Patricia, Bernie and Ger from the core team at Strokestown parkrun explain the vital importance of walking at their event and how, in such a small town, Strokestown parkrun became so successful.
Strokestown is a small rural heritage town in Co Roscommon with a population of circa 825. It has the second widest street in Ireland and is home to the beautiful Strokestown Park House and Famine Museum. The House and Museum are run by The Irish Heritage Trust and every Saturday parkrun takes place in the grounds of Strokestown Park House.
The three of us have been friends for years and share a passion for walking, having spent many hours walking in the beauty of Strokestown Park House grounds. We were invited to the Park House, along with other members of the community for a meeting, where setting up a parkrun was discussed.
After understanding the concept, we readily signed up as volunteers and set about organising fundraising events to generate the start up costs and finding a suitable location. To us, it was obvious, Strokestown Park House grounds would be the perfect location. Luckily, John O Driscoll, General Manager of the estate was very supportive and excited about the prospect. He came out and walked possible routes with us until we found an ideal, three lap 5k course.
Although there was an athletic club in our town, they very much catered for runners and we knew there was a need to support walkers of all ages to get fit and healthy in our community.
Around the same time that we were starting parkrun, Sports Partnership, Sports Irl, Healthy Irl & Mountaineering Irl had launched a new initiative to get Ireland walking – this was a perfect fit for us.
We produced flyers promoting a six week walking programme that would start at our inaugural event and used word of mouth in the local community to make sure the message reached as many people as possible. We also worked closely with the athletic club, who provided lots of volunteers. We were delighted when the route was approved and we took on the responsibility of Event Director and Run Directors. On 15 September 2018 we launched the first Strokestown parkrun, together with the walking programme and 194 walkers, joggers and runners turned up.
“My name is Caroline and I am in my sixties. My children who are all living away from home alerted me to the fact that parkrun was starting up in Strokestown. They encouraged me to give it a go, knowing that I had recently got a new Labrador puppy who, like me, needed regular exercise. Although I went for short walks and attended a yoga class once a week I was not used to 5K walks or runs but I said I’d give it a go.
“I was very pleasantly surprised as to how much I enjoyed my first parkrun ; it was a friendly atmosphere with lots of encouragement all around and no pressure. It was such a positive experience that I decided myself and Rico the dog would make it a regular Saturday morning outing. As the weeks went by I enjoyed parkrun more and more, getting to know the other regulars and progressing to walk / jogging my way round. Who knows I may even manage to jog the full 5K one day. I’d encourage anyone regardless of age or fitness ability to give it a go. You plus or minus your dog won”t be disappointed!”
We are really proud that not only is our parkrun community made up of grandparents, mothers, fathers, daughters and sons all taking part together, but that is is made up of a good proportion of walkers and runners, in fact 38% of finishers at Strokestown take more than 40 minutes and our average finish time is 36:50, which is brilliant - the initial walk programme paid off!
Everyone, from the young to old, runners to walkers are interested in their times, but recently we have noticed that some of the walkers, are starting to run parts of the course as their fitness improves. Others enjoy walking a 5k with their friends on a Saturday morning, and the key to our success? We welcome and support everyone, no matter what their background and ability, and make sure that everyone leaves parkrun happy!
We now have a large volunteer group, growing from an initial 10 to 80! Although it is a big commitment to provide parkrun every week, we do so happily in the knowledge that everyone is benefiting, whether you walk, jog, run, volunteer or even just come along and watch. We are proud that we have created an event where walking is as valued and accepted as jogging or running, and that this has opened up parkrun to those who may not have any other opportunity to be active in the company of so many others.
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