As soon as I had the idea for this blog, I knew straight away that I would HAVE to write a piece about parkrun. My family and I are hardcore parkrun addicts – regulars every Saturday and Sunday. For those of you who do not know, parkrun is a weekly 5k run that is free to enter and anybody can do it. There are many parkruns in a large variety of areas around the country (and even a few outside England: parkrun South Africa anyone?). They start at 9:00am every Saturday and are completely run by volunteers (supported by local councils). But what is it that makes parkrun special? What is it that makes it a thousand times better than just going for a jog in a park in your own time?
Parkrun is perfect for all. Higher level athletes may use it as training/ time trials and beginners will find that it is very motivational. Before attending the run for the first time, you must register online and print out some paper barcodes with your name. When you finish, you will be handed a finish token. You then take this token and your barcode to scanners (the ones in bright yellow jackets and fancy looking contraptions around their necks) and they will scan it. This will allow your result to be processed. Usually by around 11:00am, the results will be up on the relevant parkrun website. You can see everybody’s times, whether they are a first timer or not and whether they got a PB (personal best). Parkrun records all your performances so it is easy to access an overview. This is very useful as everybody likes to see improvement and there is no greater excitement than seeing New PB! next to your name. Parkrun also allows you to explore loads of different stats from every single parkrun. My dad and I are guilty to spending large quantities of time looking at results from all over the parkrun world making comments like “wow, what a good time for so and so,” and “ooh, that must have been a hilly course.” I warn you, it can become very addictive.
Although the stats are great, personally, the community aspect of parkrun is what stands out for me. It’s what lured us in and what keeps us coming back. There has never been a parkrun that we have visited (and we have visited our fair share of diverse parkruns) that hasn’t made us feel completely welcome.
The start line is buzzing with people, happily chatting away, making new connections. There is always a team of enthusiastic volunteers, willing to give up their time to wear bright yellow jackets, act as signposts for the course and scan many, many barcodes. When I first started running, I was also embarrassed to go out and run in public but parkrun never made me feel this way. Perhaps the most wonderful thing I have discovered about parkrun is that whether you are the guy who finishes first with a speedy sub 17 minutes time or you end up coming in last – everyone is equal! Everyone gets the same amount of cheers and smiles and respect. Because we are all there, we are all doing it, we are all parkrunners! No matter who you are, parkrun will always support you. Through becoming more regular at parkrun, I have made so many new friends and connections. People I would have never met if it weren’t for our common love of the community. People who support me after a bad run, celebrate with me after a PB, cheer me on up the hill. It is a truly lovely feeling when you are greeted at the end of a run with a “wow, you’re really good!” or, perhaps even better, “chasing you helped me get a pb! Thank you!”. The community is incredibly diverse: people whom would not usually have anything in common become friends. It’s really awesome!
Even if you do not run, you can still catch the parkrun bug by volunteering. Every time that I am not allowed to run (due to other events most often), I make sure to volunteer. It is a really great feeling; cheering everybody on and congratulating them at the end. People commonly mutter breathless “thank you’s” as they go past which is always appreciated. Most weeks now, I volunteer at junior parkrun after I finish the run (since I try to make sure I finish relatively high up the field). I love helping with the scanning and congratulating all the kids. I am sure I will write a separate post on junior parkrun as I have so much praise to give it! The team of volunteers is usually the same sorts of people each week – often interchanging the various roles and run directorships. My parents are often prestigious run directors at Brockwell Junior parkrun. It is a really fun task and I love helping them upload all the results. I think that it is absolutely wonderful that people give up their free time – especially since it is quite early in the morning- to help the event “run” smoothly.
I know that parkrun has helped large quantities of people in many different ways: health and happiness. But how has parkrun helped me? I remember my first ever parkrun. It was a trial for Brockwell Junior Parkrun. My dad had recently started doing the “adult” run and managed to drag us along. At first I could not finish without walking, puzzled about how anyone could run any further. Now, I run every possible parkrun with pleasure. Without parkrun, I wouldn’t run! I can’t imagine what would have happened if I had never started my running journey. So thank you parkrun for changing my life. Who’d have thought that such a simple idea could affect so many people in so many amazing ways.
On a related note, I am doing my 50th parkrun hopefully in 3 weeks (I am on 47 at the moment). I am hoping to break 21 minutes at Peckham Rye – my record there is 21:10 but I recently got a 34 second PB at Dulwhich to get 20:33 so I reckon I can do it (although Peckham is hillier). Click here and click view stats for my parkrun page to keep up with my progress. I really hope this has inspired some of you to give parkrun a go as it is totally worth it. Leave a comment about which parkrun you do or if you are planning on trying it 🙂