parkrun is the name, but look more closely and you’ll see that this is a whole lot more than a run in the park: walk, jog, run, volunteer, spectate – parkrun is whatever you want it to be, and everyone is invited to come along.
What started out as a handful of friends jogging a five kilometre (3 mile) route around a London park on a Saturday morning in 2004, followed by breakfast in a local cafe, has evolved into one of the biggest social movements in the UK. Around 150,000 people walk or run a parkrun in the UK each weekend, 15,000 volunteers make the events happen and many others come along simply to enjoy the social aspect and the fresh air.
But what is parkrun? Put simply, they’re community events in areas of open space that are coordinated entirely by volunteers from the local area. There are 600 such events around the country every Saturday morning, which attract people of all ages, shapes, sizes and backgrounds. parkrun has been a revelation in promoting physical activity to people who historically have been the least likely to take part. Importantly, it’s an intergenerational event, and it’s not unusual to see three or four generations taking part together. In 2018 so far more than 57,000 people aged over 60 have walked, run or volunteered at UK parkruns.
There are no winners at parkrun, participants are rewarded for participation rather than performance, and each event has a volunteer Tail Walker who provides support and encouragement while ensuring nobody can ever ‘come last’. Perhaps what is most telling though is that the legacy from the very first event carries on today, with each parkrun centred around a cafe where everyone is encouraged to gather after the event for a hot drink and a chat. parkrun is so much more than just a run in the park!
Register for free before your first parkrun at www.parkrun.org.uk/register. Print your registration barcode, which is then valid at any parkrun in the world on any Saturday.
But don’t just take our word for it…
Eileen Bartlett began her journey at Lee-on-the-Solent parkrun as a volunteer when she was 72.
“Volunteering as the event photographer brought me to parkrun initially because I wanted to learn how to photograph moving people. One day though, just before the start, something came over me and I decided I was going to take part instead. After a quick word with the volunteers away I went, staying just in front of the Tail Walker and dressed in completely inappropriate clothing! That didn’t matter though, the Tail Walker was incredibly supportive and I cherished every second of it.
“After that first parkrun I couldn’t stop smiling all day. I wanted to tell everyone on the bus home that I’d just done 5k! Deep down I was worried I would be in pain the following day, but I wasn’t, so the following week I returned to parkrun more comfortably dressed. I started out with the Tail Walker who suggested I try running from one park bench to the next. So I did. Park bench to park bench. I left him behind, pushed on and finished six minutes faster than the previous week. That is how it continued, steadily improving my times week on week.”
Since then, Eileen has completed 59 parkruns and volunteered more than 90 times.
Richard Pitcairn-Knowles began parkrunng aged 77 and hardly missed an event over the next five and a half years, which saw him become the oldest ever person to complete 250 parkruns.
“Lullingstone parkrun in Kent is my local event. It’s small, with about 40 people each week, everyone knows each other and the atmosphere is unbelievably friendly. Running is certainly a family thing for us and parkrun has become more and more important to me as I have slowed. Earning my 250 milestone shirt was a big motivation to keep going and I do enjoy volunteering too. I do often wonder about the 500 milestone now – it means I will have to keep going until I’m about 93. What I do know for sure though is that I will only ever stop when running ceases to be fun!
“If you have signed up to parkrun and have a barcode, just turn up and walk. You will be surprised how much fun you have, and then go home with a warm sense of achievement, having done something different and met a whole lot of new friends. I was the volunteer Tail Walker one day and the lady I supported had never run before. She kept remarking how friendly everyone was and how they offered so much encouragement. She finished in 51 minutes and was so excited!
“My advice for running into older age is to keep active – gardening, walking, odd jobs, whatever. And definitely join your local parkrun.”
Christine Sanderson and Jocklin Richardson started Hastings parkrun in their seventies and went on to join a local running club and win a medal in a national championship relay race.
“Just before I turned 72 my daughter mentioned the local parkrun so I decided to give it a go and I found it really motivating,” Christine says.
“The whole ethos of the parkrun is to accept people of all shapes, sizes and ages. It is fun and everyone is encouraged whatever your level, and if you have to walk most of it then that’s fine. It has certainly helped with my confidence too. When I passed 70 I worried about being ‘old’, but if I can do my weekly parkrun who knows what’s possible. It is so inspiring to see ordinary people glowing as they try to achieve their best.”
