Johnny Ireland

Regular readers of Ayrshire Magazine will know that I never considered myself a runner. Certainly not a marathon runner. But after running my first marathon in 1982, I found myself running on a regular basis, initially to keep fit, and then later to raise money for charity.

To date I have taken part and completed five marathons, 20 half marathons and countless 10Ks. But I’ll always remember that very first marathon. As I ran the last 500 metres, hundreds of people that I’d never met before clapped and cheered me over the line.

“Go, Johnny, go, go go! WELL DONE!”

I had tears in my eyes as I crossed the line. I’m filling up now just thinking about it. And that same emotion engulfs me every time I take part in a run, regardless of the distance.

In recent years, for various reasons, my running routine had fallen by the wayside. I desperately needed to do something about it. My weight had increased but also, my mental well-being had suffered. I just feel rubbish if I don’t exercise. And it’s all down to self-discipline because I have absolutely no excuse not to run – especially living in such a beautiful part of the world as Ayrshire. Those beaches… those views…

I found the Girvan parkrun on line. 5k. Every week. Simple…

So I set off down to the beautiful Girvan promenade one Saturday morning for a 9.30am start. I was welcomed by people of all ages, shapes, sizes and nationalities. Many were carrying a few pounds (or stones) more than me, but everyone wore a smile. Six ladies wore T-shirts advertising the fact that this was their 250th parkrun. 250? Wow!

I started running. I passed a few of those ladies fairly quickly. “WELL DONE, young man!” echoed in my ears. Young man? I’m 59! I’d only just started and already I was filling up!

I passed the first volunteer at the first kilometre marker. The parkrun cannot survive without the volunteers who make it happen. These guys are brilliant – they even put little red flags out so you don’t step in anything nasty!

“Great to see you, young man. WELL DONE! Keep going!”

I’m pretty sure I was properly crying at this point. I’d forgotten how emotional running can be.

At the halfway mark you get your picture taken (by another volunteer) and yet again, “WELL DONE!” rings in your ears.

At kilometre 4, those beautiful ladies with 250 parkruns to their name, ran passed me.

“Keep going, and don’t forget to come back next week. You’re doing great. WELL DONE!”

At the finish line, I cried again. Girvan parkrun, I realised, is so much more than a run. It’s a community.

Girvan beachfront has to be one of the most underrated in the region, if not Scotland. Ailsa Craig smiles at you. Arran and Kintyre hug the horizon. On a clear day, the islands of Sanda, Sheep and Glunimore salute you. It’s absolutely stunning, right down to the beautiful coastline that curves beyond Ballantrae as it heads south to Corsewall Lighthouse. No wonder everyone taking part in the parkrun is so happy – even when the South Ayrshire weather throws its worst at you!

Parkrun is a national institution. It was founded in 2004 by Paul Sinton-Hewitt. He was a marathon runner with a personal best time of 2hrs, 36 mins. Suffering with depression following an injury, he wanted to do something to keep in touch with his running friends. The first run attracted 13 of those friends along with three volunteers. Sinton-Hewitt organised and managed the race himself.

Today, parkrun operates across 2,000 locations in 22 countries over five continents. Around 6.3m individual runners and walkers are registered, and it’s supported by over 500,000 volunteers. It’s free but, as a registered charity, relies on donations to enable it to continue.

The Girvan parkrun is special. Many others exist within the region but Girvan has the ability to attract entrants each week from locations far and wide. Visitors from other countries are common. The power of social media draws them in having viewed the stunning location online. They are never disappointed.

Both visitors and regulars are joined in their appreciation of the volunteers who give up their time on a weekly basis. Without them it wouldn’t exist.

As for the cake at the end of each race? Delicious!

If you’ve never tried parkrun, go for it – you won’t regret it!

And to everyone at Girvan parkrun – WELL DONE!