Glenys Waters was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2015. She explains how the positive mental and physical impact of running and being a part of the parkrun community has helped her to remain optimistic and enjoy the best quality of life possible in the time she has left.
"The importance of the parkrun community cannot be overemphasised. Parkrun is all-encompassing — young, old, fast, slow, run, jog or walk it doesn't matter. This community spirit was really shown on 8th December 2018 when 403 runners at Moors Valley helped to celebrate my life with a colourful wig run.
My parkrun journey began over five years ago and I was initially very self-conscious that I'd be last to finish. But as it turns out most parkruns have a tail walker and the ethos has always been “it’s a run, not a race.”
Dogs and buggies are also welcome and everyone encourages everyone else. Simply seeing the same people each week and saying hello forms friendships too.
Parkrun was founded in 2004 by Paul Sinton-Hewitt, a keen runner who was suffering from depression and unable to run due to an injury, but who wanted to continue to spend time with his running friends. The first run took place at Bushy Park, London with just 13 runners and 3 volunteers in attendance. There are now 566 different parkrun venues in the UK and it also takes place in 22 other countries around the world, with nearly 3 million global community runners joining in.
It doesn't matter where in the country you run there is always a fabulous welcome for 'tourists'. Our furthest tourist parkrun, which I did with my husband and daughter earlier this year, was at Lanhydrock; a National Trust property in Cornwall and the second most difficult parkrun in the country.
Every week many volunteers are required in order for parkrun to be able to go ahead. I have now volunteered on 78 occasions, mostly token sorting, but sometimes marshalling or tail walking. It is nice a way to give a little back to the community.
Parkrun has a series of milestones for runners to achieve where they can claim free technical T-shirts. 50 is red, 100 black, 250 green and a new blue one has recently been introduced for 500 runs. Put into perspective there are 54 possible parkruns in a year, counting Christmas Day and New Year's Day, so 50 parkruns is virtually a year with no Saturdays missed.
On Boxing Day 2015 at Arrow Valley in Warwickshire, just four days after undergoing six hours of chemotherapy treatment for ovarian cancer, I completed my 100th parkrun after also running my 99th on Christmas Day. I vividly remember my legs being very wobbly but I completed both runs alongside my whole family.
The next logical milestone for me became the 250. However, on 31st October 2018 I was given the prognosis of “a few months at best”. I was then at 226 runs, meaning I had 24 more to do to reach 250. Without missing a single week this is going to take me until 30th March 2019 to achieve. I am completely focused on achieving this milestone.
"Focusing on the positive aspects of your life, such as people who love you or activities you can still enjoy, can improve quality of life, regardless of your situation."Glenys Waters
Running is something that most people can do if they put their mind to it and it does not need to cost a fortune. I started running to try and lose a bit of weight. At first, it was extremely difficult to get any distance at all without having to stop, however, over time I built my distances up, my times improved and running became very addictive. When you are out in the fresh air you are able to clear your head.
Exercise causes you to release endorphins, which improve your mood and make you more relaxed, which is certainly true for me. After I run I feel energised and more ready to face the day.
It is good to see that doctor's surgeries are now actively promoting parkrun as a prescription for not only type 2 diabetes but as a general activity for lifestyle change. Many running clubs throughout the country are setting up couch to 5k courses where groups of people get together over a period of weeks to build up to running five kilometres and very often their 'graduation' is a run as a group at parkrun.
Being given the prognosis of a few months at best to live is not what anyone wants to hear. Having been given that news though, what do you do? Give up or embrace each and every day. Giving up is not an option for me, it isn't going to help me or my family and friends so I intend to make the most of the time I have left.
While there is no evidence that positive thinking alone can cure cancer, maintaining an overall positive attitude can certainly help make the experience more bearable for everyone involved. Focusing on the positive aspects of your life, such as people who love you or activities you can still enjoy, can improve quality of life, regardless of your situation.
Living by the sea means we can walk along the beach, wrapped up well when it is cold or enjoying the sun in the summer. I have had to accept that I need to make changes to my life but I can still enjoy things like running, cycling and walking. We have spent time visiting National Trust properties and made the effort to catch up with friends.
Relaxing activities are also important and I like to read, do jigsaws and being a retired secondary school maths teacher, I like to help my friend, a maths tutor, out with her mathematical problems.
When we are well we don't think about time wasted but when that time is threatened it makes you reassess what is important."