Parkrun, if you're not familiar with it, is a simple idea. Every Saturday at 9am local time, people around the world gather to run or walk a 5km route. Each event is organized entirely by volunteers, and is completely free for anyone who wants to take part.
Perhaps you’ve never tried parkrun before, or you used to be a regular but have let the habit slip, this weekend is the perfect opportunity to lace up your best running shoes and give it a go.
Routes vary hugely, from fast, flat loops to challenging off-road courses with steep climbs and spectacular views that can be a good way to get into trail running. Whatever the route though, one of the most important things to remember is that it isn’t a race – everyone is welcome to come along and just enjoy running or walking at their own pace.
“When I first heard about parkrun, I thought it would be predominately for fast, fit runners,” says event organizer Helen Conner, who founded a parkrun in her hometown of Bath, UK. “I was assured it was open to all, so I nervously joined my first parkrun back in 2014. I was dubious about getting up early on a Saturday and dragged myself out of bed."
"Arriving at parkrun, I looked around and was reassured to see people of all ages, all fitness levels including walkers, joggers, people with pushchairs and dogs. The atmosphere was exciting. Lots of chatter, smiles, laughter. We set off running and some people chatted catching up with friends on their way around, others were encouraging their children, whilst others ran on their own soaking up the friendly atmosphere.
“All the way around the course there were lots of marshals waving and cheering us around and I was pleased to hear that there was a tail walker too so no-one would be last or left behind. When we came to the finish we ran into a finish funnel and took a finish token, which we then gave to a scanner to scan alongside our barcode. It was really simple. Everyone around me was so friendly. It's the one place that I have found where everyone talks to everyone. Everyone is celebrated for completing 5km regardless of pace.
"Since that day I have made countless friends through parkrun, it's now the highlight of my week and the earliest I get up all week! I spend many hours volunteering as I find it most rewarding knowing that I help to bring this happiness to others each week too.”
Sign up and get started
Getting started is simple, and you only ever have to register once. Sign up online (opens in new tab) and you’ll be sent your own personal barcode, which is all you need to carry with you. Then, just choose an event (check out the worldwide map (opens in new tab) to find one near you) and set your alarm clock for Saturday morning.
“Registering at parkrun is easy,” Helen says. “It takes a few minutes, it's free and you just print your barcode and can use this all the way around the world. Simply turn up at parkrun and you'll hear a first timers briefing at 8:50am. Run with your barcode, and at the finish you'll run through a finish funnel where you will be given a finish token. Simply take this to a barcode scanner where they will scan your barcode and finish token (you must return the finish token) and you'll receive a time that morning by email.
If you're still not sure, why not turn up and watch, or volunteer or simply join the community for post parkrun coffee and you'll quickly see why it holds such a special place in so many people's hearts.”
On your marks...
“If you've never tried parkrun, now is the perfect time to start,” says Helen. “Push all those negative thoughts to one side, put those trainers by the front door and set your alarm for Saturday morning. I'm yet to hear if anyone has regretted a parkrun, and instead I hear how it's the best way to start their day.
"Parkrun is a friendly community, where you will meet friends for life. If you look around at the crowd at the start of a parkrun you will see that parkrun is a place for everyone. There are walkers, joggers and seasonal runners. Ages span from little children to young 80 year olds, from joggers with pushchairs, to walkers with dogs and those running with the whole family.”
You’re welcome to run with a dog – just make sure your pet (one per person) is on a short, handheld lead by your side, and take care to avoid tripping other runners. The race director might advise parkrunners with dogs to start towards the back to keep people and pooches safe.
“The atmosphere is friendly, welcoming and inclusive,” Helen adds. “There are lots of people who walk and those that run-walk-run. Everyone is celebrated for completing 5km, and pace is not important. And you don't need to worry that you don't know the route as there are marshals and signs all the way around a course so it's easy to follow. There is always a tail walker so no-one is left behind.
“I've lost count of the number of people who were worried about attending their first parkrun as they had assumed they would be too slow. All those fears disappeared at the first parkrun and now parkrun is part of their weekly schedule. They have made friends at parkrun, others have met their partners for life! Others have said that it's the one activity the whole family can enjoy together.”
Take the next step
Each event welcomes ‘tourists’ – parkrunners who’ve travelled from outside the area to take part (the further the better). Some even make a game out of completing a Parkrun for every letter of the alphabet. This unofficial tool will help you find your nearest A-Z, though there’s currently no parkrun beginning with X, so you’ll need to use a little creative licence.
There are also celebrations for runners who’ve hit a milestone. “Parkrun can be quite addictive!” says Helen. “You will see parkrunners wearing 50, 100, 250 and 500 T-shirts at your first parkrun, and this number is based upon the number of parkruns they have attended. Attendance at parkrun is celebrated and worn with pride!"
Of course, all of those events couldn’t happen without volunteers, so there are plenty of opportunities to join in if you’d like to give something back. You don’t need experience, and you’re very welcome to help out regularly, or just every now and then.
The easiest way to get involved is to email your local parkrun (you can find the contact details through each event’s page) and let the organizers know which dates you’d like to help out.
There are lots of volunteer roles, including event directors like Helen who are responsible for a whole local event, run directors are in charge of the run on the day, pre-event setup volunteers who arrive early to help prepare the course, first-timer briefing volunteers who give new parkrunners a rundown of what to expect, barcode scanners, photographers, tail walkers, and many more.
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Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 13 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better).
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