When Paul Sinton-Hewitt created parkrun back in 2004 he thought he was developing a running time-trial that would enable keen runners to measure their ‘progress’ and get faster. In reality, he was building a stunningly-effective yet wonderfully-simple health-and-happiness intervention, with himself as the first targeted recipient.
For a few years Bushy parkrun rolled along as the Bushy Park Time Trial and, despite the 2008 rebrand from UK Time Trials to parkrun, it probably wasn’t until sometime after our tenth birthday that we truly began to understand what parkrun was all about. You see, it was never really about the run, it was actually always about bringing people together, to be active, in the great outdoors. First this was just Paul and a handful of his friends, then it became about everyone, everywhere.
Many of you will be reading this part-way through the first week of your 2018 resolutions, promises made to yourself with the intention of finishing the year healthier and happier than you started it. You will also no-doubt be being bombarded by a whole host of heavily-marketed hacks claiming to have found a shortcut to health enlightenment. Thankfully, over the last thirteen-and-a-bit years with over 30-million instances of parkrun walking, jogging, running, and volunteering, we’ve learned rather a lot about what makes people healthier and happier, and what doesn’t. The truth, it seems, is refreshingly simple.
Reflecting on Paul’s original motivation to create parkrun, at that time he was experiencing one of life’s character-building periods and quickly identified the need to be surrounded by friends and family during a challenging time. Since those early days, millions of us have taken those first tentative steps into a new way of life as one Saturday morning we headed down to our local park to walk, jog, run, or volunteer. Some of us were actively seeking life change, others were taken completely by surprise, but for many of us that simple step was all it took.
What we’ve also learned is that the real benefits are found within shared experiences rather than individual outcomes. Ask any seasoned parkrunner to recount their Saturday morning highlights from years gone by and more often than not they’ll recount tales of friendship, community, and the great outdoors. If I was to stop the clock now and pick one personal parkrun highlight since I registered in 2007, it would be my regular Sunday mornings at Harrogate juniors.
That weekly adventure has had one of the most profound effects on my own health and happiness, yet you’ll actually not see me in the results or volunteer list. You see, my wife Helen is the event director and volunteers most weeks, I on the other hand walk down to the park with our two children (Aston, 3, and Rosie, 6) where we proceed to explore the natural surroundings of Valley Gardens, before cheering on their parkrunning friends, then retiring to the cafe for tea-cakes (them) and a flat white (me). In a world rapidly losing opportunities to connect meaningfully with our environment, junior parkrun has given my family and I reason (it’s okay to need one) to reconnect with what really matters.
As for parkrun itself, 2018 is likely to see continued growth of locations and participants, and perhaps a few more countries joining the parkrun family. By the end of the year, we’ll be close to 300,000 weekly participants, but most importantly we will have spent another 12 months developing our understanding and insight around what really makes us healthy and happy.
Finally, if I could leave you with one suggestion for 2018 it would be to resolve to spend more time outdoors, active, together. The rest will take care of itself.
Chief Operating Officer
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