At 9 o’clock on Saturday morning, my four year old daughter and I lined up on a start line in a local park with hundreds of other people. She was bouncing around, excited to be running in a race. There were people with dogs (sorry Bubbles, not this time), elderly joggers, walkers, children and elite runners. And the same scene played out in parks across the country. In fact these days, there are parks around the world where you can turn up at 9 am and run, jog or walk 5K. If this sounds good to you, here are a few more things you need to know about parkrun.
1. It’s free
This is an incredibly well-run event. There is an official start and finish, a well marked course and official times. However, the whole thing is run by volunteers so it is free for participants.
2. You are welcome
When I first did parkrun, it was nerve wracking. I didn’t know anyone, I was quite unfit and I am generally antisocial. And yet, the idea of a timed run appealed to me. But would I be welcome if I wasn’t there to chat and make friends? The answer, of course, was yes.
Everyone is welcome to just turn up and run. It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing it as a social event or to get your head down and run. It doesn’t matter if you are walking your first 5k for years or running it flat out and aiming to break the course record. Everyone is welcome.
3. Children are welcome too
Children age 4 and over are allowed to register for parkrun and have their own barcode. They can only have their barcode scanned if they complete the course themselves on foot – not in a buggy or on a scooter or bike. Children aged under 11 must be within arm’s reach of a parent or guardian at all times. You can run with younger children in a buggy or carry them if you are walking. You are not allowed to run whilst carrying a child. Children who don’t fancy running as far as 5k can do junior parkrun, a 2k race for children aged 4 to 14.
4. And dogs!
Most parkruns allow dogs to run with you. They need to be on a short lead and under control at all times. This rule may vary at different locations, so check your local parkrun before bringing your pooch. Dogs aren’t allowed at junior parkrun.
5. You need a barcode
When you register with parkrun, it generates your own personal barcode. You’ll need to bring this with you to parkrun and hang onto it when you’re running. At the end, you will be handed a token with another barcode on. This allows you to find out your time. Just take your personal barcode, along with the timing one, to the volunteers who are collecting them. If in doubt, follow everyone else.
6. You’ll receive your time via text or email
When you sign up, you give parkrun your email address and phone number. That’s not so they can spam you with sales chat (they don’t). It’s so they can let you know your time. So when the times are all collated, you will receive a text or email (or both) with your time. No messing about with a stopwatch or queueing up at the end and trying to remember your time.
7. You can take part in any event with the same barcode
If you’re away from home for the weekend, don’t despair – you can still do parkrun. There is an event in most towns around the country and as long as you remember your barcode, you can take part in any of them. This is known as parkrun tourism by the way. And you will be welcomed in the same way whichever event you attend.
8. All the events need volunteers
If you’re injured, hungover or just don’t fancy running, you will be welcome to attend as a volunteer. Let the organisers know in advance if you’ll be volunteering. This means they can allocate roles and let you know where they want you and what time to arrive. The volunteers are invaluable at parkrun. They’re the ones who show you the route, point out the potholes and shout encouragement to keep you going.
9. There are free t-shirts
Adults who run 50 parkruns get a t-shirt. From then on there are more t-shirts to collect for doing 100, 250 and 500 parkruns. And they’re all free. For children, there is a free t-shirt for doing just 10 parkruns. This is great motivation for Libby, she keeps asking me to take her to parkrun so she can get her t-shirt.
10. You can get cheaper life insurance
There are several sponsors of parkrun, including Vitality who provide life insurance. Vitality reward you for being healthy with discounts and incentives. You can collect vitality points for doing parkrun, which you can put towards your discounts and incentives. Vitality also sponsor the VitalityMove fitness and music festivals, taking place in July in Chatsworth and Windsor in September. At these events, you can run a mile, 5k or 10k. The mile events are all set to music.