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Positive parkrun is reshaping physical and mental health of a nation

PUBLISHED: 08:00 19 February 2019

The positive power of parkrun is now a staple part of Saturday morning for thousands of people in East Anglia

The positive power of parkrun is now a staple part of Saturday morning for thousands of people in East Anglia

Archant

Everyone knows someone that takes part in parkruns - but as Nick Richards explains, the weekly running event is doing a huge lot of good for the nation both physically and mentally

Isabella, 13, giving the run briefing at Brundall parkrun as part of her Duke of Edinburgh Awards volunteeringIsabella, 13, giving the run briefing at Brundall parkrun as part of her Duke of Edinburgh Awards volunteering

Last Saturday at 9am I took part in a run along with 156,221 other people.

Setting off at the same time across the UK at 589 different locations, it was my latest parkrun.

For the 246th time in just over five-and-a-half years I took part in the popular weekly timed 5k that has spread across the country and beyond like wildfire in recent years – a further 114,000 runners took part last weekend across the world.

In the summer of 2013 I did my first parkrun in my then home town of Bury St Edmunds when their event was launched at Nowton Park.

Back when I started, I just thought it was a bit of fun, a well-run event for a few devoted regulars. But as I stand on the brink of reaching the big 250 run mark, I’ve markedly reassessed my view.

It’s actually an event playing a key part in restoring the long-term health of the UK, both physically and mentally. For those that don’t know about parkruns, it’s an all-inclusive event where bin men can run with brain surgeons, where monosyllabic teens come alive with interaction, where new dads run with strollers and mums with their daughters. That’s not to mention a whole host of other people running to stick two fingers up to cancer, to combat loneliness, depression, addiction or their own undisclosed inner demons.

The more I’ve got into parkrun, I’ve realised it has actually become less about the running bit (and you don’t even have to do that - you can walk it if you wish). That’s just one thing that happens during a brilliantly social event that serves a purpose in many different ways for many different people. I’ve seen people lose weight through parkrun, people who no longer go out drinking on a Friday night for fear of scuppering their Saturday morning performance and people who look forward to getting older so they can try and be first in their age category.

Last Saturday at Brundall parkrun was typical. Within a minute of arriving I chatted to Tony about my decision to come on my bike, I congratulated Julian on his 100th parkrun, Ivan shook my hand and asked if I was going to be a pacer. I spoke to Nick about his recent holiday, wished Vanja well for her first go at taking charge and then ran the 5k chatting to Ipswich Town fan Andy about Paul Lambert, relegation and the recent Super Bowl.

I didn’t know any of these people before I started doing parkruns.

Parkrun goes deeper than friendly chit chat though for its real strength and the thing I have seen more than anything else in the last five years is the way it engages communities.

At Brundall, where I am a run director, we’ve helped raise money for a local church charity and led Couch-to 5k courses which are NHS-approved and get non-runners to being able to run 5k over a course of nine weeks. We’ve even had the local police down to engage and interact with their neighbourhood while other events in the region have operated forums geared towards talking about mental health.

We’ve also helped lots of local youngsters complete their Duke of Edinburgh Awards by encouraging them as volunteers at events – from simply operating a stopwatch to leading the event. Last month I watched in amazement as a cool and confident Isabella, 13, gave a flawless run briefing in front of 200 people. I know I wouldn’t have done that when I was that age.

In five or six years time I will probably have completed 500 parkruns around the time the event celebrates its 20th anniversary. Parkrun founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt has already been appointed a CBE for his services to sport and what he has done for this country and I’m sure by then he’ll be knighted as this big ball of feelgood fun continues to grow.

And while now everyone knows someone that takes part in parkrun, by then I reckon people who don’t take part could well be in the minority.

Find out your nearest free event at www.parkrun.org.uk

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