Eleven years ago Euan Bowman was a young Scot, fresh out of college and living in an unfamiliar English town, looking for things to do. He went on to start one of the earliest parkruns, and later to launch parkrun Canada. He recently returned to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the event that he started, and his own 100th parkrun. Looking back, he finds parallels between his younger self and people who now contact him from throughout Canada.
Euan tells his story.
“Last weekend this mug spoke to me – ‘It was always about the coffee’. What is this mug, where did it come from and why was it speaking to me? It was all part of a special weekend that sent my memory back exactly 10 years ago.
It was a special weekend for two reasons. Firstly, parkrun UK was holding its annual Ambassadors’ Conference, which I was lucky enough to be attending. Secondly, Saturday marked the 10 year anniversary of the parkrun that I started – Basingstoke parkrun.
This phrase printed on the side of the coffee mug reminded me of how and why I took the decision to start this event in the south of England, and why it was one of the best decisions of my life.
Basingstoke parkrun – the origin story
I don’t tell the story of how Basingstoke parkrun started very often probably because I think it may be boring to many, but there are those out there who like dull stories. If you are one of them, please read on!
At the start 2007 I had freshly returned from a gap year in Canada after I had graduated and was looking for my first grown up job. That search took me to Basingstoke, where I worked as a design engineer. Basingstoke is a lovely place, but I found myself with not much to do on weekends.
I did some searching online for things to do and I stumbled across a free 5k run, called Wimbledon Common Time Trial (WCTT). There were two of these at the time, the other one being in Bushy Park (BPTT).
Excited, I grabbed my running shoes and worked out which train would best get me there in time for 9am. It took about 90 minutes to get there, and I remember the day like it was yesterday. The sun was shining, everyone was friendly, and I loved the mix of trail and clear path as we made our way around Wimbledon Common.
I gave the run my full effort and on the way back to the train I felt a little ill and slumped outside a corner shop with a sugary drink in hand. It was short lived, however, and despite feeling temporarily zonked I was buzzing from the running endorphins and the thrill of the community that I had found. Had I known people would be interested eleven years later, or if I was good at recording photos, I would have some to share with you but unfortunately not.
I returned once or twice but the commute to get there for 9am was too much for a Saturday morning. I contacted UKTT (UK Time Trials), which was the name for parkrun back then, to see if anyone would be interested in working with me in setting up one in Basingstoke. I searched my e-mail history and found the e-mail, here it is below:
“On Jan 5, 2008, at 19:47, Euan Bowman wrote:
I have participated in a few of your time trials and have very much enjoyed the experience. I would like to do more however traveling the distance to the nearest one can be a bit much for a Saturday morning, I would much prefer to have one local!
This is why I am e-mailing, I would like to see if I can start an event in Basingstoke. Having been to many organised runs around the area I believe there is great potential for numbers. Admittedly I am a little new to the area, but I have plenty of doors to knock on in the runners community to drum up support round here.
I have come to you first however for some general advice, perhaps you know of someone who has registered a similar interest in this area?
I look forward to your reply, any help would be greatly appreciated.
Looking back at that e-mail it strikes me firstly how disgustingly polite I’m was, but also how similar the structure is to when I get enquiries for parkruns to start in Canada every week. Sometimes I forget what is going through the sender’s head when they write their e-mail, because when I wrote that it was a mixture of inexperience, terror, and excitement!
To my delight, I had a response the next morning, from none other than Paul Sinton-Hewitt:
“On Jan 6, 2008, at 11:59, Paul wrote:
Many thanks for writing to us. You may have seen that we are looking for
people like you to come forward so that we can help them start equivalent
events in areas they choose. If not, read the Franchise section on the About
page on the UKTT website.
We have not yet had an approach from anyone in Basingstoke but we would be
interested in working with you to establish an event. I’m copying Jim and
Chris as they may know some folks in this part of the world who would be
interested in helping.
The first thing to do is for us to meet. When are you next coming to one of
the Teddington based events? At this meeting we can discuss the issues and
tasks and start setting out a plan. After this, you will feel more able to
contact us for whatever help you feel you may need.
And from there I met Paul at Richmond parkrun for coffee and he said a few things I haven’t forgotten. The first was that it would change my life. This was nonsense I thought, this guy has no idea about me and how anything could change my life, but how right he was!
The Coffee Mug
Right yes, the coffee mug. This is where it all connects and the reason for this whole story. The mug came from the ambassadors conference and when I saw it I had flashbacks of this whole story. In my chat with Paul, he mentioned that it is all about the coffee. The run is one thing, but the coffee is absolutely crucial to the whole thing so that people can connect, chat and in turn build community.
One of the early events at NHTT/ Basingstoke parkrun. Unfortunately images of event number 1 have been lost and are now part of parkrun myth!
The coffee was not something I had initially planned to do, but I took the advice. On launch day I announced I’d go for coffee and if anyone wanted to join, and to my amazement, people did! From there, I was impressed at how the community grew by itself.
parkrunners all the way to the horizon
Fast forward 10 years and I returned to what is now known as Basingstoke parkrun and reconnected with those original pioneers present on the first day – Tim Ellis, Matt Lane and Lynn Brastock. It really shocked me how much time had passed when I was greeted by another runner who seemed to know me quite well, but I hadn’t a clue who he was. When he reminded me, I was floored to find that it was Solomon Lane, who was also there on the first day but back then he was 12 years old. Now he’s all grown up and is much taller than me!
The Basingstoke team all enjoying some sparkling water.
Talking of all grown up, Basingstoke parkrun certainly has! I left for Canada at the end of 2011 and we had about 150 people taking part weekly. I could have never foreseen 600+ on a weekly basis. It’s quite the slick operation with a solid core team lead by Avi Govind . I’m very proud to see it going so well and more friendships being made.
Thank you for having me, Basingstoke parkrun, I’ll try not to be such a stranger next time!
parkrun Canada Country Manager
All around the world, we’ve seen over 28,000 unique volunteers in the parkwalker role and they’ve parkwalked over 52,000 times! We speak to one of the parkwalkers, Cathy Hannon, about why she chooses to volunteer in her favourite role every Saturday morning. Cathy’s chronic condition means that parkwalking is the best option for her, she relishes the…
All of the talk around the barbecue during Memorial Day weekend had to do with our huge record breaking weekend at parkrun USA. We welcomed 3,204 runners and walkers to 61 different events from Biddeford to Bainbridge Island. Whether it was your 1st or 101st parkrun, we hope to see you back throughout the summer….