Lessons learned from 100 parkruns

Each is just 5km, they are free, all abilities are welcome, and no one is judging anyone

Parkrun is a collection of free, timed 5km running events that take place every Saturday morning at more than 1,400 locations in 22 countries – including all around Ireland. Although it's called a run, there is an option to jog or walk.

After completing 100 of them, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned.

Lesson 1: Speed is not important

When I started going to parkrun, I was convinced I was going to come in last, because I was new to running and I was “slow”. But speed, pace and experience are not a requirement. While the results are recorded, you don’t have to look at them and you can choose to be competitive with yourself, or not at all. And if you do come last, well someone has to. Now you have a baseline to improve upon, if you wish. It is inclusive, so all abilities are welcome, and no one is judging anyone. If you are worried about your timing, go to a big parkrun with 700 runners and get lost in the crowd. Conversely, if you want to place in the top 10 or 20 for your age group, gender, etc, then head to a smaller one where there is less competition.


Lesson 2: There is such a thing as a free lunch

Every week I post pictures of parkrun to social media, and invariably I get a message – how much is it? It is completely free! Just register at parkrun.ie, print your barcode, bring it to every run and you are good to go. The milestone T-shirts are also free, you just pay for the postage (about €7). So yes, there is such a thing as a free lunch. You are asked to volunteer to help out for every 10 runs or so you do, which is known in yoga circles as an energy or karmic exchange. It can also be called doing your fair share.

Lesson 3: Wear fewer clothes than you think you need

For me, unless its high summer, the hardest part of the whole run is taking my jacket off and hanging it on a railing before heading to the starting line. I want to cling to that jacket for dear life. Mornings are usually cold! But I’ve learned through experience that running outdoors requires wearing fewer clothes than you think you will need. No matter what your speed you will warm up quickly, and by the halfway mark you’ll be tying your jacket around your waist, rolling your sleeves up, pocketing your hat. Trust me on this, it gets annoying. I now understand that I need to be cold at the starting line to be comfortable during the run. I don’t always practise what I preach with this but I’m learning to part with my jacket.

Lesson 4: Even a lone runner can be part of a community

I’ve had running partners come and go over the years but I’m usually on my own on the Saturday morning runs. I’m not one for chatter while I’m running anyway but it can be nice to have someone to talk to before the run starts. If you need to have someone with you before you do the things you want to do, you might be left disappointed. Just go on your own. I see the same faces there every week. Parkrun prides itself on its sense of community. I’m alone but I’m not alone in the company of 300 to 700 runners.

Lesson 5: Being outside is good for the soul

I didn’t take full advantage of my local parks until I started running. I didn’t appreciate them at all, to be fair. Now every time I’m in one I feel so grateful to live so close to such natural beauty. Even after 100 parkruns I photograph every squirrel, rabbit and peacock like it’s the first time I ever saw one.

Lesson 6: Runners high is real

The many reasons why millions of us run regularly are well documented and pretty obvious: cardiovascular workout, building strength, etc. But in my opinion, it’s the psychological benefits that drive us runners to get out of bed early on a Saturday morning and to the starting line repeatedly. The runner’s high is real and while everyone will have different experiences and thresholds, the release of endorphins is universal. They say you are one run away from a good mood and if you want proof, just hang around the finishing line and observe.

Lesson 7: People who use it as a warm-up are not insane

Honestly, I used to think that people who ran an extra kilometre after a parkrun were elite athletes or just plain crazy. Now I often run home afterwards if I’m training for a race. It’s just a handy way to get 10km under my belt before 10.30am on a Saturday. Or I might do a circuit of the outdoor gym or go to a yoga class after the run.

But the runners who do more than 10km after parkrun? They’re just nuts.