In praise of parkrun!

A little over thirteen years ago, an injured Paul Sinton-Hewitt, organised a run in his local South-West London park, thirteen of his friends ran what he called the Bushy Park Timetrial. Thirteen years later, Bushy parkrun as it became had an attendance of 1,388 and was one of 476 events in the United Kingdon, with a total 113,629 runners and volunteers.

If you are not familiar with parkrun, the principle is simple. A free, timed 5k, every Saturday morning at 9am. You can run, jog or walk, it doesn’t matter if you walk it in sixty minutes or under fourteen minutes (British 1,500m runner Andy Baddeley ran 13:48 at Bushy Park in 2012, a few days after running in the London Olympics).

Me personal parkrun story goes back to 2010, I had been a member of Rochdale Harriers for a few months and had done a couple of races. I was told that parkrun wasn’t a race, but was a good opportunity to run hard regularly on a measured 5k and get an official time. Over a few months at Heaton Park and Platt Fields I reduced my 5k personal best from 21:01 to 19:08, which gave me the confidence to break forty minutes for 10k and ninety for half marathon. It wasn’t a race, but I liked to push myself, like I was racing.

Hyde parkrun

Working hard on third lap at Hyde parkrun

On Saturday, I completed what was officially my thirtieth parkrun, although I have done a couple more where I forgot my barcode. It’s an average of just over four a year. As numbers of participants rose, particularly at Heaton Park, I was put off a bit by the crowds, but one of beauties of parkrun, is the growth of events, with the growth, my own approach to parkrun has changed, volunteer nearly as much as I run, sometimes use parkrun as a tempo in the middle of a longer run and also visit new parkrun events. I also rarely run them at race pace.

Sale parkrun

Rochdale Harriers at Sale Waterpark parkrun © Kay Welsby

In the last four weeks I have run at Worsley Woods (slow start, quick mile to test fitness and easing off towards the finish), Haigh Woodland (pacing a club mate), Watergrove (slow start, gradually building to a fast finish) and Sale Waterpark (slow first half mile then at 95% to the finish). A race is a race, but parkrun is whatever you want to it be on that particular Saturday morning.

Another of the great things about parkrun is seeing all the people who have found running through parkrun, for some it is a genuinely life changing experience. Even as an experienced runner, heavily involved in club running, parkrun has helped me enjoy my running more, especially that those times when poor form fills me with self doubt about my running.

My marathon training may get in the way of parkrun, as it is likely that I will do my long run on a Saturday morning, but I am sure I can fit a few more in before the end of the year and maybe get my ’50’ t-shirt in 2018.

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