up a nice collection of parkrun PBs, 10km event medals and amazing running buddies.
Thanks for reading!
parkrun organise free, weekly, 5km timed runs around the world. They are open to everyone, free, and are safe and easy to take part in. Find me almost every Saturday morning at Bedfont Lakes, Ashford, Middx.