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Running column: Parkrun gave me the running bug...and I haven't looked back since

Norfolk has a thriving parkrun scene. Picture: Nick Butcher

Norfolk has a thriving parkrun scene. Picture: Nick Butcher

Archant © 2017

My first parkrun experience came nearly two years ago.

Mark Armstrong with sister, Karen, left, and wife, Alison after a parkrun. Picture: Mark ArmstrongMark Armstrong with sister, Karen, left, and wife, Alison after a parkrun. Picture: Mark Armstrong

It was New Year’s Day, 2016 – my wife, Alison, and sister, Karen, had decided the night before they were going to do the Hatfield Forest parkrun.

Having had more than a few alcoholic beverages the night before, I was sceptical about joining them – plus I was worried about the state of my knees that I’ve had such problems with growing up.

But I didn’t want to miss out so we all braved the cold and ambled round the forest in a slightly hungover state.

I loved it – I got round in slightly over 24 minutes and I’ve been hooked ever since.

I enjoyed it so much that it convinced me to finally get to the root of my knee problems.

A couple of physio appointments later along with a programme of strengthening exercises, that I still do most nights, and I haven’t looked back.

It was my parkrun experience that convinced me that I needed running in my life.

My wife running the London Marathon is responsible for me starting to run silly distances…

That’s the thing about running – it only takes one person in a friendship or family group for everyone to hop on the bandwagon and once you start it’s difficult to stop.

But my experience demonstrates that parkrun is a wonderful introduction to running.

MORE: How important is cross-training for runners?

It provides anyone with a decent goal to work towards with the ‘Couch to 5k’ programme that has proved so popular.

But it is also great for the seasoned runner looking for a challenge without wanting to commit to signing up to a race.

Personally I find the 5k distance the most difficult to pace if you’re wanting to do it as quickly as possible.

I got round in 21:28 in my last parkrun and it was horrible. There’s absolutely no time to settle into the run if you’re going for a personal best – you have to hit a quick pace straightaway. Your body almost goes into shock mode, begging for you to stop until it slightly adjusts to what you’re asking it to do.

I’m not really selling it now am I?

But the important thing about parkrun is that you can take it as seriously or as leisurely as you like.

There’s absolutely no judgment – it’s a supportive environment for runners of all abilities. Want to run with your little one in a buggy? No problem. Want to get a decent weekend walk for your dog out the way? Go for it.

All you have to do is turn up with a barcode, which you can get by registering at parkrun.org.uk – that’s it. Oh and it’s FREE!

When you finish your run your barcode is scanned and later that day your result is emailed to you – it’s as simple as that. It’s up to you how much you keep refreshing your emails to get your result before you can finally get on with your weekend…

We’re lucky in this region to have a thriving parkrun scene – the Norwich parkrun at Eaton Park has an average of over 360 runners each week whilst the one at Catton regularly has in excess of 200 parkrunners.

MORE: Why Mark was so glad he did the Trowse 10k

But even if you’re not in the city, there are events at Mulbarton, Brundall, Blickling, Sheringham, Holkham, King’s Lynn, Lowestoft, Fritton Lake, Thetford and Gorleston every week.

Personally I can’t wait for my daughter to turn four in January as it means I can take her to the junior parkruns at Norwich or Gorleston. Juniors aged between four and 14 run in their own 2k event each Sunday – she will absolutely love it and it might tire her out a bit for the rest of the weekend…

I should mention one other thing though. The parkrun itself might be free but there’s an unwritten law in my family that once you’ve taken part in a parkrun it’s essential to get coffee and cake afterwards.

Yes, it probably means we’re undoing all the good work we’ve just done but if there’s one thing that I like almost as much as running, it’s cake.

MORE: The story of Mark’s second marathon

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