And it’s back! After 70 long weeks of suspension, parkrun finally returned to England last weekend (24th July).
Almost 250 runners assembled at Fleming Park, both this week and last, plus about 40 volunteers to make sure the event ran smoothly and everyone stayed safe. This week’s participants included twenty brand new parkrunners, plus another nineteen who had never run at Eastleigh before.
After so many weeks of running on my own, or with a very few companions, it is hard to describe just how wonderful it is to be back with the full parkrun family. Although there have been a few covid-safe tweaks to the procedures, it still feels like parkrun has always been – cheery greetings as runners pass each other; encouragement from the marshals; and the smiles of achievement as the finish is reached. It’s as if it’s never been away.
The most noticeable change at Eastleigh is that the course is run in reverse. This allows a much larger area to be used for the run briefing and start area. In fact, Eastleigh Borough Council have kindly mowed the long grass just for this purpose.
Last week’s thunderstorms had provided a few puddles on the course. I may have been the only person over the age of ten to deliberately run through them all. This week the course was drier and provided near-perfect running conditions, which helped 29 people to record a personal best on the course.
But parkrun is about more than running. It is a community; it is a social movement; it is a support network. It’s been described as the most significant public health initiative of our time (I would suggest of any time). It is the most inclusive sporting event … actually, drop the “sporting” adjective; it’s the most inclusive event I’ve ever come across. Everyone is welcome; everyone is given the same level of encouragement. It doesn’t matter whether you are an elite athlete, or struggle to plod round the 5 kilometre (3.1 mile) course.
Today I was standing near the finish as one of the later runners finished. The applause given was the same as if they had finished in the top ten. parkrun doesn’t judge; it doesn’t rank. Everyone is an individual, and everyone achieves in their own way. Cutting one minute from a 40+ minute time is just as rewarding as cutting a minute from a sub-25-minute time. “I’m trying” called out one runner I passed on my final lap today. “That’s all you have to do” I called back.
If you want to witness 250 smiling faces on a Saturday morning, pop down to Fleming Park (near the Pavilion in the Park) just before 9.00 am. You could just spectate at first. If you enjoy it, you could take part – not necessarily as a participant (running, jogging, or walking – or any combination), but as a volunteer. Volunteers are just as important as participants – we can’t have one without the other. And this morning, Mrs Chippy found that moving from foot to foot while marshalling on a corner was a good way to reach her step count for the day!