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I am not an athlete

6 July 2017

ParkrunDawnGina

Going for a jog? That question used to make my blood boil. No, I am not going for a “jog”, I do not jog, I run, I would say. I am a Runner. Running was serious, dynamic, intentional, a permanent state. Jogging was something other people did. Occasionally, slowly, and wearing heavy duty cotton.

God, I was patronising. I feel differently now. I am still a runner (of course!) but now the label that irks me is at the other end of the fitness scale – “Athlete”.

Two years ago I moved to a new city. I didn’t know many people, and I had some time off work in the Spring. I decided to take up a new sport, in addition to running, and I chose Crossfit.

In Crossfit everyone is an athlete. Everyone does the same workouts and the message is that anyone – everyone – can succeed. Each year, through the Open, thousands of people submit five workout times online and can compare their performance to anyone else in the world. It’s thrilling to see the times of the elite athletes and a real model for how a mass participation sport can be driven by, and keep connected to, the success of those at its very top. How many London marathon runners know the names of the elite field? Every Crossfitter has checked out Katrin Davidsdottir’s Instagram.

But can everyone really succeed in Crossfit? It’s bloody hard. I’m fit, competitive and bloody minded and I found it almost impossible. You can scale the workouts, but you have not really made it unless you have done them “RX”. Everyone may be called an athlete, but I found the culture unforgiving of weakness.

Nobody cares, train harder.

Maintain control of your destiny without regard for the obstacles and hardships that are laid on your path.

We can’t live with self-pity. It cannot exist.

I kept up the Crossfit for about a year, until marathon training took over. After the marathon I felt guilty. I should go back to Crossfit, I thought. I have lost all my gainz. I no longer even lift. Instead, I watched a lot of lifting videos on Instagram. I gazed at six packs. I weighed up the pros and cons:

  • Pros: learning new skills; improved flexibility; handstands; my body looked good.
  • Cons: dread of each class; 2-3 days of agony after every class; inability to run fast or far any more; cost; always finishing last; growing obsession with how my body looked.

DoYouEvenLift

I didn’t renew my membership. Instead I took up a different 9am class each Saturday morning: parkrun. Peterborough parkrun is massive – regularly hosting 600 runners, and all of human life is there. Babies, children, people with disabilities, families, older people and their dogs. I had done a parkrun or two before, but never really “got” it. I don’t lack any motivation to run, and why would I need to meet in a park to run a measly 5k? Also, if I can’t get a pb time every week, why would I bother?

But then, my nephews decided they wanted to run it, so I ran it with them. And then, my sister in law decided she would give it a go, so I ran it with her. And then my sister, and then her husband, and then my dad (aged 72). Over a year I ran a couple of parkruns at my pace (and I did get a pb), but I ran 20 more that took longer than 30 minutes. I volunteered, I was tail runner, I just went along and cheered. It became part of my life, and of the life of our family.

At parkrun, you’re not even allowed to call it a race. It’s a run. We are all runners, even the walkers. Treating it like a race is not just frowned upon, it’s deeply uncool. When you come first, you get the same applause that everyone else gets. Everyone’s time is posted online, but there’s a crucial difference. The number that counts is not the time it takes you, it’s the number of parkruns you’ve done.  Every week we cheer people reaching their 50th, 100th, 250th parkruns. It really is the taking part that counts.

It’s the taking part that counts – that’s what they say when you don’t win, I used to think. But not now. Now I know, that’s how you win, and we’re all winners, especially the joggers.

Parkrun

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jascha permalink
    6 July 2017 3:35 pm

    Bloody loved reading this

  2. jeanhannah permalink
    6 July 2017 4:44 pm

    This made me so happy. Thank you for writing! xx

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