Each week, throughout the world, runners and walkers gather on a Saturday morning at a parkrun event to run or walk 5 km. Many ‘parkrunners’ have become firmly committed to attending each week. These parkrunners have progressed from initially becoming aware of the weekly event to professing allegiance and even feeling a bit ‘odd’ if they miss out.
Currently, the number of parkruns in the world is just over 1300 and in Australia, we are nudging 270. The number of events since it first started is currently 198,531 in the world. As a community event, parkrun does an amazing job of reaching out to so many in our community. But why?
In a recent article by Tom Williams, the Global Operations Officer of parkrun Global, Tom identifies that “It was never really about the run, that parkrun and parkrun junior appeals to our desire for health and happiness in a community setting.”
Further reasons for parkrun’s popularity and success have been explained by Theodore Turocy, Professor of Economics at the University of East Anglia. He explains the success of parkrun with the EAST framework for behaviour change. The framework as designed by the UEA Behavioural Insights Team and as it applies to parkrun is summarized by Professor Turocy as follows;
Easy: There are no registration or participation fees to join in a parkrun. To get a recorded time, someone only needs to visit the parkrun site once to register and download a barcode, which is scanned at the end of the run.
Attractive: parkrun events are held in parks or other similar open spaces, on traffic-free paths. A run, jog, or walk in the park always sounds like a good idea. Recognition is given to participants who have completed 50, 100, 250, or 500 runs, giving a target to aim for.
Social: parkrun is explicitly social, with the tagline “it’s a run, not a race.” Most events have a local cafe or catering truck where participants meet for coffee, snacks, and chat after the run. All organisation and marshalling on the day is performed by volunteers.
Timely: Events are held on Saturday mornings at the same time every week – so Saturday is often referred to as “parkrunday.”
EAST offers insightful and valuable reasons for the success of parkrun locally and globally. There may be additional reasons that might further explain the ‘world domination’ of parkrun.
I would like to propose an extension of EAST to EASTER, that is with the addition of
Enjoyable: Recent research by Rocha and Grateo (2017) in a study of the process towards a commitment to running, found that the most dominant indicator of continued running was whether the participant found it fun. Enjoyment rated well above other potentially motivating factors such as social, appearance and health reasons. We are only going to keep doing something if we enjoy it, right?
Regulated: Events that are well organized, where it starts on time, the volunteers know what to do, and the results come out in a timely way is the ideal. When it does occur this way, parkrunners will find it more enjoyable and therefore more motivating to return the following week.
Why do some parkunners profess strong allegiance to parkrun?
When the EASTER concept is applied well to a parkrun then is it any wonder that participants want to return each week and start amassing a considerable number ‘under their belt’. They have established a strong allegiance to the event. How does this process occur where an individual participant progresses to that place of committed and continued involvement? The process might be explained by the PCM model of behavioural change. The PCM, that is, Psychological Continuum Model is a theoretical framework proposing that participants move from an initial stage of awareness to a final stage of allegiance, passing through attraction and attachment to an active leisure activity. (Funk and James, 2001).
These hierarchical stages of change as it relates to encouraging allegiance to parkrun might be described as follows:
Awareness – Becoming aware that parkrun is available to a community will depend on effective marketing mainly through social media and one-on-one ‘word of mouth’. When a community member becomes aware that there is a parkrun nearby the attraction and attendance to their first parkrun will often depend on their motives and an invitation from a friend. ‘Attraction’ is, therefore, the next stage.
Attraction – The reasons for attendance will usually depend on an individual’s motives. These motives can include a desire to socialize, to start the day with the ‘feel good’ chemicals of the exercise experience, to get the family outdoors, to walk or run the dog, or sometimes to compete with others or themselves to achieve a sense of ‘competency’. Regular attendance can lead to the next stage of ‘attachment’.
Attachment – Once attending, parkrunners may become firmly attached to the event if it fulfils the individual’s motives and needs. If an event meets the many and varied needs of parkrunners and offers a well organized, rich and varied experience, the next stage of ‘allegiance’ may occur.
Allegiance – Feelings of loyalty to the event and a continued fulfilment of a parkrunners motives and needs leads to allegiance.
The weekly parkrun event encourages social cohesiveness in the community, as well as promoting regular physical exercise as beneficial to the health of individuals.
To explain the success of parkrun locally, nationally and globally, look at the concept of EASTER. parkrun can fulfil each one of these six criteria; Easy, Attractive, Social, Timely, Enjoyable and Regulated.
To explain the strong allegiance parkrunners show to their local event, look at how participants can move through the stages of Awareness, Attraction, Attachment to Allegiance in the Psychological Continuum Model of change.
John Robins and Miriam Tan
1. Rocha,C.M. and Grateo,O.A. (2017). The process toward commitment to running—The role of different motives, involvement, and coaching. Sport Management Review (yet to published – available online here in abstract form)
2. Funk, D. C., & James, J. D. (2001). The psychological continuum model: A conceptual framework for understanding an individual’s psychological connection to sport. Sport Management Review, 4(2), 119–150.
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