It’s very hard to convey what is so powerful about parkrun until you experience it for yourself.
It’s a run not a race.
Everyone is welcome.
Yes it’s all those things but most important of all it’s relational.
If you like running…then once you’ve registered….you know that there is a free, timed, 5K run at 9.00 am every Saturday at around 398 locations across the UK. That is pretty incredible in itself. I was chatting to the organiser of the Stratford marathon recently and he told me that whilst it raised a lot of money for the Rotary Club it also cost £40,000 to put on. That’s about £14 per runner and explains why the entry fees for most 10k, half and full marathon’s are so high.
parkrun is free…always has been and hopefully always will be…because apart from a small set up cost (about £3,000 for scanners, watches, hi-viz jackets and a basic laptop) to get things off the ground, everything else is provided free by the local parkrun community.
I was introduced to parkrun by a friend who told me all about it at a party. I went to my first parkrun in Leamington on 21st December 2013. I can be sure of that because parkrun is underpinned by an incredible website that captures all the results. Here is a list of all my runs and volunteering.
I found parkrun the way most people do. Simon introduced me; then I introduced Steve; he told Kate…who invited her son Ben. Then she told Cara who’s daughter Millie started joining us on a Saturday morning; and so it went on. I’m not a big fan of selfies but something made me take one after my first parkrun and I’ve taken one every Saturday since. They have inadvertently captured the growth of our parkrun family. The whole collection is here.
At Leamington we learnt the ‘if we all volunteer 3 times a year we’ll be fine’ mantra. The first time you volunteer is a revelation. It’s when you really connect with your parkrun. You suddenly appreciate all the work that goes on behind the scenes to make the run so seamless. Apart from setting everything up (and clearing it all away again) there are marshals, barcode scanners, tea makers, time keepers, a tail runner, run reporter, photographers and a run director. The results have to be checked and uploaded to the website; the volunteers thanked; the run report posted; the FB group and twitter accounts updated and then it starts all over again ready for the next week’s run.
Over time a few of us started to talk about getting a parkrun off the ground in Stratford since many of us lived there or nearby. It took a lot of work and we needed a lot of support, planning the route and then buying the kit, from the Council. But finally on February 20th this year we held our first event. Over 400 runners turned up on that first day but every went OK and we have just completed our 10th run.
I was run director on Saturday and I encouraged some of my friends who are quite new to parkrun to volunteer. I thought I knew what would happen and I’m delighted to say I was right. I got to see a bunch of people really ‘get’ parkrun for the first time. They’d all enjoyed running it. One or two who were new to running had found the support and encouragement from others quite overwhelming. But experiencing it from the ‘other side of the fence’…applauding and shouting encouragement to young children, an elderly man, whole families, people who are obviously very unfit and svelte young athletes who tear past…helps you connect in a whole new way. It really becomes your parkrun. You fall in love with it in a whole new way.
When Stoke Gifford Parish Council voted to start charging Little Stoke parkrun to use the park I am not at all surprised by the uproar it caused in the parkrun community. Or indeed by the out pouring of support from other members of that same community up and down the country.
The point wasn’t the actual sum involved. Although the proposal would have meant each runner paying £1 a week – less than half the cost of a cup of coffee; the point is that parkrun is not a commodity that can be traded. It is a relationship between individuals who have chosen to become a community. Money changes all that.
Anyone my age will remember a rather cheesy 70’s song by J.J. Barrie – ‘No Charge’. This performance from TOTPs is exactly as I remember it……
You just can’t introduce money…payments…into a relationship. It turns love into something altogether different. And it turns a community of equals sharing their time and gifts for free into a market with a series of transactions. If charges were introduced then I’m sure that parkrun would quickly become just another commodity; subject to the withering hands of ‘value for money’ and ‘customer service standards’. It might not happen over night but before long it would be killed stone dead.
I’m sure that the tens of thousands who are part of parkrun instinctively felt that when they heard the Little Stoke story. That’s why it has caused such upset and such determination that there should be no charge for parkrun. It’s not really about money; it’s about something much more valuable.