Ten years ago, on 7th January 2012, I went to parkrun for the first time. I had been running for less than a year. I’d heard of parkrun but had only found out a few weeks before that there was a parkrun in Nottingham.
I remember not being sure where to park or where the start was. When I got out of the car, a man approached me and asked me if I knew where the start was. He went off in one direction and I went off in the other.
I don’t remember much about that parkrun. My time was 29:51 and it was only the third time I’d run a 5k.
I’ve just found this photo from my first parkrun which I’d never seen before
I returned to Colwick parkrun 13 times that year and improved my time by over 4 minutes, running a personal best time on 8 occasions. Running the same route repeatedly made me realise that I could push myself harder. When you start running, you think you can only run at one speed. One Saturday, I noticed that other runners were breathing heavily when they ran past me, whilst I was running without being out of breath. I followed some of them and this was the moment when I realised that I could run faster.
I remember one morning when I turned up in a bad mood thinking “Just get this over and done with and then you can have a cup of tea”. I think I took nearly a minute off my time the day. I didn’t find running 5k easy. I remember Pete, a friend from my running club, telling me that eventually 5k would feel like a short distance to me. In that first year, I often went to bed for a nap when I got home, but Pete was right, it did get easier as I began to run longer distances more regularly.
I was new to running then and times mattered a great deal to me but parkrun quickly became more than a running event. I began to feel at home there. I could always be sure I’d see friendly faces, people I knew, and nearly every week I’d chat to someone I hadn’t met before. Sometimes they were doing their first parkrun or it was their first time at Colwick. I’d joined Holme Pierrepont Running Club in the summer of 2011, but in my first year or two of running it was Colwick parkrun that made me feel part of a running community.
I’ve met many people and made many friends through parkrun, including three of the women I interviewed. I met Madeleine Wells and her husband Steve through their son Mike who was a regular at Colwick parkrun for several years and did a great deal to encourage other runners. Madeleine and I have had a lot of fun at parkrun, including doing the New Year’s Day “Double” three times: Gedling parkrun at 9am followed by Colwick at 10am, with Steve getting us from one to the other.
Mike, Madeleine and Steve Wells at Colwick parkrun
New Year’s Day 2019 larking about at Colwick parkrun
Karen Parkin is one of the 23 people who ran at the first Colwick parkrun event in June 2011. Karen, who started running at 50, often encouraged new runners to have a go at parkrun and ran round with them. As of today, Karen has run 399 parkruns. It may be 400 by the time you read this. Karen is a member of the running club with the best name in Nottingham, Woodthorpe Huffers and Puffers.
Karen (in pink cap) running at the first Colwick parkrun on 23rd June 2011
Karen and me at Colwick parkrun, May 2018
I was introduced to running adventurer Nikki Love at Colwick in August 2017. Nikki was about to start her 63 marathons in 63 days challenge and I accompanied her for part of her runs on a few days. Nikki has set herself several more challenges since then and written two books. Her latest book “The Girl That Loves to Run” is for children. Nikki has done lots of primary school visits over the past few years, encouraging children to be more active and to “dream big”. (More about Nikki on her website.)
Nikki with her partner and chief support crew, Sharif, at Colwick parkrun, July 2017
Accompanying Nikki on one of her marathon runs in May 2021
What has changed in 10 years of parkrun?
When I joined parkrun in 2012, it was already 8 years old. It started in 2004 at Bushy Park in London and didn’t start growing until 2007 when 6 more locations were added. At the start of 2012, there were about 100 events in the UK. There are now 741.
Of course, lots of things have changed in that time but the ones that struck me when looking through my photos were:
- we used to have an annual points competition – I think it was based on finishing places – and we had awards for volunteers as well
- milestone t-shirts were free and were presented at your home parkrun – there was even a free jacket when you got to 100 parkruns
- there was more cake – see below
- volunteers are now recognised with milestone volunteer shirts
- we’ve got a PB bell at Colwick (temporarily retired because of the pandemic)
- Colwick has got bigger but not too big – there were 113 runners at my first event and there’s usually twice as many as that now
Was there more cake? I’m not sure, but I certainly made more cake and biscuits in my first few years at Colwick. It was possible to make enough for almost everyone when numbers were smaller.
My friend and fellow running club member Bernard Jarvis with a biscuit plaque when he marked running his 70,000th mile at Colwick in February 2014
I ran my 50th parkrun with my daughter Jamie and just managed to squeeze it in before I turned 51. My 100th parkrun fell on a horribly wet day in February 2016. I was delighted to have my sister, her two eldest daughters, her eldest daughter’s partner and my son all run parkrun with me that day. I was very grateful to all the friends and club members who came to support me, especially Rushcliffe parkrun regulars John and Christine Oldfield as John very kindly took photos despite the conditions.
50th parkrun with Jamie, May 2014
100th parkrun with running club friends (Christine Oldfield on left, Bernard Jarvis on right), February 2016
Whilst most of my parkruns have been at Colwick, I’ve also ventured further afield occasionally. Before the pandemic, Holme Pierrepont Running Club did a parkrun challenge where we visited a different local parkrun each month. This has taken me to parkruns I probably wouldn’t have visited otherwise such as Brierley Forest, Sherwood Pines, Clumber Park and Mansfield. My friends Frances and Conrad are keen parkrun tourists. I’ve run with them a few times at their home parkrun at Braunstone, Leicester and they’ve visited Colwick and recently met me at Wollaton, a new event in Nottingham.
I’ve now run 240 parkruns and will probably reach the 250 milestone in March or April. It is nearly 7 years since I set my personal best at Colwick. Part of me still aspires to beat that time, but since the pandemic started I have found times and speed seem less important to me, although I still love racing. parkrun isn’t really about times. It’s about community, being part of something bigger than you, sharing an experience with other people, volunteering, meeting new people and making friends. Since parkrun restarted in July 2021, my most enjoyable runs and walks have been the ones with friends and time with others is what matters most.
Thank you to all the core teams and volunteers who put on parkrun every Saturday.
parkrun is a free, weekly timed event which takes place every Saturday at 9am in parks across the UK and in several other countries worldwide. Runners and walkers are welcome.
Photos are mainly my own. Other credits:
Banner photo, Helen Hood
My first parkrun, LiveLifeUK, Flickr
Karen Parkin at first Colwick parkrun, Thomas Webster
Nikki and Sharif, Helen Hood