As many of you will know, parkrun is a free, weekly event open to all members of the community who are keen to walk, jog or run a 5km course in a park or other beautiful open space. It is a global phenomena with literally millions of people taking part each week. And if running is not your thing then you can always volunteer along with thousands of others. Like I said… it’s for everyone!
I was fairly late to the party with parkrun. Despite having used running as a form of exercise since 2011, I only participated in my first event in 2016. My first experience of it was Poole Park in Dorset where there were over 400 people who had turned up at 9am on a Saturday morning for fun! What I loved was that it was competitive enough for everyone to be pushing themselves but friendly enough that the old chap with a stick who was walking with the tail runner was cheered at every lap. This was my idea of heaven! I loved seeing people from all aspects of the community coming together in the shared enjoyment of being outside and doing something remarkable. That first week I witnessed an ex-GB athlete running alongside university students, first time mums, pensioners with carers at their sides, children skipping around the course, dogs dragging their owners through the crowds and then there was me. Someone who enjoys running but isn’t that great at it, running 5km with a grin plastered across my face as I realised I’d stumbled over something magical!
So why is all this relevant… Well, not only is Alzheimer’s Research UK the official parkrun charity but I also think it brings together many aspects which have proven beneficial for someone living with dementia. There is the obvious benefit of weekly exercise as mentioned by the Alzheimer’s Society “Of all the lifestyle changes that have been studied, taking regular physical exercise appears to be one of the best things that you can do to reduce your risk of getting dementia.”. Running or walking 5km would be a huge achievement and is attainable for someone of any age. In fact I’ve seen a 90 year old man get round the course with a smile on his face so there is really no excuse!
Then, and arguably more importantly, there is the community aspect. Whether you want to take part in the event as an athlete or a volunteer – social engagement is vital for everyone but especially for those who may feel isolated or vulnerable. I have participated in a number of parkrun events around the country and there is one consistent aspect – the friendly atmosphere and ethos. A person who decided to make this a part of their weekly schedule can be guaranteed to be welcomed with open arms and benefit from a friendly community of people striving for a better Saturday morning! So, with support, there is no reason a person living with dementia cannot include parkrun into their lives by either helping or taking part. There is no commitment and you can take each week as it comes. Perfect for some of those unpredictable folk or ones who can’t make a decision!
So as I think it’s such a magical initiative I really wanted to take my Dad to a parkrun event. The closest one to where he lives is a 30 minute drive so not ideal logistically. However, when a family weekend in Bath was booked and I realised that the Bath skyline parkrun was only a few minutes drive it seemed like fate. Me and Dad had walked the skyline route together in 2016!
Dad was looking forward to it and was in great spirits the morning of the event. Understandably, new things can cause a bit of unrest but he seemed to understand what we were doing and was keen to participate.
It was a lovely sunny September Saturday and we lined up in the starting pen with 400 other parkrunners. We always knew it would be a walk/run effort so there was no pressure on time. We started at the back and together we walked and ran, chatted and laughed. It is always such a treat to spend time alone with Dad – no pressure on him to get things right or to say the right thing. And as always – for a few moments it can seem like nothing’s wrong – it can seem like he’s my Dad again.
By the time we crossed the finish line Dad was a bit tired and disorientated but it was just such a lovely experience to see him enjoying being a part of something. So despite him having not run for anything other than a bus in the last 20 years and despite him having just turned 68 and despite his dementia – Dad successfully took part in his first parkrun and you wouldn’t have known about any of the other things. In fact I had to ask him to slow down a couple of times!! That’s what I truly love about parkrun – it’s inclusive. It doesn’t matter who you are – your age, gender, race, ability – you can take part and you can be successful. What a way to start a Saturday morning!
Looking forward – I would love to be able to take Dad to a parkrun every week as I know how brilliant it would be for him to feel part of a community. However, logistically it’s just not reasonable so we will have to settle for as and whens.
But I urge you – if you know someone with dementia – find your nearest parkrun and take them along and see what magic can be created…
PLEASE BE MINDFUL THAT DUE TO COVID-19, ALL PARKRUN EVENTS ARE SUSPENDED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE. PLEASE VISIT PARKRUN.ORG.UK TO GET UP-TO-DATE INFORMATION AND TO FIND YOUR NEAREST EVENT.