How to run a 5k with Strangers

How to run a 5k with Strangers

This morning I attended my second "park run", a free event where you show up to a park and run a 5k.

I've been getting into running for the past year or so. I was out-of-shape and didn't want to be. Being "in shape" is like 90% diet IMO, but exercise sure doesn't hurt!

A 5k event seemed like a good goal to train towards. I found one near me, an Octoberfest themed 5k, and got to training. I initially used the couch to 5k app to train. It starts you off by walking with short spurts of running in-between. Over time, the spurts increase and eventually you are completely running the 5k, with no walking! Cool!

Since then, I've completed four "official" 5k events – I started by going alone, then somehow persuaded friends to join me later (haha, suckers). Running is really difficult, but it does get easier. I've enjoyed watching my time go from 37 minutes, to 34, to 31 and now down to 29 minutes.

Then, I was recommended a video by a British guy on YouTube about how to run faster 5ks. He talked about this thing called Park Run – Β an event where a 5k in the park. And it's free! Yooooo – sounds lit! πŸ˜ŽπŸ’― Let's do it.

My First Park Run

I went to Park Run's website and popped in my location. To my surprise, there was a park run just 10 minutes from my house. All you have to do is make an account and print out a barcode to track your time at the event. Park run is not a race, but it is timed. I consider it a race against myself.

Park Run happens every Saturday at 9 am. On Saturday I drug myself out of my bed, got dressed and drove to a random park to meet a bunch of strangers and run with them. Kind of an odd activity, if I'm being honest.

Once I got there, I was greeted by friendly volunteers, who explained what the course was like. They walked us to the starting line and then we...started running. (You can walk too).

In the first minute my regret had already set in. "F*ck, are we done yet?". Yes, I can run a 5k but I'm still trying to learn to enjoy it. Once you get into a pace and rhythm, it does get easier, provided you've built some stamina up.

Along the way, I ran alongside fellow park-runners. Sometimes slowing down and sometimes speeding up. Throughout the run, park run volunteers share words of encouragement. They'll clap and cheer you on to keep going. That's such a small thing but does really help. There's even a volunteer that walks at the back so no one has to finish last.

You could run a 5k alone, but running with strangers is pretty awesome. Running with someone can spur your motivation to keep going. I'm still working on a full 5k without stopping to walk and catch my breath for a minute. There were many times I ran aside someone else and didn't want to stop running out of disappointing them, a stranger. Weird mindset, but it works!

Once you pass the finish line, a volunteer scans your barcode and records your time, which you can later see on the park run website. You can hang out for a few minutes and chat with others while people roll across the finish line. My local park run meets for coffee after, but I haven't stuck around to go yet.

What is park run?

Park run is a volunteer led organization that started in the UK to put on weekly 5k runs. It's huge in the UK. The park runs I've attended have also been the most British people I've seen in Cincinnati at a time. Many park runners are park-run "tourists" and visit other park runs around the world.

The US doesn't have nearly as many park run events as overseas, but we're catching up!


5ks used to be an event I'd pay for, mark on my calendar and show up to. I'd like to believe I could run one every Saturday morning now. The strangers I've met who volunteer or participate in park run are slowly becoming not strangers. The course is becoming less confusing and I'm getting a little faster and a little healthier.

I loved park run and I think you might too. It's great to meet up with a group of people all trying to better themselves and get some exercise.

I'll be back!