Not a parkrunner? Here’s why you should be

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For anyone in the UK unfamiliar with the parkrun concept (strictly no capital p…..), it is one you need to get to know. Founded in 2004 in Bushy Park London – the concept has quickly spread and now with now over 1million “parkrunners” in the UK, this is a phenomenon the country has really embraced with open arms.

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What’s the Lowdown?

The basic concept: a free, timed, weekly 5k run taking part in a variety of locations at 9.30am in little ole’ NI (due to our looooong dark winter mornings) and 9am elsewhere in the UK.

You can sign up online, you get a unique barcode (shown below) that you print out & take with you to the event.  At the end, a volunteer time-keeper gives you a second barcode, with corresponds to your time. You queue up for a few minutes then another kind-hearted volunteer matches the two barcodes up and a few hours later you can check out your result online. Perhaps the best part is that all of this is FREE – you really have nothing to lose!

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Furthermore, parkrun has a load of neat little extras to excite combined statistics & running lovers like me. You get your own unique parkrun homepage to track your progress as the weeks go on, find out how you’re doing against others and if you enter your mobile number, parkrun will even text you details on your time and performance that day!

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What is there on offer for ME?

If you’re a seasoned runner, parkrun is the perfect opportunity to get a kick through the legs on a Saturday morning. For those training for a marathon, an easy 5k is the perfect length for a Saturday before attempting a long run on a Sunday. For the rest of us sane, non-marathon-training individuals, it’s long enough to seem like an exerted effort but short enough not to kill us before the weekend has barely begun!

But parkrun also has so much to offer new runners. It’s perhaps the most welcoming event out there and I think everyone who takes part can agree that it is fantastic to be able to see other people discovery the benefits running can bring for the first time and you get your own group of cheerleaders in the form of the volunteers who devote their time to making the event happen every week. Even by doing a walk-run-walk combination, you are still doing your body so much good and running rings around everyone else still in their bed at that time on a Saturday. The hardest part will be convincing yourself to take part in that first run, after that it’s simple if you just imagine that well-earned coffee and cake that can be enjoyed after the finish.

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Parents pushing prams and people running with their dogs are also very welcome. From what I have seen at Leamington parkrun, having a dog can be a potentially huge advantage you own a Greyhound that can just pull you around, but probably not if your pooch is a Yorkshire Terrier that is likely to need a toilet break half way through!

“But I heard parkrun was an event for my middle-aged Aunt to shift some baby weight and tire out her 8 year old simultaneously?”

Whilst parkrun can definitely help do both those things, running a timed 5K event like this has enormous benefits for anyone interested in sport and keeping their body healthy.

In running in general, I notice a huge lack of participation in the 20-30 age range, especially considering we then should be considered to be at our prime.

Of course I get why: work gets in the way, there is a party to go to on Friday night & quite frankly sometimes a gym slog seems like an easier option: but from experience, if you want to make running an enjoyable activity, this is the perfect place to do it. The competitive streak in everyone comes out and you can push yourself in a way you just couldn’t on a treadmill.

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“OK…. I’ll give it a go, where can I take part?”   

It’s super easy to find your nearest event through this link, you can even become a parkrun tourist by seeing how many different parkruns you can take part in. I’m currently at 5, and can personally recommend Leamington, Coventry (with over 500 runners weekly!), Liverpool Princes, South Manchester and most recently my local town – Limavady.

I think that parkrun is really just getting started – there are even people writing research papers on the secret behind it’s success (why didn’t I think of that one for my dissertation?!). The simplicity of the idea and the great community spirit put together mean this is a concept that will hopefully continue to grow & grow!
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NB – I hope at some time to go through and find some more fun statistics to include on parkrun – the results database contains so much for anyone who is interested in stats to play with!

By a means of introduction…

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Here goes with my first post – a bit of a introduction as sorts and insight into my fitness journey.

Let me first say I have never posted my “transformation” story before as I have never wanted people to think I needed transforming in any way or that my life was lacking before I lost weight. What I have learnt since then is that there is no shame in being overweight; it doesn’t make you any less of a person. However, it wasn’t until I lost weight that I was able to gain the self-confidence to realise that and for that reason I feel like it has certainly enhanced my life and allowed me to discover things I am passionate about.

