Parkrun events are set to return in more than 500 locations on 26 June, following approval from a large number of local authorities. Here, three women explain why the community-led 5K running events are so important to them.
Updated 12 June:
The future of Parkrun has looked uncertain during the pandemic. The free 5k running events were due to resume on 5 June but were delayed after only a third of landowners gave permission. But, following an outcry for its return and support from key political figures, a majority of local authorities have now given their approval.
Subject to the government’s coronavirus roadmap announcement on 14 June, Parkrun will be up and running again (pardon the bad pun) on 26 June. Parkrun’s chief operating officer Tom Williams confirmed: “We are celebrating today, as we now know that Parkrun will return in England before too long.”
Earlier this year, we spoke to three women about why Parkrun is so important to them, and why its return will mean so much to people.
Original article from 21 May:
When I first started running five years ago, my first big goal was to complete a Parkrun. I’d spent a few months working my way up, down and around the hills of Edinburgh in the freezing wintery months to complete the Couch-to-5k app. My brother told me about Parkrun: a free volunteer-led collection of 5k events for walkers, runners and volunteers that take place every Saturday morning across the UK. He said it was a great way of keeping momentum, feeling a sense of achievement and feeling part of the running community. Finally, I would be like one of those ‘proper’ runners.
So, one rainy, cold Saturday morning, I bought a bus ticket to Edinburgh Promenade. I was so nervous; I’d only ever ran alone before. I dreaded the idea of being embarrassingly slow and felt anxious running alongside other people. But I did it! “I ran my first Parkrun 5k and didn’t come last. Woo!” I boasted on Instagram before jumping on the bus home.
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My relationship with running has been rocky over the years - I only just got back into a consistent rhythm over lockdown. But each time I’ve gone home to visit my family over recent years, I’ve always gone to the local Parkrun in Harrogate with my brother – we’ve even done the Christmas Day one a few times. It will always have a special place in my heart, and I will never forget that day it made me feel so accomplished, so proud.
But I know that it actually means even much more for other people. I’ve seen runners whiz past me proudly wearing their “100 Parkruns” T-shirts, and I have friends who used to go every week without fail. They are fully committed to the Parkrun community. When the pandemic put a stop to Parkrun in March 2020, a lot of people felt the loss hard. And organisers are now saying that government rules are delaying events from resuming. They say Parkrun hopes to resume on 26 June, with a decision to be made on 11 June.
Proving just how important Parkrun is for female runners, three women have shared their experiences with Stylist…
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Charlotte was advised to start going to Parkrun by her personal trainer, to help up her cardio: “I love how everyone is so friendly and inviting, and at each corner there are volunteers cheering you on. They have markers who run with times so that you can run with them and ensure you’re running at the right pace, which can help you try and beat your PB. It absolutely helped with my fitness; it gave me the extra push to compete against other runners each week.”
But it’s not just about fitness for Charlotte: “I met a lady in her 80s who walks/runs with her dog every week. She said to me, ‘I know I’ll come last every time but it makes me feel so happy coming every week.’ It melts my heart that now she might not have the opportunity to come back and continue her weekly Parkrun talking to everyone.”
Thinking about the uncertainty around Parkrun’s return, Charlotte says: “I’ll be really sad if it doesn’t return, as I feel like it’s the push I need and it’s fun taking part – that’s what everyone misses. From handing out flapjacks at the end to wearing a certain colour to support a charity, it’s the most amazing community spirit ever.”
Deb did her first Parkrun in London in 2012, then continued going to one in Guildford when she moved there a year later: “It was the first thing I looked to do to meet new people. I kept going mainly for the social connection and the cake after. So many of my local friends are from Guildford Parkrun.”
Explaining how it helped her continue to run as a new mum, she adds: “I did some sport before Parkrun, but it helped give me the discipline to get out more and improve my running and my times. It also helped me come back from a broken foot as I could slowly build up from walking. I also ran through two pregnancies and I’ve pushed my children round in a running buggy. I don’t think I’d have run through pregnancy without having the opportunity at Parkrun to see others do it.
Deb has missed it so much that she’s taken action: “It’s been tough to be without it and I feel my fitness has declined, but I’m looking forward to getting back in the routine. I’ve even been using lockdown to work with Waverley Borough Council to set up a new Parkrun, which should start later this year. I’m excited to be co-event director of my own event!”
Like me, Wendy was nervous when she first went to her first Parkrun three years ago with her friend in Bushy: “I didn’t want to do it but we agreed we’d go for breakfast afterwards. When we got there it was the worst December weather: wet, cold and very dark. But I think I fell in love with it as soon as I saw the masses of people arriving and the volunteers and the excited voices and the people who had woken up at 3am to travel to the home of the first Parkrun.
She continues: “There is nothing that gives me the same high as Parkrun; the chatting at the beginning, the hope of a PB, the catching sight of the same people weekly and the thought of a flat white and bacon sandwich, with the whole of Saturday stretching in front of me. I’ve missed it like I’ve missed friends and dinners out and trips to the pub. I’d be devastated if it ended.”
There is a lot of uncertainty around the return of Parkrun – the issue being that organisers need a significant number of landowners to give permission for races to return to avoid overcrowding. But culture secretary Oliver Dowden, London mayor Sadiq Khan and World Athletics president Lord Coe have all backed the return of the event.
Nick Pearson, Parkrun global chief executive, said in a statement: “We will continue to work hard with landowners over the coming weeks to secure the permissions needed to return at the end of June. We are incredibly grateful to all of the landowners who have granted events permission to return so far, and for the groundswell of support for Parkrun over recent days.
“Although it is disappointing not to be able to return on 5 June, we are still optimistic that we can return Parkrun events to nearly 600 communities across England very soon. We will do everything we can to ensure events restart on 26 June.”
The amount of love, respect and support for Parkrun surely means that people don’t need to worry about its future. The question is: when? But when the time comes, there are going to be a lot of smiley, happy runners who are glad to be back in good company.
Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…