This just landed in my inbox. It’s from parkrun, and is a great story on several levels. It’s one athlete’s journey (and let’s be fair; one of Ireland’s elite), and a very positive news story for parkrun. And it has wider positive ramifications for exercise and mental health, though that is not the main message of the piece per se. Happy running folks, wherever that may be!
Reigniting my love for running
David Gillick is a two-time European 400m indoor champion, World 400m finalist, Irish 400m record holder, Olympian, and Masterchef winner. He retired from running a few years ago but came back to running competitively this year for “fun”, and that extended all the way to the European Championships in Amsterdam. David explains how taking part in parkrun has helped to reignite his love of running.
My event on the athletics track is 400 metres. So running a parkrun – a distance 12 times my event – was alien to me for almost 15 years. Why on earth would I want to run 5000 meters? I wasn’t sure what would happen when I hit the 410 metre mark!
Well, it started about two years ago. I had been retired from athletics for about a year and I was struggling with the transition from full-time sport into full-time rest of my life. I was rudderless as to where I wanted to point the ship, and to make matters worse I stopped exercising on a regular basis and it was having a massive negative impact on my mental state.
One Saturday morning I decided to do this parkrun I kept hearing about. It was in my local park in Marlay and I recognised a few people. I turned up and instantly felt very uncomfortable. One person mentioned you should ‘win’ this. I got nervous and wondered why I was there. It felt almost like I was back on the competition track. However, standing on the start line I noticed the relaxed atmosphere and jovial voices around me and it became very apparent that this was fun, and so it was.
I enjoyed my first parkrun and decided to do it again the next week and try to improve my time. My wife Charlotte also got involved and soon we would both be waiting in anticipation for the results email to come in on Saturday afternoon.
Unknowingly at the time, parkrun ignited my passion for running once again, when I didn’t think anything could. I liked the fact that it kick started my Saturday. I felt better about myself for doing some early morning exercise and I looked forward to it. I would get a small bolt of butterflies, but I liked it… it made me feel alive.
I now had something to target on a weekly basis, and it felt great to be home by 10.30 on a Saturday morning enjoying breakfast knowing that I had accomplished something.
Then last October I decided I wanted to really improve my 5km time. I targeted a sub-18 minute run, which meant I needed to start doing some training.
In late December I found myself back training, but 400 metre training, and in May of this year I ran my first 400m race since 2012. Things progressed and I went on to represent Ireland at the European Championships in Amsterdam, finishing 5th in the 4×400 metre relay and narrowly missing out on Olympic qualification.
More importantly for me and my family I have steadied the ship and the mental mooching spent running around Marley on a Saturday morning has put me in a place I thought I could never find.
Running is something I have been doing since I was seven years old. It’s part of me and I’m grateful that there was a platform for me through parkrun to reignite my love for the sport and experience everything that is great about it. And in the same park where it all started for me back in the summer of 1990.