Rodney Freeburn completed his 500th Parkrun at the weekend at the age of 85 – and is only the tenth person in the world to reach this milestone in that age group. Here, he explains how Parkrun is just one way he keeps fit enough to do what he REALLY loves: orienteering!
Rodney Freeburn wasn’t expecting anybody to make a fuss of the fact he has just completed his 500th Parkrun at the weekend – at the age of 85. But his Wymondham Athletic Club friends, for a start, had other ideas after he completed the run in 47 minutes 49 seconds at Eaton Park, Norwich on Saturday morning. He is only the tenth person in the world to reach the milestone at the age of 85 years old or over – and yet he is modest about the achievement.
‘All I did was grow old.’ More than 500 members around the world are in the 500 milestone club but, as Rodney adds: ‘it seems that in my age class I’m the 10th in the world.’
Rodney does the Parkrun most weeks, not that it is the be all and end all when it comes to his fitness regime. ‘The reason for doing Parkruns; for doing midweek cross country; for going shopping on my bicycle; for doing running club events, is to keep myself fit and healthy, to allow me to do the sport I really enjoy, which is orienteering – running with maps and compasses.’
Over the years, Rodney has taken part in numerous World Masters Orienteering Championships, aimed at athletes over 35. It has taken him to most European cities and beyond, as he adds: ‘I’ve run in Russia.’
Born and raised in Northern Ireland, where he went to university and started his teaching career, Rodney came to Norfolk more than 40 years ago, having lived in South America and Canada. ‘I got the opportunity to work here in Norfolk and took it. It is such a fabulous place to live you never want to go anywhere else.’
He joined Wymondham Athletic Club (WAC) 37 years ago. He explains why: ‘In 1986, through carelessness, I’d put on a fair amount of weight – my weight was 86kg. I did some exercises and a little cycle and run circuit in Norwich, where I live, but I decided I’d better join a club, so there was definite commitment, and training, to get one’s weight down.’
He started marathon training with WAC in the Autumn of ’86. ‘The following Spring, I ran my first marathon,’ says Rodney, who was in his late 40s at the time. Over the next few years he would run a further 40 marathons.
‘Unfortunately, during one of the World Masters Orienteering events, I damaged my foot and that stopped my marathon running.’ Almost, but not quite. ‘When I was 60, I happened to be in Belfast, and there happened to be a marathon and I happened to enter on the day.’ He was relying on ‘background fitness’ alone. ‘It nearly killed me!’
Rodney had not come across Parkrun – which was established in 2004 with just 13 runners in Bushy Park, Teddington – until it came to Norwich. He completed his first one, in Eaton Park, in 2010, when he was in his 70s.
Nowadays, 5k parkrun events are held every Saturday of the year across the UK and the world. ‘I think there are nearly 800 of them.’ says Rodney. His furthest-from-home Parkrun was Vancouver, Canada, but he has also run in Copenhagen, Denmark (twice) and Parkrun du Bois de Boulogne in Paris. The prettiest Parkrun, in Rodney’s opinion, is Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire, and the toughest one involves running on dry sand in Great Yarmouth (whereas doing East Anglia Cross Country League runs on the firm wet sand at Cart Gap is far more ‘pleasant and easy’).
How does he rate Eaton Park as a location? ‘That park is immaculately kept – it’s a lovely place. As for running, you’re running the entire 5k on pathways. Running on grass is slower so Eaton is quite a fast course.’
And what does he think of all the attention his 500th Parkrun has received? ‘I’m absolutely astonished by it. I expected the Club to come along to support and encourage me, but it seems to have become a bit more than that. It’s time for me to return to a quieter life.’
If anyone else out there is aiming for their 500th Parkrun, Rodney has this advice: ‘If you are aiming to do 500 then the last 10 are harder than the first 100.’
It doesn’t sound as though Rodney plans to stop doing the Parkruns anytime soon. ‘No way am I going to try to predict the future but obviously I’m going to keep myself as fit as I can.’
Norwich Parkrun takes place every Saturday at 9am.
Featured image of Rodney Freeburn at Eaton Park, Norwich, after completing his 500th Parkrun (picture credit: David Powles)