Having recently celebrated it’s tenth birthday, you can’t have failed to hear about parkrun but have you printed your barcode and joined in yet? No matter what type of runner you are, I’ve no doubt you (and your running) could benefit from getting involved.
In October 2004, in a park on the edge of London a small group of people planted an acorn in Bushy Park. In the 10 years that followed, that acorn has grown into a mighty oak of a community; it’s branches wide enough to reach right around the world and strong enough to support (fast-approaching) one million people.
For those of you who haven’t heard of parkrun [and yes, it’s correctly written with no capitals] the concept is a simple one:
“free weekly timed 5k runs all over the world, held in pleasant parkland on weekend mornings, our runs are open to all – from juniors and first timers to Olympians and octogenarians”
Running is somewhat of a paradox. It’s simplicity allows you to run pretty much anywhere, pretty much at any time and without the need for anyone else. Yet runners seem to gravitate together – at races and events, and into groups and communities.
Despite the popularity of running continuing to grow, it is still enjoyed by surprisingly few. [I’m talking figuratively of course – even my insatiable positivity can’t guarantee an enjoyable run every time!]
Perhaps the fact that runners are still very much a misunderstood minority leads to a strong, collective feeling of belonging. A sense of belonging that draws complete strangers together from all around the world.
The international running community has grown larger and stronger with the increased use of social media and enhanced websites, apps and devices. Personally I have found it incredibly supportive having experienced generosity during my previous charity challenge, enthusiasm when arranging a tribute to the 60th anniversary of Bannister’s sub 4 minute mile and encouragement when it was all too tempting to stay in bed on a cold, dark, wet weekend morning!
On a more local scale, although now held in 9 countries spread around the globe, parkrun offers a safe, supportive and inclusive community to run in no matter what your ability:
New to running?
Firstly, don’t think of parkrun as a race. Yes it’s timed but that’s really for your own benefit. The courses are measured and marked out in the safety of parkland so not only don’t you have to contend with any traffic but you know exactly how far you’ll be running: 5 kilometres.
And don’t worry if you can’t run 5 kilometres all in one go – walk for a bit. Hey, if you can’t run at all, there’s nothing stopping you walking the whole thing. Fresh air and exercise are a winning combination!
As you build up, you’ll be able to compare your runs with your previous times and see how you’re improving. Building confidence in your running at a parkrun can be the springboard to other running events.
Looking to improve?
A parkrun can be a great chance to test yourself in different ways or to form part of your training programme for other events.
Over the last couple of months I’ve used some parkruns to see what happens if I run in different ways:
- run the first 3k “comfortably” hard then push harder for the last 2k
- run the first 2k “eyeballs-out” and hang on for dear life
- run all 5k at an even, swift pace
I’ve always been a conservative runner, always scared to go too hard, too early and have nothing left for the finish so it was really interesting trying something different. So far though, my best parkruns have come from running comfortably hard and then pushing for the finish.
Equally, a parkrun can provide you with an added incentive to get out for another run as part of training for something else. Whether you decide to run it as a hard session, or intervals or maybe even run it and then tack on some more kilometres to form a longer run, it’s a great way to make training a little more interesting.
Got a big race coming up?
Maybe you’ve got a 10k or half marathon coming up – you could use a parkrun to practice your race pace. Or use it to run through your race-morning and post-race routines?
If you’re fortunate to be speedy enough to be up near the front, you could also use a parkrun to hone your race tactics and test yourself against the other quick boys and girls.
Injured? Lost your mojo?
The worst thing when your injured is not being able to run. If you’ve lost your running mojo you just don’t feel like running. In either case you may not want to surround yourself with runners but what better way to get a different running fix than to become a parkrun volunteer?
One of the things that enables parkruns to be provided for free, other than through the generosity of sponsors, is through volunteers. Whether it be setting out the course, marshalling the runners or scanning barcodes, there’s always a way that you can help your local parkrun.
In 2015 I will definitely volunteer for the first time – I just hope it’s because I want to, rather than for either of the other reasons I’ve mentioned!
Ok, so you’re a busy bee, constantly heading up and down the country for work or to visit friends and relatives but don’t let that stop you from enjoying the parkrun experience – become a parkrun tourist!
Even if you’re not already travelling, why not use parkrun tourism as an excuse to get out and see more of the UK? You can find a map of all the events on the parkrun website here:
Advice for first timers
Everyone is friendly and supportive. If you’re not sure where the start is – ask someone. If you’re not sure how the finish works – ask. If you’re wondering whether there’s anywhere to get a coffee after the parkrun – just ask. You don’t have to find a volunteer, even the other runners will be more than happy to help.
parkrun in a nutshell
- don’t forget your barcode!
- if you’re driving to parkrun check where you can park and how far it is from the start
- check whether there are toilets nearby (or go beforehand!)
- find out where the start and gather there
- run (or walk, or both)
- enter the finish funnel and take a finish place token
- get your own barcode and the finish place token scanned
- hand back the finish place token (they’ll need that next week!)
- cool down, stretch, chat, drink and head home
It’s really easy and you don’t get much for free nowadays so why not sign up, print your barcode and get down to your local parkrun next weekend? It’ll be a great way to start 2015!
But don’t follow my example – it was months between me signing up and actually being brave enough to go to a parkrun. Just sign up, print your barcode and get parkrunning!
And don’t forget your barcode!