Your finish token number at parkrun doesn’t mean anything you know. It’s a number that indicates the amount of stopwatch lap button presses the timekeeper has made at parkrun that Saturday. Just because you are number 56 this week it doesn’t mean that you necessarily did better than last week when you got number 76. It could mean that there were just twenty less people who turned up this week. It could mean that some people who went for a quick run last week went for a slow run this week.
I know it sounds harsh, and I don’t mean it to be, but I’ve seen people fixate on their parkrun finish token position number like it has real meaning and it doesn’t. People laugh at the line “parkrun is a run, not a race”, but it’s true. That’s why you can’t win parkrun, you can only be first finisher.
I’ve finished third finisher overall, I’ve finished 432nd finisher. That third finisher position doesn’t tell you anything. It doesn’t tell you that it was bucketing down with rain, and that there were a total of six runners that day. It doesn’t tell you that we rocked up 3 minutes after everyone had started, having bolted from Balingup to Manjimup in order to run that day. My 432nd finisher token was two weeks prior, at Bushy Park. It was a gorgeous day, and I ran with Jeremy, and we were ecstatic that we were on holiday in England and running Bushy parkrun on what a regular Bushy parkrunner called a fairly quiet Saturday with only 841 runners. It’s my ‘worst ever’ finish position, yet it’s one of my better parkrun times.
My first parkrun I ran 33:09, and was the 46th runner of 48. Last week someone said to me that they thought they’d have been gutted that they were third last having just run that time. It hadn’t even occurred to me to care. I’d run the entire five kilometres of my first ever parkrun and got my finish token and sat down on the grass knackered as Jeremy came over with the stopwatch, showed me my time and gave me a high five.
And that’s my point – if you want to measure your improvement at parkrun, focus on your finish time. Try and increase your age graded percentage. Don’t feel discouraged if you never finish first in your age category – you need to recognise that while someone may be in the same age category as you, they’ve also have been running since they watched the Olympics on television when they were in year three at primary school and begged their parents to let them do Little Athletics.
Last of all, always remember that despite people’s competitiveness, parkrun isn’t a race. You can’t win it, so if you come first finisher, that’s nice, but the only thing it really means is that the barcode scanning queue is a bit shorter for you than it is for the people who finish after you.