Almost 7 years since my first parkrun (though parkrun was suspended for 70 weeks of that time), I have recently completed my 250th parkrun. That’s 250 Saturdays, plus a few Christmas Days and New Year’s Days, that I’ve got up early enough to run 5km at 09:00 am.
That’s some persistence – and a milestone. But a milestone that is easy to achieve. All you have to do is keep going back.
What is it about parkrun that makes me – and thousands of others – keep going back?
Without a doubt it is the sheer friendliness and inclusivity of parkrun. This has been written about so many times before, but it can’t be reiterated enough. It is, perhaps, the thing that people who are yet to experience a parkrun find the hardest to believe.
- “What, so you don’t have to be a fast runner?” No – it’s not about fast running. It’s not a competition. No one wins: parkrun has first finishers, not winners
- “Could I run a bit and walk a bit?” Yes – you could walk the whole route if you want to
- “But I’m really slow. Everyone will overtake me.” Everyone goes at their own pace; speed doesn’t matter. And it’s not about the other parkrunners; it’s about you. You’ll get plenty of encouragement and praise, whatever your speed.
Everyone is welcome at parkrun. It’s not a running community, it’s a community that runs (or jogs or walks). parkrun celebrates the fact that the average speed for a parkrun is slower year after year. It demonstrates how many people who are new to running take part.
parkrun isn’t a race; it’s a run (or jog or walk). It’s a few hundred people all doing their own run (or jog or walk); it just happens to be at the same time and on the same route.
There are also volunteer roles available for anyone who wants to be involved without running (or jogging or walking). Mrs Chippy is the volunteer coordinator for Eastleigh. She would welcome additions to her team of volunteer-only participants. Volunteers are also rewarded with milestone shirts similar to those of the runners.
There’s a story that a first-time parkrunner thought that everyone standing at the corners to direct runners was named Marshall from all the “thank you, Marshall” shouts from the passing parkrunners. It was later explained that they were fulfilling the role of marshal. I wonder how many Marshalls have been a marshal.
Some parkrunners set their own personal challenge. It might be to achieve a Personal Best (either overall, or for the year), or to gradually improve an average speed over a period of weeks. Others might be happy to beat the person who pipped them at the post last week. Others try to visit as many different events as possible, or all within a geographical area, such as Hampshire. Lon-Done is the unofficial name for completing all the parkrun events inside the M25.
But there’s more. A browser extension and/or a phone app provides a wealth of random statistics and challenges. And the great thing about these is that you don’t need to record progress yourself; all the data is automatically gleaned from the parkrun results.
For example, I can see that I have achieved a Personal Best 27 times (including 5 in a row – that was a long time ago); I’ve run at 26 different events and there are four events that I’ve run at least four times each; the parkrun event closest to my ‘average parkrun location’ is Seaford Beach – which I think is in Sussex or Kent; my NENDY (Nearest Event Not Done Yet) is Bartley Park near Totton.
There’s a map where each parkrun event has its own territory, and you can mark your way, Blockbuster-style across the country.
Then there a number of virtual challenges based on the event names or completion times, such as:
- The alphabeteer: complete events starting with each letter of the alphabet (except X – there isn’t a parkrun starting with ‘x’). For a long time, the only ‘J’ was Jersey, but there is now a Jersey Farm in Hertfordshire. However, the only ‘Z’ is in Poland. Interestingly, despite being a common letter in English language, there are not many events starting with a ‘T’
- Stopwatch Bingo: collect all the seconds from 00 to 59 in your finishing times. It took me until 4 December 2021 to complete that challenge – 241 parkruns.
- Pirates: sevens Cs (seas) and an ‘R’ (aarr).
- Stayin’ alive: three Bees and 3 Gees
- Compass Club: complete parkruns with each of the four main compass points in their name. In this area, Eastleigh and Southampton are easy to find. I still need to find a West and East
- The Full Ponty: complete all the events named ‘Ponty’ or ‘Ponte’ – that’s (at the time of writing) Pontefract, Pontypool, Pontypridd and Pont y Bala
- Groundhog Day: finish with the same time at the same parkrun location on two consecutive events. Not as easy as it sounds, as it is based on ‘official parkrun time’ which is usually a few seconds different to ‘personal stopwatch time’. I’ve managed this twice – both times more by luck than by judgement.
- Name Badge: complete parkruns starting with every letter of your name
- All-weather: complete a parkrun in every month of the year
So to summarise parkrun. There’s something for everyone. What’s your excuse?