Running Commentary: Park life

Running Commentary: Park life

September 19, 2014

Andy Mahony caught the running bug a couple of years ago. He works with the council’s public health team. In Running Commentary, he shares his favourite running routes and parks, as well as tips he has picked up while being overtaken by a speeding Santa and nipped at by geese. And then there are all the other weird and wonderful things he encounters along the way.

This time, I take part in a Parkrun in an historic setting, with more than 200 other local people as our couch potato past vanishes into the distance.


If you’ve managed to complete the NHS Choices Couch to 5K plan, then congratulations because that’s a significant achievement. If you’re now in need of something to keep you motivated and running, I’d recommend finding your local Parkrun.

Parkrun is a timed 5K run that takes place in parks all over the country on Saturday mornings. It’s free to take part and all you have to do is register online so you can print your own identification barcode for use when taking part. All Parkruns are managed by volunteers.

You only need to register once, and then you can attend any park run anywhere in the country – you could go to different one every week if you felt like it. In fact with unlimited time and funds you could try Parkruns in Australia, Denmark, Ireland, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, South Africa and the USA too.

However, I chose to stick a bit closer to home with the Gunnersbury Park run. Gunnersbury is a lovely park jointly managed by Hounslow and Ealing Councils. The park is about to benefit from a £4.7million Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and the Big Lottery Fund’s Parks for People programme. The park’s museum is also set to benefit from a £4.1million HLF heritage grant. So, running around Gunnersbury Park on Saturday mornings will soon be an even grander experience.

The whistle goes at 9am sharp and 218 Parkrunners set off on the figure-of-eight course around Gunnersbury Park. The first part is slightly down hill, which can give a false sense of ability and stamina so early on in the run. But after passing the Potomac Pond and Boat House folly we head up a long and steady incline that starts to separate out those who set off too fast at the beginning. Eventually we hit level ground which is slightly easier on the legs, then downhill again on some grass followed by a sharp left taking us past the Round Pond and the 18th Century temple. This picturesque view across the water reminds me why running on treadmills in gyms is just not for me.

We wind our way down to the corner of the park near Gunnersbury Avenue and then up the path parallel to the tennis courts. I can see runners further along who must be three of four minutes ahead of me, and I wonder how they do it, or if I’ll ever get that quick.

Heavy breathers’ convention

As we hit the 4-kilometre mark it’s like a heavy breathers’ convention with huffing, puffing and perspiring runners forcing their way through the final kilometre. As we reach the final half kilometre it is uphill again, which is a bit tough towards the end of a run when your legs feel like jelly and your lungs feel fit to burst.

As I cross the finish line at 24 minutes and nine seconds – a personal best – my time is recorded electronically by a volunteer. I’m handed a tag which gives my finish position and I then take the tag to a second volunteer who scans it and my personal barcode, which allows a computer to do some triangulation magic and record my finish position and time. Clever eh?

Everyone’s finishing position, finish times and athlete numbers are published on the Parkrun website later in the day. This allows you to see how well you did in your age category as well as the total number of runs, personal bests and other info too. Today I finished 69th out of 218 runners. Not too bad.

Parkruns are very friendly, not competitive and attract runners of mixed abilities. It is a great way to get outdoors, meet new people and get some free exercise on a Saturday morning.

Though, if you’re like me, you may require a brief sit down and a cuppa afterwards…