From humble beginnings – in Bushy Park, in 2004 – parkrun has exploded into a global phenomenon. It’s helped millions (2,084,547, to be precise) of people fall in love with running and realise that exercise can be fun.
We caught up with the founder of the most popular ‘race’ on the planet…
What does running mean to you?
Right from the word go, running was a means for me to regulate my mind. Every day that I run is a day that I feel decent about myself.
I have had depression before, and I knew right from an early age that running was a way to manage it. It doesn’t matter how successful someone is – or how successful someone seems to be – everybody has their own demons, and we all need a way to release them. I’m just lucky I’ve got running.
Who, if anyone, is your running hero?
When I was a kid, I looked up to Bruce Fordyce. He won the Comrades Marathon nine years in a row. I met him through a friend of mine and ended up crewing for him at Comrades.
Growing up in South Africa and being part of the running scene, and then seeing Bruce fight so hard to win those races, was the most amazing thing in the world.
If you could go for a run with anyone, past or present, who would it be?
Usain Bolt. Firstly, I don’t think he’s cheated. Secondly, he’s much more than a runner. He epitomises what I’d like to see more of in the running community: he’s an individual who’s interesting; he appeals to everyone; he’s an ambassador; he’s absolutely brilliant.
If we’re talking about non-athletes, however, I would choose Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama – in that order. Those two people are the most meaningful individuals that have been in my lifetime.
What was your greatest ever run?
Purely in terms of performance, it would have to be my 2:36 marathon PB – although I always wanted to run under 2:30.
In terms of a race, it’s probably the Valentine’s 10K I ran a number of years ago. I ended up having a head-to-head with a chap called Roy Reeder.
He’d trailed me the whole race. About half a mile from the finish, Roy overtook me. Then, with 100m to go, I sped up and overtook him on the line. It was very satisfying!
What’s the greatest lesson running has taught you?
That everyone can do it, and that everyone should do it. Physical activity is one of the most important things that a human being can do.
All the other things are important too, of course, but the physical side of living is what helps you deal with all of the other stresses and challenges. Doing some kind of physical activity brings balance to your life.
What’s non-runners’ biggest misconception about running?
Non-runners think they can’t run. In parkrun’s life, there are millions of stories of people who’ve said, “I didn’t think I can do it, but I’m doing it now.”
Running is hard, but everyone has the ability to regulate just how hard it is. The trick is to start with something reasonable: instead of a kilometre run, try a half-kilometre run. Or try a walk-run-jog.
Everybody is capable of running unless they’re suffering from a specific disability or acute injury. Everybody can run, and everybody should run.
Finally, describe yourself as a runner in one word.