Speaking as a runner who has never taken to the Park run start line but, I know my first attempt wouldn’t be breaking records. Not even my own, let alone one from the wider world.
Perhaps you’re thinking the same? Andy Butchart, whose first attempt at the 5k route ended as a Park run World record holder.
The GB athlete smashed the 2012 record of 13 minutes 48 seconds by three whole seconds- hitting 13 minutes and 45 seconds at the Silverknowes Parkrun in North-West Edinburgh.
Despite it being considered a flat course, you are exposed to the brutal Scottish elements best suited for an enjoyable scenic event rather than a PB, but Butchart had other ideas.
I bet I know what you’re thinking:
‘This guy is a top-end athlete, and he’s primed for this.’
Well, yes and no. He may be a professional runner competing at the 2015 and 2020 Olympics, but he’s the Scottish record holder of the 3,000 and 5,000-meter events (set in 2016). And he added the 10,000-meter Scottish record to the mix in 2022.
Yet, Park runs were not even something he was considering. Plus, he got a little help from his friends. So, are there some lessons to take away from this if you’re considering your first Park run or new training routine – I think so.
1 – Why not?
Butchart: “I’ve never been to a Park run, and so I didn’t know what to expect. So it was a fun morning, that’s for sure!”
Like the age-old saying,
‘It’s got to happen to someone, why not you?’
Someone has to have their name etched in history. Why can’t that be your name? Likewise, what have you got to lose by trying? I think this is a doozy of a lesson we all need to re-learn again and again.
When was the last time you tried something for the first time? Be it a park run, a new training technique, a different distance, or even a new running club.
What’s also nice is amidst trying something new, let’s say you sign up for your first marathon, and you realize
- You’re good at it, and
- You actually enjoy it! Never mind setting out to break records; that will either come or it won’t (let’s not get hung up on that, eh?).
2 – Have a good support system
Butchart: “On the day like few of the boys came down, and did a few km with me to help me to get out and try and hit the record, hit the time. So it was fun.”
There’s nothing like running friends – it’s a bond that hits differently.
When I first joined a running club, I was fortunate enough to meet so many different people from all walks of life.
There was a doctor, a Military cadet, and a full-time mom, to name a few. They helped me understand tapering and patience that you can finish a run at a bar if you’re into that, but more importantly, they showed me trail running – something that has stayed in my life ever since – and I’m so grateful for that.
And I’m sure Butchart will be indebted to his buddies who showed up that Saturday morning to help him hit the time target.
How do you build a support system? Well, let’s say you want to give running a go, but you feel inept, unsupported, and perhaps completely new to the sport.
Well, joining a running club or attending some park runs will definitely help with that.
What I’ve found is while running races, I have made friends and had great conversations, found motivations, and even gained a few Instagram followers – it’s an incredibly friendly environment where even if someone passes you, nine-time-out-of-ten they do so with a ‘keep going’ motivational push and a smile, its something unique to this sport (I believe) and it’s beautiful.
Support doesn’t have to mean you run with someone, but it might help build a habit. It takes 27 days to form a habit, so what about meeting someone one-on-one?
If nothing else, it might help with motivation when it’s those dark winter mornings and no one in their right mind wants to get out of bed at 6 a.m. for a run!
Planning to meet someone makes you get up, and chatting really does make the time go quicker. You might feel safer running with a friend or seek advice from an experienced athlete, heck, even hire a run coach for the month or ask a friend. All these are solid bases of support available to you.
Then again, perhaps you enjoy running alone -that’s okay too – instead, your support might look like a parent or partner looking after the kids while you head out for an hour.
It’s letting someone know where you are in case of injury or changing your work routine with your boss to fit in that lunchtime run and snack before sitting back at the desk.
Every little helps! Just know you don’t have to go it alone.
3 – Progress and success is subjective
Butchart: “With your watch, you have a rough idea of pace, but there were no markers or anything, so no concept of whether or not I was up or down on time – just me, vs. the Park run clock, if that makes sense! So that was a bit different, too.”
A race isn’t only measured on timings – hitting your PB or setting the world record is nice, but let’s ease the pressure, huh!
Success instead can be reaching a new distance (your first ever fell race or half marathon), or it can be raising a certain amount of sponsorship money for your favorite charity.
To commit yourself to pushing your limit and leaving nothing in the tank when you cross that finish line or simply to experience a scenic route next to your friend.
My motivations are somewhat unorthodox, and I approach the ultra-marathon distances with ‘How much further can I go? Where is my limit?’
And yes, it is always nice to hit your PB; it’s a fact no one can take away, but running is SO intrinsically motivating. Do you care about someone’s time or if they enjoyed the route?
Running is about as personal as it gets, so don’t compare yourself. Find what you consider a success and run with it (pun intended).