News - 30th September 2019

parkrun celebrates 15 years – how times have changed!

first run cover

This weekend we are celebrating the 15-year anniversary of the first parkrun event in Bushy Park, south-west London. Famously on that first parkrun morning, there were 13 parkrunners who took part, supported by 5 volunteers who helped to make things happen. But how have things changed over the past 15 years? What did the parkrun technology look like 15 years ago? Here we take a little trip down memory lane, and see what parkrun looked like in the early days…..
The very first tokens were fifty steel washers, with numbers stamped on the back by Paul Sinton-Hewitt. These were then replaced by aluminium tags, where each new event were issued with 300 new tokens just like in the picture below, still hand-made by Paul himself!
It took a number of years before the small plastic tokens came into existence. But despite all the warnings on them (‘I belong to parkrun’) one thing has never changed, they still occasionally go missing!
Barcodes and Scanning
In the early days of parkrun, there were no barcodes and scanners. Results were processed by taking people’s name and position and entering them straight into a laptop.
Above is a photo from the early days of Hyde Park Time Trial (now Woodhouse Moor parkrun) in Leeds, UK, featuring Tom Williams (right), who is now parkrun’s Global Operating Officer!
Over time, it became apparent that this system wasn’t working – for one thing, there started to be multiple people with the same name! So in 2009 Paul introduced an ID system, with each parkrunner being assigned a parkrun ID number. Once this was in place, it was only a short step to thinking about introducing scannable IDs, and the little Opticon scanners still used today were introduced not long afterwards.
The use of the ID barcodes was rolled out across the system quite gradually, and for a while parkrunners could either have the option of giving their name or join the faster-moving queue for barcode scanning. But some parkrunners were still reluctant to use their barcodes, which added a lot of time for the results processors each week. So after a while the approach ‘no barcode, no time’ became emphasised and the slogan #DFYB – Don’t Forget Your Barcode – was born.
Timing system
early timer
Again, the timing systems used by parkrun have passed through several stages, from a simple program used on a mobile phone, and then on a computer, before the first proper timing system came into use with the reliable but costly TAG Heuer timer.
Tag Heuer
For most event teams this timer is a distant memory, but Amager Faelled parkrun still have theirs over 10 years after they started and it still works perfectly!
Subsequently the Junsd Stopwatch became a reliable and relatively cheap alternative, which was rolled out across the world. However, the watches are prone to failing quite, most notably the connection which allows the user the download the data from the stopwatch to the computer for processing the results. With 2000 events, the cost of replacing these watches is obviously significant.
parkrun app
Therefore parkrun has developed the Virtual Volunteer App, which we have often mentioned here, which is now available for all events to use as a free alternative to the old stopwatches.
For the first very first Bushy park parkrun, signage was simple – there was none! There were a couple of marshals out on the course, to make sure the runners didn’t leave the course at key points, but otherwise runners were expected to make a note of the course before they set off.
flour arrows
Nowadays parkruns are well signed, generally using neon-yellow arrows and signs, although the Danish parkruns are of course well known for their famous flour arrows around the course, a system they have perfected over the years!
Overall, whilst the technology has changed, the essence of parkrun has not altered at all over all these years – it’s still just a free, weekly timed 5km run in the park, and that’s what it always will be. Technology, systems and websites will come and go, but the essence of parkrun will remain!
This article was partly sourced from the book ‘parkrun – much more than just a run in the park’ by Debra Bourne – an excellent book describing the early history around parkrun.

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