A few months ago I got the desire to take up jogging again, it had been a very long time since I had put on a pair of running shoes with any kind of intent but I still remembered how good it felt to be outdoors and to experience the buzz of achieving something.
My biggest drawback was fear – suffering from C-PTSD means you live in a constant state of being afraid – afraid of judgement, afraid of failure and afraid of what might happen and so you live in your own self-imposed prison because not trying is the “safe” option.
After doing a LOT of work using CBT techniques I decided to try to take up jogging again; I was acutely aware that I weigh a great deal more now than I did when I previously went running on a regular basis and that those days were long past so I decided I would need to start from scratch. I downloaded the C25K app on my phone, bought a pair of real running shoes and went out. I would like to say, in true sportsperson like spirit, that I just “went for it” but of course the fear of ridicule from other people meant that initially I would only go out under cover of darkness, in dark clothes so no one would notice me.
It wasn’t easy at first but the training plan was a good one and although each time I went out I felt like I was running on jelly-legs with lungs that were ready to explode and I would arrive home dripping with sweat I felt a sense of achievement – I was learning to run and although I was as slow as a snail I was improving a little bit each time.
I then heard about a wonderful organisation called Parkrun – it was described as a weekly 5km timed run, open to everyone for free, safe and easy to take part in and there was one taking place not too far away from me every Saturday morning. For weeks I read as much information as I could on the website, studied the previous results and read the reviews. Each time I kept coming back to those same words – “open to everyone” and each time that voice of low self-esteem kept telling me that “open to everyone” did not include the likes of me, that I was kidding myself to think I could attend such an event. More weeks went by and I read more posts from first time participants effusing about how welcoming the volunteers and fellow runners are at Parkrun events. Eventually I set myself a goal – “get to a Parkrun event”, that’s right, the goal was not “complete a Parkrun” oh no, the bigger challenge for me was to get myself to the start line despite the voice of low self esteem telling me that I was not fit to stand there.
And so one Saturday, I got a local bus to the venue, I very nearly got lost on the way due to high levels of anxiety but I was redirected by a very friendly regular runner who took me all the way to the start and briefed me on the event. More than anything I was astounded by the fact that they had looked at me and thought “aha, here is someone looking for the Parkrun” and not “for goodness sakes what is this person doing here” I felt like an imposter that was on the brink of being uncovered.
Once I got to the start I stood about at the back of the pack which then expanded as it got closer to the start time and I found myself in what was now the middle of the pack and on the brink of panic. The starting hooter went off and we moved off en masse, I was immediately overtaken by just about everyone there but I found my pace and carried on regardless. As I passed each KM marker there was a volunteer smiling and encouraging everyone to keep going and then as I crossed the finish line I was handed a token by a volunteer who smiled at me and said, “well done, good effort.” I can’t adequately describe what that meant to me but it changed things – the voice of doom was silenced by that one person saying, “well done. ”
I returned again the next week and the same thing happened – all the way round people were cheering me on, encouraging me to keep going and congratulated me on finishing. This happens week after week, in all weathers there are these amazing people who will stand there and cheer for complete strangers.
I wish I could tell all the volunteers as I pass them by how much their support has changed things for me – how I have gone from weeks of anxious thoughts about joining Parkrun to feeling that I deserve to stand on the start line each week. I am still a slow runner but I no longer feel inadequate or like an imposter, I now feel like a member of a running community – one that has welcomed me with open arms and words of encouragement.
If any of the volunteers do read this then please know that when you see me, an overweight, out of shape and out of puff person waving at you as I pass by that I am waving because I haven’t the breath to say “thank you so much for giving up your Saturday morning to enable this event to take place and for all your encouragement – it has made a huge difference to my ongoing battles and I appreciate everything you do.”
To anyone else considering joining the Parkrun community – do it! You will not regret it, I have gone from someone who was petrified by the idea of going to someone who now, when getting off the bus each Saturday, will shout out “Anyone going to parkrun today? Want to walk to the start with me?” that transformation has come about thanks to the support I receive at Parkrun UK.