Himmel parkrun, which launches November 17th in a neighborhood park in central Tucson, is shaping up to be a fusion of international and local. Organizers David and Alicia Armet were inspired by their experiences in London to bring the free, weekly 5k run series to Tucson. But parkrun’s combination of fitness and community building fits neatly into a popular Tucson tradition for walking and socializing.
The Himmel parkrun journey started with a small article in a local London neighborhood newspaper in 2011. In the urban center of London, skyscrapers loom and green spaces are generally small. But a short bus ride offered a new opportunity – a free, timed 5k run at Highbury Fields, every single week, followed by a coffee get-together. In the isolation of the urban jungle, a free, regular event that included fitness and coffee in a beautiful green space is exactly what David and Alicia Armet were looking for.
Their adventure with parkrun began as a way of running together, and training for races that both were working towards. David had been a runner for many years, but Alicia was new to the sport. Joining parkrun was a great way to train together despite their different backgrounds. It was a 5k for everyone, where speed and skill didn’t matter, and progress could be tracked each week.
Highbury Fields parkrun became a routine, a home for keeping fit and meeting friends. Three children came along, and were adopted into the parkrun family; from being pushed around the route weekly in the stroller by David, to helping Alicia and the volunteers cheer on the parkrunners and collect finishing tokens, to playing with everyone at the local coffee meet-up, the children grew up with parkrun. It was a weekly routine the family knew they would not want to be without.
Highbury Fields parkrun is one of London’s 50 free, weekly parkrun events that brighten even the greyest Saturday morning.
In early 2018, a change in David’s job provided an opportunity to return to his hometown of Tucson, Arizona. Unfortunately, the nearest parkrun was hundreds of miles away, and David knew that if he wanted to keep this great tradition, he would have to bring parkrun to Tucson. There are over 500 parkrun 5k events every Saturday in the UK, but it is still relatively new in the US, with 25 current locations, but it is rapidly spreading.
With the help of Martin, the dynamic event director of Highbury Fields parkrun, David began to plan. Martin connected David to his longtime friend, former track and field coach and training enthusiast, Malcolm Coomber, who happened to live in Tucson. Malcolm had a passion for teaching and training in sports, beginning with an early career as a physical education teacher in the UK, and eventually found his way to Tucson, working with a variety of fitness organizations including the University of Arizona women’s track team, a local chiropractor, and exercise rehabilitation center and more. Starting a parkrun offered a new opportunity for Malcolm to volunteer with local sports, and his experience and enthusiasm was exactly what David needed to get parkrun off the ground in Tucson.
co-Event Directors David Armet and Malcolm Coomber were brought together by a mutual friend thousands of miles away from Tucson
In the spring, David and Malcolm began researching parks and routes, and talking to the local community about parkrun. They explored several different parks and running routes around town, but kept coming back to Himmel Park in central Tucson, where David had spent much of his youth. By the time David arrived in Tucson with his family in July, they had mapped out a route and immediately began trial runs. The City of Tucson Parks and Recreation team were supportive of the idea, and talks began with parkrun USA. Soon informal meetups were taking place at Himmel Park at 7am every Saturday morning. In the baking summer heat the numbers were small, so the next challenge was finding a steady group of participants to build the parkrun.
The informal meetups at Himmel Park drew more runners and walkers as summer turned to autumn
As it turned out, Tucson already has a similar event, Meet Me at Maynards (MMM), a free, weekly Monday evening walk/run coordinated with the Tucson Medical Center that focuses on a combination of fitness and community. MMM allows participants to start at different times along the route, complete their desired distance, and afterwards meet up at a local downtown restaurant. MMM is hugely popular, and some wondered if there would be room for a parkrun as well in a city already connected with this kind of event.
Tucson’s popular Meet Me at Maynard’s meetups are all about getting active outdoors as a community. Just like parkrun.
