The movement which is Parkrun has inspired many a new and experienced runner alike. Sarah Ellen Massey tells us how after taking time out to raise a family she took the first step to join a beginners trail running course and how Parkrun has become her weekly trail obsession

I suddenly found myself wondering if I could get out and run again.

Finally, after a very long time, encouraged by an enthusiastic local trail running coach, I signed up for a beginners’ trail running course with that coach. I live near a parkrun.

Some things were just bound to happen.

Parkrunners are a friendly and encouraging lot. 

It was really only a matter of time before, part-way through my first trail running course, a parkrunning neighbour spotted me, panting my way along a track in the woods, and suggested I try the free weekly timed 5k run around Denbies Vineyard that is my local parkrun.  I really wasn’t sure, but I do love a challenge.  Before I knew it, I was hooked.

Denbies parkrun is pretty hilly, so to begin with I was just pleased to run the whole course, but before long I challenged myself to pass anyone walking on the hills (how do people walk so fast?!), and now that’s in the bag, I’ve picked a speedy friend to chase and I’m practicing on all the hills I can find!

There are all sorts of parkruns, but the combination of trail running coaching and a weekly timed run over a hilly off-road course has got to be hard to beat for improving both trail running and parkrunning! 

I’ve been able to try out new techniques and really see how they’ve changed my performance, using a running watch to record the detail week on week.  I love seeing how new tips and techniques boost my speed, watching the faster people and trying to figure out how they beat me, and volunteering every few weeks for a chance to see the top performers and cheer everyone on. Oh, and my performance graphs – I love my performance graphs!

Another great bonus has been catching up with friends old and new, and sharing tips and tricks.

I’ve come across people I haven’t seen in years - some from old jobs and hobbies, but recently even someone from my far-flung school days!  Of course, there are lots of local friends too, and we’re always trying to encourage more to join us.

Over my year at parkrun my technique has changed beyond all recognition, and I’ve taken 6 minutes 15 seconds off my pb.

Through my parkrunning friends I hear about other challenges, so I’m hoping this is only the start.  Beyond milestone T-shirts, and parkrun A-Zs, there are opportunities to hear about other running events and sign up for them as a group.  As for all that time spent watching how other people run – a few weeks ago, a guy, thirty years my junior, who I flew by on a long downhill section asked me “how?”.

Whatever your level, parkrun can offer you a great bunch of contemporaries to challenge and encourage you.

People you never expected to see could turn out to be parkrunners, and you’ll soon know who runs a similar time to you and who runs just that little bit faster.  Before you know it, you could be challenging and encouraging too – that bit’s starting to be my favourite part.

There are parkruns all over the world, so there should be one to suit you wherever you are.

Each one has a course description, so you can start on the flat, or crank up the challenge.  Every parkrun has links to others nearby, so it’s easy to ring the changes if you want to work on different techniques, or just fancy going somewhere new.

Register online before you come and print off the barcode you’ll be given – you’ll need it after your run so the volunteers can scan it with your finish token to feed into the results.

Results are sent out each week by email and text, or you can look them up online.  The results are sortable, so it’s easy to see where you’ve come compared to others in your category, and you get an age-related performance percentage too.

And why not volunteer – there are loads of roles, training is given, and it’s great fun!

Find out more at www.parkrun.org.uk.