What if I told you that there exists the perfect community-based antidote to our fast-paced, achievement-oriented, internet-soaked, terrorist-fearing, climate-changing, politically precarious modern world? And it’s free. And there’s no catch or downside. Unless you count running as a downside; in which case you might have landed on the wrong blog. Or you’re one of my rare, lovely friends whom I have yet to convert. Yet.
parkrun is the name given to a collection of five-kilometre running events that take place every Saturday morning in fourteen countries across five continents. Each parkrun territory has its own sponsors. Because of the sponsorship all are free to take part in. (Wikipedia)
Today marks the 12th birthday of parkrun, which started with 13 people in a park in the UK and has since grown into a global phenomenen involving almost 1000 events and counting. How can I be part of this deceptively simple concept that brings so much joy and goodwill (and better health) to communities in 14 countries I hear you ask. Well if you check the parkrun website for your country and discover an event in your local area, you are not only exceptionally fortunate but also only a few steps from actually becoming a parkrunner
Here’s how to get started:
1. Register and print your barcode. #DFYB
Online registration is easy and fast, after which you will need to print, then cut out a credit card-sized slip of paper containing your unique parkrun number and barcode. This barcode is the key to a new world of recorded times, which ultimately accumulate into free milestone t-shirts, and global parkrun tourism opportunities. When paired with the finisher token you receive crossing the finish line, and scanned by a volunteer, your barcode opens the door to a whole world of personal bests, milestones, progress, and borderless parkrun tourism. No barcode, no time. And please don’t offer the barcode scanner your smartphone to scan the screen. It doesn’t work. Ever.
Keep your barcode somewhere secure (and dry) so you don’t lose it during the run. As you can see I wore mine out and instead of cutting a new one from my printed sheet, I ordered a laminated barcode disk that attaches to my shoe (shown here with a finisher token). Barcode bracelets are also popular.
2. Show Up Early
Every parkrun event website contains comprehensive information on directions, parking, the course, and toilet facilities. Study it in advance. It’s a good idea to show up early, though not too early unless you’re happy to help the Run Director and other volunteers set up. All parkruns plant a flag to mark the gathering point for runners. Getting there 15 minutes before start time allows for a little chat and the pre-run briefing from the Run Director during which he/she will explan the course (which you’ll already have scoped out online anyway, right?) and ask for first timers and visitors from other parkrun events to raise their hands. Raise that hand high with pride and bask in the ensuing grunts of approval/applause as you’re only a first timer once.
3. Bring a friend/child/dog..
If you are daunted by showing up alone, bring a friend, a child or even a dog. I opted for a child during my first few parkruns as I had no friends (who ran), nor a dog. Thinking that parkrun was some sort of race (see below), I was glad to have a slower runner in my care, providing an excuse for not having to run until I heaved. The daughter who fell and grazed her thigh during her first parkrun, recently celebrated my 50th (parkrun, not birthday) by gliding gazelle-like past me at the 300m mark with a ‘Hi mum’ and staying ahead of me for the entire course. This is the price to pay for spending time with her every Saturday morning. It’s more than worth it.
If you’re taking a child in a stroller, please check that your parkrun event is stroller-friendly. Most are but if there’s a beach-stretch as there is at my local parkrun, it may not be ideal. Unless you’re seeking a special Saturday-morning challenge. If you’re taking a child aged 11 or below, you need to accompany them on the course for their own safety.
parkrun is for the whole family, for people of all ages, and running abilities. Don’t worry about being the slowest. You most likely won’t be. And even if you are, you’re still a hell of a lot faster than the folks lounging around at home, scrolling through Facebook.
parkrun is such a simple concept: turn up every Saturday and run 5km. It doesn’t matter how fast you go. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing. What matters is taking part. (parkrun.com)
4. It’s not a race
‘It’s a run not a race’ is a parkrun mantra. Some runners use it as a time trial and a test of overall progress in increasing speed and fitness. For others it’s a trial to cover 5km at all. It doesn’t matter which category, or the many in-between, that you fall into; it’s all about having fun. And for some people, pushing through the pain barrier is fun. There is some emphasis on personal bests when the results are posted online (and issued via email) but ultimately parkrun is what you want it to be. I go every week on a course that varies depending on the wind and the tide so that even when I run my hardest, I don’t improve on the PB I set nine months ago. And I really don’t mind. What matters most is that I meet up with some great people (and meet new ones) every Saturday morning and enjoy good company and being active. It’s now a bonus if I can keep up with my children.
Without volunteers, there would be no parkrun. Donning a parkrun volunteer vest is the best way to make friends and there are numerous roles available so check out the online roster to see where you think you’d like to offer your services. It’s recommended that everyone volunteer at least three times a year and 25 volunteer commitments are rewarded with a free purple 25 t-shirt. The best volunteers cheer, applaud, and high five which you’ll discover during your first run is something much-appreciated.
If there isn’t a parkrun near you, you might consider getting a group of enthusiasts together and setting one up. I have friends in both Malaysia and Norway currently trying to get parkruns up and going. As for my non-running friends? I’m still working on them.