There have now been 23 Saturdays without a parkrun in the UK – or indeed most of the rest of the world. The Covid-19 pandemic has meant that, for the first time since its inception in 2004, all events were suspended in March. Since then, only New Zealand has been able to restart (but has subsequently been re-suspended). Yes, we were 90% proud of New Zealand parkrun, but 10% jealous!
How have we coped? How have dedicated parkrunners managed without our weekly fix of running and camaraderie.
Mrs Chippy and I have kept up our custom of running 5 km at 9 o’clock on a Saturday morning – though not at the regular parkrun course at Fleming Park, in case it looked as if we were breaking the suspension. We even divvy up the various parkrun volunteer roles between us, and write a run report on Facebook. We thought we would only produce the report a few times, but so many people have said how much they enjoy reading it, we have kept going.
It’s not just us who are doing this. Across the world, thousands of parkrunners are running 5 km at a time and place that suits them. There’s even a new name for it: notparkrun. The day once known as Saturday is now known as notparkrunday. You can even buy your own notparkrun running shirt – and choose your own wording. Of course we did – as soon as they came out!
We’ve followed some of the other parkrun traditions too – and not only the post-run coffee and bacon roll. We marked the 20th notparkrunday with two notparkruns – one at Lakeside followed by another at Fleming Park. This week’s notparkrunday was the 22nd of the month – tutu day. So, we donned our tutus (I chose a rainbow-coloured one over a pink one. I do have standards). I think we (or I) caused a fair bit of amusement at Lakeside during our run, and along local roads as we walked there and back.
After a bit of experimentation of various routes, we have settled on Lakeside Country Park as our preferred location, where there is already a marked course of 2.5 km. Two laps make up our quota. If I am feeling energetic, I run an extra lap just “for fun”.
Coincidentally, Lakeside was the location of the original Eastleigh parkrun, back in 2010. The event has since outgrown the size of the park – and there are many walkers, fishermen and swimmers who parkrunners would disturb (yes, people voluntarily swim in the lake on a Saturday morning – better them than me).
It is a lovely route to run (or walk). Around the bowl, alongside the lakes, back through a wooded path (welcome shade in hot weather) and alongside the railway – if you time it right you can try racing the train. Over the months we have seen the cygnets and ducklings grow from cuddly balls of fluff, through ugly teenager stage and into adulthood.
In recent weeks, notparkrun has moved to a new stage, with the parkrun website allowing us to record one 5 km time per day (any route we choose), with the fastest time each week going forward to a leader board for your local event. It’s all for fun – there are no prizes, and it’s all done on trust.
9:00 am on Saturday is also the time of the Great Big parkrun quiz, broadcast on YouTube (and available for replay at later times).
This short quiz of fifteen multi-choice questions is hosted by radio Sports Guy Vassos Alexander aided (I’m not sure that is always the right word) by his teenage son and young daughter. It is great fun and not taken too seriously – the unofficial tagline is “this isn’t a quiz; it’s a joke”. Daughter Mary’s closing story (originally a diversion quickly invented by Vassos while he got on with business) have become an essential feature.
During term time, there was also the School of parkrun – a daily parkrun-related question (and a few physical exercises) for primary-aged school children.
Here are a few examples:
- Maths: Add up each of the numbers in your parkrun barcode. What number do you get?
- Science: Do 60 seconds of vigorous activity and describe all the sensations you feel in your body
- Art: draw a birds-eye view of your local parkrun
- English: write your own first-timers briefing
So, when will parkrun return? We don’t know. But not before both parkrun and the rest of the country is ready. Procedures are being developed that would mitigate the risk without breaking the spirit of parkrun. But, as parkrun HQ are at pains to point out, this just describes how parkrun could return – not when. Keep watching this space.