View from the community: Parkruns tap into our human nature

PUBLISHED: 08:00 24 November 2018


Please forgive a note of personal triumph. This year I completed my 250th Parkrun, and I’ve got the shirt to prove it.

The first Parkrun was held in Bushy, West London, in 2004. It was the brainchild of Paul Sinton-Hewitt.

They now take place in 20 countries around the globe. Local Parkruns include Beckton and Wanstead Flats. So what is the secret of Parkrun’s success?

Like many brilliant ideas it’s simple. Participation is free. You just turn up at 9am on a Saturday morning. Each venue has a five kilometer course. You collect a finishing token at the end. This can be scanned along with a personal barcode which is easily downloaded. The results, if you want to know them, are sent out an hour or so later.

Parkrun is friendly and inclusive. There’s no time limit for completing the course. You can walk if you’re not up for running. It attracts young and old and all shapes, sizes and backgrounds.

At Valentines Park in Ilford, which is all on tarmac, I’ve seen wheelchair users, pram pushers, and a blind person being led around.

But the question remains, why do so many bother getting up on a Saturday, come rain or shine, just to run five kilometers with hundreds of other people? After all, running is one of the easiest forms of physical exercise to do on your own at any time. All you need is an old pair of trainers.

Humans are essentially social animals. We generally thrive and are at our happiest when we feel part of a community. To quote William Morris, the 19th century writer, artist and Humanist, “fellowship is life.” His motto is emblazoned on the coat of arms for Waltham Forest, his birthplace.

So a key to Parkrun’s success is the communities it has created. They attract a diverse cross section of people who are all equally valued. Participants enjoy the benefit and pleasure that comes simply from running and walking outdoors with other people.

My next milestone will be the 500 run t-shirt. It should only take another five years!

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