Running jargon busting No.5: Parkrun

Sample usage: “I do my local parkrun every Saturday morning”

Alternate sample usage: “Those pesky park runners, coming round here and wearing down the concrete paths with their stampeding approach and abrasive running shoes”

Parkrun is a phenomenon – and one that’s undeniably changed running. For the uninitiated (you never know, someone out there might not have heard of it…), parkruns are free 5k runs held around the world at 9am on a Saturday morning.

The first parkrun was held in Bushy Park, Teddington on October 2004. Less than 11 years later, there are around 850 events in 12 countries around the world. In the UK alone, somewhere around 85,000 people take park in 396 parkrun events every Saturday. Nearly 950,000 people have completed a parkrun. It’s an incredible growth story – and one that deserves to be celebrated.

What has made parkrun such a success is that it’s inclusive. Parkrun events aren’t races – they’re communal runs where everyone is welcome, no matter how fast or experienced they are at running.

The events aren’t races, but they are timed: participants register on the parkrun website, and can then print a barcode that details their registration details. At the end of a run, participants are handed a finish token on based on their position – that is scanned along with their barcode, and used to produce the results. Brilliantly, once you’ve registered, you can turn up at any parkrun anywhere in the world and run.

Because the events are timed, if you are a bit serious about your running you can push for a time or position (it’s like a race, but… not a race). But it’s not really about competition. Timing the events each week allows runners to chart their improvement and fitness. Mostly, it’s just a great way to start the weekend.

Oh, and parkrun events are free. Thanks to an incredible group of volunteers who organise every run, they cost nothing to take part in. That’s pretty key to their growth and success. And plenty of people have used parkrun as a starting point to break into the world of running. I’m one example.

From the point I started running, it took around three months before my friends could convince me that I should do a parkrun. I first tackled my local event, Kingston Parkrun, on June 21, 2014. Since then I’ve completed 72 parkruns – and my experience and enjoyment of those free events was key to guiding me into entering paid-for races. Without parkrun I probably wouldn’t be competed on the London Marathon this weekend.

Parkrun works. Which explains the incredibly passionate global response to a decision by a small parish council near Bristol to charge the organisers of Little Stoke Parkrun for the use of park roads on a Saturday morning. It seems the council is facing a bill of £60,000 to resurface the paths of Little Stoke Park, and it’s decided much of the path damage has been caused by the 300 or so people who tackle the parkrun once-a-week.  The parish councillors argue that Parkrun is a group with paid directors, and that other similar event organisers are charged to use council facilities.

And so did a movement that has resulted in thousands of people taking up running and getting fit come up against local politics.

I do have some sympathy for the parish councillors, really I do. I also have sympathy with other park users who might be upset at having the park dominated by runners for all of one hour a week (although it should be noted that, on every parkrun I’ve done, those runners are generally polite, courteous and go out of their way to make room for non-running park users).

But the decision to charge the Little Stoke Parkrun organisers demonstrates, to me, an inability to see the bigger issue. It’s… incredibly parochial in a way only parish council politics can be.

The Little Stoke Parkrun isn’t an event on the scale of the London Marathon for super quick professional athletes. Parkrun really is about providing everyone with an affordable (i.e. free) way to go running, surrounded by help and support. At a time when rising obesity and falling fitness levels are a cause of real concern, such initiatives should surely be encouraged, not penalised.

Hopefully common sense will eventually prevail. Because parkrun is the sort of success story that should be celebrated – not threatened.


Previously on running jargon busting…

Running jargon busting No. 4: Stretching

Running jargon busting No.3: Negative splits

Running jargon busting No.2: PB

Running jargon busting No.1: Undulating



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