This week parkrun has received an unusually high profile in the UK media for unfortunate reasons. The coverage has highlighted what a fantastic, volunteer-led community has been established. With a surge in interest, your local parkrun is likely to need volunteers more than ever before so why not try it? I did, and I loved it.
In case you’ve been hibernating, quite a stir has been created by a Parish Council who, after months of delay, finally decided they would charge parkrun for the use of Little Stoke Park, near Bristol. You can read more about the ins and outs of the issue on the Little Stoke parkrun news page.
Unfortunately, if this ridiculously short-sighted decision stands, it will mean the end of the Little Stoke parkrun. However, the publicity has seen a surge of interest in parkruns up and down the country with 24 parkruns boasting a record number of runners today. As the parkrun family grows, so does the requirement for volunteers to make sure each run goes smoothly and safely.
So why do many parkruns struggle to attract people who are willing to help these friendly community events continue? Do any of these excuses sound familiar?
I’ve never done it before
You don’t have to have any experience of parkrun to volunteer. In fact, you don’t even have to be a runner. If you want to help a community of people get active on a Saturday morning then climb on board!
I don’t know anyone
There’s an easy solution to this – volunteer! The parkrun family is a friendly one and volunteering is an opportunity to meet and chat to some new people with a shared interest. And who has ever met a runner that doesn’t want to talk about running?!
I don’t know what to do
You’ve got nothing to worry about – the 5 main volunteer roles are simple:
Timekeeper: press a button at the start, press a button every time someone crosses the finish line.
Finish Tokens: hand a plastic barcode token to each person who crosses the line
Barcode scanning: scan a finish token and runner barcode for each finisher
Marshal: point people in the right direction
Tail runner: bring up the rear and be the final parkrunner to cross the finish line
Piece of cake? Save the cake for a post-run catch up! Even if you’re still unsure, you’ll be given a briefing before the run and it’s likely that some of the other volunteers will have done the role before so there’ll be plenty of support to hand.
I don’t want to make a mistake
As you can see above, the roles aren’t complicated and support is on hand to help so a mistake is unlikely. But what if the worst happened? We were reassured by our Run Director this morning: it really isn’t the end of the world if something goes wrong. You’re volunteering to help a friendly fun run, not officiating at the Olympics, so relax.
I don’t have time
Spare time seems to disappear quicker every year and we’re all trying to cram more into what little we have.
Admittedly, volunteering does take a little more time than if you are running. You can’t fly up to the start at 08:59 and disappear once you’ve finished. You’ll need to be there around 30 minutes before the start and stay until your fellow parkrunners have finished but it’s likely to take less than 2 hours of your time and you’ve still got the rest of Saturday to enjoy!
So next time you have enough time to run, why not consider volunteering instead. If every parkrunner took a turn you’d probably only have to volunteer once or twice a year. I’m sure you can find time for that, can’t you?
I don’t want to miss my run
Runners get very protective about their runs, especially if they are training for a big event so it’s understandable that you might not want to miss a key session but there are lots of options:
You’re not training hard all year round (and if you are, you should really be having some easy weeks!) so why not choose a weekend or two to give something back by volunteering instead of running.
And if a run is really that unmissable, why not run the course before or after the main event. Or perhaps, like I did today, run later in the day instead.
Even if you’re injured you could get your running fix by helping others get theirs.
As a parkrunner you need to remember one important thing (other than your barcode!): without an appropriate number of volunteers, a parkrun cannot go ahead. So if no one volunteers, no one runs. And none of us want that to happen.
The other thing I would say from my experience at Oxford parkrun this morning is that being a parkrun volunteer is great fun too.
Watching the kaleidoscope of young and old, tall and short, experienced and naive disappear into the distance at 9am is inspirational. Being thanked as you applaud the rosy red cheeks and puddle-splashed legs is warming. Seeing the grit and determination on show, whatever the motivation, is moving. And watching the smiles, air-punches and sighs of satisfaction is rewarding; you’ve just helped ten, fifty, one hundred, maybe even a thousand people take a step closer to their personal goal. I walked away today with a broad smile on my numb, wind-chilled face!
To those of you who already volunteer: I salute you, both as a parkrunner and, now, as a fellow volunteer. Long may you continue to help the parkrun family grow.
To those of you who haven’t yet volunteered: what’s stopping you?
Remember that parkrun can only operate with the help of volunteers, so if you enjoy parkrun and want it to continue get in touch with your local event team through the parkrun website and swap a place on the start line for a place on the volunteer roster. You won’t regret it!
If you parkrun but haven’t volunteered, what’s stopped you from giving it a go? If you volunteer, what else would you add to encourage others to get involved?