Thursday, 22 September 2016

On my 50th Parkrun

My third Parkrun, 16 May 2015.
My time was 28:36.1
This Saturday, I will run my 50th Parkrun, and the occasion makes me think about the role this movement has played in changing my life. If you don't know what it is, you should take a few minutes to read about it now.

If you know me or my story, you know about my struggle over the last year and a half with conquering my life-long obesity and building up my health, fitness, and confidence.

I don’t want to dwell on the food restriction part of what I did, because it was unhealthy and foolish — even dangerous — and nobody should feel “inspired” to copy it.

But this milestone Parkrun makes me reflect on how things used to be on the energy output side of the equation: miserable 3AM starts at the gym, so that I could get up on a treadmill for a daily dose of physical activity. I chose that time of day because I knew that absolutely nothing was going to interfere with my routine at that hour. I didn’t enjoy the gym, and I relied entirely on willpower and routine to sustain my activity there. Even when my wife and I would go away for a weekend, I would get up at the same time to take advantage of the hotel gym so I would not break my routine. I felt like if I allowed any exceptions, I wouldn’t be able to force myself back into the pattern.

But around April, a friend suggested replacing the gym ordeal with exercise that I might actually enjoy, and pointed me to Parkrun as an example.
I’ll admit that I was sceptical. The thought that I might like physical activity was still completely foreign to me, and nothing about the months of 3AM sessions at the gym had convinced me otherwise! But I like to pride myself on being open to trying new things, and so one Saturday in May, off I went.

I wasn’t an instant convert. But what I did immediately like was an overall sense of achievement and acceptance. It didn’t matter if I couldn’t run the whole 5km, and it didn’t matter that there were people faster than me or slower than me. So the next Saturday I came back, and I realised I liked being able to compare my effort and my results to the previous week. Soon, I was a regular.

But what turned Parkrun from a recurring calendar reminder into a passion was the sense of community. One week, a pacerunner helped me to a new PB, and chatted nearly the whole time we were out there — even when I couldn’t respond (“Can’t… talk… breathing…”) Not only that, but the next week, she greeted me again, and introduced me to some other regulars. Before I knew it, I had Parkrun friends.

It wasn’t long before Parkrun became a gateway into other recreational running, and soon I was entering events: City 2 South, Bridge to Brisbane, and then in early 2016, my first half-marathon!

And the gym membership? Cancelled. Exercise as an unwelcome chore had been replaced by exercise I loved: running, cycling, and Zumba (those are other stories…) Now, I don’t have to force myself into physical activity — I eagerly look forward to it in my daily life.

At my lightest, I dropped 63kg below my starting weight. I’m up a few kilos since then because although I’m still losing fat (more slowly now), I’m gaining muscle. And my health and fitness are the best they’ve been in my entire life.2

My theme for my 50th
Parkrun: Shiny and
Obviously Parkrun is just one ingredient in my journey over the last 20 months, but it’s been a vital one, because of the way it changed my outlook in a really fundamental and significant way. Therefore, 50 Parkruns is a particularly important milestone for me, because to me, it means that this is a transformation that has taken root and stuck. This is a lasting change.

I owe thanks to so many people: special thank-yous to Angela for a great suggestion, and to Kelly for befriending me and bringing me into the group. A big thank you to the whole New Farm Parkrun community for being a wonderfully accepting and welcoming group of people. Thank you to all my friends who offered so much encouragement along the way and “liked” or favourited” all those status updates and tweets — that really meant something to me. And thank you to my wife Laura and my ma Barbara for your unflagging, enthusiastic support for these big changes and transformations.

1 My current PB (personal best) for New Farm Parkrun is 23:35, run on 27 August 2016. My best 5km time anywhere is 23:02, which I ran at the International Women's Day Fun Run this year at Southbank. 

2 A few recent stats:
  • Resting heart rate: 46 beats per minute
  • VO2max estimated at 47mL/kg/min based on 85% submax test
  • Resting metabolic rate: 2059 Cal/day
  • Body fat: 14.6%

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