For me parkrun is everything that is great about sport, and it’s an idea that is beautifully simple. Turn up, run and then have coffee and toast (and occasionally a bacon sarnie) with friends in the café afterwards. Of course, on the days when I’m a run director it’s not that simple.
I’m lucky that there are three parkruns within easy reach of where I live: my home parkrun of Milton Keynes, Buckingham and Aylesbury. Northampton and Bedford are also easy to get to and Conkers holds a special place in my heart because it will always be the parkrun where you ‘ride the wave of awesomeness.’
But that’s the great thing about parkrun, each and every parkrun is different. Some are small, some are large, some are flat, some are hilly, some are on tarmac paths, some are trail, and so on. And parkrun is now global, there are parkruns in Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, South Africa, Russia and the USA to name just a few countries.
Another great thing about parkrun is its all-inclusiveness. It really is open to everyone, no matter what your age, ability or background. As run directors we don’t care if you take 15 minutes or over an hour. If you’re motivated enough to haul your backside out of bed in time for a 9am run on a Saturday morning then we’re proud of you, and each and everyone of you deserves the same level of encouragement and respect.
Perhaps not everyone realises that parkrun is run for the community, by the community. There’s a small team at parkrun HQ but your local parkrun is brought to you purely by volunteers, yes even us run directors are volunteers.
But for me absolutely the best thing about parkrun (and excuse me because this is where I usually get on my soapbox) is its ability to increase the participation in physical activity and sport. I’m particularly proud that if you go to any parkrun there seems to be as many females as males running, jogging and walking around the 5km course. As a mother of two young girls it’s particularly important to me that my girls both enjoy and are inspired by sport. One way of doing that is to remove the barriers to sport and parkrun does exactly that, for free! Whether or not they choose to become athletic, I hope that by setting a positive example and seeing positive role models in our own community they’ll discover that the skills they learn through participating in sport can be transferred to other aspects of their lives as they grow and develop in to young women, for example teamwork, determination, focus, goal setting and dealing with failure.
We don’t need reports and statistics to tell us that sedentary lifestyles cause health problems. It’s obvious from just looking around. Our environment and technology have made our lives easier in many ways but it’s also made us more sedentary. Lifts and escalators mean we no longer take the stairs and desk jobs mean we spend hours sitting in a chair. Inactivity doesn’t just affect our physical health, it can also detrimentally affect our minds and sleep cycle. In fact, according to Kirk Erickson, Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh the more you sit around, the more likely you are to fall prey to so-called senior moments. The human body is designed to move, it’s not designed for sitting around on its bum.
Sport can be a force for good because not only does it improve physiological health such as cardio-vascular function, flexibility and co-ordination, but it can also improve our psychological health. Participating in sport can improve your mood and your self-esteem as well as reduce your stress levels. There’s no scientific reasoning behind this, but I believe that the community that springs up around each and every parkrun can contribute to improving this psychological health. I know if I’m feeling low then meeting my friends at parkrun means I leave feeling much better.
So why do I love parkrun, and why am I parkrun run director? parkrun is free, it’s open to all, it creates and develops friendships, it increases community participation in physical activity, it encourages volunteering and it enhances both our physical and mental well-being.
Until next time…
For more information on parkrun visit www.parkrun.com