The day has finally arrived and you have run out of all the excuses. It’s time to do your first Park Run.
It’s only five kilometres, but will you survive the crowds, bucolic terrain and mad, yapping dogs? Of course you will! Here’s what you need to know:
- How do you know you’re ready for a Park Run? Easy. Your friends will tell you. If you’ve just started out with casual solo runs and have vainly posted about this on Facebook, it’s guaranteed that more than a few of your mates will send you links to register (it’s free, by the way) and invites until eventually you submit. Don’t fight it. Just go with the flow.
- Early starts: if you’re a dawn runner like me, Park Run is a cinch, because it starts at 8am. That’s practically midday, even in winter. So bonus – you get a lie-in AND a work out.
- Parking: Not sure if it’s called Park Run because you park your car and run, or because you run in a park-like environment. But here’s the thing – do your research and find a Park Run event that is not so crowded. If you make the mistake of going to a ridiculously popular ‘seen to be seen’ event like Root 44 Park Run, you’ll practically have to park there the night before so that you don’t have to run seven kilometres from where you’ve parked your car just to get to the start line of your five kilometre race…
- Cow farts: Running causes deep breathing. Personally, when I run I practice a method of counting to four with each breath drawn deep into my belly, and release it slowly for another count of four. But this method could kill you on a Park Run if your venue is a farm. Cow farts are a real thing, and if that’s what they smell like it’s no wonder they’re fucking up our atmosphere and greenhouse-gassing the planet to death. No, just keep your breathing shallow and methane-free. What’s a little light-headed dizziness on a beautiful morning run? You can always just faint next to the track for a few minutes. Plenty of marshalls there to wake you up after a brief rest.
- Tricksy terrain: Listen, I am a beach runner and I confess that I have terrible Beach Privilege. You know – soft, unobstructed terrain that you simply forget as you let your mind wander on your run. But this is very important – listen carefully: pay attention to the ground in front of you on a Park Run! No matter if the course seems flat and easy – there are hidden pitfalls everywhere! Loose rocks, stones, and tractor tyre tracks all waiting to twist your ankle if you don’t spot them in time. Cow pats and dog turds add an extra layer of adventure. So pay attention and you won’t end up a damaged, stinking liability.
- Mad dogs: Some runners bring their dogs running with them and despite all assurances, none of these are trained or controllable. So as you run you will be barked at, chased, tripped up by wayward leashes and if you get too close, licked ferociously like you’re the latest flavour from The Creamery. Steer clear of the dogs. They may seem cute, but mark my words – they all want to kill you. They make wonderful motivators to keep running, though.
- …and Englishmen: It’s a very social event and everyone chatters up a storm at the start of the race…and while they’re running. Now, if you’re anything like me your lungs will not be multitaskers. They simply cannot allow you to run and conversate at the same time. They will get on with the business of stopping you from dying and you will sound like sick freight train as you huff-n-puff around the track. This will not stop complete strangers from trying to jolly you along with some quaintsy pleasantries like you’re in a Jane Austen novel, all country and polite. Just pant and smile and keep running. Nobody’s expecting you to answer anyway.
- Calf cramps and mad cows: Many Park Runs are on farms, and you will run among the livestock (refer to point four above, for breathing tips). Now, cows may seem docile and like they’re just standing around waiting to be milked or turned into a delicious steak, but don’t let your guard down. These are massive moo-beasties, and there are plenty of YouTube videos of rampaging rogues trampling unsuspecting farmers to a cow pat-ridden death. Do not run past yelling “Moo!” at them, unless you speak fluent cow and can talk yourself out of a bad situation in case you inadvertently set one of them off. If you fail spectacularly and you find yourself the centre of enraged bovine attention, run like hell, and screw the pain in your calves. An angry udder to the back of the head hurts more than any calf cramp ever will.
- Toilet humours: Go before you go. There are no cubicles along the route and inquisitive farmyard animals can rather hamper your performance if you duck behind hay bales to speak to a man about a dog.
- Pace and PBs: Use a fitness device to track your overall time taken to run the five kilometre route and to measure your pace per kilometre. This is a fun, competitive way to keep you engaged and inspire you to run faster each time, to beat your PB – your personal best. But shh…here’s a little secret hack I will share with you: the first time you run, that is your personal best. Think about it – as you haven’t run this race before, there is no benchmark to measure it against. This is the fastest you have ever run it, because it is the only time you have ever run it. So if you never run it again, you can never go slower than that pace you ran today. See? Clever. You’re welcome.
But on a serious note – Park Runs are the most fun you can have with a couple of hundred strangers with your clothes on.
Get out there and get moving!