Interview: Get Outside with Parkrun

According to YouGov, last year’s second most popular New Year’s resolution was to ‘exercise more’ (top of the list was ‘eat better’).

But if you’re not the sort of person to relish the wintry weather, you might need some encouragement to exercise outdoors. Especially as it’s common knowledge most of us will give up on our resolutions after just a few weeks, if not days.

The way to get back into exercise is to turn it into a regular habit, whilst ensuring it’s actually achievable and fun. Exercising with friends or family as well means you have support and further encouragement – or the guilt of not letting others down.

That’s where organisations like Parkrun come in.

Parkrun organises free, weekly, 5km timed runs around British parklands. They are open to everyone, free, and are safe and easy to take part in. They take place in all weathers – so remember to Nikwax your running kit before you join in.

We spoke to volunteer Glen Turner about how and why it works so well…

Parkrun has become an incredible success in a short space of time. What is it about its formula that’s made it so popular, so quickly?
Parkrun is a social movement and every event is delivered by a community for their community. Each event is dedicated to breaking down the barriers to participation, which we regard as walking, running and volunteering. Parkruns are supportive, welcoming, non-competitive and the emphasis is on fun and friendship. Parents can push their baby in a buggy and many events allow people to take part with their dog on a short lead. 

Regular participation is celebrated, rather than performance, with ‘milestone shirts’ providing incentive for people to achieve 50, 100, 250 and 500 parkruns. Most parkruns are centred around a local cafe or similar, with all participants and spectators encouraged to get together for a hot drink and a chat after the event.

What if I’ve never run a 5k – how can I get to the point where I feel comfortable joining in with Parkrun?
There are several different ways to get involved with parkrun if you’re a little nervous coming along for the first time.

1Simply come along and spectate, chat to people and socialise. This will give you a great feel for the event and show that the people taking part are of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds and fitness levels.

2. All Parkruns have a volunteer Tail Walker who provides support and encouragement to people and ensure that nobody ever comes last at a Parkrun! Consider coming along and walking with the Tail Walker on your first visit.

3. Parkruns are coordinated entirely by local volunteers. All tasks are straightforward, no experience is necessary and there’s something for everyone. Volunteering is a great way to be involved in the event when you first go along, and for many people is the springboard to building up the confidence to walk or run the 5k for the first time.

What if I am a seasoned, experienced runner? How can I make Parkrun part of my plan to improve my performance?
Because Parkruns are held every week, many experienced runners use them for their weekly faster run. Having a group of people around you can be a big motivation to run faster than you would do on your own, and the volunteer course marshals at Parkrun are famous for the encouragement and support they give to everyone completing the course.

How does Parkrun take care of the environments in which people run?
Every Parkrun is a collaboration between the landowner where the event takes place and the local Parkrun community. Many Parkruns work closely with councils, Friends of the Park groups and other stakeholders to carry out litter picks, park maintenance and simply to make these outdoor spaces more visible to people in the wider community who haven’t utilised them in the past.

Is there more to Parkrun than just a run in the park?
Parkruns are community events that have an impact that extends far beyond walking, running, volunteering or spectating on a Saturday morning. For many people, Parkruns foster friendships, instigate healthier lifestyle choices throughout the week, increase confidence and promote professional development through the wide range of volunteering roles available.

Earlier this year, Parkrun partnered with the Royal College of GPs on an initiative called ‘Parkrun Practices’, which allows GP practices to effectively ‘prescribe’ Parkrun to patients, where appropriate, as an alternative to traditional medication. Almost 600 GP surgeries in the UK are now certified ‘Parkrun Practices’. Our bold ambition is to make the world a healthier and happier place and it’s these types of collaborations that really demonstrate the holistic benefits that Parkruns can provide.