Here’s the text for the 29 September 2021 “Pause for Thought” I offered on the Early Breakfast Show with Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio 2. Listen in here.
On the first morning of a holiday, I get up early and go running. Wherever I am, a run shifts my body-clock, gives me the vibe of the place, and serves as reconnaissance for the best coffee joints.
I’ve been lucky to travel in life. Looking back on my journeys, it’s the running I remember most: hurdling tree roots in the Costa Rican jungle, sprinting around Istanbul’s Taksim Square, racing the clouds along the River Liffey in Dublin.
But you can’t holiday every week, so I was thrilled upon moving to the UK to discover parkrun – a national movement of free 5K runs for the whole community. Every Saturday I can show up to my local London park, or be a tourist at one of more than 700 parkruns across the country.
If I’m not on holiday, it’s my favourite tourist destination….
…Where diverse people gather to run, or walk, push a pram, roller-skate, jog a dog. If they don’t want to run, they volunteer – or just cheer. That was a shock at my first parkrun in Birmingham. All around the course, people clapped for us, rang cowbells, yelled “Come on! You can do it!”
I was like: “Am I actually in Britain? What is this bizzare experience? Oh wait! It’s affirmation and public joy!” At parkrun, even the stereotypical British reserve is transformed. It’s so good for us that GPs have started prescribing it.
As a Christian, I think the inclusivity of parkrun is something many churches could learn from: how to celebrate diverse community, how to help people speak of the goodness running through life, how to welcome newcomers.
Once at a Brighton parkrun, the host gathered all us tourists and first-timers and said: “One of the main impediments to trying a race – one of the biggest fears people have – is that they’ll humiliate themselves and be the last person across the finish line.”
“But don’t worry about that,” he said. “We have a volunteer whose job as tail runner is to make sure everybody else gets across the line first. At parkrun, no one has to worry about finishing last.” I mean, how good is that?
I thought of Jesus, whom I believe always takes the place no-one wants: the last place, the losing place, so we don’t have to worry, so we can experience a life run not by fear but by freedom.
So, happy tourist running, good people. May you be surprised by a good vibe and public joy.