'It’s a huge, life-changing thing': Leeds runner on the physical and mental health boosting power of parkrun
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Curtis Ledger, 48, had his first taste of parkrun in 2018 when he took his daughter along to the Bodington junior parkrun at the Brownlee Centre.
As someone who was just taking one of his daughters along initially, becoming a dedicated volunteer and deeply involved member of the parkrun community was not part of the plan.
"At the time, I was probably 23-and-a-half stone,” he explained. “I had all the fears about looking completely stupid and being too slow around all these athletes and it's nothing like that at all.
"I’m someone who used to have the cross-country route at school shortened, the idea that I would voluntarily turn up to runs on a weekend is bonkers.
“I can't imagine what I’d be like if I had not been doing parkrun for four years. It’s scary to think about.”
They are free to get involved with and have benefited from £3.6m worth of investment from the National Lottery.
At Bodington junior parkrun, Curtis found a community which welcomed both him and his daughter and he is now their co-event director.
He also now has 71 runs under his belt having also started running with the Woodhouse Moor parkrun.
“It’s a huge, life-changing thing,” he said. “I can't say that I’ve lost a huge amount of weight because actually, you can't just do that with with running.
"But all my underlying stats, things like my heart rate and my blood pressure, all those statistics have improved massively from it.
"I think the most striking one was my resting heart rate that used to be in the sort of low 70s. It’s now down in the high 50s."
Parkrun does attract fast runners with high levels of endurance but there is no shame in being lapped, Curtis has insisted. In fact, he receives encouragement from those going past him.
“Even the faster runners are supportive,” he explained “Even as you're being lapped by them, they're trying to encourage you.”
However, parkrun is not just about getting fit and targeting personal bests. Some do not even run and use the opportunity to stretch legs, volunteer and socialise.
Despite experiencing the physical benefits, Curtis believes it could be argued the impact parkrun can have on mental health outweighs the one it has on physical health.
"They have special runs on Christmas Day and New Year's Day,” he said. “I always think about how for some people who turn up on Christmas Day, the parkrun might be their only social event. The community spirit is huge and the mental health side of it is arguably bigger than the physical side of it.
"I think it gets lost in the message quite a lot, but participating in parkrun doesn't necessarily mean running, people can turn up and volunteer.
“Just standing around being a marshal means you're in a community and it’s a really supportive and encouraging one.
"You’re already among friends, even if you don’t know any of them – that’s probably a good way to describe it.”
Parkrun is attempting to capitalise on the inspiration competitions such as the Commonwealth Games can provide for people across the country.
In collaboration with the National Lottery, they are hoping to encourage people to use parkrun as a free and inclusive opportunity for exercise.
For Curtis, parkrun has given him a brand new community to thrive in and boost his health.
"I think the one thing that people misunderstand is they think you have to run because of the name,” he said. "When it was first set up, that was probably the idea. But over time, it's evolved and become something you’re encouraged to just turn up and participate in.
“The more people I can encourage to come out and give it a go like I did, even though I didn’t think it was for me, the better.
"The more we can overcome those barriers, the more people we can get participating.”