“I cannot put into words the joy I felt when, along with my two teammates, I won a bronze medal at the national championships. At that moment the years melted away and we were just three girls having a great weekend away.”
Jocklin adds “I was 70 and never ran even when I was younger. I had only ever run to catch a bus or deliver a baby. My daughter persuaded me to try her local parkrun and then when Hastings parkrun started near me I began taking part.
“When I was approached to join the local running club, Hastings Runners, with a view to running in their women’s team, I was flabbergasted. I won a bronze medal in the British Masters road relay team and it all began with parkrun. I was on cloud nine and I hope this might inspire other people as to what they could achieve.”
Ken Byng from Arrow Valley parkrun in the West Midlands is closing in on his 200th parkrun.
“When I lost my wife after 45 years of marriage, and more recently when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, exercise played a huge part in helping both my family and I through difficult times. Running doesn’t make you forget, and hospital treatments are certainly slowing me down, but when I hear the countdown each Saturday morning and the endorphins start flowing it definitely helps.
“I am always saying to people that it doesn’t matter how old you are, what size you are or how unfit you might feel, just get out there and have a go. If I can do it at 76 years young, everybody can. And for me that is what makes parkrun so great.”
John Butcher, 87, from Hertfordshire had a similar story. John also started parkrunning after his wife passed away on Christmas Day in 2015. John decided he needed a challenge, and since then he has taken part in parkruns at 56 different locations as well as volunteering regularly at his local junior parkrun, which are two kilometre events for 4-14 year-olds on Sunday mornings.
In 2017, 83-year-old Margaret Smith from Brueton parkrun became the oldest woman in parkrun history to complete 250 parkruns.
“My son introduced me to parkrun in London in 2007 when I was 73 but it wasn’t until 2010 that I became a regular parkrunner. That was when Brueton parkrun started, which is 15 minutes from where I live. parkrun became part of my routine to keep active.
“I also run during the week on the treadmill, go to the gym, swim and do pilates to help keep me supple. Every day I walk at least seven miles with my husky-labrador cross, and on Sundays this is more like nine miles.
“As for becoming the oldest women in history to reach 250 parkruns, people of all ages are often telling me that I inspire them, so if my milestone helps others to be happier, healthier and more active, then I’ll be happy with that!”
90-year-old Elisabeth and her daughter Lucy Marris have had their lives transformed through parkrun.
Elisabeth lives at a residential care home just over the road from Bushy parkrun in London.
Every Saturday, Elisabeth joins marshals to cheer parkrunners as they pass. After she had been doing this for a few weeks the Bushy parkrun community awarded her her very own hi-vis volunteer vest, of which she is enormously proud, so making her an official ‘honorary marshal’. Since then, more and more people greet her on their way by. Some pause to talk to her en route and the faster runners, who have no time to shout a greeting during their parkrun, will often have a chat to her as they leave the park on their way home instead. She has learnt the art of the ‘high-five’ and made many new friends, and renewed old acquaintances from being their each week. Not only parkrunners, but others who regularly walk in the park at about the same time each week.
Just before Christmas in 2017, a regular parkrunner delivered a Christmas card to Elisabeth at her nursing home and posted about it on social media – this resulted in a flurry for cards from other parkrunners being sent!
Elisabeth says “parkrun has enriched my life ever since May 2017 when I came down to watch parkrun. It links with two of my children who run at Sheffield Hallam and Livingston parkruns. The marshals are really friendly. I clap along with them and have become an honorary marshal! I learnt how important community activity is as well as how important drawing others into the community is. Because of my weekly involvement in parkrun I find I am greeted everywhere I go in Teddington!”
Elisabeth’s daughter Lucy adds “There were lots of messages in the Christmas cards, but one that resonated for me was the comment: ‘people like you make parkrun the amazing experience it is. parkrun changed our lives, so we are always grateful to the volunteers and supporters.’
“parkrun has changed my life too. The actual ‘running’ part has become almost incidental to the community support, friendships made, post-parkrun brunches and laughs along the way. What I hadn’t anticipated, was how great an impact it would have on my mum’s life too, for which I am incredibly grateful. For her, it is something she really enjoys and looks forward to – carefully putting out all her kit the night before so she will be on time to her marshal point and there are lots of photos of her at parkrun on display in her room as well.”
The final word goes to Norman Phillips, 92, who was interviewed after he completed his 100th parkrun in 2016. You can watch it here.
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