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parkrun – Quite Simply The Most Important Sporting Event On The Planet

Nicky Best

In the first POST I wrote for RUN LEEDS, I mentioned to Ben that I wasn’t a big fan of running. Now this is may be true, but one thing I can be certain of when talking about this extremely testing pastime is my love for what I consider to be, as it says in the title, The Most Important Sporting Event on the Planet. A bold statement indeed, but I believe it to be a fair one. Let me try to explain the reasons.

 

parkrun (which is always spelt with a lower case p) is quite literally a Run in a Park. But, it is also so much more. It is timed, it is free, it is all-inclusive, it is weekly (Saturday) and it is, at 5 kilometers a distance that is long enough to test every individual in that all-Inclusive bracket. There is also junior parkrun, a 2 kilometer, weekly (Sunday) event too and I will no doubt be touching upon this in future blogs.

 

What other sporting event can (and it has) have an Olympic Gold medalist stood next to an 85 year old Granny with arthritis on the same start line at the very same event on the same level playing field? No matter what ability, age, class, religion, race or nationality, you can, every week stand on that start line with all other walks of life and give it your all, or not, if that’s what you prefer. parkrun is a run at the athlete’s own pace, not a race.

 

parkrun has been going for the better part of a decade. It happened quite simply by accident when a young athlete named Paul got injured and couldn’t run. He decided he would get his stopwatch and time his pals as they ran around a park in London and he enjoyed it so much that he did it again the following week. A few people heard what he was doing and so he timed them too. Other people liked what he was doing and Paul encouraged them to start their own event and so it grew and it grew and it grew.

 

Eleven years later and it has grown, by word of mouth into an event that happens in eleven countries every week at 9am on the dot. It has over 2 million registered athletes and up to 150,000 of these athletes on average will gather on a Saturday morning and simply run. Participants only have to register the once and most certainly don’t have to run it every week. They simply turn up on a Saturday when convenient.

 

Now, you may ask. A free event sounds far too good to be true? Well, free it is and this is down to the many people who followed Paul’s initial action to stand on the sidelines so their pals could run. parkrun simply name these people, volunteers. Some volunteers do not run at all. Some athletes will volunteer in exchange for all the times volunteers have allowed them to run. This is how it works and it works really well. Not only do these events help with health and fitness, they also help to build communities. These reasons and so many more (which can only be found through actually attending an event regularly) are the reason I DO believe parkrun matters so much. I cannot emphasise that last point enough.

 

But why have so many people never heard of parkrun if it is so fantastic and so important?

 

Organically, parkrun has grown from its UK roots, to international success in Poland, Denmark, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Russia and Ireland. It is also available in France, Italy and the USA. It is in the latter country that parkrun has had its most frustrations from a managerial point of view. They only have five events at the moment and it has been very hard, to convince American backers to get involved. I will come to this point shortly.

 

Anyway, going back to the question in hand and to put it another way. “Does the Average Joe in the street know about parkrun?” – “And if they do know about it, do they fully understand the positive impact it is having on so many peoples’ lives?” This is the reason I felt obliged to write this post because the answer quite simply is NO.

 

As previously stated, people can only REALLY find out about parkrun through living and breathing it and attending at the event. I have banded the parkrun ethos around everywhere I have gone in recent years and I know many others do the same. I always encourage people to come along and spectate before they actually commit and I believe when they do come they generally get to grips with what is near impossible to sum up in a short article. I also know that the participation numbers mentioned earlier are very impressive for an organic event. But, in my opinion, eleven countries is just not enough. It is essential that everyone around the globe knows about it too.

 

Also, these people need to know that it is significantly more than just a run. I have had reactions from people saying things like, “I am not a runner” or “I couldn’t run a bath”. This is so, so frustrating. Until you have attended a parkrun you cannot comprehend now much more it is than just a run. Just ask my Missus, she is a perfect example and she doesn’t even run, but she loves the event and wouldn’t be without it. People who have heard about it, but haven’t acted on it because it is ‘just a run’ do not know what they are missing out on.

 

So what can be done?

 

Well, in my eyes parkrun has grown organically at a nice steady pace. The event was small and it was extremely important for it to grow and develop in this particular way. But times change. The world we live in has changed. There aren’t enough opportunities and there are too many people in too many areas crying out for all of its benefits. It is just too important for it to continue steadily in this vein. parkrun in my opinion, be it right or wrong, is ready to go to the next level, projected towards the international masses that have been unexposed and unconverted to it’s cause.

 

I understand it is parkrun HQ’s plan to start promoting it in the USA. This is incredibly important I believe. I have chatted to the Country Manager of parkrun USA a few times in the last couple of years and he has continually told me about the opposition faced when it comes to the potential backing of the project. So, hopefully a new direction and a new push will convince the Americans that they just cannot lose. American people are a strange bunch in as much as they always get a little suspicious if anything is FREE. I do think they like silverware too. But, personally I am not a big fan of medals and think the club t-shirts at parkrun, given for milestone attendances of 10 (juniors), 50, 100, 250 and 500 runs, are far superior to any medal because they are earned for an individual’s time and commitment. It is also very important to continually stress that parkrun is a run and not a race.

 

I am also led to believe that China will also be a target soon and that amazing nation paired with the USA and the existing countries hopefully will be quite simply too much for the rest of the world to ignore. I do believe the Americans will look back and kick themselves for not jumping on the bandwagon sooner and hopefully now the time has arrived for parkrun to be allowed to conquer the world.

 

In many ways our planet is at one of the lowest ebbs in its entire history and this is a very important time for us all. parkrun can become one of the most important factors of world solidarity in the future and what better way to do it than with the simplest of sports? And yes I do think it will become known as a sport in its own right as it grows. We have sports like Foot-ball and we have sports like Basket-ball. The list goes on. Well I believe the WORLD will have a new sport to celebrate and a sport that the people can really call their own. I believe that sport to be park-run

 

I’m going to stop at this point because, quite simply I could talk about parkrun and its greatness all day, every day. I have only touched on a small tip of the parkrun iceberg. I will include my own parkrun story in my next blog for Run Leeds, but can I just leave you with this very simple message.

 

Sport Belongs to EVERYONE, so please let’s all embrace the sport that IS for EVERYONE …

 

… parkrun. So much more than just a Run in the Park!

 

 

To get yourself involved please access the parkrun website here:  http://runleeds.co.uk/r/parkrun/

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