A Run in the Park by David Park

J. L. Harland • June 28th, 2020

For the characters in this story the challenge of a couch to 5K run is anything but easy. Strangers at the beginning of the nine-week programme, by the end they have bonded as a group and each can look ahead to something new and positive in their future.

This is a story about a disparate group of people, unlikely runners, who for varied reasons take up the couch to 5K challenge. Partly experienced in audio and partly in print, it worked well in both media, being structured as a series of first-person interior monologues -which lent themselves to serialisation (commissioned by Radio 4) as well as book form.

Maurice, a widower, is estranged from his daughter and granddaughter. Yana, already a runner, is acclimatising to life in a strange land, having escaped the war in Syria. Cathy, divorced, is embracing life after a cancer scare. And then there are the worries and uncertainties of the engaged couple, Brendan and Angela.

Each person’s experience of running is different, but they all share the freedom inside the head to make comments and judgements. This creates great opportunities for humour. Cathy’s thoughts on internet dating and a falling wardrobe is one instance; or Brendan’s rueful point that Angela’s family is so rich “even the dogs get walked by someone else”. Like all the best comedy, though, there is sorrow close at hand. Yana speaks of running to rid herself of the “sharp edged thoughts that plague me.” She suffers humiliation from the “well-meaning people who are energetically kind and constantly welcoming”, as well as those who stare and are hostile. Hers is an extreme of suffering, but the others have their demons too. Overweight and unfit, Maurice mourns his wife and the estrangement from his daughter and granddaughter, fearing he’ll expire before the end of the 5K run and “pull up on the hard shoulder of life with a clapped-out engine while everyone else motors past.”

The story peaks on the day of the race with a crisis for Maurice’s daughter and grandchild, (resolved positively) and ends with the group running together in solidarity with him. He missed the official event but ran the race of a lifetime to help his family.

A Run in the Park is published by Bloomsbury.  David Park has written nine previous books and won numerous awards for his work.

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