parkrun interview

Tring parkrun

Cathy’s first ever Tring parkrun was at their second ever event in November 2014. Up until “parkrun pause” Cathy had run 216 parkruns in total, including 118 at Tring. Cathy’s PB is 29.03 which she set in April 2018.

Martin began his Tring parkrun career on New Year’s Day 2016. He has since run 136 parkruns, with exactly 100 at Tring. Martin’s New Year’s Day debut saw him clock a time of 39.16. He has since reduced that by nearly 10 minutes, setting a new PB of 29.25 on the last run before lockdown.

Why did you start parkrun-ing?

Cathy: I did my first parkrun in July 2013 after completing the Couch to 5k course (to get me up to running 5K to take part in the Race for Life’ to support a friend with Cancer). Having achieved a 5k run, I was addicted and keen to return every week to do it again!

Martin: I was in my late fifties and felt that I needed to get some proper exercise if I was to avoid putting on excess weight.  It also helps me maintain a proper sense of perspective, as a counterbalance to the (internally and externally generated) stresses of working life.  These were the reasons why I first started running but, since starting out, I have discovered many more benefits.

Running, particularly in open countryside and on a bright day, is uplifting; but even on an overcast day, so long as its dry and not near-zero temperatures, (nor boiling hot), I find running in the outdoors is enjoyable and it makes me feel in touch with nature.

Running is an accessible sport. All that you need are a pair of  running shorts and top, a decent pair of trainers, and the ability to put one foot in front of another. You are a “fully qualified” member of the running community, from the very first time you set out, no matter how far or fast you run.

“parkrun is not just about the running”

Martin: Well, to be honest parkrun is a lot about the running. It has helped me (re-)discover that I can run more than a couple of hundred meters without getting “puffed out”. I have also discovered the “wellbeing benefits” of being active in the natural surroundings of parks, rural and urban.

But parkrun is also about community, because parkrun is where you get to meet other like-minded people sharing the same sense of enjoyment and self-achievement; and where encouragement is given and received in recognition of the personal milestones which we set for ourselves along the way.

Crucially, parkrun is more than just a club for hobbyists. It is an inclusive community that draws people together from different backgrounds and abilities. Some people who attend, seldom run but prefer to volunteer with event management, just because they enjoy the community atmosphere and the opportunity to meet people.

Whether we are always conscious of this or not, we were all meant to be part of a cohesive community. In times of uncertainty in particular, we begin to feel the strain which then prompts us to instinctively reach out to others. But even at the best of times we need to feel that we are part of a community, whether we consciously acknowledge it or not. I believe that this is part of our DNA, (although don’t ask me what genome sequence defines this!)

What does Tring parkrun mean to you?

Cathy: Tring Park is such a beautiful place to run whichever course we do (although the original course is still the best by far!) there’s always hill, views, mud and cattle: what’s not to like! But more than that, it’s the sense of fun and community that really make Tring. And not just on a Saturday morning: there are always photos to look forward to afterwards, a run report (full of weird and wonderful stats), and other fun stuff on facebook, e.g. ever-creative ways to ask for volunteers and advertise lost property.

Martin: It’s just a great thing to do on a Saturday morning. It sets me up for the rest of the weekend. Being in the company of fellow runners/walkers/joggers all in the mood for getting out in the open air for a bit of exercise and the occasional dressing up…Well what’s not to like. Admittedly I have to keep reminding myself of this when the alarm goes off on those wintery Saturday parkrunday mornings. It’s lucky that I have Cathy to nag encourage me to get out from under the duvet and get my running gear on! Tring Park is such a great setting, which changes (sometimes dramatically) through the seasons. Parts of it (that HILL!!!) can be demanding at the best of times, and other sections can be “interesting” depending on the prevailing weather (and cattle), but whatever the park throws at me, I enjoy the challenge.

Taking any of our courses at Tring, what is your favourite bit and why?

Cathy: Heartbreak Hill on the original course. Such a sense of achievement when you got to the top, and then being able to see the finish line in the distance, as you run down the glorious Lime Tree Avenue.

Martin: I really liked the last downhill bit to the finish funnel on the course which we followed on our last parkrun before “the pause”. It helped me to a PB of 29:25 ( Before that my favourite part of the course was the final straight down the Lime Tree Avenue on the old summer course).

What’s your favourite volunteer role?

Cathy: Timekeeper. You get to congratulate every single runner individually!

Martin: Photographer, with a little bit of marshal-type encouragement thrown in for free!

Favourite/funniest parkrun memory?

Cathy: Have just loved the St Andrew’s Day ones. Last year’s (2019) was amazing with record numbers of runners in kilts and other Scottish attire, live music from the fiddle and accordion, ‘wee drams’, thistle tattoos, and more Tunnocks tea cakes than you could shake a Sgian dubh at. Oh and a Scottish giraffe too!

Martin: Has to be the last Tartan-St Andrew’s fancy dress. Ken and Chris really pulled out all the stops last year, with the live music and the “hospitality tent”. If that’s what all parkruns in Scotland are like, then I’m definitely thinking of emigrating there when I retire.

Have you ever done one of our fancy dress parkruns, and if so what did you come as?

Cathy: I ran in my scrubs for the NHS run last summer. And wore tartan for the last 3 St Andrew’s Day runs.

