By Tracy Nguyen
It is no doubt that there are many health benefits to running. As medical students, you must have told several of your patients in GP clinics, or constantly heard your doctors reminding their patients of countless reasons why they should exercise. Personally, when I think about running, the first things that come to my mind are all of its common associated health benefits – improving cardiovascular health, strengthening muscles, increasing bone density and maintaining healthy weight. It is not only until relatively recently when I started doing park run that I realized there is way more to running than what I thought…
Don’t get me wrong, I am by no means a good runner. Not surprisingly, my first park run performance was honestly on the lower end of someone in the 20’s age group. I was sweating like crazy for the whole 5 kilometers with my face looking as red as a tomato and I could not help feeling the urge to stop running at any moment, with all the increasing squeezing pain in my abdomen and legs. Every time I saw someone about 10 years younger than me, or at least more than double my age running past me, it was quite hard not to feel embarrassed. At the end of the run, I thought to myself, I missed those sleep-in Saturday mornings where I could sleep cozily in my warm blanket, not having to go through all this suffering. I may give it another try but this might not be a suitable new routine thing I should do on weekends.
To my own surprise, and probably to quite a few of the other park runners I met that day, I have been joining the park runs every week since then without fail. I have come to enjoy the run more and more for various reasons. I have learnt that park run is in many ways similar to life. You can constantly compare yourself to others but at the end of the run, it is you and your own progress that matters. It may seem so embarrassing that you are so far behind others and as if people must be judging your performance, however, everyone is just trying their best to finish their run rather than being judgmental or disappointed as you may feel. Everyone has their own story, some people have been running for the last 10 years, some just started today, some have chronic pain that they are struggling with for decades and some may start running again after years – but everyone has the same goal, to go to the finishing line. And on that journey, where both the fastest and slowest runners want to give their best, they also learn to be understanding and supportive of others, some encouraging shouts mixed in with heavy breathing sounds as “Good job” or “You are doing great” to people you have never met before making the run just seem so much more endurable. You set smaller goals along the way and feel more comfortable with your own pace and so proud of yourself as you pass another 500 meters or manage to get back to running after slowing down for a while. You become so mindful (and maybe so tired) that all the stress and worries from study and work no longer bother you, but at the same time you are more aware of the surrounding environment. “Oh, I didn’t notice the river looked this nice during the last run” or “Since when did all the leaves turn into this beautiful red color?”. And nothing is more satisfying than the moment you check your performance time after the run and see the time getting shorter and shorter, though just by very small amount of time each week, and you know you are definitely doing better than you used to. Smiling, while trying to catch your breath with muscle soreness all over your body, you are glad you decided to leave the cozy comfort zone to run again today, and you know you are going to be here next week….
Maybe all that talk will not be enough to convince you to join a park run near you anytime soon, but don’t forget you are also doing a life run right now. There is no doubt it is full of stress and hardship sometimes, if not almost all the time, but do remember that things do get better, and every small step will bring you a bit closer to your goal and every effort you put in will count towards your end result. Learn to enjoy the journey rather than being too focused on the finishing line and be forgiving and supportive of yourself as well as others in that run. I wish you all get the best out of your run and enjoy every moment of it and hopefully find some good companionship on your way to the finishing line.
If you feel inspired to give park run a go, visit their website here to find out more about it, and join your nearest group!: https://www.parkrun.com.au/