Life Lessons from parkrun

Dammit Karen: parkrun and Life Lessons. Discomfort is just part of life.

(They’re not just running and crying; they’re ALSO building character.) (Photo credit: author)

The things we do for love

When we moved to London, I wondered what I was going to do with myself, having left my full-time career behind to follow my husband.

“Maybe you’ll become an avid runner,” he suggested.

And we laughed and laughed and laughed.

Chris is the runner, has been one since his twenties. When we met, he was training for his second Boston marathon (his fifth-ever marathon) and hoping for a(nother) sub-three finish. So yes, he’s a serious runner with a six-day-a-week habit. When we were dating, I “happened” to take up jogging a few times a week, in hope of “accidentally” crossing him on the path at lunchtime, and getting a kiss as my reward. (Speaking of the things we do for love.)

For me, the best part of a run is the shower afterwards. I found, though, since I worked out and taught classes and I married that runner, I didn’t see any real reason to continue running. I found excuses to shower at other times.*

However, since moving here two years ago, I’ve fallen in with a group of runners. Women Running the World have changed my life and possibly/probably saved my life as well. I’ve written about them before; we run three times a week for set distances, routes and paces, and work up to an annual girls’ weekend half marathon somewhere in Europe.

Although I still won’t run without the motivation and companionship of a friend, my dog, or Chris — I do not run alone — I now define myself as a runner. One might say that I’m a reformed non-runner.

So, when I heard about parkrun (and junior parkrun), I was so excited to share this experience with my children.

parkrun* puts on weekly 5km timed runs around the world, for free. These events take place in “pleasant parkland surroundings” and they are open to everyone: people of every ability take part, from those starting to run to actual Olympians; juniors (aged 4-14) run 2km.

I immediately registered my children. They are like me in a lot of ways, in that many things come easy. But they tend to complain, whine, and quit when things get hard. They are soft.

This is normal, and not just for kids, of course. But because their lives have been so…easy…I felt that they needed to face a challenge. To be uncomfortable.

Character building for free

I was the only one who was excited! We had downloaded their barcodes, set our alarms on Saturday night for 7:30 am, and rode our bikes the mile to the park. It was going to be awesome.

parkrun was a disaster for two out of the three. Crying, gasping, clutching at their throats, it was 2 km of sheer hell, tantamount to child abuse. I suggested once or twice that if they put half the effort into breathing that they put into screaming “I CAN’T!”, they’d do better. They were not amused. We all recovered with brownies from Starbucks.

This was not the lesson I wanted them to learn.

A few weeks later, we tried it again. This time, it was raining, and Chris stayed home in his bathrobe, sick. Vaughn tripped right at the start line and was screamily refusing to keep going. I could see Tamsin jogging in fits and starts ahead of us, struggling and crying, because I had told her I’d run with her; but I couldn’t leave Vaughn, who needed me more (and hated me more) with every step. At Starbucks afterwards, Tamsin was limp from crying. Vaughn was just angry. Ailsa was strutting around bragging about being the first girl to finish, and the third kid in her age group. She wasn’t reading the room. It was a full-on parenting fail.

I told the story to some of the WRW runners the next day, of course hoping for support and commiseration. They all said, “Maybe running isn’t their thing. You could find something else that they like.”  The consensus was that, even though Chris and I are runners, it’s ok that our children are not.

And I fully, totally, 100% agree.

My point of forcing them to participate in the 2-kilometre, no-more-than-15-minute exercise wasn’t — and isn’t — to turn them into runners. They’re kids. Of course they’ll find sports and activities that they enjoy more. They don’t have to play football or baseball like Chris, or softball and swimming (with a hint of late-onset cheerleading) like me. But they have to understand the difference between discomfort and pain. They need to realize that discomfort means that there’s a challenge to overcome and that it’s worthwhile to put your head down and work through it. These are important lessons that (hopefully) all of us will understand if we live long enough.

Discomfort is just part of life.

So, yep, if you go to parkrun on Sunday, I’m that mom with between one and three sobbing kids, shouting over-cheerful words of encouragement to keep going, to not stop, because if we keep doing these every few weeks or so, I know I won’t have to.



* Showers taken after not running are, admittedly, not as fantastic as post-running ones, but I got past that by feeling joy in not running. 

** As an editor, I despise proper nouns that are intentionally not capitalized. Why can’t parkrun just admit that Parkrun is so much better at the start of a sentence? e.e. cummings, don’t make me come after you next. 

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