Ageing with Attitude: Parkruns and quiet Friday nights

Ageing with Attitude: Parkruns and quiet Friday nights
Picture: Moya Nolan

Gráinne Healy only started running regularly a few years ago. She’s already completed 50 parkruns. She tells Rowena Walsh what motivates her.

Gráinne Healy’s Friday nights are much more abstemious that they used to be, but she doesn’t mind one little bit. 

She turned 60 on July 17. It is a milestone birthday, but she’s just celebrated a different type of milestone, one that makes her feel very proud: she has completed her 50th Parkrun.

It’s an amazing achievement, but what makes it even more phenomenal is that Grainne only started running in 2016. It was a new year’s resolution.

Gráinne had worked as co-director of Yes Equality, which campaigned for the right of same-sex couples to get married. 

“The campaign finished in 2015,” she says. “I’d been working flat out on it. I’d also submitted a PhD that year, so I’d been stuck to a desk for the guts of three and a half years. 

"I started thinking that I needed to get back to fitness.”

Grainne had tried going to the gym and getting swimming lessons, but nothing was really clicking for her. 

Then her partner Trisha read about Mary Jennings and Forget The Gym, her outdoor running classes in Dublin, and thought that Gráinne might like them.

Although Gráinne says that she hadn’t really run since she played basketball for UCD in 1980, she decided to give it a go. 

She started in the beginner class, walking for one minute, then running for one minute, then back to walking. 

“It’s really worked for me,” she says. “Going to classes once a week has kept me engaged.”

Mary Jennings of Forget the Gym, says that: “As a new runner you see progress quite quickly, and seeing our body do things we never thought possible is empowering.”

Gráinne has found that the weekly classes and a Saturday morning parkrun keep her motivated. “On a Friday evening, my running on a Saturday morning keeps me honest. 

"I can’t have three glasses of wine and get up and do a 5k run the next morning.”

If she’s doing a parkrun at the weekend, Gráinne lays out her running gear on a Friday night, so that she can get up and out of the house in just 15 minutes. 

It’s almost as if my mind doesn’t realise I’m going out the door to run. I’ve tricked it.

While she loves camaraderie between the runners, she’s also experienced very real benefits from her regular exercise. 

She developed type two diabetes several years ago and says that her numbers are much better with her consultant since she started running. 

“My weight management has improved and my blood pressure is better. I feel a lot better. I look a lot better. My friends and family have all noticed.”

Gráinne believes that anyone can take up running, and she recommends getting involved with a couch-to-5k training group. 

“If you attend the classes and do the exercises recommended in between the classes, I will guarantee that you will not get injured and you will be able to run 5k in eight weeks.”

Mary Jennings also advocates a beginner training plan, which offers a walk/run strategy. 

“Make sure you let your body adapt gradually to running.”

When you do a parkrun, you’re only competing against yourself, says Gráinne. 

There’s a good mix of people – some much younger than me, some in their late 70s or early 80s. Some have been running all their lives.

"Others, like me, only started in later years. They may have retired and have more time and more energy.

“The Parkruns are free and really well organised. They take place across the country and in Europe.” 

If she’s away in the country for the weekend, Gráinne participates in the local parkrun and even recently did one in Berlin.

Crossing the finish line for her 50th parkrun was a brilliant experience. 

“My grandson Harry came to cheer me across the line, my son and his partner were there, we had cake with the girls from the running class. 

"They had brought balloons with 50 on them. It was a real celebration. I’m really proud of it.”

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