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The Perks Of Parkrun

Susan Lacke /
Photo by Parkrun USA.

Just Show Up

Every Saturday, a small crowd gathers at Beach Park in Des Moines, Wash. The scene is familiar to most runners: people of every age and background, lacing up and coming together to take their marks, get set and go.

Except this isn’t a race—unless you want it to be. This is Parkrun, a free, timed 5K that is what each runner makes of it. For some, it’s a friendly competition; for others, it’s a social hour of running. Runners use it as a weekly or monthly test to track their fitness, as the course is always the same (in Washington, it’s a flat and fast out-and-back route through the park). No matter the reason, the result is the same: a safe, welcoming community for runners of all types is formed.

Parkrun was the brainchild of British runner Paul Sinton-Hewitt, who had a long-term injury and who missed the social side of his running club. He marked out a 5K course in his local park in Teddington, a suburb of London, and invited some friends and fellow club runners to come along to take part. He would time them and collate the results. Sinton-Hewitt decided it would be 9 a.m., every Saturday, free and informal. The catch: Afterward, all runners would go for coffee in the park café so that he could get all his friends together in one place, once a week.

Thirteen runners turned up to the first race on Oct. 2, 2004. Sinton-Hewitt’s wife, Joanne, and a few of his friends volunteered to help out. A local running store gave him vouchers to present to the first finisher and the final finisher, which set the tone for the way that Parkrun would come to celebrate participation over performance.

It was a hit. Fourteen people came the following week, then 20. It grew rapidly, and by 2006, there were 378 runners attending the event in Bushy Park with a second Parkrun starting up in nearby Wimbledon. Today, there are more than 225,000 Parkrun events worldwide, with more than 3 million participants. The United States, which joined the Parkrun movement in 2012, has had 1,500 events (and counting) in 23 locations, with more in the works.

“The beauty of Parkrun is that it can be replicated just about anywhere in the world,” says Darrell Stanaford, who manages the U.S. branch of the movement. “The concept is the same—a free, weekly, timed 5K event coordinated by volunteers. When you register, you print out a Parkrun barcode, which becomes your passport to any Parkrun in the world on any Saturday.”

The simple accessibility of Parkrun is what makes it so appealing—there’s no pressure, no race fees and no complication. All you have to do is show up. Parkruns are all established and coordinated by local volunteers at a variety of accessible locations, like parks, promenades and beaches. The only requirement Parkrun has for the establishment of a new course is that it ends at or near a place for post-run coffee, be it a nearby café or meeting point close to the finish line. Events in more remote places often have mobile coffee vans.

“Attendance at individual Parkruns in the U.S. generally ranges from 20 to 100 participants and three to 15 volunteers on a given Saturday. Smaller groups of diverse people are great for meeting people and building new friendships. It’s a grassroots supportive community that is inclusive of people of all shapes, sizes, ages and colors,” Stanaford says. “Participants feel like they belong to a family. There is a strong emphasis on fun, enjoyment and friendship.”

Want to start a Parkrun in your backyard?

Parkrun aims to have an event in every community. Anyone can join the Parkrun movement, thanks to the simple startup process established for the grassroots organization.

A new Parkrun needs:

  • Permission to use a 5K course in a park.
  • A group of three to 15 volunteers to organize each Saturday’s run.
  • Onetime start-up funding, which ranges from $1,000 to $5,000, depending upon the size of the community. (Parkrun can help with obtaining sponsorships if needed.)

For more information on how to start a Parkrun in your community, visit parkrun.us.

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