Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Parkrun: My Journey

First Parkrun
My first ever Parkrun was on 7th November 2015 and it took me just over half an hour to complete the 5km course (30 minutes and 50 seconds). I remember the morning well. It was before I bought my car Daisy so I had to take two buses to arrive at the Parkrun location. I got lost and took the wrong bus so, despite leaving early, I started to worry about missing the run. When I did finally arrive I spotted a marshal on the course so asked him where the start line was located. He told me it was 1km back in a completely different direction. The problem was it was already 7.55am so there was no way I could make it to the start line in under five minutes. In fact I wasn't sure if I'd be able to run the entire 5km once the race started so by adding an extra kilometre to even get to the start line, I didn't have much chance. But I was going to try because I didn't want to have to wait another week to run. So I ran as fast as I could and managed to join the run even though I was late. You can see from the picture below which is just in to the start of the run. That's me in the red box trying to make it to the start. 

I eventually joined the run and finished. I ran the whole way which was the ultimate goal. I'd taken up running in July of 2015 but by November I'd made somewhat limited progress because of constant ankle injuries. It had been many years without sport prior to that so my fitness level wasn't great either. I could run 5km on a treadmill but struggled with running outside the gym. After my first Parkrun I felt positive and was determined to come back in future weeks. 

Parkrun 2015
I came back to Parkrun for the next four weeks and eventually got my time down to 27 minutes and 59 seconds. In the moment I was happy and surprised with a sub 28 minute time but looking back I struggled a lot with running then and I can tell from the photo. I didn't know the first thing about running or that it involved skill and technique. I was clueless on running shoes and hadn't heard of Nike Dri Fit or Flykit. I remember going to Kmart the night before for leggings and Trade Secret for the first pair of sports shoes I could find. 

By mid December my ankle injuries returned to the point where I struggled to walk properly. I tried to go back to Parkrun a couple more times when I really shouldn't have. On 19th December 2015 I had to walk part of the course and recorded my worst Parkrun time of 32 minutes and 11 seconds (it's the only time I've walked any of the Parkrun course). On Christmas Day 2015 I had to pull out of the run and failed to even record a time. I was so angry and frustrated especially since I couldn't find a solution to my ongoing ankle injuries. It was another three months before I ran again either at Parkrun or anywhere else. 

Parkrun Early-Mid 2016
In my break from Parkrun I'd resumed swimming after a twelve year break so I came back with much improved fitness and my body was slowly becoming stronger. My first run back was 19th March 2016 and I easily recorded a personal best time of 27 minutes and 48 seconds. In coming weeks, as swimming training increased, I improved my Parkrun time frequently without doing much other running. I was incredibly shocked when I ran sub 27 minutes for the first time on 30th April 2016 and sub 26 minutes for the first time on 14th May 2016. While I appreciate those times are certainly not outstanding, and I'd be extremely disappointed with myself if I did them now, it was a significant improvement at the time. I have never been a runner and my background is in swimming so any progress in running is a surprise. By the middle of the year I'd become a regular at Parkrun. I'd only miss a week if I had a swimming meet on at the same time. I showed up in the most wet and cold conditions throughout winter and that felt like an achievement because I became tougher in those months. 

Introducing Parkrun to Friends and Family
On 11 June 2016 my husband agreed to participate in Parkrun and he's come a total of ten times now. He walks rather than runs the course, which just goes to show Parkrun is for everyone. On 3rd September 2016 and for the two weeks after that my sister came to the Parkrun. She lives in London and was visiting Sydney for a few weeks. She's continued with Parkrun since returning to the UK. 

Parkrun Mid-Late 2016
For the first time I started to believe I may have some potential in running. This was based on the improvements I'd made throughout the year and the fact I'd started participating in other running events so was getting more experience. This was around the time I ran sub 25 minutes for the first time on 16th July 2016. It felt significant and from then on sub 5 minute kilometres became the magical number. It still wasn't easy though, I managed to run sub 25 minutes another five times before October but it hurt a lot on each occasion! I was lucky enough to sneak in a 24 minutes and 59 seconds. It was three long months without a personal best but finally on 29th October I then ran 24 minutes and 27 seconds. 

From mid November to now I noticed some more progress. Finally the mid 24 minute range started to feel comfortable. The lower end was in sight and I allowed myself to dream of whether I may be good enough for a sub 24 minute time. Much to my surprise, as I didn't think it would come so soon, on the Christmas Eve Parkrun 2016 I ran a personal best of 23 minutes and 36 seconds. I have to admit I am proud of that one. It's over 7 minutes off my first ever Parkrun time and it's a time I never would have thought myself capable of prior to a couple of months ago. That's a total of fifteen sub 25 minute runs and nine in a row at the end of the year. Not bad for a goal I never thought achievable. 

Parkrun in 2017
- My main goal for this year is to earn the 50 Parkruns shirt. I've wanted it ever since I started back in 2015. I am getting close, as of today I've completed 42 of the required 50 Parkruns so hopefully I will get it in March or April. 
- Attend a variety of different Parkrun locations. At present I've done my home Parkrun 40 times and two other Parkruns once each. There are a number in Sydney and I'd like to do some out of Sydney runs while travelling for swimming meets. 
- Complete more Parkruns with friends. Last Saturday my friend from swimming came to Parkrun and we ran a course I'd never been to before. It was fun and I look forward to it happening again. 
-Achieve a personal best. Right now it seems impossible to improve on 23 minutes and 36 seconds. But I have a whole year to get there.
- Improve fitness so 24 minutes feels a comfortable pace. 
-Attend as many Parkruns as possible to make progress towards joining the 100 club. This also seems hard right now since I'm up to 42 runs in total but every run counts. 

The benefit of Parkrun is you can make it into whatever you want it to be. It's interesting to look back and see how my goals changed over time. I was initially pleased to run the whole course no matter how long it took but now I'm disappointed every time I exceed 25 minutes for a 5km. For me it's become quite competitive and I expect a lot out of myself. It doesn't have to be that way. I hope that can change this year because I want to enjoy it more rather than having the pressure of a specific time every single week. I entirely credit swimming training for my improvement in Parkrun, I'm very thankful for the benefits of cross training. I certainly don't run a large number of kilometres per week (20km on average, the only exception being the lead up to September's half marathon). I'm very grateful my ankle injuries have improved dramatically and I've been able to run since last March. My body got stronger over time and now can handle running. When I started running my fitness was improving more rapidly than body strength and I took on too much too quickly. I understand a lot more now.

I wanted to share my experience because it shows what can be done with a goal and if you want it enough. Show up no matter what, keep going, accept no excuses and the desired results will come. 


  1. Imogen I think it is inspiring reading how you started and how you kept it up and got better and better... Mostly I love how you never gave up xox

  2. you really achieved a lot with your runs. It is fantastic how you stuck with your goal of running the parkrun and you got so good at it!

  3. Wow, that's great that your sister is going on with Parkrun and such a mess about the line to start the Parkrun, the previous one, that you finished in less then 31 min. I am glad that you made it, and sorry, I had to smile when I saw you a bit far from the whole crowd, to reach them. You did it well! Hope you have a nice weekend!