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“You should go to parkrun,” says the woman next to me, jogging along happily as her bright pink balloons sweep to the side and bonk me on the head.
I brush aside the balloons and her brief apology, instead trying to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. I glace up quickly, and give a bit of a grunt to give the impression that I’ve heard her, that I’m not being rude, that I would answer if I could find the breath. I’m running the Bridge to Brisbane for the first time and am finding it somewhat more difficult than I had imagined. Prior to starting the run, I’d sought out the 7-minutes-per-kilometre pace-runner who was adorned with balloons and promised myself I’d stick with her, ensuring a finish time of around 35 minutes for 5kms. It may have been a mistake.
“It’s great. When I started, I was probably as unfit as you are now,” she continues, “But you get used to it, and everyone’s just so lovely that you don’t feel bad about it.”
My companion pauses here, and is evidently expecting a reply. In between wheezing gasps, I manage to spit one out;
This, apparently, is what the good woman has been waiting for, as she immediately launches into an extremely informative stream of chatter about this ‘parkrun’ thing. The benefit of this is threefold; her monologue requires very little from me as a listener, it takes my mind off my grueling jog and, two weeks later, it causes me to attend my first ever parkrun in Soutbank.
Fast-forward to Saturday the 27th of September; I’ve managed to rope in two other friends and together, we emerge slightly bleary-eyed from the Southbank ferry. We’ve been trying to psych ourselves up for this since the alarm went off at 6am, but so far, to no avail.
As we approach the park, we are suddenly confronted with a sea of people in brightly-coloured exercise gear. Looking around, we come face-to-face with joggers of all kinds; the fully kitted-out guy with a seriously determined look on his face, the mum who runs while pushing her double-decker pram, kids who are about as tall as my legs are long (not very!) and, our very own category, the shy newbies. Everyone is smiling, everyone says ‘hi’, and soon, everyone is enthusiastically chatting away as we do the group warm-up.
We line up, and then-BANG! We’re off and racing.
The course is beautiful, as we run along the river the whole way. Although this particular morning was mildly overcast, little rays of sunshine peeked out every now and then. On a truly sunny day, I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful start to the weekend.
Unfortunately, I hadn’t gotten much fitter since running the Bridge to Brisbane, so predictably, I am wheezing and puffing about 2 minutes in. But something amazing happens when you run with a group, especially when the group is as lovely and supportive as the Southbank parkrun crew – you don’t stop.
You want to, because your lungs are on fire and your legs hurt, but then you look around you and see everyone else pushing themselves as hard as they can go. It makes you push yourself harder too. By the end of the run, I was surprised to find that I’d run the entire way. Not terribly fast, mind you, but I hadn’t stopped once.
Then the endorphins hit, and the feeling is so good that you find yourself back in the Southbank parklands a week later, doing the group warm-up and chatting happily to the person next to you.
AUTHOR: Mel Keyte
IMAGES: Mel Keyte