One of the best things that London has to offer is parkrun!
Saturday, at 9am on a windy and rainy London morning, I set off for my first Hilly Fields parkrun! It wasn't the easiest decision, getting out of my warm cozy bed, fumbling for the coffee machine as I stared out the window at a pitch black sky. But I was determined to try the parkrun course just a mile and a half away from my house. And they weren't lying when they said it was hilly... oh boy!
It is amazing how ridiculously keen I was!!
This slowly faded as I stepped outside my house into a windy, rainy London morning. But even though it wasn't the nicest weather (understatement!!) I figured I've lived in London long enough to know if you let some rain postpone you from doing things, you won't get much done.
So off I went, sporting my new running hat and running gloves thanks to the Denison family, to check out my neighbourhood course.
Parkrun, for those who don't know it, is an amazing not-for-profit initiative consisting of a collection of 5-km timed runs occurring in parks around the world. It is run completely by volunteers and is free for anyone, regardless of fitness level to join. Once you register on the parkrun website, you are free to attend any parkrun without letting them know you are coming. You are given a unique barcode which you print and bring with you to each run. After the race is finished, your barcode is scanned and within hours all results are uploaded onto the internet. You are then sent an e-mail (or text) with your results. At any time you can look on your parkrun profile and see the results of all your parkruns, including your position and gender position, age grade, and the number of runs you have completed to date. it's a great way to track your performance and see yourself improve over time! And did I mention it's run completely by volunteers?
A little history...
Parkrun was first started in 2004 by a man called Paul Sinton-Hewitt. The first run was in Bushy Park Teddington and had just 13 runners attend. It was intended to be a free, community based all-inclusive project that allowed people to come together and celebrate their love for running. Since then, it has grown so much.
As of November 3, 2013 over 50 000 people participate in parkrun with runs taking place in Australia, Denmark, Ireland, New Zealand, Poland, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States. Uhh... Canada??? Canadian entrepreneurs here is your chance!!
In 2009, founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt was presented the Runner's World 'Heroes of Running' award for philanthropy for the work he has done with parkrun. The initial aims of parkrun were that it be a community project where runners could run together at no cost, competing with themselves. These community values are still very much a part of the event.
A community of Runners
I have always been drawn to activities that foster a sense of community, and so it was so nice to discover parkrun - seeing as running can be such a solitary activity. I was struck by how friendly everyone was upon immediately arriving at the run. As we gathered to begin the run, the head volunteer for the day asked if it was anyone's first time. I raised my hand and the group erupted into cheers and claps. A community feel was immediate! When the whistle blew there was a "see ya after the run" and everyone set off.
One woman started speaking to me after the run and confided that it was actually her favourite time of the week. She has 3 small children at home, and every saturday at 9am is when she can get away, unwind and have her alone time. Six months ago when she participated in her first parkrun, it took her 35 minutes to complete the course and she walked half of it. She's cut down her time by 5 minutes and can now run the entire course!
The hilly fields course is a great location for me as it's a leisurely 1.5 mile jog from my house. It was however, incredibly challenging as the name implied it was hilly! Combined with the crazy amount of rain we have had, parts of the course were really muddy which made it quite difficult to get a good time. At one point I was "running" through ankle deep mud and I could hear the mud squishing in my shoes. I say "running" as I was moving so slowly, merely for the sake of trying to not slip. I have a feeling this man took a few too many chances and ended up on his bottom.
So much for my beautiful purple trainers... Ah well!
Parkrun is an amazing concept! People come for all different reasons. Some are there to increase their 5k time from 15:30 to 15:25 (crazy!) , others are just trying to make it through the course. Yes there is a "winner" per say, but there is no feel of competition just pure camaraderie.
It's a wonderful place for experienced runners to practice their speed while at the same time newer runners are welcomed in a safe welcoming environment, fostering a sense of community in an active way.
Well Canada, I think it's time we brought parkrun over!
Hi! I'm a dance science educator, Pilates instructor and Personal Trainer residing in Toronto. Here is what I have to say about all things health and movement related.