Running column: Where would running be without the wonder of parkrun, asks Mark Armstrong?

Action from Thetford parkrun on New Year's Day. Photo: Geoffrey Herschell

Action from Thetford parkrun on New Year's Day. Photo: Geoffrey Herschell - Credit: Geoffrey Herschell

Parkrun... the event that has made running so popular with the masses?

New Year's Day parkrun is a tradition in the Armstrong house and this year was no different.

Of course, this involves treading a fine line between having a good time on New Year's Eve and the last embers of indulgence that entails with bearing in mind how you're going to feel after that first kilometre the next day.

I haven't always got the balance right but then again neither have my wife, Alison, and sister, Karen – my parkrun brethren.

This year I was once again out of the county so we made our way to Castle Park parkrun in Bishop's Stortford for a 9am start. There had been a slight panic the night before that it maybe 8.30am…that extra half hour means a lot as, needless to say, none of us had got our kit ready the night before.

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There is always an air of 'why on earth are we doing this?' as we trudge our way to the start line but none of us have ever regretted it afterwards, particularly when you're sipping your endorphin-fuelled latte afterwards.

Despite all the above I, in particular, probably take it all a bit too seriously. I like to use parkrun as a gauge of where I am with my fitness and it turns out that I'm in slightly better shape than I thought despite the recent festivities.

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I managed to clock just over 21 minutes, which is the quickest I've ever gone for a NYD parkrun, and I feel in I'm in decent shape as I go into what will be a very heavy training block ahead of the Greater Manchester Marathon at the start of April.

But I have to admit it's not really in the spirit of a free event that has such a community feel to it and I will certainly try my best to volunteer on at least a couple of occasions this year. I'm certainly due.

I do wonder where the running industry would be without parkrun. We are in the thrall of a running boom and parkrun is the main driver and I just hope that it maintains its spirit of inclusiveness. Thankfully in my opinion it still hasn't become over commercialised with the events only as good as their volunteers, which is normally pretty awesome.

I would encourage anyone to give it a go regardless of your level of ability.

I love that the runners at the front are busting a gut for a time whilst others are more than happy just to make it round. We all have to co-exist in this sport and everyone's goals should be respected, even if I do find it a little frustrating when a runner with his dog gets in my way… I'm only jealous really as I could never entertain the idea of running with my chocolate Labrador Max.

The one thing I don't really understand is why parkrun is insistent that the event is referred to as a 'timed run' rather than a 'race'.

It's doing something right though as it has helped changed the lives of so many people, preferring to shun a lie-in in favour of getting in a five kilometre run.

Long may it continue, even on New Year's Day!

Norfolk Cross Country Championships

I'm really looking forward attending the Norfolk Cross Country Championships on Sunday at the Charles Burrell Centre in Thetford.

Speaking to Norfolk Cross Country co-manager Dom Blake for last month's Run Anglia really whetted my appetite for the event and I'm looking forward to seeing hundreds of runners caped in mud, giving it their all.

I'm only glad that I'm reporting on it this year, perhaps next year I might even take part!

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