Since the first event back in 2004, parkrun has grown into something of a national phenomenon, with hundreds of thousands of people taking part every Saturday, come rain or shine. Now parkrun wants more people with disabilities and long-term health conditions to get involved, be it through running, wheeling, walking or volunteering. Katherine Goulder is one of parkrun’s Outreach Ambassadors for MS. Here she tells us how parkrun very quickly became part of her own Saturday routine and why others with MS should get involved too.
I’d always said I couldn’t run and that I wasn’t built for it. It took a diagnosis of MS to make me want to shake off these self-imposed limitations and see what I could do. My MS diagnosis came out of the blue. My initial symptoms were mild – nothing worse than numb toes and a spell of vertigo – but the diagnosis itself left me reeling. We knew nothing about the disease and feared the absolute worst.
I’m sure we all know research suggests that for some people regular exercise such as walking or running, can help manage the progression of the damage and the symptoms caused by MS. Scared that one day not being able to even walk would be my reality, and determined to make lifestyle changes to help keep me as well as possible for as long as possible, I decided to give running a go.
parkrun would be my chosen route into running. parkrun is a brilliantly simple concept. On 2 October 2004 just 13 friends met for what would become a weekly 5k ‘time trial’ at Bushy Park in London – parkrun was born. From that one event 14 years ago, parkrun now happens weekly at over 1,600 locations in 20 countries. Every Saturday morning friends come together to organise, walk, jog or run their own local parkrun. Together, parkrunners have walked, jogged or run over 100 million miles at these free-to-enter events. More than 5 million people have taken part. But more important than the statistics are the friendships that have been formed and the communities that have been built .
I loved it – and afterwards wondered what I’d been scared of. No one was there to judge – just to cheer and encourage
My husband, a keen runner already sat on a couple of parkrun milestone t-shirts (awarded to those who complete 50, 100, 250 or 500 parkruns), convinced me to give parkrun a try. Whilst I knew parkrun was a ‘run not a race’, I was still nervous about registering and lining up for my first event. In the end, I plucked up the courage for my first run when I was two weeks out of hospital after receiving treatment for my MS.
I loved it – and afterwards wondered what I’d been scared of. No one was there to judge – just to cheer and encourage. Running with other people, children, dogs and buggies around the beautiful Haysden duck pond was so much more fun than slogging it out on my own on a treadmill. Whilst I had to walk the last little bit, I was still proud of myself for completing the course – and proud of myself for not letting fear of failure or being ‘a bit rubbish’ stop me from giving it a go.
I’d started running because of my MS – rather than allowing it to become another excuse for not running it became the reason I wanted to try. Now, two years and over 50 parkruns later, I’m still running because of parkrun. It’s a hobby I can share with my husband and friends (and even my little nephews are now getting in on the act!) and has become an enjoyable part of our Saturday routine.
When I read about the parkrun PROVE project (which aims to increase participation at parkrun by people living with disabilities or long-term health conditions) I immediately knew that this was something I wanted to be a part of, so I offered to step forward as a volunteer Outreach Ambassador for MS. I’ve experienced first-hand the benefits to physical and mental health that participation in parkrun, whether as a runner, walker or volunteer, can bring for people with MS. That’s why I want to encourage more people with MS to participate at parkrun.
Stop press: We’re going to ‘take over’ the Letchworth parkrun (9am at the Grange Recreation Ground) on Saturday 8 December! We’re joining Kat and the other MS parkrun ambassador Mark Taylor and would love as many of you to join us as possible (as participants, volunteers or supporters.) There will almost certainly be cake…
Please let us know at email@example.com if you’re interested in joining us.
“parkrun is genuinely accessible”
When MS Trust supporter Tim Sorrell signed up to his first parkrun, somewhat reluctantly, he could never have imagined the positive difference it would make to his life. He explains what makes it so special.