Regular exercise outdoors is one of the most important things for our health and wellbeing. Bringing fresh oxygen to the body whilst being in pleasant surroundings is one of the best ways to stay healthy, happy and keep fit. The benefits of outdoors exercise to physical, mental and emotional health are widely accepted.
We need to get people outside exercising again. If we want to reduce the burden on our health service, we don’t need to throw more money at treating disease. We need to look en-masse at preventative health care. We will transform our world by teaching people natural ways to stay healthy. Though not a runner myself (I prefer a nice walk, yoga, dance and love making for my exercise) I was overjoyed to find out that Parkrun was coming to my town Clare. Parkrun organise free, weekly, 5km timed runs in parks or places of nature. They are open to everyone and are safe and easy to take part in. The project is volunteer-led and after the first event in Bushy Park, Teddington where 13 intrepid park runners got together in 2004, the event has now spread around the world. As I looked after our new baby, I sent my husband out early on Saturday morning with camera and note pad in hand to see how it all went. He came back with a massive grin, talking about community spirit and so many positive stories from both runners and volunteers. The event was held in Clare Country Park and organised by Sarah Beven, an inspirational local resident and keen runner. Sarah has put a lot of work into planning the event with the Country Park and a staggering 200 people had gathered to run. As happens at the Parkrun events the runners were very diverse, with old and young, ultra fit and overweight – everyone was encouraged and supported from the start. Giles spoke to Nigel Chapman, a founder member of Haverhill Runners. He said how important Parkrun is in making communal running accessible for everyone, saying that many private races can cost £25 a time. ‘Parkrun is fantastic. It is community-led and it brings everyone together, elite athletes and absolute beginners.’ The route is marshalled by a team of volunteers who cheer on the runners and in turn receive a ‘thank you, marshal’ from the runners. The effect of this mutual support, respect and encouragement is palpable. One volunteer said, ‘everyone is here to help each other. I am not a runner, and I’ll never be, but this gives me a reason to get outside in the fresh air on a Saturday morning – it’s a great start to my weekend.’ The winner of the race (though all 200 participants were winners) was Wayne Cook, who said, ‘I enjoys the friendly and communal nature of the event. ‘There are no egos,’ he said. A running colleague and former armed serviceman added, ‘Parkrun is the greatest British invention.’ Geoffrey Bray, Chairman of the Trustees of the Country Park said, ‘I think it is great. It is lovely to see so many people here, its been a wonderful atmosphere.’ One of the most inspirational stories came from Giles Macrow. 2 years ago, at 25 stone he was in a bad way. After making changes to his diet and taking up running with Parkrun, he has lost 12 stone and is now an incredibly fit 50 year old. He said, ‘Parkrun got me out, got me running. People were so encouraging and supportive. If I wouldn’t have made changes in my life, I’d be dead.’ Giles heard from couples who had met at Parkrun, people who had found friends and one lady Sirkka Love who proclaimed, ‘Parkrun is the best thing that has ever happened to this country.’ The last word goes to local organiser, Sarah Beven. ‘I love Parkrun, it is beautiful; it is for the whole community and lifts everyone’s spirits. Everyone comes together and wants to help each other, improve their health and wellbeing – you can’t ask for more.’ There are a number of Parkrun events throughout East Anglia. To find your nearest event or to start one where you live go to www.parkrun.org.uk I have worked with a number of athletes over the years to help create tailor made nutritional plans for them. For more info see my website www.juliettebryant.com