The life of a runner, mother, radiopharmacist and vicar's wife – that's me!
Tomorrow, I intend to go to the parkrun again. I might even run faster than I ran last week. This will be my 30th parkrun and I’ve learnt a few things along the way. Here are my top 10 tips for a successful parkrun.
1. Remember your barcode
You all know that feeling, you’ve just run your heart out over 5km, perhaps this week you even got a PB, you definitely beat that guy who always overtakes you in the last 50m, you know when the results come out you’re going to have a smile on your face. You put your hand in your pocket to get your barcode for the scanning volunteer and, disaster, it’s not there!!! You put it on the kitchen table last night in preparation for the parkrun and that is where it still is. No barcode – no time recorded.
It is so annoying to forget your barcode. My recommendation is to put it with your kit, in your coat pocket or with the bag that you are going to take with you the evening before the parkrun. That way you are most likely to actually have it with you on Saturday morning.
My rather dog-eared barcode lives in my Oyster card wallet. My Oyster card is now rather redundant as I live in Merseyside – rather a long way from the London transport network but at least the Oyster card keeps it nice and flat.
I recently found out that you can get a business card parkrun barcode and key fob made. You can even get wristbands with your barcode on them. They aren’t extortionately expensive either with a starting price of less than £4. Click here for more details.
2. Wear kit that has a pocket to put your barcode in
I have seen people adopt various solutions about what to do with the barcode while you are actually running. Most recently, I’ve seen people with their barcode pinned to their running top. I’m not sure I’m too keen on this solution because the barcode is going to flop around rather while you run and I’m sure that the pin will end up making a big hole in your running top.
I’ve carried mine round in my hand – this is a bit annoying for 3 miles and I used to worry that I would catch it on my leg and it would fly off into a bush or something. This doesn’t help you concentrate on running.
I’ve left it in my pocket with my other kit and then dashed to my bag to get it at the end of the run. This is fine if the parkrun isn’t too busy or if you are near the front but in every other way it is unsatisfactory. You end up losing your place in the queue to get the barcode scanned and annoying everybody else by pushing back into the queue to get it scanned.
My top tip is to wear running kit that has a pocket in it. I have a few pairs of shorts with a little zip pocket at the back so I try to save these for parkrun days.
My mother would probably sew a little pocket onto her running top to put the barcode in. I’m sure that when she went abroad once she sewed a pocket onto he inside of her skirt to stuff her money and passport in – anyway, you get the idea.
Now, I think parkrun are missing a trick. If they can make a business card barcode or a wristband then surely they can make a running top with your barcode on it. Just saying. I will be applying for the patent on that idea shortly.
3. Turn up in enough time
I know this sounds obvious but, especially if you are new to a parkrun course, it might take you longer to park than expected or you might have difficulty working out where the start is. The last thing you want to do before running 5km is to have to sprint a quarter of a mile to the start line.
So leave enough time to find where the start it, to park your car (or in my case lock up your bike) and get ready to run.
4. Go to the loo before you leave home
Although some parkruns are lucky enough to have toilets co-located with the start line, most are not. I can tell you, it is quite unpleasant running 5km with a full bladder so don’t presume that you will be able to go to the loo just before the start. Go before you leave home. Also not all parks have that many trees that you can squat behind. It might be OK for the guys but you are unlikely to find a satisfactory solution to your full bladder problem if you are a gal.
5. Take a plastic bag with you
We live in England (well I do), more specifically, I live on the Wirral. For some reason, it seems to rain an awful lot here. I’m sure it didn’t rain this much in London. You need to keep your outer clothes dry while your are running or you’re going to end up putting on wet kit at the end of the parkrun.
When I was a kid, I used to run cross-country races for the county schools. We had this really lovely lady who looked after us. She always bought a big black bin liner to put our kit in while we raced. So, at the start we’d all take off our tracksuits and bung them into this bin liner and then she’d meet us at the finish and we’d pick out our dry tracksuits to put on. It was almost like magic although I did occasionally end up wearing somebody else’s clothes.
The same applies to parkrun (not the wearing other people’s clothes bit). You don’t want to be putting on wet kit at the end of the run. Keep your kit dry by putting it in a nice plastic bag (or bin liner) and you’ll be sure never to have to put on wet kit again. Also, if a dog decides to pee on your stuff while you’re running then it’s just the bag that gets wet!
Also, if it is actually raining when you leave the house, take some spare clothes and put them in your plastic bag so that you have something dry to put on at the end.
