Way back on 25 March, for the one hundredth Saturday in just under four years I joined a whole bunch of folk at Cramond Promenade for what must be the most inclusive, friendly, addictive, under-appreciated and uplifting organised active participation ‘thing’ going.  You already know what I’m talking about; it’s in the title.  It’s parkrun!

Running seems to be increasingly popular these days, and parkrun has exploded with it.  The basic concept – in case you didn’t click the link – is that it’s a free, weekly, timed run (not a race) over 5km/3.1 miles taking place in a local park (or similar).  All you need to do is register and print off a bit of paper with a barcode unique to you and you’ll have your times recorded for posterity’s sake.  Did I mention it’s free?

The people running the events are entirely volunteers giving up their time so we can enjoy ours, and they’ll have gone through all the work of arranging funding and permission for the events to happen in the first place.  Hats off to you all!

My own parkrun experience started back on 1 June 2013 at Cramond, in what was Edinburgh’s only event at the time.  I really can’t remember how I found out about it; I wasn’t part of a club, I’d only run a handful of races and didn’t know many other people who ran, let alone people who’d call themselves ‘runners’.  The one thing I do remember was getting up early to catch the bus out to Cramond having never been there before, and being terrified I’d get lost.

I was also trying to get quicker, and that’s what got me along in the first place.  I had a 5km loop I did fairly regularly, but couldn’t get under 22 minutes.  Or maybe it was 23.  I clocked 22:38, according to my results page, so I was either happy with it…or not so much.  A lack of my own transport stopped me making a regular thing of it though, until I got a bike in early 2014.

By the time I got myself back along for no. 2, I really wanted to break 20 minutes for 5k.  I was running without a fancy watch – something that feels pretty unnatural now – so it must’ve just been all out…and I clocked 20:01!  This hurt.  I went back the following week (17 May 2014) and smashed it in 19:36.  One very happy man!

From this point I became more and more of a regular.  I volunteered for the first time later in 2014, and started to seek out other parkruns.  And there’s plenty of choice out there.

Across the UK, events kick off every Saturday.  It’s a 9.30 start for us here in Scotland and in N.I, and 9am in England and Wales.  Important to remember if you’re on tourist mode!  Across the world there are different times still, all to cope with local conditions.  And it’s those local conditions that make visiting other places so much fun; the terrain, the surrounds, the undulations are a breath of fresh air.  And everyone’s always welcoming.  People love it when you come to visit their local event.

So I’ll find any excuse.  If there’s football on, I’ll scout out where I can go and make a point of leaving hours earlier than necessary to take it in.  A big event is more likely to entice me if there’s a parkrun I can run the day before.  Did I mention it’s addictive?

Examples are many:
Great North Run – Newcastle
Brighton – Hove prom
Copenhagen – Faelledparken
Portsmouth Coastal – Southampton
Chester – Carlisle (a train stop on the way down!)

and footballing…
Aberdeen – Aberdeen & Hazlehead
Dundee – Camperdown
Partick – Tollcross
Hamilton – Strathclyde

2016-08-27 09.02.48
Strathclyde Country Park

I like my numbers to be round, too.  There was a bit of forward planning as I approached ‘100’, working it out so I’d ran:

  • 5 home-from-home Inverness parkruns
  • 15 in Portobello, Edinburgh’s second event
  • 20 different locations
  • 60th in Cramond was my 100th overall

Totally sad, I know.

I’m lucky to be able to attend a local event most weeks, and with new ones springing up all the time it seems, the parkrun craze seems considerably more than a phase!

Now I’ve reached an entirely arbitrary number of runs I made a focus, I’ll aim to be a better volunteer and stick my name down regularly to help out.  There, it’s in black and white now.  I’ve lent a hand 7 times so far and want that to be no worse than a 10 runs:1 volunteer ratio long before the year is out.

This has been more rambley than I meant it to be.  But anyway, what has parkrun given me?  Initially motivation…then routine and structure, the taste for minor exploration, and more so camaraderie and friendship.  Long live parkrun!