A survey of more than 1500 parkrunners in New Zealand has revealed extensive support for the decision to reopen parkrun events, and overwhelming optimism about returning to parkrun this month.
A staggering 97% of respondents signalled their intention to return to parkrun as walkers or runners within the first four weeks, with 65% expressing a desire to volunteer.
The study also highlighted how the differing personal experiences of parkrunners during the pandemic is impacting people’s attitude towards parkrun participation, with several revealing a more cautious approach to returning.
With government guidelines paving the way for New Zealand events to restart, parkrun was keen to understand the impact of the lockdown on the physical and mental health of the parkrun community, and their feelings about returning to parkrun when events resume this Saturday 4 July.
Just over a third (36%) of respondents revealed the Coronavirus lockdown in New Zealand had a negative effect on their mental health, with parkrunners aged 25-34 the most likely to have been adversely impacted.
A quarter of those who responded said their physical health had been adversely affected, with 37% revealing their physical activity levels had decreased whilst parkrun events were paused.
“The uncertainty, loss of life globally, loss of jobs nationally and loss of personal freedom got me down, and this impacted me mentally to a point that being active regularly just didn’t feature in my day during lockdown,” said one female parkrunner. “However, as we’ve returned to normality and the community springs back to life, I’m responding to that energy and this has motivated me to get going and parkrun is on my radar again.”
Another said “Covid-19 has taken a huge toll on my mental health and I would like to get back to some kind of normal by being outdoors, with the community and doing something that will benefit my mental health.”
“parkrun is so important for my mental health and the support of the parkrun community helps me strive for better physical health — I miss parkrun so much,” said one participant.
The survey also demonstrated that parkrun is viewed by many respondents as a significant motivational factor for becoming more physically active.
“I can’t wait until parkrun starts again. My motivation to go for a run completely disappeared two weeks into lockdown and hasn’t come back. I need parkrun to give me motivation to get my running shoes on!”
Another said “I like knowing I have parkrun in my timetable again and it is recorded that I have participated. My physical fitness has deteriorated as my work responsibilities increased dramatically, taking up a lot more of my time and mental capacity.”
People who walk at parkrun and those who live with a disability or long-term health condition were more likely to have experienced an adverse effect on their physical health yet, encouragingly, expressed broad positivity to parkrun reopening.
“As a special needs individual I love being part of the parkrun community,” said one male in his twenties.
16% of people admitted they were worried about leaving their homes to be physically active during lockdown, with a fifth of those aged under 45 compared to 12% of 45 and overs having this concern. 12% said they felt guilty about exercising outdoors during lockdown.
A male parkrunner said “I’m keen to get back into parkrun when it’s possible and people feel safe to do so. Got my daughters more physically active during the lockdown so they are keen to do these sorts of things with me now.”
Caring responsibilities, including childcare, was a key reason for reduced activity levels, with 21% saying this was a factor. This peaked at 37% amongst 35-44 year-olds, with one respondent saying “I have been under a lot of stress during lockdown as my husband and I tried to maintain working two full time jobs whilst parenting a toddler in a confined space. It has been hard. I totally support and agree with parkrun’s stance and actions throughout the crisis, I know parkrun will be a supportive and accepting community for me to try to regain some physical and mental health in this new normal.”
Amongst the widespread support for the reopening of parkrun in New Zealand, several respondents expressed caution in returning.
“I would like to volunteer at parkrun,” said one parkrunner. “My wife and I are both past 70. I am not worried for myself, because I am very healthy, but she isn’t and I worry about her. I really appreciate things such as parkrun that keep me connected to the community and give me a lift.”
This sentiment was echoed by a female parkrunner in her thirties who said “Unfortunately my husband is at risk of Covid-19 which is limiting our ability to get out and do things. But once he is better we will be back at parkrun and hope to volunteer too.”
Glen Turner, Health & Wellbeing Lead for parkrun in Australia & New Zealand said “New Zealand reopening its events provides a beacon of hope for the global parkrun community and reassurance to everyone that parkrun will restart everywhere in the future.
“Amongst the widespread enthusiasm and eagerness for parkrun reopening across New Zealand, the survey responses reinforce that parkrunners have had significantly different experiences over the past few months and this has shaped all of our attitudes towards society reopening and parkrun resuming.
“We must therefore be mindful that there will be people who will need a little more compassion, time and support in picking up where they left off or starting a new parkrun journey. parkrun will always be there, both on a Saturday morning and online, and we look forward to welcoming everyone back when they feel ready.”
More than a quarter of those surveyed under the age of 34 admitted they did not enjoy being active on their own, which was a contributing factor to their decrease in physical activity and a motivating factor to return to parkrun.
“Without parkrun I did one run. I have missed it so much. We had Zoom catch-ups and now do coffee catch-ups. Looking forward to it resuming!” said one participant.
Those parkrunners surveyed who signalled their intention to return to their local event within the first four weeks of its resumption as walkers, joggers, runners and volunteers expressed a wide variety of motivations:
“I had a baby in the middle of lockdown. Getting back to parkrun pushing a pram and finally running with a pram was always a goal I had in mind. My recovery has taken longer than hoped but I still hope parkrun returning will coincide with my ability to walk 5km and it will feel like an achievement and a sense of normality to see familiar faces.” (Female, aged 25-34)
“Having the time for greater reflection really helped focus on having greater gratitude and appreciation of my life and the experiences I have had. It also reinforced the importance and need to be part of a healthy community organisation such as parkrun.” (Male, aged 55-69)
“I can’t wait to share the parkrun community with people who have had a hard time over lockdown and contribute to something positive for them.” (Female, aged 35-44)
“Exercise is important to me including the social aspect. parkrun is social which is why I attend.” (Female, aged 45-54)
“Looking forward to meeting up with the parkrun people again and having a hot chocolate.” (Male, aged 25-34)
“I have gained weight due to comfort eating and physical activity will be harder but I will go back because my daughter and I parkrun together for mother daughter time.” (Female, aged 35-44)
* The survey was sent on 10 and 11 June to 7,049 registered parkrunners in New Zealand who had participated in the 12 months prior to parkrun events being suspended. 1549 responses (22%) were received.
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