How Parkrun changed my life – Blog

Let me introduce myself, I am Michelle, the Commercial Director at Yogamatters. 

I am going to start off by making a rather bold statement which I believe to be true- 

Parkrun changed my life. It is where my running journey began to flourish, it is also where I met the best of like-minded friends and a running community, where I discovered new trails but most importantly it is where it all started in making me realise that I am capable of so much more than I ever thought possible. 

I hadn’t been a particularly active adolescent (I always made excuses to get out of PE lessons) but in my early twenties I began practising yoga which I enjoyed from a strengthening and toning point of view.  I also had an excellent teacher in Wimbledon in the early days who really motivated and inspired me. It was only in my mid-thirties though that I thought I should add cardio into my fitness regime.  

When I moved to Croydon a few years later it was no longer convenient for me to travel to my yoga class in Wimbledon and that is when I decided to take up running more consistently.  I also wanted to explore some new running routes and then I discovered Lloyd Parkrun in March 2014.  Over time, I became a regular Parkrun runner.  It was here that I met some runners from Striders of Croydon who encouraged me to join their running club.  ‘But I am not a runner’ I thought – the furthest I had ever run was 5k, but that was soon about to change! 

I joined Striders of Croydon in 2016 which gave me the courage to set a very big goal for myself. I wanted to run a marathon before I turned forty and so that’s what I set out to do.  The following year in 2017 I ran my first marathon, Brighton marathon. I put in all the training which, as a “beginner” increasing mileage over a 16-week period, really took it out of me. It is not only physically but mentally draining and no matter what anyone says, road running is really hard, especially over that distance. But on completing my goal, I had runner’s high for weeks afterwards.  It was one of the best experiences of my life, I was supported by many of my running club mates and as soon as I crossed the finish line I thought, ‘that was incredible, I’ve got to do that again!’ I took that as a good sign.   

Serendipitously, this was the same year that I joined Yogamatters. I was still practicing yoga (albeit at the gym), so to be part of an ecommerce business that prioritised health and wellbeing and whose values aligned with my own, I really couldn’t think of anywhere better to work.  I find that yoga is an excellent supplementary exercise to running, in more ways than one; 

  • I use a combination of yoga asanas to strengthen and lengthen my hamstrings, calves, glutes and hip flexors (key muscle groups for a runner) 
  • I use breathe more deeply so I can train for longer and manage my heart rate more effectively
  • I also use meditation techniques to tackle negative distractions when I train or race 

My running has steadily improved over the years and by improved, I mean I am now a long-distance runner at heart. The longer and slower the run, the better!  I also transitioned to trail running, which to be honest is a much slower paced and satisfying way to run.  I am very blessed to live on the edge of the Selsdon Wood Nature Reserve and close to the North Downs Way and am surrounded by green spaces in every direction.  You’ll always find me at Parkrun on a Saturday and on the trails exploring on a Sunday. 

During lockdown, getting out onto the trails helped me cope with so much uncertainty. This period of time came with so many mixed emotions, my mental health felt incredibly fragile, but my running was and still is one of the things that holds me together and keeps me sane. Long slow runs were one of the highlights to come out of lockdown, I began to appreciate running in solitude, running alone with just my thoughts made me grateful for my health and all the blessings and abundance in my life.  Running was and still is my salvation. 

I have now completed 5 marathons and 2 ultra-distance marathons and have very recently also achieved my 250th Parkrun milestone, almost 9 years to the day I first started – what an incredible journey it has been! 

Last month I also gained my Leadership in Running Fitness qualification through England Athletics which means I am now “qualified” to lead fun running sessions for a mixed ability group of runners.  I regularly volunteer to lead runs at my club and can hopefully support other newbies or steadier runners in reaching their personal running goals and sharing in the joy of running. 

I am so thankful for my health and hope to continue running injury free and hopefully stack up a few more marathon medals along the way.  I am also truly grateful to Yogamatters who supports my health and wellbeing journey. 

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