Saturday morning and the perfect way to start the weekend: with a family parkrun. My 14-year old got into running last year after joining me in my sprained ankle rehab training, and he’s been bitten by the parkrun bug. Plus the sprint finishes that leave his dad in the dust don’t hurt either.
It’s fantastic to see so many kids taking part. Even with the launch of a shorter Junior parkrun in Taunton, there are still plenty that join the regular run on a Saturday.
It’s part of what makes parkrun so special: mums and dads running with, encouraging and supporting their kids, with maybe the occasional advice to take it steady. What a great introduction to running, and one that could hopefully lead to a life-long love of the sport.
And then there’s the other style of parkrun parent.
Just starting the second lap, and what appeared to be a dad with his daughter cruised past me. She looked to be around 13 or so. And she was clearly in distress.
She began crying.
I overtook them, and they sped past me again. This went on for about half a mile.
All the time, the girl was sobbing and complaining while her dad made encouraging noises: “you’re doing great. You’re doing fantastic. It’s just your mind playing tricks on your body.”
Despite the pep talks, she just kept getting more and more upset and miserable, until eventually I left them behind for the last time.
And then there was the mum at a Christmas parkrun, who’s response to her daughter stopping and bursting into tears mid-run was to snap: “don’t be stupid. You’re nine. You should be able to do this.”
At least this morning’s dad was trying to be positive and supportive.
I guess there’s an argument that it does our kids good to push themselves. That only by stretching our boundaries, by getting comfortable with discomfort, can we discover what we’re really capable of.
But I can’t help feeling that the competitive spirit needs to come from them. That we should let them set the pace, rather than drag them along at the speed we feel they ‘should’ be capable of.
And what a shame if instead of learning to enjoy being active, our children’s memories of running are feeling sick and being shouted at.
The pushy parkrun parent is a rarity, thank goodness. But when your child is sobbing in the middle of what’s not even a race, but a friendly, communal timed run, maybe it’s time for a rethink?
Or am I judging too harshly?