In previous blogs I have talked about how my running journey started with parkrun. It is now hard to imagine my Saturday mornings without parkrun, so it only feels right that I dedicate a whole blog to the joys of parkrun! For those of you unfamiliar with the worldwide phenomenon that is parkrun, it is a free, weekly, timed, 5km run that happens every Saturday in parks all over the world and is reliant on a group of volunteers. It was founded in 2004 by Paul Sinton-Hewitt with the first event taking place on 2nd October at Bushy Park in London with just 13 runners and 4 volunteers. There are currently 577 parkruns across UK and a total of 1,436 worldwide across 20 different countries with more than 3 million people signed up to parkrun. You can find a list of UK parkruns at http://www.parkrun.org.uk/events/events/.
Most parkruns take place at 9am although in some places they do start at 9:30. You only need to register once at https://www.parkrun.org.uk/register/ . You will then be allocated a parkrun barcode which is unique to you and can be used at any parkrun all over the world. This barcode initially comes in paper format and is available on your parkrun profile page. However you can pay to have your barcode in other formats such a wristband or a small fob which can go on your key ring or through your laces. When you arrive at your first parkrun you will be advised to attend short briefing designed for anyone who is either new to parkrun or new to this particular parkrun. In this briefing someone will explain the course to you and what you need to do when you have finished. There is then a further briefing just before the start for everyone. This will include any important notices and will often include a shout out to anyone who has achieved a milestone such as 50/100/250 parkruns or someone who has volunteered on 25 occasions (all of which qualify you for a nice running t-shirt!). At the end of your parkrun you will be given a token with the position you finished which also has a barcode on it. You then need to pass this over to one of the barcode scanners who will also scan your own unique barcode that you obtained when you signed up for parkrun. Normally later that day you will get either an email or a text message with your official finishing time along with some other information about that day’s event.
You might be a little nervous turning up for your first parkrun. However you will soon realise how many great people there are parkrun who will make you feel welcome and answer any questions you may have to put your mind at ease. This includes the volunteers such as the marshals you will offer you encouragement and support during the event. Parkrun would simply not be possible without the volunteers. There are number of different volunteer roles that you can sign up for if you would to give a little something back, some of which also give you the opportunity to run as well. You can get involved in setting up the course, marshalling, time keeping, barcode scanning, photographer, token sorting, lead bike, results processor plus many more. I have volunteered on 26 occasions primarily on pre event setup although I have marshalled on a few occasions and once every 6-8 weeks I act as guide runner for a visually impaired lady. I enjoy volunteering and giving a little something back to this wonderful community of people. It also gets you a nice purple t-shirt once you have volunteered on 25 occasions! We have a great group of volunteers at Brueton parkrun so it is not very often that the call for volunteers has to go out, fortunately when the call does go out it does not normally take too long for people to step forward to fill any gaps.
At the time of writing at this blog, I have run 122 parkruns of which 115 have been at Brueton Park in Solihull in the West Midlands. Just to give you an idea of how much parkrun has grown over the years, the first parkrun at Brueton Park was on the 24th July 2010 and had 50 people take part. When I did my first parkrun on 2nd January 2016 there were 309 runners. On the 19th January 2019 we had 749 people take part! Whilst we don’t normally get over 700 runners, we do regularly get over 500 runners and since the turn of the year we have regularly had over 600 runners.
You may think parkrun is not for me as I’m not a proper runner or I’m too slow. The beauty of parkrun is that it is suitable for everyone. It is not a race so you can run, jog or walk at whatever speed you feel comfortable with. You don’t need to worry about finishing last as each parkrun will have a tail walker who walks at the back of the field of runners. You will find runners of all ages young and old. At Brueton parkrun we have a lady in her eighties and who has completed over 250 parkruns. You will see young children running, parents with buggies, people running with dogs on leads and people with different impediments. It doesn’t matter what your body shape is or how fit you are, everyone is welcome at parkrun! You will find some of the friendliest people you could hope to meet who will welcome you into the running community. I have been fortunate to meet some great people at parkrun and develop some great friendships. One of the things I like about parkrun is how other runners will stop behind after they have finished so that they can offer words of encouragement to those still running.
Parkrun promotes and encourages exercise and activity but in a friendly and no pressure environment. More importantly I feel that it improves people’s self-esteem and mental health. I have met people and read stories from people who say that parkrun has changed their lives for the better. I have heard people say that parkrun is a safe, comfortable environment in which they say they are never judged. I have witnessed the transformations that people have made through parkrun both physically and mentally. I have seen people grow in confidence as they realise that they are capable of more than they could ever have imagined as they go onto take part in 10km or half marathon events. One of my parkrun buddies has recently completed a UK Athletics Leadership in Running Fitness course which means he is now insured and licensed to lead groups of adults in running activities. He will admit that a few years back that he was stuck on the couch, 150 parkruns later he is now ready to offer others some guidance and support to the get them into running as he is very grateful for what running has done for him and he feels it is now his turn to give a little something back. I feel that he epitomises the whole ethos of what parkrun is all about.
Every week I am amazed and inspired by the achievements of my fellow parkrunners, whether it be those finishing in under 17 minutes, the parents whizzing past me pushing a buggy or those towards the back giving it their all as they begin on their parkrun journey. So if you are thinking of giving running a try or you simply just want to get a bit more active then I can’t recommend parkrun highly enough, I really don’t think you will regret it! You might even find yourself attending the Christmas day and New Years day parkruns!