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Once upon a time I was an inactive, overweight teenager. It wasn’t extreme – I wasn’t morbidly obese, had lots of friends and managed to hide my crippling lack of self confidence fairly well so that I led a normal teenage life. I had a lot of hobbies and was involved in a lot of extra-curricular activities but few of them involved sport because I thought I “wasn’t good at it.”  However, the desperation to be thin had been present for as long as I can remember – I remember vividly being upset and embarrassed about my fat body as young as age 8 or 9 but quite simply believed that it would never happen as I just loved food too much.

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When I was 17 I discovered what now to me is so seemingly obvious, that instead of worrying about fad diets or starving myself, losing weight was quite simple: I just had to work off more calories than I consumed. I tracked & learnt about the nutritional content of all the food I was stuffing into my body and started doing cardio regularly, building up from not being able to run at all to taking part in a half-marathon. Over a year I lost 4 stone. I don’t regret taking this approach one bit, it was a maintainable starting point for me to lose body fat.

However, in the quest to be thin – I had forgotten the need to be healthy. Nutrition wise, I tracked every calorie that went into my body and in the aim to keep that amount around 1200 calories daily I basically eliminated fat from my diet as foods with any form of fat were much more calorie-dense. Days that including running would usually “allow” me around 400 more calories per day which I used to really go crazzzzay and treat myself with low-fat yogurts and numerous bowls of Special K.

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Physical signs of this poor nutrition began to show. I lost clumps of hair every time I brushed it, had a terrible immune system, couldn’t sit down for extended periods of time due to hip pain and was permanently cold. The scariest part is that I was never classified as underweight: my BMI was always within a normal range, I weighed far more than the reported weights of various celebrities in magazines (I barely dipped below 9 stone) and ate far more than they apparently did as well.

That is one of the main reasons why I have started this blog – to emphasise the fact that everyone is different.

Luckily, by this stage I had developed the self-confidence and desire to improve in my training that I could see this was not the way forward: I wanted to run faster and feel good while doing it. I re-introduced fat into my diet and began to incorporate strength and resistance training. Soon I noticed a change in my body as I began to become less “flabby” and cut my running times considerably.

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Now I feel fit, healthy and happy. I honestly believe there is no one correct way to exercise, no one way to “build the ultimate body.” You must find what works for you, is maintainable for you and what makes you happy – because that is the lifestyle that will stick.

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So, what is this blog about?

This blog is not designed to be a #fitspo blog posting about tracking macros, constant gains or telling girls to ditch all cardio.  I feel like there is a new online phenomenon telling girls that unless they are constantly squatting and downing protein shakes they will not build the “dream” body. This is lies and not what I want to preach. Who even designed this dream body?

If this is what you discover you love, by all means go for it. I have learnt and reaped the benefits of including weights in my training routine and I think it is fantastic that the previously entrenched view that lifting weights would make girls “bulky” is being overthrown. I love feeling stronger and think the health benefits mean that it is a crucial part of training for anyone who wants to improve their overall health and fitness.

But not everyone who runs/cycles/does any sort of cardio does so because they are ill-informed about what training is best and in some sort of belief that it will give them a body like a Victoria’s Secret model. I do it because I love the endorphins and finding out what my body is capable of. I have learnt the dangers of over-training and instead of pounding out hour after hour of running on the treadmill I mix up my routine to incorporate a variety of interval and strength training.

In conclusion, my fitness journey has very much been trial and error. What I did is not perfect and I am sure I made mistakes. I still make “fitness mistakes” all the time. I read books on different methods of training and nutrition constantly and what I see from those is that no-one really knows and there is no one correct way. There is so much conflicting stuff out there that it is no wonder people remain overweight.

On this blog I hope to provide some hints on what things I think you should believe and what I think you shouldn’t, and also reviews of new foods and exercise classes I may try. I am moving to London in August and this is just TOO EXCITING for a foodie/fitness freak like me so I think I am probably going to post a lot about various cafes and classes I try there.

As a final note, I think if you can take one thing from this blog – I want it to be that you should exercise based on how it makes you FEEL, not how it makes you LOOK. As soon as you get your motivation for exercising correct, everything from training plans to nutrition and general well-being falls into place a whole lot more easily.

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Alex 🙂