Martin: I’ve worn an improvised kilt on St Andrew’s day celebrations, and hospital scrubs when we celebrated the NHS’s 70th Birthday, and I seem to remember one with a bridal dress, oh and also an Hawaiian shirt, but not on the same occasion, obviously.

Do you think you’ll ever get another PB at Tring?

Cathy: I suspect I’ve probably peaked! My PB of 29:03 on 07/04/18 was when I was in training for the London Marathon. So unless the Tring course changes to a totally flat course, and/or I get lucky in the London ballot again (both extremely unlikely), I doubt I’m going to beat that! But never say never!

Martin: Never say “never”! (Ed: Given Martin’s last PB was just before our enforced suspension, I think he is being a little modest!)

Obviously Tring parkrun is your favourite parkrun, but what is your second favourite and why?

Cathy: Hmm, lots to choose from. I’ll go with Wimpole Estate. Did this 3 times while our son was at uni as I could combine it with collecting him. I think the course has changed since, but when I did it was a single lap course with a hill, pasture land with sheep, woodland, a river to run alongside, a couple of bridges to run across and a ha-ha! (possibly the only parkrun with a ha-ha.)

Martin: Whinlatter Forest parkrun. The course starts high up in the hills, near Keswick, with the finish line being higher up than the start. It includes a very steep climb (even steeper than the way up to the Obelisk at Tring), but when you get to the top of the course you are rewarded with some cracking views of the nearby lake. The “icing on the cake” (I couldn’t write about parkrun without a least one reference to cake) is the final 200m downhill to give that extra endorphin rush from the cheeky sprint to the finish funnel.

What parkrun would you like to do in the future and why?

Cathy: Ooh, so many! Any of the ones out in open parkland/countryside, with great views and a bit of elevation! Aviemore in the Scottish Highlands perhaps, or Mount Etna. Or one of the ones on the beach, Hafan Pwllheli perhaps or Woolacombe Dunes. Or the one that crosses the Severn Bridge looks fun too. So many parkruns, so little time!

Martin: I’d like to do another overseas parkrun, possibly in Germany, France or Italy.

What’s your pre parkrun breakfast?

Cathy: Just a cup of tea. I made the mistake of having a pre-run breakfast on one of my early parkruns and came very close to achieving a FLV (finish line vomit). Lesson learnt!

Martin: Pre-parkrun: Nothing but a glass of water. Post-parkrun: Bacon Butties!

Of the two of you, who is the most competitive?

Cathy: Ooh, a competition to see which of us is the most competitive! Well, that would be telling! Because we all know of course that parkrun is not competitive, you’re really only competing against the clock, and against yourself. Well that’s the official line anyway. All I will say is that one of us keeps a spreadsheet logging who has the faster time each week. And when we’ve done big events we’ve deliberately started in different waves, to take the pressure off, or if we do a circular route, one of us will go clockwise and one anticlockwise for the same reason!

Martin: We both are equally competitive (with each other). I love it when I cross the line before Cathy. It feels like it doesn’t happen often enough, (although “spreadsheet Cathy” may disagree), so I savour the moment.

Although none of us admit it, we all target someone we want to beat. Who’s your target?

Cathy: Claire H- of course! (Who am I trying to kid?) More realistically, my husband! Looking back at the last year, he’s beaten me 11 times at Tring and I’ve beaten him 9 times. (Before anyone calls a domestic abuse helpline, this in only ‘beaten’ in the ‘reached the finish line first’ sense of the word.) Whoops, I’ve just given away which one of us keeps the spreadsheet.

Martin: There isn’t anyone in particular but, if I am nearing the finish and can see someone a few paces ahead of me then that’s an even greater incentive to break into a sprint to see if I can catch up and pass them. Whether I do actually manage to pass them or not, it doesn’t really matter – it’s just the challenge to see who gets across the line first which is the fun part of it.

Other than parkrun, do you take part in any other organised running events?

Cathy: I did the London Marathon in 2018, and have done a number of Half Marathons – Sheffield & Oxford both twice and Blenheim 3 times.

Martin: I like to take part in two or three organised running events a year. They have included the “OX5” (5 miles) at Blenheim, the London Vitality 10k, Bedford “Twilight” 10k, Waddesdon Manor “night” run (10k). I’m really grateful to parkrun for giving me the confidence to take on this type of event and even find them (“type-2”) fun. (Never thought I’d actually say that – not when I think back to school days and the dreaded cross-county runs ☹)

Given current restrictions what are you doing to keep active?

Cathy: As a nurse, I’m still going to work! As you can imagine, work is somewhat stressful, and running gives me some much needed head-space. We’re really lucky in that where we live, we have access to fields and footpaths and can do a nice off-road 10k run from our home with no worries about social distancing. And we’re enjoying the virtual parkruns too, it’s been the only time we’ve ever been first and second finishers!

Martin: Tring Virtual parkruns, and also another slightly longer run round some local fields, or the (Haddenham) village roads, once a week, (observing the 2m distance rule at all times)

During the times of social distancing that has necessitated usual parkrun activity to be put “on hold”, I have felt comforted and encouraged by the resilience of the parkrun community in finding new ways to keep in touch with its members. We are all in this challenge (to our societal life) together, and we will come through this and be stronger/better than we were before.

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