How Parkrun Changed Our Lives
How Parkrun Changed Our Lives
It’s been hailed as the greatest public health initiative of our time, and a social movement for the common good. Millions of people around the world have registered to do parkrun, the free weekly timed 5k events of which there are 730 in the UK alone. And during the pandemic when parkruns were halted, people were still signing up to take part.
Eileen Jones set out to see why parkrun is so widely loved and – during the past year – desperately missed. She found a female bishop whose home parkrun is at an Abbey, a couple who got married half way round a parkrun, a man who runs it backwards, old runners and very young ones.
Eileen found many who said that parkrun had changed their lives. They are people who found solace, companionship, respite from grief, escape from social isolation, a new purpose in life, and just the sheer joy of running every week in good company. She met doctors who are prescribing parkrun rather than medication, and talked to the academics whose research has proved the many benefits of taking part or volunteering.
The parkrun concept is simple: turn up every Saturday and walk, jog or run 5k. There are also 2k events for juniors on Sundays, but youngsters are welcomed, and celebrated, at the main events. It doesn’t matter how fast you go. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing. What matters is taking part. And occasionally playing your part as a volunteer. The way it works is simple too: register once, print your barcode, then turn up and take part wherever you want, whenever you want. And it’s always one word, always lower case; parkrun is a trademark logo.
A former fell-runner who says she stopped competing because it was unfair on the marshals waiting for her at hilltop checkpoints, Eileen was “born again” as a parkrunner and had done 260 events at 104 different venues before lockdown. Occasionally well-placed in her age category, she was once proud to be “first old dear” at Old Deer parkrun. She poses the question that parkrun is a new religion, with a litany and liturgy that’s familiar and repeated weekly, and leaves participants feeling better about themselves. She also introduces us to the record breakers, including the British doctor who ran the fastest women’s time in the USA at a parkrun near San Francisco.
But mostly there are stories of very ordinary runners, walkers and volunteers who explain why parkrun has brought so much joy into their lives.
There’s a forward by the founder of parkrun, Paul Sinton-Hewitt, who says: “Everyone's parkrun journey is different and yet we share so many experiences. In common with many other people, I have made countless friends, covered parts of the country and the indeed the world I never imagined, been united with family I didn't know I had and shared a parkrun course with my grandchildren. I have been introduced to volunteering and learnt what a rewarding experience it is. Eileen covered these and many more shared pleasures.”
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