Pita making great strides with passion for parkrun

Pita Oates and below, the start of the first Cuerden Valley parkrun
Pita Oates and below, the start of the first Cuerden Valley parkrun
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Putting on her trainers and going for her first run was a life-changing moment for Pita Oates.

The 44-year-old started the Couch To 5k beginners’ running programme with her son, Jacob, and has seen her life change completely.

Photo Ian Robinson'The Mayor of Chorley Coun John Walker during the official start of the first ever Cuerden Valley 5km Parkrun

Photo Ian Robinson'The Mayor of Chorley Coun John Walker during the official start of the first ever Cuerden Valley 5km Parkrun

Those first steps led her to take part in the 10km Great Manchester Run and the Preston Guild 5km, 10km, 10-mile and half marathon races, all in 2012.

Pita also joined a running group and took part in Preston parkrun, a free, timed 5km run held each Saturday at 9am at Avenham Park, in Preston.

And it was there she developed a passion for parkrun.

Pita said: “Preston parkrun had only just started so I started to venture down there and fell in love with the whole concept.

“Two years ago I got quite badly injured with a hamstring origin injury and my physio said that was it – I was out for two months.”

Volunteers are a vital part of parkrun, so Pita considered helping out instead, but struggled going to Preston.

She still wanted to be involved with running and as her home in Walmer Bridge was closer to Cuerden Valley Park, she decided to set up a parkrun there.

There are hundreds of parkrun events held around the world each week, which are free and run by volunteers.

They are open to everyone, from children and people taking their first steps in running to Olympians.

Participants sign up online before their first parkrun and are sent a barcode, which they take to the event. It is scanned at the end of the run and they are sent their time by text message and email.

Pita contacted parkrun headquarters for advice and secured funding from South Ribble Council.

She recruited volunteers – mainly family and friends – received help from a parkrun “ambassador” from another event and measured a 5km course at the park.

Two trial events were held, before the inaugural run took place on August 9, 2013, with 165 runners. As well as local runners, there were others from around the UK, many wearing the T-shirts given to runners who have completed 50, 100 and 250 parkruns.

Pita said: “I was really nervous speaking to that many people and seeing so many 50 and 100 T-shirts in the crowd and people who had been emailing to say they were travelling from Scotland and all over.

“It was quite intimidating. They had done it 100 times and it was our first one.”

Fortunately everything went well and the runs have been held on Saturday mornings since.

Pita said: “The following week we had just over 100 then we went down to 50 or 60 consistently, but we are now averaging 130 to 150.

“We have a very different volunteer team that has changed significantly over time because people’s commitments have changed.”

Among the core team alongside Pita is her husband Ray, who takes photographs.

Pita has seen whole families take up running, an 80-year-old power walker who did not finish last, a young girl who often finishes first female, and people battling serious illness or trying to lose weight tackling the run.

She says there have been “life-changing moments” at parkrun, but it is also the simplicity of the event that makes it a success.

“Because it starts at 9am, it’s just a case of getting out of bed and pulling on your shoes and going out the door,” she said.

“That’s your run done for the weekend if you are just starting out. If you are not, it’s a good time trial and a good measure of progress.”

Pita admits the course is not easy and it has been described as “Lancashire tough”.

Runners follow two laps, starting on a downward slope and finishing on an uphill, with five climbs in between on each lap. It is on a mixture of trail and tarmac and crosses the River Lostock.

The course record holder is Anthony Valentine, who finished in 17.02 at the first event – and has failed to break his own record, despite several attempts.

Joanne Nelson set the women’s course record of 19.33 in September.

And the slower runners get just as much support as those at the front.

Pita, who works for South Ribble Council, said: “At Cuerden what we are known for, apart from being Lancashire tough, is that we have so many runners going back on the course to get the other runners.

“No one is last as there are always faster runners going back to encourage you to get a PB or to keep running.

“It has been quite an unusual phenomenon.”

For people who do not run, are injured or simply fancy helping out, they can get involved with parkrun through volunteering.

There are often more than 20 volunteers each week.

Pita says highlights of Cuerden Valley parkrun so far have included the first anniversary celebrations, awards voted for by runners, the course records and seeing people progress each week.

A big part of it is the chance to chat to the others over a drink in The Barn afterwards.

Becoming a runner and starting parkrun has certainly changed Pita’s life and she has only missed two events at Cuerden due to holidays.

She has run the course a few times, but prefers to stick to her duties as event director.

Pita’s own running has continued though. She joined Red Rose Road Runners and became the ladies’ captain, as well as gaining a coaching qualification.

She is now training for the London Marathon and raising money for Galloway’s Society For The Blind, with plans for a charity auction on April 4 at Vernon Sports Club, Penwortham, and five-mile trail race around Hoghton Tower.

While in London, she plans to do Bushy parkrun, which is where parkrun started.

Pita is also helping to set up a parkrun at Lytham Hall, but she is as dedicated to Cuerden Valley parkrun as ever.

“No matter what else I have got going on, I always find time for parkrun,” she said.

n To find out more, go to www.parkrun.org.uk/cuerdenvalley.