I’m afraid that I have been too busy of late living my life to write about it. I’m going to try and catch up on all the blog post ideas, or the ones that seemed good ideas at the time, over the next couple of weeks.

One of my major achievements since the turn of the new year is to take up running and apply a bit more seriousness and dedication to building up my stamina. An old school friend, who now regularly runs Parkruns ushered me in the direction of the Zeros to Heroes Running Club, which takes complete beginners and, in 10 weeks or so, aims to boost them to take park in their first Saturday Park Run. The OH has run in the Bromley Parkrun for years, occasionally going off to the Dulwich or Crystal palace runs, and now frequents our new local Beckenham Place Parkrun

I’d tried to get back into running since giving up when I moved back from the Seine towpath of Paris to Beckenham’s hills. Sure, I did it for a few years actually but having a fall in the woods knocked my confidence and eventually I found that the hours of psyching myself up before a run and the subsequent slow, slow jog were taking up too much time and I was being rewarded by any increase in fitness. In the interim I’ve joined gyms but I’m no gym bunny and I have dogs to walk every day so that was taking too much time too, and eventually I felt that I was throwing good gym membership cash after bad.

Anyway, I appear to have put on quite a bit of weight in the last year and I re-assessed running as a cheap and efficient way of trying to stay fit and healthy. I’ve never had any stamina, though, and even in the days when I ran more than 25km per week, I always stopped for a break after 15 minutes. A non-stop 5km was the aim, a frightening target.

I turned up at the beginning of the weekly course on January 4th in Bromley’s Norman Park with about 60 others, I think. Zeros to Heroes is a great set up. I think it does receive funding from some source in local or central government but the course itself is free. What they do ask is that you make a donation to their preferred charity and that you buy a club T shirt to do your first and subsequent Park Runs. The point of all of this is to increase participation in fitness activities, particularly for people who have never exercised or are struggling to regain their fitness. Fellow course participants were generally middle aged, although there were a few obviously in their thirties with small children, and several men and women in their seventies. One fabled member took up running in his 80s and is still going with the club.

I’m not going to bore you with all the weekly staging posts but Week One starts with ten sets of 1 minute run and 1 minute walk, and the weeks progress through to  5 minutes run, 3 minutes walk, 5 minutes run, 3 minutes walk, 5 minutes run at Week Five to a full 5km Park run at Week Ten. 

Trained and qualified leaders accompany and cheer you along, and are there for the warm ups and cool down stretches afterwards. Tea and bacon sandwiches are put on for those of us who didn’t have to dash home to walk the dogs and then get ready for a music appreciation course early in the afternoon.

Fundamental to the course is that members also do two corresponding homework runs in the week between the sessions. Leaders from our Zero to Heroes group runs these sessions but I often couldn’t attend because of other commitments. I am proud to say, however, that I completed every session and every homework run, once actually coming home overnight from India, dropping my luggage and going straight out to join the group after changing into my running gear. Sadly I was singing in the Bromley Festival on the date of my group’s graduation run, and struck down by a cold the week after that so I’ve not picked up my Zeros to Heroes graduate medal yet. Perhaps that’s the one that got away. 

The thing about the group is that it’s completely non-competitive and everyone encourages everyone else, in theory, anyway. Once you’ve graduated with your first Parkrun, there are Improvers’ and Advanced groups for you to join to continue the healthy habit. I’d like to join one of these but I’ve not been able to fit it in yet. I’m told I’ll soon be addicted to running but the truth is that I don’t really enjoy running that much and I’m still at the stage where I have to haul my sorry bulk around the 5km, but I can now do it without stopping and I’ve done 2 Parkruns to date, improving my (slow) personal best each time. I’d like to get to a stage when it doesn’t feel like such hard work and I’m determined to keep trying to run three times a week, which is the habit that the course has formed.

The Bromley Parkrun has almost 700 participants every week now, from a wide range of ages and abilities, and most of it is run on tarmac. Beckenham Place, however, is a younger, faster crowd run mostly on grass. Sadly in my second park run last week I could only manage to come in 164th place out of 174. My time is a little below average for all the female park runners of my age group and my aim is to get it up to a 50% average time, which will mean cutting about four minutes off my time, somehow. I’ll persevere for now. At any rate, Parkruns get me up and out of bed with a decent amount of exercise under my belt by 10am each Saturday morning and that can only be a good thing.