It has been an exciting year for parkrun USA. We doubled in size – again! – and that was fairly predictable. We staged 543 free 5k events in 2017. But most of the highlights were things that we couldn’t have anticipated. Here are some of our highlights from the past year: our favorite numbers, our favorite stories, our favorite pictures, and our hopes for the year ahead, as we work to build healthy communities around the country.
parkrun USA continues on its path of doubling in size every year.
At the start of 2016 there were 4 weekly parkrun USA parkrun events. Event 8 launched in January 2017 in Mansfield, OH. Now there are 15 events, with event 16, South Boulder Creek parkrun, due to launch February 24th. With 12 events across the border in Canada, too, North America has gone from 4 to 28 parkruns in just over two years.
In 2016 we staged 272 free 5k events. In 2017 this doubled to 543 events. The 2016 total of 14,000 runs completed doubled to 28,000 in 2017, continuing a pattern of doubling each year that started in 2014 and 2015. 21,000 Americans have now registered for a free parkrun barcode. 1400 people have volunteered almost 9000 times to support parkrun in their community.
Clermont Waterfront parkrun had the first 200+ finisher parkrun in the US in July, which was then topped by Crissy Field parkrun in October, when the kids from Running for a Better Oakland pushed the record up to 256.
These numbers are still small, relative to the scale of the US, or to the size of parkrun globally, where there are now 4 million registrants, over 1000 events, and often 200,000 runs per week. But the thing about doubling every year is that if you keep at it, the numbers get big fast. That is what we are working to be ready for.
At parkrun USA our main goal is to build healthy communities. That involves getting people moving, and getting people moving in their communities. But it is fun to see new records set, and there were plenty to enjoy in 2017.
Rebecca Robinson set an overall female record of 16:54 at Crissy Field parkrun on October 28th. It was also her birthday. A chance mid-week encounter in early August led Paul Martelletti to set an overall male record of 14:57 at College Park parkrun on August 5th. College Park co-Event Director Colin Phillips ran into Paul while on his morning run, recognized him from the previous week’s parkrun USA photo roundup, and talked him into coming to College Park parkrun on Saturday. On March 18th Ani Veltcheva set a parkrun USA age-graded record of 94.1%. Her time of 17:17 was also a world record for 12-year olds.
And also Slower
This might come as a surprise, but we’re also proud of the fact that parkrun USA got slower in 2017. Building healthy communities means getting more people active, which means reaching people who don’t think of themselves as runners, and probably a lot of walkers. It also means reaching into US communities that have fewer running opportunities, and that are tackling the growing challenges of inactivity, obesity, and social isolation.
In 2017 parkrun USA made strides into smaller US communities. Mansfield, OH is a town of 50,000, about an hour from the state capital of Columbus. Their small-but-vibrant parkrun will soon celebrate its first anniversary. Ottawa, IL is a town of 18,000, 90 minutes’ drive from Chicago. And Moberly, MO is a town of 14,000, a couple of hours’ drive from Kansas City. Anacostia, in southwest Washington DC, is not a small community, but it is chronically underserved by health and wellness opportunities found in the rest of the DC area.
One of the numbers that we follow is the average finish time at parkrun events. And we are just delighted that this year’s new events are also our slowest events. Six of this year’s new events have average finish times of 36 to 43 minutes. That means that more people who walk, or who are just starting to run, are feeling comfortable joining us. We have no doubt that we’re making more of a difference to these people’s lives than we are to the speed demons.
Numbers are great, but it is the stories that bring to life the difference that parkrun is making to individuals and to communities. Here are some of our favorite stories about parkrunners and parkruns from this year.
A unique parkrun double (or “the lengths to which you go”): a US parkrunner does two parkruns in one day, by running in Auckland, NZ then hopping a flight to Crissy Field parkrun in California. [parkrun USA blog]
For Xander, parkrun is where running is about other people, rather than about cystic fibrosis: powerful story from the mother of a 4-year old regular at College Park parkrun. [parkrun USA blog]
Leakin Park, Really? How parkrun is drawing people back to a park that is better known for its role in crime series. [parkrun USA blog]
parkrun lovers ask Why pay to run a 5k? [Link via Twitter due to paywall.] A nice article about the growth of parkrun USA, in a newspaper that you may have heard of. [Rachel Bachman, Wall St Journal]
Moberly parkrun this weekend. It’s nice to be covered in the big national media, but this piece from North Central Missouri captured what parkrun means as well as any we’ve seen. [Pat Pratt, Moberly Monitor]
Building a parkrun USA community
We love the communities that grow up around every single parkrun event, but we also want to build a national parkrun community, bridging the huge distances between many US events. To that end, in 2017 we moved the parkrun USA newsletter from a monthly to a weekly schedule. If you’re not receiving it in your email inbox every Friday, check your settings on parkrun.com. We started sharing weekly roundups of photos and stories from all across parkrun USA. They appear in the newsletter every Friday, but you can see them earlier by following parkrun USA on Facebook.
We also started a “parkrun USA group” on Facebook, featuring discussion of all things related to parkrun in the US. You have to click to request membership, and answer a couple of simple questions to show that you’re legit, but it is open to all US parkrunners. Currently there’s a weekly “coffee house” thread on Saturdays where parkrunners share their stories from the day, and an interesting weekly data report on Sundays featuring interesting facts and figures from the week.
We also encourage parkrunners to sample different events, to get to know other parkrun communities. “parkrun tourism” is an established thing in countries like the UK, but it barely existed in the US before 2017. Now more and more US parkrunners are incorporating parkruns into their travels. At the start of the year just 3 people had visited 5 different US parkruns. Now there are 26, with more coming every week. There are no prizes for visiting lots of parkruns, but the personal reward of showing up to a new community where you know you’ll be immediately welcomed is not to be underestimated.
Hopes for 2018
A handful of US communities already #loveparkrun. Many more would like to share in the fun, but face barriers to launching a parkrun. And hundreds more would love having a parkrun if only they knew that it existed. So our focus for 2018 is to help create more healthy communities by spreading the word and by removing barriers to event development. We are building a team of parkrun ambassadors who can help support local teams. We are also working on outreach to parks authorities and landowners, who are key partners in any attempt to create a parkrun.
We also hope to have more US “parkrun clusters” in 2018, with multiple events in a single region or urban area. The experience in the Washington DC area has been very positive. Fletcher’s Cove parkrun started in early 2016, then it spawned two more DC events, and inspired another, which is now inspiring other new events that should launch in the first half of 2018. Participation at Fletcher’s Cove grew modestly in 2017, but participation across the DC area grew rapidly, increasing from 3500 runs in 2016 to around 9000 runs in 2017. So there’s no evidence that nearby parkruns cannibalize each other. Instead, they raise awareness, increase participation, and create stronger support for local teams. There are teams in different parts of the US now looking to replicate the success that we have seen in the Washington DC area.
So what were the highlights of your parkrun year?
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