Volunteering at the Preston Park Run on 11 February 2023

At school, the only sport I was ever any good at was cross country. A solo, non team activity. I had two left feet, could not score open goals and was, in addition, scared of the rugby ball. Running was the only thing I excelled at. I distinctly remember my first cross country run at Alderman Peel High School in North Norfolk – now a leading Sports Academy in the county. It was 1982* or maybe early ’83. I was cold in my tight shorts and an ever tighter green vest that represented ‘Coke’ house. I came second in the winter run, to Paul Coe, and this was only because I did not know the course. But it included a very steep embankment, or railway siding, which caused a few nasty injuries. It wouldn’t be allowed now for health and safety reasons. I represented my school at county level, but never really took it up after school. Apart from maybe playing badminton or table tennis, running is it for me.

I was, therefore, interested when the World Champion snooker player, Ronnie ‘the Rocket’ O’Sullivan wrote an autobiography in 2013, he did not call it ‘Potting’ or ‘Winning’. He entitled it ‘Running’. I was fascinated not by his wizardry on the baize, arguably the most gifted snooker player there has ever been, but by his hobby of running. I mentioned this book in this blog post called The Elixir of Life last year. It is a religion for him and his own remedy for depression. When I take part in physical exercise, it can be very satisfying for my head. My own brain is operating on the same level as it often (over)thinks. But we often couch depression into our own contexts or even link it to certain days of the year. O’Sullivan has been interviewed a few times over the years about his physical efforts and the benefits for his mental health. One example last year is an online chat with Runners World. This became O’Sullivan’s addiction. For him it is a ‘belief system’. It replaced the booze and drugs that had characterised large parts of his life until then – and he was good at it too. Having joined his local running club, Woodford Green, he began to train and race like a man possessed. Four years later, in 2008, he was down to 11 ½ stone and running a 34:54 10K – about twice as fast as I currently can go. ‘Proper running’ by anyone’s standards. Being a London / Essex boy myself, I can relate to where he is coming from. The last time I was in Woodford was to visit relatives – and I particularly remember running up and down the hill from South Woodford station to Mill Grove in Crescent Road.

Taking part in run #461 in Preston on 4 February 2023.

Fast forward 40 years! I am now running again and this time it feels already like it is becoming an addiction. too. I’ve started doing ParkRuns in Preston. I didn’t do that much exercise in my 20s – apart from smoking, drinking and walking back from Nightclubs – or 30s – although I might have been a member of a gym at some point. In my 40s I got into swimming. I could swim a bit, but have never been particularly fast. However, I found it the best cardiovascular exercise. The problem with swimming is I don’t really like the sea or open water swimming much – or at least I haven’t up ’til now. I tried scuba diving at the University of Warwick (2011) and in the Red Sea, because my girlfriend at the time was a qualified instructor. However, my panic disorder soon put paid to that. So it’s a pool I tend to use and then I don’t like it if it’s crowded. So, I joined a gym last year and started running again – on a treadmill. I’ve yet to touch the weights, but I feel that’s coming, so that I can run up hills! It fits with my overall keen attitude towards the great outdoors.

First run of 2023 was a cold one.

On 30 July last year, inspired by this UCLan event about Social Prescribing, I did my second ever ParkRun and my first in Preston. I think I’ve done one before – but I can’t remember where or when. It might even have been a dream! I knew a few people that have run the 5km regularly, such as Rosalind in Norwich and Josh in London. My Sociology friend, Sorrel from APU, Cambridge does half marathons. As does my former Bell colleague, Kirstie Tew, who is a park run director in Folkestone. I know a couple more people, Paul and Kath, who have done the popular ‘Couch to 5km’. Finally, my former mentor, dissertation supervisor and colleague at Teacher Training Videos, Russell Stannard has also been an inspiration, too, as he took up physical activities, including regular running, swimming and playing football when he reached 50 years of age. Well, I’ve just turned 52 – the date of publication of this post.

My ParkRun results so far

So, I’ve done six runs at Avenham and Miller Parks so far and intend to do many more in 2023 when I can. Some of these will be volunteering, not actually running. I will probably do a volunteer shift after every 5 runs. But I want to get my time down to around 30:00 minutes and go sub 30.00 in the future. I can already do that on a treadmill, having been going to the gym regularly. The only issue with the treadmill is the pre-programmed visualisations, which don’t reflect my reality. There are often filmed scenes of far flung places that I’ve never been to and they keep changing randomly.

