As we prepare to celebrate our 13th birthday this weekend, it’s hard not to reflect on how far we have come in such a short space of time. 13 runners and a handful of volunteers at our first event has grown into a global community of more than 2.5 million participants. And while the numbers are impressive, it’s the friendships, the life-changing stories and the positivity that I have always seen as the true measure of our success.
Yet despite growing into the world’s largest running event, and having such a profound impact on so many people and communities, there are still folk in running circles who don’t quite understand parkrun in the same way we do. For example, the editor a prominent magazine in the UK recently asked a journalist to attend a parkrun to secretly ‘cheat’ by not completing the full 5k, and then write about his experience.
Of course, the subject of this article is a pointless one. Our events are not races, it is not a competition. 13 years ago, when I started our first event, I called it ‘Bushy Park Time Trial’. It was always a timed run, offering the opportunity to measure progress on a weekly basis, and those principles still exist: there are no winners, or prizes, and so should someone choose to cheat, they choose only to cheat themselves. However, the subject of this article is food for thought and does make us consider what parkrun really is all about.
For a while now I’ve been contemplating the values that all of us as parkrunners represent. It’s no secret that I was an injured runner when I came up with the idea of parkrun, and the 5k run was the ‘hook’ to get my mates to the park at 9am each Saturday. Really though, it was all about creating an opportunity to catch up with those friends in the park cafe afterwards.
Of course parkrun has adapted and evolved since those early days, but the reason that so many communities have embraced it hasn’t changed – it brings people together in a social, supportive and non-competitive environment. parkruns are not races, there are no winners, and we celebrate participation – whether it be walking, running or volunteering – over performance.
Yes parkruns are timed for people who want to keep track of their own personal improvements, there are finishing positions and age grading percentages too, all of these though are instruments for measuring personal progression, if that’s what you want. We regularly hear stories of people who are achieving what they never thought possible, but for many parkrunners it is simply about running or walking with like-minded people and being part of their local community.
So on the eve of us entering our teenage years, I would like to say a personal thank you to each and every one of you, who all play an important role in promoting the values that we stand for. parkrun is so much more than a traditional running event and together we are creating a healthier and happier planet.
Whichever parkrun you are walking, jogging, running or volunteering at this weekend, I would like to wish you a happy International parkrun Day.
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