Simple pleasure in finding your own pace

The start of the Zandvlei parkrun.

I am not a runner. I used to be. I was that enthusiastic kid on school sports day who wanted to take part in everything.

Then life happened and running didn’t.

Three weeks ago I dropped my daughter off at karate early one Saturday morning and took the pretty route home. And Zandvlei estuary was filled with the unexpected sight of people. Everywhere.

Curiosity claimed me and I had to investigate. It was the parkrun and something about its air of fun and the vast array of ages whispered to me of those school days; of the peculiar freedom found in running – there was a burgeoning sense of sun-kissed, barefoot days with the wind in your hair. And I realised I was smiling.

I watched neighbours emerge with ecstatic dogs on leads. I watched kids stretching and then running in figures of eight on soft green grass with arms like aeroplanes, collapsing in giggling heaps. I saw a young mom arranging her baby comfortably in a jogging pram. There were dads with kids on their shoulders and grannies in chic running gear. There were the super-fit, in sleek gear and concentration etched across their Johnny Bravo faces and groups of balding men with boeps and cheery smiles. There were middle-aged couples and yoga teachers; and there was me; the adult me in my car – and the little kid I once was – captivated.

No, I didn’t hare off immediately. I had to be all grown up and wait to register with parkrun (which is free) and print out my bar code so that my times could be recorded. But the following Saturday morning, I was among the crowd.

The 5km route is serenely beautiful. It starts at the Zandvlei Yacht club – is run by volunteers – and there are marshals along the route and pointers to make sure you don’t wander down the wrong path.

The route rambles down along the estuary and there is at one point the confluence of mountain to one side, the sea ahead and the estuary to the left. And here’s the thing. It didn’t matter one whit that I hadn’t walked in quite a while. It didn’t matter that I didn’t jog the whole way. Nor did anyone look twice at what I was wearing. Some chatted while they walked, others like me, had arrived to take part alone. There is a simple pleasure to be found in finding your own pace. It’s a microcosm maybe, of a greater approach to life. To not be rushed, to know your capacity and centre, to measure yourself, then to extend your pace. And again. To rest a little when necessary (but not stop moving) and then to see … just see if you can do more.

My first park run gave results. My next one, allowed comparison. In one week, I shaved two minutes off my overall time, moved up from 11th in my age group to tenth, moved up 37 places overall and 11 places up among the women runners.

I am not a runner. I used to be. I’m not quite that enthusiastic kid anymore, But you’ll see me (smiling) at the next parkrun, for sure.

Visit: www.parkrun.co.za for more details about a parkrun near you.