View from the ground, by Dr Abbie Brooks
At school I was one of the ‘sporty’ ones but I always hated running; I considered the bleep test and cross-country forms of torture. As medical school progressed I became less active and certainly once I started working as a doctor my time spent doing exercise dwindled. Working as a junior doctor on the wards is by no means sedentary, and I expect I reached at least 10,000 steps a day on an average working day, but now that I am a GP I spend most of my day sat at a desk.
After I became a mum (my kids are now 6 and 3 years old) I realised I needed to get out there and do more exercise again. This wasn’t for weight loss; I needed time to myself, to forget about being a wife, a mum, and a GP. I needed to be Abbie again. Running was flexible and cheap, so I downloaded a Couch to 5k app in January 2017 and got going. My goals were to attend parkrun and York 10k that year. Parkrun is a weekly, timed 5k run; there are courses across the country and they start at 9.00 on a Saturday morning, or 9.30 in Scotland.
In May of that year I nervously attended my first parkrun. The night before I felt so anxious; what if I was the slowest there? What if I did it wrong? I needn’t have worried—York parkrun was very welcoming, and I ran my first 5k without stopping that day. My love affair with running and parkrun had begun.
So why do I think parkrun is so fantastic?
- Inclusivity. Everyone is welcome, even dogs and kids. No one is ever last or considered too slow, the ‘tail walker’ (volunteer) ensures they themselves finish last.
- It is getting people moving. There is no pressure to run at all, you can walk the course, you can run then walk, whatever suits you. After the event, you get a text with a time. Seeing improvement really gives me a boost; my first sub-30-minute run earlier this year was thrilling.
- Friends. Most weeks at 9.00 you can find me and my pals hovering around the start line chatting away. Around half an hour later, we find each other and head out for a coffee and a chat (there may even be cake). One thing I wasn’t aware of before I started running was how sociable it was, whether running with friends or joining online communities that bring like-minded runners together.
- Volunteering. Cheering, marshalling, writing run reports, barcode scanning, taking photos, pacing, or guide running (blind runners) to name just a few of the roles. If you don’t fancy walking or running, maybe sign up to your local run as a volunteer; you could go on the injury bench, or motivate others in their aim to get moving. Volunteering at parkrun is rewarding and accessible, you require no special skills—just enthusiasm and some time on your hands!
So that’s a bit about my journey to parkrun and why I love it, but how does that relate to my job as a GP? I regularly recommend parkrun to my patients as a gradual way to increase their activity levels or improve their confidence. They may start walking the course and then build up to sections of running or simply attend to cheer others on. It can be beneficial to both the physical and mental health of my patients. I was so pleased to see the Royal College of General Practitioners and parkrun joining forces recently—GP practices can now sign up to be a ‘parkrun practice’ as a way of encouraging their patients and staff to get more active.1
For me, it’s 29 parkruns down, 21 to go until the big 50! My next aim is to arrange a parkrun takeover by the practice one week, getting staff and patients involved to take part as walkers, runners, and volunteers… Watch this space.
Dr Abbie Brooks
GP, Park View Surgery
- Royal College of General Practitioners. Parkrun practice initiative. www.rcgp.org.uk/clinical-and-research/our-programmes/clinical-priorities/parkrun-practice.aspx (accessed 1 November 2018).