Institution: Nerys Jones – UK
Keywords: Parkrun, Health, Well-Being, Running, Volunteering, Recreation
“Parkrun” is a fast-growing worldwide recreational phenomenon; it is a network of 5km running events that take place every Saturday morning at over 1,400 locations in 20 countries across five continents. Participation is free and it is organised entirely by volunteers. It started in the UK in 2004 with just 13 runners in a single park in London and by October 2018, 5 million people had registered to take part.
As the name suggests, parkruns are often staged in parks, but an increasing number are held in and around woods and forests, lakes, beaches, promenades, racecourses and even prison grounds. Forests, both urban and rural, offer softer, trail-type courses, in contrast to urban parks with hard surfaces and they offer a location for those looking for a slightly “wilder” run experience. Parkrun is an ideal activity for urban forests: it requires very little effort to organise, minimal infrastructure to set up and within 30 minutes of finishing, there is almost no evidence that it took place.
The runs are very inclusive: anyone can take part, from serious athletes to walkers, club runners to parents pushing child buggies, wheelchair users and people with dogs. Ages range from under 5 to over 80 and all runners are classed as “athletes” by parkrun. The size of individual parkruns varies enormously from as few as 10 runners to as many as 1300.
People register just once, on-line, and they may then run at any parkrun event worldwide. There is no need to book in advance. The athlete downloads a personal bar code, which is carried during the run and is then scanned at the finish line. Runners receive their personal time by text or email, usually within an hour or two of finishing.
The physical health benefits are becoming more apparent, with doctors in the UK now starting to prescribe parkrun as a way of encouraging people to become more active. The mental health benefits of participation, whether through running or volunteering, are also increasingly recognised.
The parkrun ethic is that “it is a run, not a race – it’s you against the clock”. There is a very supportive, collegiate atmosphere, welcoming beginners, those who are less able and people trying to lose weight, as well as celebrating faster runners. The social aspect is also very important – there is always somewhere to meet for coffee and cake afterwards!