David reached out to the MMM team and attended several times, finding great support from founder Jannie and the MMM community. Almost immediately, a dedicated group of ladies from MMM made parkrun their Saturday morning home for fitness. Dale led the way by volunteering for different roles, including run director and timekeeper, and Cheryl, Mary, and Midge worked together as “tail walkers” – parkrun events always have a volunteer whose role it is to finish last, so that nobody else will finish last – and they are always willing to share a smile and friendly conversation all the way to the finish line. Denise, also from MMM, worked tirelessly each week to improve her 5k time, and also to recruit fellow MMM participants to parkrun with her special ‘Ask Me About parkrun’ badge.
Denise has been spreading the word about parkrun to fellow MMM enthusiasts
The support of the MMM team has been invaluable to bringing parkrun to Tucson, and it adds a key dimension. In the UK parkrun started in 2004 as an event for runners. As it grew into a huge movement, attracting over 100,000 participants weekly in the UK alone it worked to be as inclusive as possible, welcoming beginners and walkers. But it can be daunting for walkers to join in. In the US, parkrun events already are drawing more and more walkers. But in Tucson the partnership with MMM means that walkers are a big presence from the very beginning.
As autumn arrived, temperatures began to drop, and word began to spread about the new, free Saturday morning 5k in Himmel Park, and the number of participants began to grow. Saturday mornings saw 20 – 25 participants each week, with many others promising to attend when the weather was cool enough to change the start time from 7am to 8am. The post-parkrun coffee meetup is a popular feature of parkrun, and the Himmel group found an excellent venue at nearby Rincon Market.
The parkrun team gathered community partners, funding, permits, and a hundred other details required to set up a new event. Local partners offered their support, including the Sam Hughes Neighborhood Association, The Running Shop, and several Tucson family owned businesses. Himmel parkrun will join the parkrun USA family on Saturday November 17th.
Nearby Rincon Market is a perfect venue for the post-parkrun meetup
With a few months of informal runs under our belts, there’s already a growing community of Himmel ‘parkrunners’. We asked them why they came along, and what keeps them coming back.
“My friends, Midge and Mary, saw the [parkrun] advertisement in the Meet Me at Maynards weekly emails. They asked if I’d be interested. Why not! Going to be out exercising and getting geared up for some races anyway. Himmel Park is a beautiful place to run/walk with great people on a Saturday morning.”
“Himmel Park is a great Central location. But better than that is how welcoming everyone is, no matter their ability level or age.”
All are welcome at Himmel parkrun. You don’t need to be a runner
“I like coming to parkrun because it’s a good way to mark my progress and having a weekly event holds me accountable to get more runs in during the week.”
“Himmel Park is alive with activity on a Saturday morning. I see yoga, soccer, runners, dogs, kids and even wildlife – vermillion flycatchers and hawks – I never would have known this if I hadn’t shown up [for parkrun]. What an amazing place to be!”
“I attended parkrun for six years while living in London. My children have never known a Saturday without parkrun. I’m very pleased that this year, when my family and I relocated from London UK to Tucson, we could be involved with starting a local parkrun.”
These kids have never known Saturday mornings without parkrun
Where: Himmel Park, Tucson. Start is just south of the Himmel Park Library.
When: 8AM every Saturday November – March, 7AM April – October.
Post-parkrun meetup: Rincon Market, 2513 E. 6th St Tucson, AZ 85716
Who: All welcome, runners and walkers of all ages, including children in strollers and dogs on short leashes (one dog per person, please). Children must be at least 4 years of age to register, and children under 11 must stay within arm’s reach of an adult.
Registration: FREE one-time registration at parkrun.us gets you a personal barcode that you simply need to print out and bring along to Himmel parkrun. It’s also your ticket to any of the more than 1300 parkrun events worldwide each week.
Volunteers: Himmel parkrun is free every week thanks to the volunteers who act as course marshals, timekeepers, barcode scanners, etc. Drop us a line if you can help some time: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information:
Join us, every Saturday morning, starting November 17th
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