Never Too Late

Oliver’s parkrun Story

Retirement. For those of us that are still working, just the word itself shines like a beacon on the top of some distant hill. But have you ever stopped to wonder what you’ll do when you get there? For Oliver Butterfield of Kelowna, BC, retirement from a long career in law left a lot of empty space to fill. “Becoming a gentleman of leisure overnight at age sixty-six isn’t as easy as it sounds,” he tells us.

That’s when he decided to take up running, and prove that it’s never too late pick up a new habit – and that a parkrun can be the perfect place to take those first few steps.

After a bit of a start-and-stop inauguration into the world of running (10K always seems easier on paper than in practice, doesn’t it?), Oliver heard tell of a very special event that was taking place on Saturdays in a park near his home. “One day, a neighbour told me enthusiastically about parkrun,” he recalls. “She and her son had been doing it for the past two or three weeks. I was immediately suspicious. Free, with no strings attached? It sounded like one of those things too good to be true.”

Oliver soon found that it was anything but. “On my first run, I was struck immediately by two features of the Kelowna parkrun,” he says. “First, the friendly spirit. And second, the efficient way it was run.”

Since that first parkrun over two years ago, Oliver has clocked 76 runs, almost all of them in Kelowna. But recently he completed one in Toulouse, France, where he felt as welcome as the “parkrun tourists” that he meets when they come to Kelowna – home of the very first parkrun in Canada!

It’s this kind of camaraderie among parkrunners that keeps Oliver coming back to the trail again and again. “People are there for different reasons,” Oliver says, “but there is one common thread – to have a good run or walk with others, and to socialize for the sake of it.” He even benefits from time to time by having accomplished runners share tips on things like pacing and avoiding injury. “There are certainly some elite runners,” he says, “but no one could call them elitists.”

While it’s true that all runners are created equal at a parkrun, there is one fellow parkrunner that Oliver gets the biggest kick out of running with each Saturday. “Kelowna’s parkrun route passes within ten metres of my daughter’s back porch. My granddaughter would cheer for me as I passed by every Saturday.” It wasn’t long before she was attending parkrun with her grandfather, where, at 6 years old, she was the youngest member of the group. She’s now coming after Grandpa’s tally, with 24 runs of her own!

To Oliver, it’s just another thing to love about parkrun. “It’s the mix of generations, where everyone is of equal merit, no matter what age or ability” he says. “Seniors are especially welcomed, not just by each other, but by the younger members as well.” And Oliver keeps proof for anybody who may think they’re too old, or too young to have fun at a parkrun. “I have a photograph of my granddaughter with a ninety-year-old woman – the youngest and the oldest runners on that particular Saturday!”

Since joining his parkrun group, Oliver has worked his way back up to 10K form, in races and his training. And while a nagging hamstring injury keeps reminding him that moderation is key, he keeps his sights set on what’s truly important. “At parkrun, I have one person and one person only that I compete against—myself. I was within two seconds of the record for my age group, back when I pulled my hamstring. Now I am working my way back to where I was before.”

Ever modest, he adds, “I may not get there – but it is fun trying.” And he’s got a whole community, and a granddaughter, cheering him on.

First image courtesy of Bill Justus