Last weekend, parkrun South Africa turned 11 years old, and what an amazing 11 years it’s been! To celebrate, Bruce Fordyce, the President of parkrun South Africa reflects on how it all started, and how far we’ve come.
I think it was a day in December a few years ago when I inadvertently intercepted a social media message from a parkrun in Huddersfield in the UK that made me realise how unique and special our Southern African parkruns really are.
The message I stumbled upon read something like this:
“C’mon everybody it’s a perfect day to parkrun, the sun is shining, it’s only 3C, there is no black ice, and one of the volunteers thinks she saw a badger!”
We were at the launch of Nkomazi parkrun that same morning. Nkomazi is a township not far from the town of Komatipoort, near the Mozambique border, and close to the famous Kruger National Park. I couldn’t resist being a bit cheeky, and so I replied:
“C’mon everybody It’s a hot and steamy day in Nkomazi. The sun is blazing down, it’s only 35C,and there’s an exciting parkrun route through the sugar cane fields. However we’ve had to delay the start slightly because some of our volunteers can’t get past the five lions lying in the road at Lower Sabie!”
I need to point out that the lions were not lying on the Nkomazi parkrun route (if they had been, we might have had a very interesting response from the Global Risk Assessment Team!). The sleeping lions were delaying some volunteers trying to get to the parkrun from their accommodation in the National Park. That astonishing message had me thinking that Southern Africa truly has some unique and wonderful parkruns.
South Africa’s wildlife is a feature of so many of our parkruns; giraffe are a common sighting most notably at Umfolozi parkrun, Zebra appear at several of our parkruns, while other antelope and buck such as springbok, impala, blesbok, and wildebeest are present at many of our parkruns. Pelicans, whales and dolphins are frequently spotted at our coastal parkruns. The annual sardine run which visits the Kwazulu-Natal coastline, on which some of our parkruns are situated, is a spectacular sight as dark clouds of billions of spawning sardine shoals sweep through the breakers accompanied by diving gannets and terns and harried by sharks, dolphins and other game fish (North Beach, Blue Lagoon, Durban Point, Amanzimtoti, Uvongo).
If you’re a keen (twitcher) ornithologist, our parkruns boast a rich array of birdlife.
And yes, we have reptiles, including snakes but thankfully snake sightings are very rare.
It has been said of South Africa that, “It is a world in one country”, and nowhere is this better illustrated than in the vastly different habitats in which our parkruns are located. From the deserts (Aggeneys and Springbok parkruns), to the mountains (Clarens, Harrismith, and Cannibals Cave), the townships (Mofolo Park, Bridgetown), the beaches (Big Bay, Stilbaai, Melkbosstrand), the vineyards and gardens (Roses, Franschoek), the Big Five game reserves, (Hoedspruit, Klipspringer) and also to the urban centres (Greenpoint, Century City), South Africa’s parkruns are as diverse as our people.
Sterkfontein parkrun borders the fossil rich caves in which some of the earliest hominid fossils have been discovered. Our most distant parkruns include those in Namibia and the most remote parts of the big sky country of the vast Great Karoo (Loxton parkrun), as well as those in Eswatini and Namibia.
But it’s our people who really make South African parkruns so unique, friendly and welcoming. Cannibal’s Cave is an exciting Zulu parkrun. Rondebult, Tsakane Wetlands, Mitchells Plain, Bridgetown, Kwanele, Mapetla and Mofolo are township parkruns which have their own special energy. The music and dancing warm-up at Rondebult parkrun is a special part of that parkrun. So too is the spirit of the many volunteers at Port Alfred parkrun who are drawn from the local old age home and who display a wonderful community spirit every Saturday morning.
Finally, it is the number of people who attend parkrun which illustrates so perfectly how South Africans have embraced parkrun since its inception 11 years ago at Delta parkrun. From 26 participants at Delta parkrun to over 2,000 at other parkruns. Indeed, our record attendance is over 2,500 at North Beach parkrun a couple of years ago.
But most importantly we pride ourselves on the large numbers of walkers at parkruns in Southern Africa. You are more than welcome to walk at our parkruns, you will not be ridiculed, and you will receive your time and result for finishing the course. We are proud that our average parkrun time is over 42 minutes. The slowest average in the parkrun world.
As rich and as exciting as our current family of parkruns is, we are aware that we have only just scratched the surface. There is an exciting diversity of parkruns to explore, and a wide diversity of communities which still need to discover parkrun. And of course the whole continent of Africa is waiting…
Last Saturday was the 11th birthday of Delta parkrun where this all began in Southern Africa! And we are very excited to be celebrating this anniversary while we continue to start more parkruns in other communities around South Africa.
As parkrun continues to grow around the world, we are committed to breaking down barriers to participation in regular physical activity and bringing communities together. Communication plays a vital part in what we do, and we are looking to expand our range of non-English language content. To help us do so, we have created the voluntary…
Have you ever wondered who has completed the most parkruns, or who has the most volunteer credits? You’re about to meet Darren Wood and Nicki Clark! Some might be surprised to learn that neither parkrunner was at the first parkrun event back in 2004. But ever since Darren and Nicki started, they have never looked…