Do you remember your first parkrun? Most of us do. For some it might have been a last minute, slapdash idea to go along with a mate; for others it was the beginning of a life changing decision.
Everyone has their own parkrun story and it’s unique to them. Something most parkrunners across Australia can identify with however, is the creation of friendships, personal growth and new beginnings in vast and diverse locations of our wonderful nation.
This weekend marks 10 years of parkrun in Australia, and we want to celebrate everything that is unique to our story. Whilst parkrun began in Bushy Park, London, parkrun is an Australian success story. We have turned this remarkable community event from the UK, into something with a definite Aussie flavour.
Whilst Anzac biscuits, Vegemite on toast and a sausage sizzle might be more familiar Aussie flavours, the success of parkrun can be attributed to something far more extraordinary. The simplicity of engagement is a key element of parkrun’s appeal; you don’t need a qualification, special equipment or clothing to join in: you just rock up and participate.
This resonates with the laid-back nature of our country and good-natured remarks can be heard on any given Saturday morning. “Come to parkrun mate, it’s the deadset best way to start the weekend, you should bring the rellies too!”
In April 2011, 115 people participated in the very first event on the Gold Coast and since then another 704,244 people have joined in. Despite the continued growth in overall numbers, the focus in Australia has been the same as anywhere across the globe; concentrating on the health and happiness of every individual who takes part. There has been so much to celebrate throughout the years, with stories such as Paul Webb, who has lost 80kgs, tackled social anxiety and made friends on a journey that’s taken him from first timer and volunteer to sub 30-minute parkrunner and Run Director.
Understanding the significance of the 10-year growth can be made tangible when we compare it to one of our junior parkrunners, Carrington Gee. Carrington was born the same week parkrun launched in Australia and said she felt proud to have grown up alongside a true Australian success story.
Australians love the great outdoors. We have fond memories of playing outside as kids, we are respectful of the land, we appreciate the natural beauty of the different landscapes and we are avid travellers. With more than 400 events to visit, the diversity of landscapes you’ll enjoy as a parkrun tourist is a uniquely Australian experience. We are so lucky.
We have courses weaving through vineyards such as Ocean View in Queensland, on sandy beaches in Newcastle, through metropolitan cities like St Peters in Sydney, beside the Swan River in Perth, through the tropical settings of far north Queensland and over dusty red tracks in outback NSW.
Kangaroos, koalas or echidnas could accompany you on course while birds sing and laugh overhead. You then get to join your newfound friends for a cool drink in a breezy outdoor setting in the Northern Territory, or experience a trendy latte in a bustling Melbourne café.
Ten years of research into the barriers and motivations to taking part in parkrun has helped transform us from an organisation that grows purely from word of mouth, into a movement that proactively engages with people from all sections of society. The renaming of the Tail Runner volunteer position to Tail Walker, the introduction of the First Timers Welcome and the creation of the volunteer Outreach Ambassador program have all been based on extensive insight and have broadened parkrun’s appeal. This has all helped more people experience the immense benefits from parkrun.
Communities take many forms and for parkrun to be truly inclusive, our events must be accessible to people who cannot access parkrun in all parts of society. This is why we have introduced parkrun to women’s and men’s correctional centres, co-gender youth detention facilities and on a restricted military base. For participants living and working in these facilities, parkrun plays an important role in improving their health and happiness. Should they wish to continue with parkrun when they leave, parkrun can help them transition back into the community and feel a sense of cohesion and belonging.
In 2011, the average parkrun finish time in Australia was 27:42. In 2021, it is 33:54. For 10 consecutive years, parkrun has seen a slowing of average finish times. We celebrate this as it shows parkrun has increasingly broken down barriers to participation and welcomed more and more people for whom physical activity was not previously the norm.
parkrun welcomes everyone, regardless of experience, fitness level or capability. And for all Aussies, that’s a bloody ripper of an outcome!
What started as a running event has become a community event, that is truly for everyone – whether you walk, jog, run, volunteer or spectate. And we are committed to our events being free, for everyone, forever.
As a Senior Lecturer in tourism and events at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Aaron Tkaczynski has used examples of parkrun events in his classes as an ultimate leisure and sporting experience for tourists, residents and volunteers. I have just crossed the line and feel euphoric. The nerves from the start of the race are…
Saturday mornings used to mean long marathon training runs for Peta Shanahan. When she heard about parkrun, she could not understand why someone would want to run 5km in the same place each week. Six years, 234 runs and 273 times as a volunteer later, she’s happy to have been proven wrong. The…