Emma Malcolm, 44, a charity worker for Rethink Mental Illness, is organising today's run. She is one of the 10,000 volunteers who help out each week... Emma is joined by a team of volunteers including John Barron [no relation], 60, from Blackheath. When he isn't running, he volunteers... and is so enthusiastic at cheering others on that he's a big deal round Hilly Fields, credited for many regulars' record runs...
But he warns me: “This is one of the hardest courses. Lots of people come from other runs to improve their times on their home course.”
As we set off, I regret not having been running since the summer – and even then I was only going for little jogs. I also regret having not picked up the clue in the name Hilly Fields. I am swiftly overtaken by a man with a pram. I can hear my breaths draw heavily, but each time I consider halting, a volunteer is shouting encouragement and it keeps my feet moving.
As I complete my last lap around the park, and approach the biggest hill, I slow down on the treacly incline. John Barron springs into action, running up with me, telling me I can do it. His encouragement carries me the last paces to the top and around the corner to a running finish. I come in at 113th – towards the back of the pack at just over 30 minutes – but I'm elated to have completed the course and am determined to come back and improve.
I join crowds who have drifted into the park's café to get drinks. Since the first parkrun 11 years ago, cafés close to each event have become part of parkrunners' Saturday culture.
Lisa Power is drinking coffee with her father, Sean, 68, and five-year-old son Joseph. They live locally, and Joseph has done junior parkruns 30 times. Lisa started running in 2013. “I got into it to escape my children,” she says. “They love it too. I get half an hour to run to myself. The camaraderie is incredible: within six months of parkrunning, I knew more people in London than I had in 10 years of living here. I see my progress because it's timed; I have achieved something by 10am on a Saturday; and now, when I walk down the street, I find I know people.”
Her enthusiasm seems to be shared by everyone in the café. Tien Wilde, 42, from Lewisham, has run more than 100 times. “No competition,” she says, “It's just against yourself.” She took part in a zero-to-five kilometre running course after having her son Noah, now six. “He's done 12 parkruns now, and he's faster than me,” she says.
Margaret Glover, 54, comes to parkrun with her husband Eric, aged 60. “PE lessons were dreadful when I was at school, and it put me off exercise.” she says. “This has turned me around. People are encouraging, even if you're not good, and it all makes a difference.” She walks briskly as she has a bad knee, clocking a time each week of around 43 minutes.
Each year, every parkrun has the option of holding extra events on Christmas Day and New Year's Day. At Hilly Fields last New Year, a runner had a heart attack. Two doctors running the course helped first-aiders keep him alive until an ambulance came. They saved his life, and he continues parkrunning in Peckham. The British Heart Foundation provided a defibrillator that now hangs inside the door of the café...
For the full article, click here. If you want to join the Hilly Fields parkrun, click here (or turn up on the day!). Thank you to Naomi for the spot.