Are you struggling to find the motivation to workout during the winter months? This week on Well Informed, the Spotlight is on Paul Sinton-Hewitt, the brain behind parkrun, the fantastic company that organises free weekly, 5km timed runs around the world. Paul has built a worldwide community, helping people to get fit for free. Sign up yourself and a friend, lace up your trainers and your future self will thank you for it. As the saying goes... you never regret that workout you did...
Parkrun takes place every Saturday morning in eighteen countries across five continents. Each parkrun territory has its own sponsors. Events are run by volunteers, and participation is free of charge. Parkrun is open to everyone, free, and are safe and easy to take part in.
I was lucky enough to meet Paul earlier this year and he is one of the nicest people I have had the pleasure of meeting. Paul was presented the Runner's World 'Heroes of Running' award for philanthropy for his work with parkrun in 2009 and became a CBE in the Queen's birthday honours 2014 for 'services to grass roots sports participation.' A fantastic initiative that helps people get active for free whilst also enabling them to be part of a community, where do we sign up?
Paul, you share the same philosophy as us about helping people to become healthier, and specifically in the case of parkrun helping people get active for free... how did parkrun come about?
I started parkrun in 2004 because I selfishly wanted to make sure that I saw my friends every week. I was suffering depression at the time and felt the best way out of my negative situation was to regularly keep in touch with my running friends. The event itself in Bushy Park, Teddington was intended to be low-key and simple. These are still some of the founding principles that bind parkrunners across the world.
And how many parkruns have now been set up around the world?
Thirteen years and a name change later, there are over 1,100 parkruns a week, in fourteen countries, with over three million registered parkrunners. A new parkrunner registers every 29 seconds. Our 2k junior parkrun is also expanding rapidly.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start exercising and being more active?
When starting exercise for the first time it can often be difficult. Exercise if best when its regular and often. So the best advice is to try to make whatever you are doung fun an joyful. Starting out try to manage the effort so that you balance the joy with the effort. As you progress and as the excersize becomes a habit then you will find another gear and this will encourage you to try harder propelling you further towards your personal goals.
Do you have any training tips who are about to embark on their first event?
The great thing about parkrun is that no one needs to train for their first event. As you can walk, jog or run our events then everyone can achieve this without being trained. Some of our courses offer multiple laps which means that anyone struggling can opt out after one or even two laps. This also means that these folks can build up to completing the full 5k.
And in terms of injury, do you have any tips you can give us?
The best advice I can give is not to get injured in the first place. This is often easier said than done. If you are a beginner then the most common form of injury is probably an over-use injury. When folks are new to an activity or sport, they can get very excited about their progress and this can drive them to progress too quickly. My best advice is to take your time about progressing to the next level. Be happy with small increments in either speed or time and try to only change one important factor at any time (don't increase your speed and distance at the same time).
We understand you took on the Two Oceans Ultramarathon, is that the hardest race you’ve done to date?
Yes, probably. Whenever you step up to a new distance or when you try to run faster than you have done before then its likely to be difficult. The Two Oceans Marathon is 56k long and this was 10k longer that I had ever run before. Fortunately, its also one of the Worlds most beautiful marathon in the world and so the suffering was well worth it.
Do you record your runs? If so, what app/piece of kit do you use?
All my runs are recorded on Garmin and Strava. Strava is my favourite site for recording activity because not only does it provide the best information but its also a great social platform.
Do you ever lack the motivation to lace up your trainers and get outside. If so, what do you do to counteract this?
Yes, everyone faces situations like this. When I am de-motivated, I will probably reduce the distance of my run and definitely the speed. I try to get outside because no matter what the weather you will find the countryside or parks motivating in their own right. If you do some activity/exercise on a regular basis in nice suroundings then you are likely to rejuvenate your motivation in the shortest possible time.
And what do you eat to fuel up before and after a race?
It depends on the race. For a short race I might not fuel at all. If the exercise extends beyond an hour then I will try to have muesli or porridge before the run.
Who do you look up to in the health and fitness industry, whether it’s a runner, athlete or sporting professional?
That's so difficult these days. What with all the unsportsmanlike doping going on it is very difficult to know who is a cheat and who isn’t. I think the Brownlee brothers might just be the athletes who we can all look up to with confidence.
Quick fire round...
Treadmill or pavement?
Hill sprints or marathon?
Weights or cardio?
Early-riser or night owl?
Olympic Park or Hyde Park?
Mo Farah or Usain Bolt?