This is an article about the ParkRun movement that is dragging thousands of people out of bed every Saturday to do a 5km (3.1 mile) run/walk around a park. It is enjoyed by all sorts from supervised 7-8 year-olds up to 80+. And for all of you that think you’re fit, there is a 70 to 74-year-old that runs our local that can complete the course in about 20 minutes.
There is also a Junior Parkrun that takes place in many locations on a Sunday at 9am. It is 2km and aimed at children from the ages of 4 to 14.
Parkrun was founded by Paul Sinton-Hewitt on 2 October 2004 at Bushy Park in London, England. Sinton-Hewitt was born in Zimbabwe and went to Potchefstroom High School for Boys as a boarder in South Africa. He became a club runner with a personal best time in the marathon of 2 hours and 36 minutes. In 2004, Sinton-Hewitt was suffering from depression and unable to run due to an injury. He founded Parkrun because he wanted to continue to spend time with his running friends. In a BBC Radio 4 interview he said that the idea for Parkrun came from his time in South Africa 20 years earlier where he had experienced competitive races that took place on the same course at the same time each week. The first event had 13 runners, three volunteers and was managed by Sinton-Hewitt.
The Bushy Parkrun was originally known as the Bushy Park Time Trial, and its results were timed with a stopwatch, recorded on paper while washers stamped with a finish number were used as finishing tokens. Over the next two years the event took place every week with the number of participants and volunteers growing, and new technology introduced to streamline the processing of results. The second Time Trial was launched at Wimbledon Common in 2007; it was here that the model of having an identical structure at different locations began. That year saw a further six events established. They were initially known as the UK Time Trials before the “parkrun” name was adopted. There were five more locations added in 2008 including the first in Scotland and the first in Wales.
How ParkRun works
If you wish to be timed you need to register beforehand. Upon completion you are emailed a barcode to store on your phone or print out. Or you can buy a wristband with it on as well.
On the day, you turn up just before 9am and if it is your first time, or even first time at a course, there is a talk to explain what will happen. After that, the event organiser for the day will welcome everyone, remind everyone of particular park rules and then congratulate milestones. These are of two different types; number of runs, and secondly number of times volunteering (more on later). For the runs there are milestones for 15, 25, 50, 100, 250 and now 500 runs. Each milestone allows one to purchase merchant ware that advertises the highest milestone you have passed. There are also running gear tie-ins on the website too. I cannot comment on price or quality.
Children under 11 can run but must be accompanied by an adult until the final bit. Dogs are also allowed with a short handheld lead. Buggies are also allowed and it is very dispiriting to see a mum jogging comfortably while pushing one past you as you are a pile of sweat and gasping for breath!
Then there is the countdown to the start and you’re off. You walk/jog/run the course and when you reach the end your time is taken and then your place barcode handed out. This is then scanned along with your own barcode and you hand the place token back.
Timings are not accurate for official records but should be well within a second so perfectly good to track progress if you wish.
Finally you walk/hobble to the nearest cafe or go home.
For those that are worried about being left behind, there are volunteers that walk at the back. This also allows course monitors to go home after the last participant has gone past.
As well as milestones for number of runs, some runners try to tick off other lists too. Every letter of the alphabet being one and countries too. This helps Wickies as there aren’t many choices for the letter K.
Why I’m doing it & my goals
I’ve run two courses so far and completed 14 parkruns. Wicksteed Park in Kettering that can have up to 300 people on a busy day and Newport Pagnell which can be 50-75. Neither is the best course for a quick time, but I’m not interested in posting a quick one until I’ve finished noticeably improving – as then it would be good to see what my best is.
I push myself on the run as I believe 5k is almost the perfect distance, probably twice a week being optimal or good general health. Recovery is now an hour or so. It took me almost a week after my first!
I got into parkrun after pulling a calf muscle on a walk. I hadn’t exercised in anger for nearly ten years and with steady weight gain it showed. Since joining the gym and doing parkrun I’ve injured myself many more times but that is by the by and I am getting there.
My weight at nearly 18 stone is about a good stone too high but hasn’t shifted much so maybe that is just me from now on. Ideally I’d like to get to about 16 stone and a half.
My first time was 33m 41s with a mixture of walking and jogging. It took me four attempts before I ran the distance. My best time so far is 29m 15s. This is about the average time for a runner, certainly on my two courses. My next goal is to get down to 27m 48s which is 9-minute mile pace, and then maybe 24m 42s which is 8-minute mile pace. Any quicker would be a bonus but I’m not going to train just to get down to blistering times. At my peak I could run flat miles at about 6m 30s and I like to think I could have crept in on the right course under the 20-minute mark.
Getting in the family way
My youngest wanted to try the junior parkrun (2km) so we’ve had a few early trips to Wickies on a Sunday morning. Her best 2k time is 9m 42s and that is with her walking parts of it as she runs off too hard. She looks the part of the runner and could be decent if she wants to be. Middle sister has just started parkrun too, so this Saturday, youngest went with her and endured a slow jog/walk. Next chance in a month, she is going to try to tag along with me. If she can keep the pace over the distance I have no doubt she will leave me for dust in the final ½km.
The events are run for free and rely on volunteers to run the event on the day. They are always asking for more volunteering.
There are a variety of roles. I have dealt with the collecting of tokens a couple of times and may well look to do a few other jobs, approximately once a month. They also need course monitors to give encouragement and ensure people don’t take a wrong turn. Also, a few need to get there early and help set the course out.
Another advantage of parkrun, especially when you volunteer, is that it becomes social. I know a few regulars to talk to and also chat with some of the helpers.
Especially as when walking around Kettering and seeing mostly dross nowadays (and the refugee hotel has made that noticeably worse), it is good to know normal people still exist in my town.
I wouldn’t be a Going Postaler without bringing a few quirks to an event. In this case it is my footwear as pictured above. I run and hike in Vibrams minimalist footwear. The idea is that, especially being so big, that once one is used to running in them, they encourage a better, more natural way to run. The main idea is that your calves and ankles have to learn to fully support you, (you don’t improve thigh strength by using a wheelchair) and also to stop damaging your knees, you end up landing more on the ball of your foot instead. Only time will tell…
For anybody that does no exercise and is looking to get a little healthier, I would certainly recommend it. If nothing else it gets you outside. You can walk the whole course and choose to push yourself harder whenever you wish. It is very friendly, non-competitive, and you may eventually make a few new friends.
© Jerry Mandarin 2023