Most people involved with parkrun want to shout about it from the rooftops because they want everyone to know how much they like it — as an event, a community, a concept. But the culture and ethos of parkrun is more reserved and humble, reflecting the nature of its founder. parkrun is written as one word with a lowercase ‘p’, representing the simplicity and inclusivity of the organization and the events.
Everyone plays a part in creating the distinctive parkrun environment. But certain people that come to mind who particularly embody the “little p” mentality. We asked event leaders from across the country to tell us about those people, and these are some of their stories. And then we checked in with somebody who knows more about the little p than anybody else.
Regina Cross, Event Director at Moberly parkrun suggested Jennifer Wilson. Jennifer learned about parkrun when Regina spoke at the local hospital where she works. Jennifer came to parkrun by herself one week, then the next week she brought her nephew who runs competitively. Two weeks later she brought her sister-in-law and her other nephew. She is a determined walker and frequently volunteers as tail walker when she’s not working. Regina appreciates Jennifer’s encouragement of healthy behaviors within her family and her “low-key vibe” in doing so.
Jennifer appreciates how parkrun provides a weekly opportunity for free physical activity, for meeting others, and for getting outdoors to enjoy the weather. She said, “It’s great how everyone cheers each other on, whether you are the slowest or the fastest. Most of all, I like that I can just stop the hectic lifestyle and focus on getting healthier for that amount of time.”
Renton, WA parkrunner Brian Thompson is another person who exemplifies the parkrun mentality. Brian got involved while Renton was still conducting practice runs. He was relatively quiet and reserved, so the team was pleasantly surprised when he started joining the group for coffee and breakfast. He has been a regular runner and volunteer since the November launch, and he always stays after his run until the tailwalker comes through. He may not be the loudest of the cheer squad, but support is not measured in decibels.
Kortney Thoma, an Event Director at Renton parkrun, said: “Brian is someone who embodies servant leadership, who doesn’t require or desire accolades and gives to the community because it is simply good to do so.” Brian hopes to help grow Renton parkrun and ensure its future success. He recently stepped up into the role of Run Director for the first time and he is also helping to spread the word about parkrun within the local running community. Brian’s humble nature and thoughtfulness will continue to shape the local parkrun culture.
Cindy Conant is a member of the core volunteer team for the new Kensington parkrun in Maryland and another “little p” standout. Like many on the Kensington team, she was a regular at nearby College Park parkrun before helping to create the Kensington event, which starts March 24th. To say that Cindy is an accomplished runner would be putting it mildly. She was recently named USA Track & Field 2017 female runner of the year for her age group, and she holds the adult age-graded record for all of parkrun USA. But she’s not one to brag. Event Director Pam Marcus mused, “I’ve always wondered why Cindy wanted to get involved in starting a parkrun. I wonder if it’s a break from the stress of being an elite runner?” We asked Cindy this directly, and she replied that she doesn’t consider herself an elite runner exactly, rather an older athlete who has been able to improve and gain confidence over the years. “It is all about getting outside and moving and not about being the fastest … and getting folks hooked on something I love to do which is such a part of my routine!” she said.
Colin Phillips, an Event Director for College Park parkrun said “Cindy’s the fastest runner in her age group in the entire country and she could go around doing all kinds of fancy events. But you wouldn’t know that she’s a star runner (until she disappears over the horizon), and she loves parkrun.”
Cindy recently wrote a run report for a Kensington trial parkrun and she touched on the things she loves about the event. The ability to take part in any parkrun worldwide with one registration was mentioned. But she concluded by writing “… the thing I love the best is the low-key, community feel.” She also wrote that she was “darn proud” of her niece Erin for her run that morning. Erin is not a competitive runner like her aunt, but she has become a regular parkrunner and consistency has led to regular PBs. Elite runners could easily be intimidating to novice parkruners, but Cindy’s embrace of the inclusive welcoming community shows that it really doesn’t matter how fast you are. Everybody’s efforts and accomplishments are celebrated.
These three parkrunners come from different parts of the country, and they come to a running event from vastly different backgrounds. But like so many others that we meet each week, they embody the “little p” spirit, and so they fit right in.
Finally, we checked in with Paul Sinton-Hewitt, who founded parkrun as a low-key meetup for a run and a coffee with some of his friends, in a London park in 2004. Paul is the epitome of the “little p” spirit: humble, generous, and reserved in the extreme.
One of our favorite stories about Paul is from a recent visit to a busy London parkrun, where he helped out as a finish line volunteer. The mother of one of the regulars also volunteered that day, and found herself organizing finish tokens with Paul. She reported afterwards to her son that she had a good morning at parkrun, and that she was working with a nice man called Paul. She was unaware that she had been volunteering with the man who founded the whole movement.
Paul explained to us how the name ‘parkrun’ and its distinctive spelling came to be.
“Prior to our movement being called parkrun, we called it a Time Trial. So the first event was called Bushy Park Time Trial and the second Wimbledon Common Time Trial and so on. Obviously, as we grew we were heading for trouble with this naming convention. Equally, Time Trial just didn’t encompass what we were really about. The first 5% of participants were engaged in a time trial but for the rest we were engaged in a ‘park run’. In 2008 I worked with Nike London to rebrand the movement. While we were searching for a cool new name, a friend who wasn’t aware that I was looking for a new name offered me a piece of advice. Stuart suggested in passing that I should call it ‘parkrun’. At first, this didn’t sit well with me, however, over time it started to make sense.
The rest is history. Nike was brilliant. They threw all their creative resources at the opportunity and this is why we have a name that is always one word and lowercase. The reason it is lowercase is simply a branding issue. Symbolically it conveys the message that we are inclusive, friendly, fun and active.”
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