The first, the second, then the hundredth — hitting a Parkrun milestone

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How long would it take you to run 500 kilometres? For me, it’s taken about two years and ten months. That’s how long it’s been since I did my first Parkrun in January 2017 through to this morning when I completed my 100th, meanaing I’ve covered 500km across all the Parkruns I’ve done. (And yes, there might have been some running elsewhere during that period)

Back when I got my place in the Marathon last year, I wrote about how Parkrun helped me discover an enjoyment of running, so I’m not going to repeat all that again, but it’s here if you want to know about it:

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I went on a little hunt through Facebook last week and found this picture, which is me coming to the end of my very first Parkrun back then. Wearing the shades is making me look a lot better than I was feeling at that point, as they’re hiding how utterly knackered I was by it, as I discovered that I wasn’t capable of just casually jogging a simple five kilometres and had ended up walking a good chunk of it. I was feeling the effects of it for a good few days after it, as all those little-used muscles and joints took every opportunity to remind me of just how much effort I’d put them through.

One thought that occurred to me today was that turning up for your first Parkrun or your hundredth isn’t the really impressive thing — it’s when you come back for your second one. Doing something once is easy. Someone pesters you to come try something, so you do, you have a good or a bad time, and you mark it down as an experience you’ve had. Oh yeah, I tried that once… Likewise, doing something for the 10th, 50th, 100th or any other arbitrary milestone can be just a sign that you’ve developed a habit of doing something and kept doing it long enough to hit that number.

The second one, though, that’s the key. The first is the experience, the story you can tell that you did it and here’s how it was, now on to the next and newer thing. You can have lots of first and onlys at many things, but if you’re going to make a habit of something, then there has to be a second one.

And I’ll be honest here, when I did my first Parkrun, I didn’t think there’d be a second one. It was just going to be something I’d do to say it had been done before I went back to sleeping in on Saturday mornings. I didn’t like running and my memories of running in public were mostly horrendous ones from school so why would I do it more than once?

It’s all because of the reception I got that first time. This wasn’t an event where everyone was cheering on the fast people and tolerating the slower ones at the back. Whether you were running flat out, jogging, walking, or just stopping to catch your breath or stretch out a stitch, people were friendly and encouraging. As I lumbered around, I was being lapped and worrying about how close I was to the tail walker, but I didn’t feel out of place or that I was an interloper in someone else’s event. It was hard and it hurt but people there were happy I and everyone else there were just doing it, regardless how good or fast we might have been.

That’s what made me come back for the second time, then the third and all the others after that. That’s what got me going off to seventeen other Parkrun courses because I knew I’d be welcomed and supported and cheered on at those as well. And that’s why I’ve volunteered, both to make sure these events happen and to ensure everyone else gets cheered on their way around, because for any of them it might well be their first time and I want them to feel good enough to come back again and again.

And now it’s time to head on to my 250th and the next free milestone T-shirt. If I keep on at the same rate, expect my post about that to be coming along in February 2024…

Many, many things. PhD student at QMUL. Councillor. Ran the 2019 London Marathon for Brain Research UK. @nickjbarlow on Twitter.

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