Everything you need to know about parkrun

·5-min read
Photo credit: Shirlaine Forrest - Getty Images
Photo credit: Shirlaine Forrest - Getty Images

It all started with 13 runners getting together for the first ever parkrun on 2 October 2004 in Bushy Park, Teddington, London. Since then the weekly 5K run has become a global phenomenon reaching 22 countries including the USA, Australia, Japan and Eswatini.

More than three million people have participated in parkrun to date, running the Saturday 5K or the 2K junior parkrun on a Sunday.

The popularity of parkrun can be put down to its simple premise. Register online, print out a barcode, turn up to any parkrun whenever you want and take part for free. At the end of the run participants have their barcode scanned and can look up their results on the relevant parkrun website.

The events are set up, organised and manned entirely by volunteers and are held in a variety of urban and rural parks.

The parkrun mantra often heard at the start line is 'it's a run not a race' and inclusivity and accessibility is at the heart of the event. It is not uncommon to see partially sighted parkrunners being assisted by guide runners or people running with a dog by their side or pushing a buggy. It doesn't matter what runners are wearing or how fast or slow they run, what counts is taking part.

Which parkrun has the most runners?

As the birthplace of parkrun the UK has the largest number of events with 1,145 to choose between. These take place at 768 locations and to date 2.6 million people have finished a parkrun and 369,000 have volunteered.

More than 350,000 people aged zero to 100+ take part in parkrun each week, which is an average of 305 runners at each event. But numbers vary dramatically between different locations with 30 parkrunners at Haverhill last Saturday compared to 660 in Poole. Meanwhile, the 5K parkruns tends to attract more participants than the 2K junior parkruns.

The record for the most parkrunners at one event is held by Bushy Park. On Christmas Day 2019 some 2,545 attended the parkrun. Most weeks it attracts 1,000 parkrunners or more. Southampton is another popular parkrun, recording a record attendance of 1,612 participants on 18 January 2020.

How do I get involved in parkrun?

Parkrun founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt CBE says the event is all about 'inclusiveness and wellbeing' and feeling part of a 'real local community'.

As a result there are many different ways to get involved in parkrun as a runner or a volunteer. There is no time limit and participants can run, jog or walk. If you forget your barcode you can still take part but your results won't be recorded.

The 5K parkrun is open to anyone but only children over the age of four can register for a barcode. Children under the age of 11 must be within arm's reach of a parent, guardian or other designated adult of the parents' choice. There are some restrictions around participating whilst carrying a child and bicycles, balance bikes, hand cycles and scooters are not allowed at parkrun events.

Parkrunners are permitted to run with a buggy or a dog but be aware that dogs must be on a handheld lead by your side.

The junior parkrun is designed specifically for children aged between 4 and 14, and children can run unaccompanied if they wish but parents or guardians are permitted to run with them if they prefer.

Persistence over performance is rewarded at parkrun and participants are rewarded when they reach certain milestones. When a parkrunner or volunteer reaches 25, 50, 100, 250 or 500 parkruns they are automatically entered into the milestone club and have the option to purchase a technical milestone t-shirt.

Volunteers are required on a weekly basis for a number of roles including marshalling, scanning barcodes and time keeping. To become a volunteer parkrun recommends that you email your local event or speak to a team member when you attend parkrun.

You can also apply to start a new parkrun event.

What is the best parkrun?

Every parkrun team will argue that they have the best event but there are definitely some parkruns which offer more dramatic scenery.

Tamar Trails parkrun in Tavistock, Devon is a single scenic woodland loop whilst Fellfoot parkrun takes place on the shores of Lake Windermere overlooked by mountains.

For something a little more historic the Lyme Park parkrun in Cheshire skirts the National Trust property used as Pemberley in the BBC’s adaption of Pride and Prejudice. The hilly, stony route is often frequented by deer and gives breathtaking panoramic views of Manchester and beyond.

And if you fancy something a little more remote Ganavan Sands parkrun in Oban is a stunning coastal course.

One of the best ways to experience parkrun is by taking part in the alphabet challenge, the Holy Grail of parkrun obsessives. This involves running a parkrun which starts with each letter of the alphabet for example Aberdeen, Bedford, Cheltenham, Dartford etc.

What is the fastest parkrun ever?

The average UK parkrun finishing time is 29 minutes. The female record of 14:57 was set by Ashleigh Bailey in March this year at Mallards Pike parkrun in the Forest of Dean.

In the men's results Ben Robinson holds the record at 12:24 which he set in November 2017 at Kingsbury Water parkrun. These UK records are also the global parkrun fastest times.

Meanwhile the course at Victoria Dock in central London is ranked the fastest parkrun in the UK, with the Great Yarmouth North Beach the slowest.

The rankings are compiled RunBritain statistician Tim Grose using a golf-style standard scratch score.

What is the hilliest parkrun in the UK?

Aspen parkrun in the USA is the highest course in the world standing 2,400m above sea level. But the accolade for the hilliest UK parkrun falls to Whinlatter Forest parkrun in Keswick, Lake District. It features almost 200m of ascent and course record of 16.19 is held by John Battrick.

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