March is a market town in Cambridgeshire that has played host to a parkrun since January 2016. It is located in The Fens (a local term for an area of marshland), a coastal plain that was drained hundreds of years ago.
March parkrun is four equal laps around West End Park and is run mainly on grass, with a dozen steps at the end of each lap to make up for the fact that there are no hills in the Fens! These steps are affectionately known as the ‘Dirty Dozen’. The route is adjacent to the the Old Nene river, with parkrunners meeting on the Bandstand in the park each Saturday. The Tea Parlour in the town, about a five minute walk away, is the meeting place for the post-parkrun cuppa.
Event Director Simon Render tells us more:
March is situated in the heart of the Fens and when the idea of brining parkrun to the town was first conceived, it was around 20 miles from the nearest parkrun. The Fens is not renowned for its levels of physical activity, and where I lived at the time (not far from March), there were more takeaway shops than pretty much anything else.
I had first became involved with parkrunning at Huntingdon parkrun in 2013 and began to volunteer more and more, often with my youngest daughter during what was a difficult time at home for us. A conversation with an Event Director at a different event set me on the path to establishing March parkrun.
It took two years to secure the necessary funds, and from then on things moved relatively quickly. With an enthusiastic but inexperienced Core Team and our local Ambassador, we held our inaugural event on 23 January 2016 with 242 finishers and 27 volunteers.
March is not a big parkrun and our weekly total of parkrunners varies from the low hundreds to 180 on a big day. Being this size of parkrun gives the event a fairly intimate feel and we know many of our parkrunners and most of our volunteers well.
We have tracked many journeys: peopple who have lost several stone and gone from parkrun to running half marathons and even marathons. We have people who have started running to get fit (quite a few from the local C25K group), go from jogging and walking, to completing the course and then looking (and succeeding) to get under 30 minutes. Some have gone on to join their local running clubs and take part in loner events. We have seen juniors start running with their parents, then getting to 11 and running on their own and some going on to represent their school or county.
Amongst our volunteers we have our own legends too. We have ‘Tick’ (aged 70+) who turns up rain or shine and high-fives the runners by the Skate Park every week. We have Gena (80+) who gives out tokens most weeks and then sorts them in the Tea Parlour afterwards (she and her husband started the March Braza Athletic Club back in the 1980s). We have Billy, who helps set up every week, then goes and does his speedwork and then comes back to volunteer and encourage the parkrunners. The we have the Wools, the Pearces, the Jeeves and the Bryants, families who all contribute week in, week out. We have places on the course named after our regular volunteers from the early days – Whibley’s point, Brand’s Corner (Andrew and Kathryn and their three, now four, girls), and we have Harry’s Hill.
For me March parkrun has become a family, we see some people most weeks, some during high days and holidays and we’ve watched people grow, get fit, lose weight, gain confidence and make new friends. We have pacers every week which now always include: run 1 minute/walk 1 minute and run 2 minutes/walk 1 minute. Our volunteers are incredibly supportive and they smile, cheer and encourage no matter what the weather. Personally, my favourite part of parkrun is pacing. There’s just something that makes me smile about helping someone to achieve a new goal. Being able to run at a consistent pace and one that you don’t normally run at is a bit of an art form but it’s much more than that, it’s seeing the sheer joy on the face of someone who has just smashed out a new PB (be it 23 or 33 minutes). It’s about helping someone achieve something that they didn’t think they could just half an hour ago.
My personal favourite is Bill (70+), who rocked up one cold winter’s morning on his bike and said to me – ‘ere what’s going on then? We chatted and he came back without his bike and jogged and walked his first parkrun. Bill has now completed 66 parkruns and runs under 30 minutes regularly with a PB of 27 minutes. He also runs races regularly for March AC too now.
March parkrun has definitely had a positive impact on the local community, bringing people together, helping people on their fitness/wellbeing journey. We have forged new links with Fenland District Council, local running clubs and groups and made many new friends. parkrun has also acted as a feeder for the local running club and has given people the confidence to take that next step.
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