My first Parkrun: Grangemoor, Cardiff Bay

I recently took part in my very first Parkrun, held at Grangemoor in Cardiff.

This has been on my to-do-list for a long time, so it's something of a mini-victory for me.

(c) Parkrun

The local run has been, for quite some time, the Cardiff Parkrun in Blackweir. I've had that excuse, "I've been meaning to go, but..." for about two years. That's over a hundred Parkruns I've potentially missed out on.

For one reason or another, I was busy, lazy, elsewhere, following an incompatible training plan, shy, or not wanting to negotiate the roads in the heart of Cardiff. You can find plenty of excuses if you want to. 

The turning point came when, on an early morning shop at ASDA in Cardiff Bay, I spotted a partially-frozen human engulfed in a puffa jacket, fixing what looked like a Parkrun sign to a nearby lamp post... Then, as I was rummaging for carrier bags in the boot of my car, I saw runners start to accumulate in the car park. As I approached them, I got a whiff of that familiar Deep Heat smell and I knew something was going on. 

Me: "Excuse me, is there a race going on around here?" 

Runner 1: "Yeah, there's a new Parkrun in Grangemoor. I've not been before though, so not sure where it is."

Runners 2 & 3: "Hey, we know where it is, it's just round the corner, we'll walk round together."

Well, that was it then. No more excuses. Not only had a brand new Parkrun rocked up on my doorstep, but it was clear that everyone is ridiculously nice and supportive. I promised myself, and the group I was talking to, that I'd attend the Grangemoor Parkrun.

I don't go anywhere without my pre-run oats

A few more weeks passed before I delivered on that promise (I had a couple more excuses in the bag). But sure enough one Saturday morning I got up, had my trusty pre-run breakfast (porridge with honey), did a meaty warm-up, faffed about getting a post-run milkshake ready, squeezed in a few other signature time-wasting rituals of mine, before finally heading out the door and off to Cardiff Bay retail park. 

I found the Parkrun volunteer in the same spot, this time with an umbrella. It was not only raining, but it was cold too. That thick drizzle that permeates everything, making your bones feel damp. Still, everyone was in great spirits.

3.5 degrees and wet: arriving for my first Parkrun

In fact, it was one of the most welcoming, kind, supportive and fun experiences I have ever had. I've read enough about Parkrun to know this is very much the ethos of the event, but it really did mean a lot to me - and probably many other runners, especially when you attend on your own.

The best thing about running is the sheer diversity of people who take it up, cutting across all sectors of life. Parkrun epitomises that, and at Grangemoor there was a wide range of people taking part. Some were embarking on running for the first time, with the Couch to 5K programme. Others were veterans with thighs of steel. There were young runners. There were older runners. There was a man running with a pram.

After a brief from a volunteer, huddled under the shelter of the A4232 overpass, we ventured out and started running. I almost immediately fell in line with a woman who matched my pace for pretty much the entirety of the race. The companionship was great, and kept me going without walking breaks for the first time in months.

I was surprised to finish in 31 minutes, a best for a quite a while, as I didn't feel like I'd really pushed myself - I could hold a conversation with full sentences throughout. The distraction of engaging with others instead of living inside my head probably helped. For the first time since injury, Parkrun gave me a boost of confidence that running a sub-30 5K was well within my reach.

It's amazing what running with others can do for your performance and mental outlook. I will always love a solitary run, but Parkrun is a free, easy and fun way to be with people who love running as much as you.

Huge thanks to the amazing volunteers at Grangemoor Parkrun - this wouldn't have been possible without you.

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