parkrun (always with a lower case "p"), started in 2004 when thirteen friends including founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt got together in Bushy Park, London to have a 5k (or 3 mile) morning run. It became a regular thing and it spread. It's now run in eighteen countries and has over 4 million members. Some parkruns are small (we did one in Ireland that had 34 runners) and some are large (our local one achieved record numbers of over 1100 last week). Some are run on tarmac paths, others in woods and others on grass.
So what is parkrun? It's a free, timed, volunteer-managed 5k (3 mile) run around parks al over the world usually on a Saturday, usually starting at 9am. It is run by all ages from babes in pushchairs up, and by all abilities. Some folks take their dogs along too. It's fun, friendly, warm, welcoming, inclusive, supportive and encouraging. Friends and family join the marshals on the course to clap and cheer and offer words of encouragement. People with disabilities are welcomed (we have two blind runners who regularly attend our local parkrun, other runners volunteer to guide them round the course and one at least is a very accomplished marathon runner who runs a good deal faster than I can). It is specifically NOT a race, although you can choose to battle against friends and colleagues and see who can win if you want to. Plenty of people jog round chatting, and plenty do a mix of walk and run. You can chase a PB (personal best), trying to improve on your previous time, or you can take it easy and enjoy it and just feel better for the exercise. It is absolutely NOT an intimidating environment: everyone helps everyone else. On the way round the course, it is very normal for stronger, faster runners to call out encouragement as they overtake slower runners, or to check whether people walking are OK. Everyone gets congratulated at the finish regardless of their time. If you're one of the last finishers you often get the biggest cheer and support of all, because the marshals are mainly back off the course and gather in to encourage you.
I think it is one of the best inventions of recent years. You're encouraged to volunteer from time to time, which means doing one of the following jobs: marshal, barcode scanner, hand out finish tokens, manage the funnel, time keeper, lead bike, tail walker, token sorter at the end. This is important because parkrun relies on volunteers. I try to volunteer at least once a month and have met some really lovely folks that way and made new friends. It's a fantastic way to support your local community and help people become fitter and healthier.
On today's run, (M was poorly at home with a virus) I met up with friends Neil, Craig, Baz, David, Eddie and Rob at the start and ended up running most of the course with Rob, who is a very fast runner normally (sub 19 mins 5k time- my best is 23:09 and that was pushing it!), but today he was nursing an injury so taking it slow. We chatted almost the entire way round putting the world to rights, and had a laugh with an older guy who was running behind us and celebrating every km marker he went past by cheering loudly. He waved and grinned at me when I saw him later on waiting in the finish line to get his token. That's the spirit of parkrun: a lot of happy, smiley, contentedly tired runners pleased when they've finished! I wore my Mr Men and Little Miss running tights (which you may remember are both bright and busy), it being a gloomy, wet morning, and had some cheery comments from fellow runners who thought they were bright and funny. Job done on that score.
Couch to 5k (C25K) programmes have risen in popularity because of parkrun. They are aimed at helping people learn how to run 5k from nothing. Many running clubs offer these 10 week courses (you don't need to be a member of a running club to take part in them, you just register on the club website, they usually have a nominal cost of £20), or you can search for the programme on line, print it off or download the app onto your phone and follow it at home yourself.
So, if you want to start getting fit, do a C25K programme, then when you're ready to run 5k, do a parkrun. If you're not hooked and don't feel better for it at the end and become a regular runner I'll eat my hat :o)
If you'd like to give it a go (what's to lose?), go to the parkrun website to register. There you can download and print off your athlete's barcode, which you take with you to your local park (check the website to make sure they run one first, but they are all round the country so there will be one not far from you if you're in the UK) by about 8:45, line up with all the other parkrunners and set off when the race director tells you to. Then you just run or run/ walk with everyone else, following the marshal's instructions which will tell you where to go (although its usually obvious) until you cross the finish line. Here you'll be given a finish token which has another barcode and your position on it, you take that and your athlete's barcode to one of the volunteers who will be lined up scanning everyone in and they'll scan first your athlete's barcode then your finish token (they'll keep the finish token with your run position on it once they've scanned it). After that you go home, chill out and feel proud of yourself (and probably quite tired and hungry too). Then about an hour later your results will be emailed to you and you'll be able to see how you did.
In two months' time you might find you've gone from non-runner to parkrunner, and who knows where that might lead?........10k.........half marathon.........marathon.......the possibilities are endless.......
Hope you're all having a lovely weekend.