Parkrun promises to get my jogging back on track – Alastair Dalton

I hated running at school.

Before long after setting off, I found myself gasping for air, perhaps in danger of hyperventilating, and had to stop frequently.

It was only years later when I learned to regulate my breathing that I found I could at last run normally.

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But I never attempted any significant distance until 20 years ago when my flatmate persuaded me to enter a 10K in Edinburgh.

Dozens of parkruns are held in Scotland every Saturday (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)

I recall my major misgivings about the enterprise, especially as it involved running up the steep road past Arthur’s Seat.

My friend had, I thought, optimistically booked a table for lunch and drinks afterwards, when I could only see myself collapsed at the finish line for the rest of the day, exhausted.

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But in the end, I surprised myself by not only completing the six miles in a reasonable time but also managing to keep up with my friends.

Alastair Dalton midway through his first parkrun in Glasgow last Saturday

I think a big part of that was the unexpected boost from running en masse, being carried along by the crowd in the early stages, then being kept going by my pals.

However, after a couple more 10Ks in subsequent years, that was pretty much my road running career over until the first Covid lockdown, when I started accompanying my teenage son on the short runs he’d started taking.

That led me to coming across the NHS’s inspiring Couch to 5K podcast series, which, over a nine-week course, increases your ability to run from 60-second bursts to 30 minutes – around the time it takes to cover 5km.

But when I completed the last of the stages – and went on to run the equivalent of a 10K – I again lost the momentum to keep going.

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That all changed last weekend when I became aware the global phenomenon that is Parkrun had just resumed with the easing of pandemic restrictions after a 17-month suspension.

These free, volunteer-run 5Ks are held every Saturday in dozens of parks across Scotland, while worldwide they attract more than 160,000 runners a week.

I was partially inspired to give it a go after reading Scotland on Sunday columnist Alexander Brown expressing a general dislike for running and his specific “horror” of organised runs and “moving for the sake of moving”.

In contrast, I found myself really looking forward to my first Parkrun in Glasgow – and it more than exceeded my expectations.

Having worried – just like all those years ago – that I’d fail to complete the course having not run that distance for nearly a year, I even managed to overtake the odd straggler and reached the finish line without expiring.

Mind you, I was lapped by the leaders less than half way and passed by runners pushing kids in buggies; a ten-year-old dashed by at one stage.

But it was days later that the positive impact of group running really hit me, when I went out on a solo 5K jog thinking it would be a doddle having completing a Parkrun.

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That’s when I realised I was really on my own, the supportive effect of dozens of others pounding the paths with me was absent, and all I could think of were my leaden thighs and how far left I had to go.

I’m now focusing on Saturday.

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