Back in October, we dedicated the month of our 18th birthday to parkwalk at parkrun, celebrating and promoting walking at parkrun.
We know that walking is a great entry point to parkrun, can help prevent or manage health conditions and that walkers at parkrun are more likely to have previously been inactive and have a long-term health condition.
We shared stories of walkers, created the new parkwalker volunteer role to support and encourage walkers and saw some fantastic results!
The impact through October was immediate, with over 100,000 walks over the month and 10,000 brand new walkers starting their parkrun journey over the five weekends.
Almost all parkrun territories saw an increase in the share of people completing a parkrun being a walker, meaning an increase in the share of walkers globally being up 1.5% in October. The momentum continued into November and beyond as walking numbers remained well ahead of those in September.
We know from our insight work that through the Covid-19 pandemic a large percentage of parkrunners saw their health and wellbeing impacted negatively, and that not feeling “fit enough” to participate remains a barrier to starting or returning to parkrun.
Following the parkwalk campaign we surveyed walkers and runners along a separate survey to all event teams across the parkrun globe. Over 700 event teams shared their experiences and a key message was that parkwalk re-emphasised that walking is encouraged at our events.
“The campaign gave ‘permission’ for people to walk”
It was also noted that October helped motivate the return of those who feel they have lost fitness to return to parkrun.
“It brought back runners who felt that they had become ‘too slow’ and it led to greater understanding that walking at parkrun is a done thing.”
It wasn’t just returning parkrunners, but parkwalk helped emphasise that new walkers have always been welcomed at parkrun.
The combined impact of returning participants and the 10,000 brand new walkers was seen in the total participation numbers which saw a clear upturn through October, with the gap between 2022 figures and pre-pandemic halving to be down -15% through October. This has helped set us up for a hugely exciting 2023.
“Walkers have always been welcome but the message being put across very clearly gave me confidence to bring someone new along to walk the route. They loved it”
parkwalk was never just about the numbers, but about positively impacting the culture at parkrun and 68% of participants in the UK aware of the campaign told us that they felt it had made parkrun a more welcoming place for walkers.
“It’s a great initiative. To encourage everyone to get involved with. It celebrates inclusiveness. It gives everyone an opportunity to participate.”
“I found a warm welcome, supportive comments all throughout, and a lovely reception when I finished.”
A visible lasting legacy of the campaign is the introduction of the parkwalker volunteer role, with walkers in the new blue vests supporting and encouraging other walkers at events across the world. 7,000 parkwalkers in October have now grown to around 18,000 unique participants, with over 1,800 events having seen a parkwalker complete their course.
While the new optional volunteer role was an additional spot for event teams to cover, feedback tells us that the role can be highly effective in creating a positive feeling for walkers – particularly newer participants.
“parkwalkers welcoming new people, especially new nervous walkers and making them feel welcomed and engaged the whole 5km and then seeing the previous volunteer parkwalkers instantly greet the new people the following week.”
82-year-old Judy Law, who participated for the first time in October as a result of the parkwalk campaign, really found the parwalker role beneficial to her.
“I had been praying to find someone to walk with at my pace and my prayer was answered with a parkwalker volunteer called Mike. We had lots of conversation, which helped me not to focus on the slight discomfort in my 82-year-old bones. I had a lovely morning of exercise and social contact.”
Responses from our event team survey told us that the campaign was seen as worthwhile by seven out of ten events globally, and that 85% would promote and encourage walking at their event beyond October.
Our insight from the UK tells us that 74% of parkrunners were aware of October’s campaign, but we know we need to spread the word more widely outside of the parkrun audience to maximise the impact.
We are committed to increasing the number of people walking at parkrun and the parkrun community is vital to this, playing a key role in promoting, supporting and celebrating walking at parkrun.
Sharing social media posts, blog pieces, stories and images of walkers will help spread the message. Including parkwalkers on the roster where possible, and specifically highlighting walkers in event day welcomes and other communication are powerful ways we can continue to maximise the numbers and the positive impact of walking at parkrun.
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