Run Fun?


I’ve got a problem with my back at the moment and I’ve been advised not to run. I’m still going to our beloved Leamington parkrun with the Ettington gang but instead of running through the mud and puddles in the cold I get to drink tea and wrap up warm as a volunteer.

I was on barcode scanning duty this time. 400 runners head off across the field and then about 17 minutes later (that’s how long it takes the fastest runners to complete the 5K course) we start scanning the barcodes runners are given as they cross the finishing line. This ensures they appear in the right order when the results are published at midday.

There were four of us scanning, sat at two tables dragged out into the winter sunshine.

I was paired with a quiet young lad – let’s call him Steve – who was helping out as part of his Duke of Edinburgh Award. He didn’t seem to be particularly enjoying being there. Like every other D of E volunteer I’ve met at Leamington, after telling me his name his next sentence involved stating how many weeks he had left before he could stop coming. This was Steve’s 11th week.

My secondary school was so big it was divided into four houses. I was in Mayflower house. We were rubbish at all things sporty. Each year as sports day loomed assembly was cancelled and all the boys were summoned to the wood working room. We all knew what this meant. A PE teacher would stand at the front and announce menacingly that he needed volunteers. We wouldn’t be allowed to leave the room until there were two volunteers for each event.

The big wall clock ticked loudly until eventually someone would crack and agree to do the shot put or the 200 metres. They would be allowed to leave. Time slipped by and a few more names came forward. Eventually, towards lunchtime, every event would have names against it and the last few people who’d dug in were allowed to go about their business.

Everybody in Mayflower house hated sports day.

Mayflower house always came last.

Now some good may come of Steve’s ‘enforced’ volunteering at parkrun. Maybe something about the experience will linger in his memory and be reignited when he is an adult. But I bet that if he does ever come to enjoy volunteering it will have been done of his own accord it will be for something he feels passionate about or connected with.

The legacy of the 12 Saturday mornings when he had to drag his sleepy bones out of bed will be that he saw the many others who volunteered with a smile on their face and a sense of belonging.

As Susie, this weeks Run Director (a volunteer), went through the pre-run announcements she reminded everyone that most of the Marshalls, Timekeepers, Barcode Scanners, Funnel Managers, Tail-runners and Finish Token giver outers, would normally be running themselves. This elicited spontaneous warm applause. As runners queued to have their barcodes scanned many of them, most of them even, thanked us for giving up our run so that they could have theirs.

Parkrun is a community.

I miss my Saturday morning run – blowing away the cobwebs and getting my weekend off to a flying start – but by volunteering I still feel very much part of that community. The magic of parkrun just is that sense of community – of people freely giving up their time to help make something special happen – something that gives back far more than it takes….via an occasional bit of scanning.

Drafting in conscript ‘volunteers’ from D of E or anywhere else feels like a mistake. It misses the point about what makes parkrun great and it misses the point about what can make volunteering something rather wonderful.

Maggie is a regular runner and volunteer at Leamington. She had a fall during the week and broke her shoulder bone. Another runner, Simon, recorded some good will messages for Maggie last week and turned them into this lovely little podcast.

If you feel part of a community you want to support other members of that community, spend time with each other and help make it stronger. Sometimes this is called volunteering.

Volunteering should be much more than just doing something without being paid.




6 responses to “Run Fun?

  1. Hi John – interesting blog – and like you I am a fan of Park Run – I have to say thought that I don’t quite agree with with you. I do think that ‘conscript’ volunteers as used by Conservation Volunteers through the Governments Workfare Schemes ( are completely unacceptable. I do think that Duke of Edinburgh is very different. Here young people voluntarily opt into the programme – volunteering is part of a range of activities that they choose to do as part of the experience and award process.


  2. Hi Mark – thanks for dropping by and kicking off the discussion. I think there is a significant degree of ‘pressure’ on many young people to do certainly the Bronze DofE (and that’s who volunteer at parkrun). Pressure from schools and parents of the “we know what’s good for you” kind. I think for me it’s best to find a community you want to be a part of and then volunteer….rather than the other way round. I did my DofE too back in the day and discovered the joys of walking our in the wilds of England and Wales. Which parkrun do you usually go to by the way? You must come and say hello if you are ever in the Midlands at 9am on a Saturday.


  3. Putting aside my view that the words “fun” and “run” do not belong together, there’s a lot of truth (as always) in what you say about volunteering John. Part of the problem I think is that, although there are clear definitions of volunteering, as you stated at the beginning, the term has been purloined by those who want to make activities such as Workfare, sound more acceptable than they are.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Out parkrun has two DofE volunteers at the moment. Both of them started out a bit shy and are not runners, and we are very glad to have them. It can be hard to fill the volunteer roster week after week, so having 2 we can count on for X number of weeks is brilliant.


  5. In my experience, the most successful volunteering is a two way street. The volunteer learns a new skill or gains new insights, the ‘placement’ gains a volunteer. It’s a shame that the DofE volunteering is measured in hours only and not in ‘skills acquired’. If it was, then maybe the park run volunteers would actually be interested in running and “Steve’s” X hours would be spent more productively (for him) elsewhere.


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