I can’t remember what I used to do on Saturday mornings. I’ve never been one for lie-ins so I expect I probably went for an aimless run on my own. Not any more. Saturday in my household (and 80,000 others) is parkrun day.
The event that started as the brainchild of Paul Sinton-Hewitt and a few friends has mushroomed into a global phenomenon, with events in 280 parks nationwide as well as versions in Australia and the US.
It’s not difficult to see why it’s so popular. Firstly it’s free! Yes, that’s not a typo – turn up armed with your barcode and you can take park in an event that you don’t need to pay for.
Parkrun is organised by runners for runners; it operates on an army of volunteers who turn up week in, week out to make sure the events run as smoothly as possible.
Secondly, there’s the atmosphere. Parkrun really does cater for all types of runners, abilities and ages. It’s not uncommon for there to be a 45-minute spread between the first and last finisher, but the organisers are keen to stress that it’s not a ‘race’ in the conventional sense.
There are no winners on the day, there are no trophies or finishers’ medal, no goody bags. Instead, there’s a sea of happy faces crossing the finishing line.
And then there’s the sense of community that parkrun engenders. Notching up parkrun finishes gains you entry into an exclusive club; those with 100 get to wear a special t-shirt. It doesn’t get any glitzier than that and yet the events, both in terms of numbers and participation continue to grow and grow.
I’m going to stick my neck out here and say that parkrun is probably the single biggest initiative to hit running in the last decade. It’s very difficult to find fault with something that encourages people into running. The hope is, of course, that they graduate to longer distances and experiment with terrains.
So, happy 10th birthday parkrun – may you have many more!