Two years ago Adam Patnoe wasn’t a runner. Now he’s the leader of Charleston parkrun, which is adding 50 running/walking events per year to West Virginia’s capital city, all entirely free. Adam’s change came about thanks to the support of friends who helped get him active, plus a random encounter with a guy from Scotland. Now he’s hoping that Charleston parkrun can give others in the community the social support for exercise that helped him so much.
parkrun happened to me. Yes, while waiting to run a 10k race in Calgary, Alberta, Canada in July, 2017, I caught parkrun, from a guy from Scotland. I will just call him “Scottish Guy”, because I failed to catch his name.
Scottish Guy explained that parkrun — the lower-case “p” is on purpose — started out as free, timed 5k runs held in England every Saturday morning. Eventually, parkruns spread through the UK, into Europe, and then around the world. As parkrun evolved, it morphed into something for more than runners. Joggers and walkers are encouraged. And even pet dogs began to join many parkruns.
After Scottish Guy and I parted ways, I ran the 10k, thinking the whole time about the spread of parkrun. Had parkrun been somewhere near me the whole time and I just didn’t realize it?
Alas, parkrun was nowhere near Charleston, WV. Although there were about a dozen parkrun events across the US at the time, the nearest one was about 4 hours away in Mansfield, OH. But I was sure that it was a only a matter of time until something as contagious as parkrun would appear in our region.
You can run fast, or run slow, or take a stroll at parkrun. It’s not a race.
Flash back to about one and a half years ago, when I started running. Although I was relatively fit, running seemed out of the question because of my asthma and related health issues. Thankfully, due to the efforts of my asthma and allergy doctor, and my ENT doctor, in the last few years those problems had become well-managed.
I really started running by accident. My friend Rob St. Jean and I started to exercise together regularly. Rob would insist that we incorporate short runs into our workouts, and I reluctantly trailed along, convinced that I was no runner. Gradually, we went from running a few hundred feet together, then one mile, then two miles. I had not run two miles consecutively in my entire life, and here I was in my early forties starting to run distances!
Another friend, Wylie Faw, noticed that I was starting to be infected by running. He suggested that I try running the Charleston Winter Series, a 5k, 8k and 10k series of races held by the Charleston Parks and Recreation Department in December, January and February of each year. I gave into the impulse and registered. Each race was a challenge, but I completed all of them. And I was so consumed by running that I kept on signing up for more races, including our hilly Poca 9-mile race and the University of Charleston Half Marathon. I continue to run, some months more than others, with a few races sprinkled in here and there.
The Charleston Winter Running Series provides 3 events to get people moving in the colder months. Charleston parkrun will now provide an additional 50 events per year, all for free.
Running a race can be hard, and you might not have a Rob nor Wylie to give you a push to get you started. The symptoms of a race included a rush of endorphins. You push yourself harder when you know someone is timing you. Plus you have paid a race entry fee, and you don’t want to waste that. But just going to your first race can be pretty stressful. At least it was for me. Where is the start? Am I wearing clothing suitable to the conditions? Where do I go to register? Is everyone going to know that I am a newbie? Where are the bathrooms? (Seriously, I have to go seconds before the start of every race; I almost missed the start of that 9-miler in Poca, WV because I was hunting for the porta-potty.)
This is one of the things that is so compelling to me about the parkrun phenomenon. Although they are timed, so you get to see and keep track of how you performed at each event, parkruns are not races. As a matter of fact, there are parkrun police looking to pounce on parkrun Event Directors like me for using the term “race” when speaking or writing about parkrun. Okay that’s a (minor) exaggeration … But truly, they are not races.
Instead, parkruns are like runs or walks, or a bit of both, with a group of friends. Sometimes you might want to run as fast as you can; other times you might want to just take it easy. If you come to a parkrun not knowing anyone, you can run or walk with others, get to know them, and then go somewhere with the group for coffee afterwards. We have not decided yet where our post-parkrun meetup will held, but it’ll be somewhere. And you can even bring your dog, as long as you only bring one, and keep them on a short leash. Sadly, they probably can’t join us for coffee…
Kids probably should not drink coffee either. However, you can bring children with you if you have them. Children of all ages can catch the parkrun bug, but those 11-years-old and younger must stay within reach throughout the entire parkrun. If they are too young to run or walk the 5k, wheel them in a stroller for part or all of the course. And remember that they will be more likely to catch the running or walking bug if they see you doing so.
So please bring friends and family of all ages and abilities to Charleston parkrun. They will enjoy the course, which starts and finishes at Magic Island Park. Plenty of street-side parking is available nearby, and there is a huge parking lot across from Magic Island Park, conveniently covered by the I-64 bridge.
Magic Island Park is the start/finish for Charleston parkrun. And it could be a great place to cool off after a summer run.
Charleston parkrun’s course starts at Magic Island Park, runs along the brand-new section of pathway towards Patrick Street Plaza, turns around at the water fountain, runs back past where you started, across the bridge over the Elk River, then a few hundred yards further until you turn around and head back to Magic Island. That might sound dizzying, but it’s really straightforward, and there’s plenty of opportunity to greet other parkrunners along the way. A parkrun is not a race, and we aim to create a community of active people who are looking out for each other. parkrunners are great people!
What an inviting new section of trail!
Speaking of great people, the folks at the City of Charleston Parks and Recreation Department, especially John Charnock, Director, and his staff Julianne Yacovone and Kelsey Gilbert, have been super supportive for bringing parkrun to Charleston. They have embraced the potential for Charleston parkrun to help keep the community active year round. As supporters of Charleston parkrun, they have provided much of the resources, publicity, know-how, advice and a key to the all-important bathrooms at Magic Island Park! If you see them, give them a big parkrun high-five as a thank you! (Especially for the key to the bathrooms.)
So what should you bring along to parkrun? Dress appropriately for the weather. We meet every week, year round, so that will change with the seasons. parkrun is totally free and minimalist, so if you’ll want water or snacks, bring those with you. And please take everything away with you. We aim to leave the park without a trace. Please do bring family and friends, including kids. Bring your dog on a leash if you have one. Bring smiles, too. And if you can sometimes help out as a volunteer, then so much the better. Everyone at parkrun, including yours truly, is a volunteer, and every event thrives based on participants helping out as volunteers. We’ll need help timing, marshaling, and setting up, among other roles, all very easy to do.
Adam’s family measuring the 5K course for Charleston parkrun. Dogs are welcome at parkrun. And strollers. So how about dogs in strollers?
Oh, and do not forget to bring your barcode to each parkrun. Barcode? One-time free registration at parkrun.us will get you a personal barcode. Print it out and bring it with you to every parkrun. Your barcode is your free ticket to over a thousand parkrun events every week around the world. It’s the one thing that you’ll need with you at the finish, and we can only track your progress if you bring your barcode.
So yes, I caught the parkrun bug and I want to pass it on to you! parkrun is in more and more US communities, and it’s also international. Many events see parkrunners show up from all over the globe. So if you are traveling, go to www.parkrun.com and check to see if your destination has a local parkrun. And if you run into Scottish Guy, please thank him for giving us a good case of the parkrun!
Charleston parkrun launches Saturday May 5th at 8:00am, and every Saturday after that. The start time will be 9:00am in the winter months.
The event follows a scenic trail along the Kanawha River, starting and finishing at Magic Island Park.
There is no fee to enter, but first-time participants should register for a personal barcode at parkrun.us.
For more information about Charleston parkrun, visit
Adam Patnoe, Event Director
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