Aenghus at trainingBea Wood for Varsity

As a humanities student with no weekend lectures, it may seem odd to want to spend a Saturday morning doing anything other than lying-in and relaxing. As I walk up to Eddington at half past eight with sleep still in my eyes and socks I’m fairly certain are on the wrong feet, I can’t help but find myself agreeing.

I find myself amongst the hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, who make the weekly pilgrimage to their local park, forest, or, as in my case, playing fields, to run 5k at 9am every Saturday morning. It’s not madness, it’s parkrun. And, after about seven years in the game, today is my 250th.

The simple promise of a regular, timed event has seen parkrun grow from Bushy Park in London, to over 2,300 locations today. There are four in Cambridge alone: Fulbourn Hospital, Coldham’s Common, Milton Country Park, and my destination today: Storey’s Field. A lovely, flat set of paths around cricket and football pitches, up by Girton, that regularly ranks within the 20 fastest courses in the country. What more could you want bright and early in the morning?

As I arrive at the start, and see crowds of runners milling around, I immediately forget my previous grumbling. Parkrun is amazing, because it truly is for everyone. There are all sorts of people, from young kids to pensioners, warming up to run. No one cares about your speed, your fitness, or how state-of-the-art your kit is. All that matters is you’re getting out and doing it. I’m reminded of one of parkrun’s unofficial slogans: the only person you’re competing against is yourself.

After a pre-run briefing I’ve heard so many times I could probably recite it back to you, it’s over to the timekeepers: and we’re off. The cacophony of trainers on concrete, supplemented by cheers of encouragement from onlookers, is weirdly comforting. It’s the soundtrack to the broader parkrun community, one built on friendliness and inclusivity. I’ve been to 28 different parkruns, and the common thread that stretches through all of them is how welcoming all of the volunteers are.

This isn’t to say the experience is one of boundless joy, though. There can’t be many things more demoralising than the double-buggy, being pushed like it weighs nothing, that overtakes me around the halfway mark. I make a mental note to try and keep pace with them, but quickly give up and watch them disappear into the distance. Alas, you can’t win them all.


Mountain View

Cambridge success at cross country championships

I power through, and before I realise it we’re already into the final lap. This is where the endorphins really start to hit, and I really start to enjoy it. Parkrun is great for both your physical and mental wellbeing. Running regularly, especially in the morning, gives you the opportunity to clear your head and put any worries in perspective. If you’re able to run 5,000 metres at the crack of dawn, you’re definitely able to take on the rest of the day.

Entering the last half-mile of the course, all eyes are on the finish. My carefully-curated running playlist spits out The Borders by Sam Fender, and I match my cadence to the infectious drum beat. This is, unsurprisingly, my favourite part of parkrun. Whether you’ve just started or you’ve been at it for years, the final minutes feel like the culmination of all the effort you’ve put in: it’s absolutely electric.

Finishing my 250th parkrun, there’s the inevitable celebration. I feel overjoyed, and proud, and accomplished. The walk back to College feels much easier than the earlier trek out. Whilst sitting down to brunch around midday it dawns on me: there’s no point in stopping now. 500 is a mere five years away. Same time again next week, then.