I pushed myself well out of my comfort zone yesterday by trying something new. Something I had previously said I’d ‘never do’. I went to a group fitness session. I know – radical, right? It was always something I assumed just wouldn’t be the right fit for me. I find personal trainers intimidating and the the thought of having to exercise with the potential for others to watch me? Blah!
So why did I go along? Just in case. Just in case I actually liked it. Just in case it actually helped improve my running. Just in case it helped reduce my risk of injury. And I’m pleased to say, I actually did enjoy it. I’m not a convert and won’t be switching from running any time soon but the half an hour went pretty quickly and I mostly smiled – can’t ask for more than that.
It did make me remember though all of the barriers I put up before my first parkrun so that’s what I wanted to share. In doing so, I hope that someone reading it might realise their thoughts aren’t unique, their worries are shared and the worst things you imagine are very, very unlikely to happen.
- It looks complicated – what do I do with my barcode? And the map looks confusing – what if I get lost?
It’s actually very, very simple. Register once on the website, print that barcode and take it with you to your local parkrun (which you’ll also find details of on the website). If you’re nervous when you arrive, introduce yourself to the Run Director or one of the volunteers and tell them that – they’re very friendly and will happily answer any questions you have. Listen to the briefing – it will tell you all the important things you need to know about the course. Follow everyone over to the start line and go when the crowd does! Most of the courses are really easy to follow and those that are a little more complicated have signs, chalk drawings on the path or marshals to help you get around. And, unless you plan on being the first finisher, there’ll be lots of other bodies to follow. When you’re done and you’ve crossed the finish line, you’ll be given a finish token. Take it and your personal barcode up to the scanner who’ll scan both and take the finish token from you. And that’s it! Sit around on the couch feeling smug and wait for an email from parkrun with your results 🙂
- I don’t have the right gear to wear.
Wrong. You have clothes, yes? They will do. For your first parkrun, you don’t need any particular clothes or shoes or accessories. Yes, I’ve certainly seen people wearing all manner of sports gear but I’ve also seen people complete it in shorts and a t-shirt. Whatever is comfortable and you can move in.
- Everyone will look at me.
Probably. They will need to to welcome you properly, at least to begin with. And then, after it all starts and people are exerting themselves, you’ll get the odd ‘Go!’ or ‘Well done!’ but, other than that, people will be far too worried about breathing, not tripping over and moving forward that they will not have time to look at you.
- I’m shy.
While a big part of parkrun for lots of us is the social stuff, it’s not compulsory and you get out of it what you want. I remember being so nervous turning up to my first parkrun, particularly as I’m not a social butterfly but I needn’t have worried – people were so welcoming and friendly but there was also no pressure. There were some groups chatting and there were lots of parkrunners standing around stretching or chilling, waiting for the briefing and start. And all of that was perfectly ok.
- I’ll be the slowest one there.
Wrong. Every parkrun event has a tailwalker whose job it is to be ‘the slowest one there’. They are also quite skilled at offering regular encouragement and making sure you don’t get lost or left out on the track.
- I’m not really ‘a runner’. Can I walk?
Sure. Walk, run, womble or a combination of all 3. You can’t bring your scooter or bike but, other than that, you finish that 5km however you like. I suggest cartwheels are possibly not very efficient and may get you some funny looks. And, fyi, if you run any part of it, you are a runner. Really.
- What if I can’t finish the 5km?
Then don’t. Do what you can. The fact that you’ve turned up, listened to the briefing and crossed the start line makes you automatically awesome and there will be no judgement. There is no pressure to finish in a set time so try slowing down. And remember that your brain is ‘done’ a lot sooner than your body is so do a quick ‘body check’ to see if you’re feeling ok and actually can keep going.
If you’re worried about the distance, check out your local parkrun course on the website – they’re either out and back or laps so you could always set yourself a shorter target to get you started. And keep picturing how amazing you’ll feel on that day in the future when you do cross the line and have your token scanned after doing your first 5km.
- I’m worried that once I start, I might not be able to stop.
Um, yes. This one’s true. It is addictive. Luckily, that’s not a bad thing.