So I decided last Saturday, the same day as my first volunteering shift, during sunrise, to film the course and then make a 30 minute edited version with music, which I can play at the gym. I’ve created *four versions (timed at 33, 30, 27 and 24 minutes) with music. Each of them start slowly and build up to more energetic stuff as the three laps get completed. I have uploaded just the first song of the first video I made below, showing the hill. I can’t upload the whole of the 30 minute version to YouTube because of copyright reasons, so it is stored in this Google Drive folder. I will use these visualisations in the gym, to pace my runs there. Feel free to take a look using the link above.

…….. ……. …. …. … . ……. …… ..

I’ve been gifted a Garmin Sports / Smart Watch by my parents for my 52nd birthday, which is going to help significantly. Up until now I’ve been using my mobile phone health section to monitor my steps – I’m currently around 5,000 steps per day up on average than last year! In addition, I am continuing to do long walks at least once a week as part of my ‘rambles’ – I started counting them last year and am up to 21. Finally, I have borrowed a book about 80/20 training from a work colleague, although it was actually recommended by another friend and ex-Sheffield colleague Lizzie, who does much longer distances, but at a more steady pace. The principle is training well within your limits for four fifths of the time, and only going at high intensity for the remaining 20%. So if you complete a 6km distance, which I happened to do when going from Morecambe to Lancaster bus station last Sunday, you only run for 1.2km and walk at a fast pace for the remainder. Took me 55 minutes, by the way. But it’s not about the time, it’s about getting the body used to lower and higher intensity exercise. I’m still quite new at doing this properly, so I’ve got a fair way to go. But it’s certainly the way forward now.

Action shot – taken by photographer / volunteer Mike Birtles. ParkRun #464 on 25 February

Please comment if you have done a ParkRun or do it regularly. I would be interested to hear your own stories.

*this is my 82nd blog post so to start off by recalling the year 1982 seems appropriate!

80/20 Running Bok by Matt Fitzgerald

Postscript: [edit]: On 18 February, the run immediately following the publication of this post was amazing. With my new Garmin sports watch and the ability to time my laps, plus a really good feeling about the day, I not only went sub 30 minutes, but recorded a time of 27 minutes 24 seconds. This was over five minutes better than my previous PB and is two minutes faster than my best time at the gym. Running slower does, indeed, lead to running faster, it seems. This is serious now and I am totally addicted to this – like Ronnie! I plan to volunteer again on 25 March, once I have completed 10 runs – with the hope that one of the next runs (my 9th) will actually be in Bristol, not Preston.

*Since this post was published I have created a final, even faster 21 minute version of the course video, plus one more promo video which is now on YouTube. In addition, I have a created a four-minute version which is and will remain private as it is directed at one person in particular.


  1. Hi Phil Interesting analasis of your walking history . You are great at putting music to a film I have heard one of them will listen to 2nd one later loads of love mum xx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Phil. Really interesting post. I’m (on and off) very into running, currently in one of my on phases. Like you I find it suits me more, but this is because I can be quite self-conscious in gyms, fitness classes and especially swimming. Park run is wonderful. I love the supportive and community feel of it and I’ve done quite a few now (I need to volunteer more), and have recently got into parkrun tourism, having recently done one in Leeds and Leigh-on-Sea. I’m doing one in Deal this weekend. Hopefully I can do one in Preston some time when I go to visit my Dad. Good luck with your running. Enjoy it

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for sharing your story Phil. It’s really interesting to hear about how you’ve got into ParkRun more. My aunt and uncle do it a lot, with my aunt generally walking it because of her health. I have another friend who does them regularly too, and both of them volunteer. It seems like a wonderful initiative, and glad that you’re finding the addiction!


  4. What a lovely post (was sent it by Sandy, above; I’m her friend who likes parkrun), and I’m glad you’ve taken to parkrun and are volunteering regularly as well. I am a runner but I don’t like running parkrun – I do love volunteering at it, though, and do that almost every week at my favourite one, as well as being the Volunteer Coordinator. I get a lot out of seeing my “parkrun family” on a Saturday as well as the mental health benefits of being out in nature in the fresh air. Onwards and upwards and you can always ask someone to pace you to your sub-30!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.