The power of parkrun and 5K Your Way

I admit it, I never truly got parkrun and it took a life changing event for me to really understand the ethos.

I didn’t start running until I was 45 and when I was 50, in 2007, I ran my first marathon. Swearing “never again”, I went on to say “never again” another 19 times between age 50 and 60!

As it happens parkrun was starting to really take off just as I started marathon training.

What was my issue with parkrun then?

Well I couldn’t possibly do a 5k “race” on a Saturday morning and then do a 20 mile training run on a Sunday and that was my epic failure, not recognising that parkrun wasn’t necessarily about racing, it’s so much more. Saturday mornings for me used to be a short recovery run of 4 or 5 miles and I could easily have done that at parkrun but no, if I was doing 5k I was going to race it!

My early experiences of parkrun were when I was leading a Couch to 5k group that would graduate at Bramhall parkrun and I ran alongside that year’s cohort to encourage them. I didn’t even register a time because I didn’t want a slow time on my record. Totally wrong and so different to the true ethos of parkrun.

Looking back I ran 5 parkrun’s in 2015 and just 16 in 2016. I had a best time of 22:17 and a top 10 finish. In early 2017 I ran 22:45 just before my 60th birthday.

Then disaster hit when I found out in May 2017 that my runners “groin strain” was actually terminal prostate cancer and I might only have 2 years to live. The “groin strain” being stress fractures of the pelvis where the cancer had eaten into my pelvic bone.

Did this signal the end of my running life? No, but it did signal the start of a love affair with parkrun.

I was told that I would be able to resume running but I’d be a lot slower and should avoid running long distances. The treatment would remove testosterone and this would have a massive impact on athletic performance.

After letting the pelvis heal I resumed running in July 2017.

Pre diagnosis I’d run 24 parkruns in 2 years. As I write this in August 2020 I’ve run 136, 124 in just under 3 years post diagnosis when Covid suspended parkrun worldwide. Yes, I’d got the parkrun bug.

As expected the treatment started to really impact on times. I was still managing times in the 24’s up to September 2017 and then there’s a clear pattern of times reducing to the point that I’m now happy with a time in the 27’s. I now realise that that is what parkrun is all about. It’s totally inclusive, non-judgemental and, most importantly it’s not a race, unless of course you want it to be.

For me racing lost a lot of its importance. I was just desperate to be able to continue to run.

I started to take part in Wilmslow parkrun most weeks and got to make loads of new friends and realised that parkrun is much more than just running. It’s a real community of friends and the best bits have often been having a pre or post run chat and a coffee.

The community at Wilmslow have been so incredibly supportive of me on my cancer journey to date, encouraging me and, although they wouldn’t have known it, helping me through some real dark days where my mental health was in tatters through dealing with my diagnosis. I had so many kind and positive words from fellow parkrunners and the amazing volunteers that would keep me going on days when the cancer related fatigue was making running a real struggle. This for me is the essence of parkrun, everyone encouraging everyone else from those at the pointy end to those right at the back. What better sight is there at parkrun than seeing the final runner finish to the biggest round of applause of the day?

I’ve now completed 21 different parkruns in 5 different parkrun countries, England, Wales, South Africa, Italy and Australia and had it not been for Covid 19 I’d have added Germany and Holland in 2020.

Mount Etna parkrun Sicily 2018
A very hot sweaty pair of Colliers. Etna was a tough one at altitude, very hot and run on 6 inches of volcanic ash and pine needles!

I also love volunteering and have volunteered now on 44 occasions. There’s nothing better than marshalling by the first bridge at Wilmslow parkrun and encouraging runners going in all directions. I think, for me, this is the best part of parkrun. After all, running hurts and volunteering doesn’t.

Then parkrun really went up a notch for me in its importance when, in October 2018, I heard about the amazing organisation that is 5k Your Way.

I’d continued to run since my diagnosis because it had a massive positive impact on my physical and mental health and I remain convinced that staying fit will extend my prognosis. It also enabled me to take control of my illness and do my best to combat it. Then here was an organisation, 5k Your Way, doing exactly that. Encouraging people living with and beyond cancer to continue or get back into exercise by walking, jogging, running, volunteering or simply being part of the parkrun community on the last Saturday of the month and then heading off for a coffee where we could all support each other.

5K Your Way really is a running group with a difference, a support group with a difference and a coffee morning with a difference and it fits so well with parkruns ethos of providing exercise for all in a fully inclusive event.

I took the step of contacting 5K Your Way to understand what would be needed to set up a group at Wilmslow and had an exchange of communications with the amazing Lucy Gossage, co-founder and international Ironman triathlon champion and we decided we could make this work. The next step was to approach the parkrun core team. Would they support this? I can only say that I’ve since had nothing but amazing support and encouragement from the core team and all the volunteers. They truly get and understand the value that 5K Your Way brings and have been right behind me ever since. There is however a Wilmslow parkrun Run Director who is desperate for Lucy to attend Wilmslow parkrun. No pressure Lucy!

I was also blessed to know Sara Harris another Wilmslow parkrunner who is a community paramedic for the North West ambulance service and we chatted about 5k Your Way and I was delighted that she was positive about being my co-ambassador at Wilmslow. She has been an absolute delight to have on board and has brought so much energy and enthusiasm to the role as well as cake!

I worked really hard leading up to the launch, having lots of conversations with cancer health care professionals across Greater Manchester. What was amazing was that they really understood what we were trying to achieve and have been amazingly supportive as well as regular attendees at 5K Your Way. There are far too many to mention them all but it would be remiss not to mention Matthew Evison a lung cancer specialist whose Son Jacob became an absolute star at Wilmslow 5K Your Way. We’ll never forget the videos that Matthew took of him and Jacob taking part in 5k Your Way, especially the outtakes version.

Then there is Claire O’Rourke, Associate Director at GM Cancer and herself an ultra-marathon runner. She has been an amazing supporter as has her Husband John, himself now dealing with a double cancer diagnosis. Both have been regular attendees despite living a long way away and really enjoy chatting with our 5K Your Way community over coffee.

Matthew & Jacob, Sara, Claire, yours truly and the lovely Saeed a Wilmslow parkrunner and cancer survivor

Getting to know so many people in the GM cancer community also led to me becoming involved with the most amazing cancer support pilot in GM, Prehab4Cancer, as patient representative. P4C is proving the value of Prehab for people newly diagnosed with cancer and then how rehab supports them. I’m very proud to be involved with P4C as it’s a scheme that really emphasises the importance of exercise for those living with and beyond cancer, a key plank of 5K Your Way and I see 5K Your Way as a natural extension of P4C.

We launched at the end of February 2019 and have had regular attendances of 15-20 and as high as 40. We’ve helped lots of people and I think that Matthew Evisons comments really summarise the amazing feedback that we’ve had:-

“Loved walking with my lad @cancer5kYourWay today. Jacob had leukaemia aged 4 months old & will need to learn the value of exercise in combatting long term effects of chemotherapy.”

“5KYW is fast becoming a very special event for us Evisons! A chance for me & Jacob to spend one on one time together playing silly games. A time to reflect on his illness, his recovery & the importance of #physicalactivity for him as he grows up.”

“Your hard work is helping those affected by cancer and it’s inspiring to see. The impact of this across the country is huge!

Wilmslow 5k Your Way 1st birthday cake, February 2020 just before lockdown

It’s fair to say that I’m a complete convert to parkrun and incredibly grateful for it embracing 5K Your Way.

#loveparkrun

Published by Tony Collier

Diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer in May 2017 when I went from training for an ultra marathon to terminally ill in 36 hours. It was a pretty bad runners "groin strain"

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