This weekend I was back in the UK, returning home to see some friends, run a race, and of course, visit a parkrun! I was visiting the beautiful historical city of York, which now boasts three parkruns, with nearly 1000 parkrunners taking part this weekend across the three events.
Still the biggest event is the eponymous York parkrun, the original event in the city which has now been going for 7 years. It takes place within York racecourse, one and a half loops around a service road that goes around the inside of the track. It’s perhaps not the most scenic of events, but it’s fast and flat, and it’s quite something to see the parkrunners stretched right out around the course.
I thought I would take the chance to volunteer as a Timer for this event, to see how things worked when timing 500+ parkrunners rather than the 100 or so parkrunners we usually get at Haga.
A watch only stores 500 times so two watches needed!
Despite the size of the event, everything ran extremely smoothly, and the atmosphere was very ‘parkrun’ – relaxed, welcoming and well-organised with the processes having been perfected over many, many events. Still things happen – a battery had fallen out of the megaphone used to do the welcome speech; one of the (many) volunteers due to help hadn’t shown up – but the experienced volunteers took everything in their stride. After all, the main thing is that everyone is welcome and can take part in a safe event.
And the timing – well, you certainly had to maintain full concentration! In the middle of the parkrun, between 22 mins and 30 mins, parkrunners were continuously coming over the finish line. Each person needs a click of the watch, which can be tricky when it’s a big group of 5 or 6 people all finishing almost at the same time. But I’m pleased to report that all 568 parkrunners were clocked in correctly, and myself and the other Timer, my friend Dave, were perfectly in synch the whole way.
The other thing that is much different at a larger parkrun event is what happens AFTER the finishing line, in the finish funnel, where they collect their tokens and then queue to be scanned. Here it’s very different from a small event, where the role of ‘Funnel Manager’ hardly exists. People have to encourage the parkrunners to keep moving (just a couple of parkrunners stopping after the finish line and the finish line quickly gets blocked up), to stay in line and not leave the queue without being scanned!
But whilst the size of the event meant that some things were different, there was so much the same. The time for the event was just the same – 30 mins before the event there was basically only the volunteers present and likewise once the Tail Walker came through the finish, everything was packed up and the course was cleared within 10-15 minutes. Everyone thanked the volunteers and left with a smile on their face.
And then of course there was the results processing and the token sorting in the café (this time a pub) afterwards. 568 tokens to be sorted sounded intimidating, but ‘many hands make light work’, and they were quickly done. Many people came along to the pub afterwards (probably upwards of 50 people) and the morning was concluded happily with parkrun related chat over a coffee.
Overall it’s inspiring to see a ‘big’ event in action, and to see how smoothly everything works. It’s amazing to see that they are able to pull off an event of this size every week – just incredible.
Of course one of the great things about parkrun is that it’s perfectly scalable – as the event grows, and more people take part, then there are also more people to be volunteers, so everything grows at the same pace. The same goes for experience – as the event grows, the team understand the challenges that face an event of a slightly bigger size, and learn as they go. It works perfectly.
We hope that one day events in the Nordics will be equally as big, as more and more people discover the wonderful world of parkrun! Many of our events would work perfectly even with bigger numbers, and I know that my own event, Haga parkrun, would be able to cope with several hundred participants, and a long finish funnel. We look forward to that day!
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