6. Be aware of other park users
Strange as it may seem, other people do have a right to use the park at 9am on a Saturday morning. I know that in an ideal world they should be banned but that’s what comes of living in a Western democracy I’m afraid.
Try to be considerate of other park users, even if they are annoying. People are allowed to walk their dogs, push their prams, let their kids ride their bikes and generally walk on the parkrun route. Be nice to them. By your generosity, you might even encourage them to start running too.
7. Stand in the right place at the start
If you are a fast runner – stand at the front on the start line. If you aren’t all that quick then start further down the pack. If you’re going to walk round then start at the back. It’s quite simple.
I should also add in this tip – don’t set off too fast. I do see people haring off at the start only to slow right down after about a mile. Try to pace yourself and don’t set off too fast. Standing in the right place in the pack should help you run at the right speed.
To give you a rough idea of where to stand, the really quick guys will run about 17 min and the slowest person may take 45 min. You can probably judge where to stand based on what time you expect to run. A time of around 26 min is going to put you somewhere near the middle of the pack.
8. Thank the volunteers
I have stood marshalling in the freezing cold in Finsbury Park. I thought I might die of hypothermia despite my excessive number of layers. My fingers very nearly fell off because it was so cold. Being a volunteer isn’t always glamorous – well maybe it isn’t ever glamorous. Those volunteers give up their Saturday mornings so that you can run so the least you can do is say Thank You.
Did you know that you are really meant to volunteer about 1 in 5 times that you run? That way, it isn’t always that same people having to volunteer and that way parkrun can keep going. So that leads me to my next tip.
Find out how to get on the mailing list for volunteering and make sure that you volunteer every now and then. It may not be glamorous but in fact you are actually quite unlikely to die of hypothermia (you might get wet though if you live on the Wirral). It is a good way to get to know people too as the volunteers are actually quite a friendly bunch. They might even go for a cup of tea together at the end of the parkrun.
9. Be considerate of other runners
The worst parkrun I ever ran in was when I was fairly fit and running sub 20 min. I was running at about the same pace as this guy but I wanted to overtake him. He didn’t want me to overtake him! He just kept blocking my path. I would pull out to go past him and he would move across in front of me. I’d try the other side, he’d step back the other way. I felt like tripping him up! It was really annoying. I don’t know if it was because I was a woman or just that he was particularly obnoxious. Most parkrunners aren’t like that. But it made me think that we really need to be considerate of one another.
Try to run in a straight line and not weave along because you are quite likely to trip the person behind you up if you do that. This is especially important during the first km or so when people are generally more bunched up and running fairly fast. Just a quick look behind you takes no time at all if you want to pull out to overtake someone. None of us want to fall flat on our faces have tripped over somebody else’s heels.
Now, this next bit might be a bit controversial but I think that the people running at a more sedate pace at the back of the pack should try, wherever reasonable, to get out of the way of the faster runners coming through. The course that I do is 3 laps and even by the 2nd lap I am overtaking people. By the 3rd lap I am right in the pack and it can often be difficult and frustrating to find my way through the mass of bodies jogging along.
Please watch out for us faster ones coming through, we’re really trying to run as fast as possible and it is a little difficult to do that if you have to pass people running three abreast across the footpath.
10. Take your kids
There are a few Junior parkruns around the country but even if you don’t have one of those near to you, you can still take your kids to the normal parkrun. If they are under 11 then make sure that you run with them. Don’t go racing off leaving them trailing in your wake.
If you have a parkrun that is several loops of the park and they can’t do the full 5km then they can do just one or two loops, at least that’s a start. Then you can encourage them to cheer on all the other runners while they wait for everybody else to finish the 5km.
If you have somebody else to leave them with then you can still run the other loops of the run at your own (hopefully faster) pace. I did that once with my son, he practically walked the whole way round one loop, we were dead last. I left him with a friend and ran the other two laps as fast as I could. I still managed 27 min, not too bad off such a terrible start!
I note that my friend recently ran parkrun with her boys and was beaten by her eldest son so it isn’t always the case that they are going to run slower than you. I guess that might encourage you to do some training too, I dread the day when I’m beaten by one of my children. They aren’t quite as quick as me yet but I was beaten by a 12 year old girl at the last parkrun so maybe it won’t be too long before my kids can run faster than me.
Oh, I do have an 11th tip – DO SOME TRAINING!!!!! You might even get a PB.