Huge turnout at Norwich parkrun’s 500th Eaton Park event shows massive popularity of running in Norfolk

Runners at the bandstand at Eaton Park before the 500th Norwich parkrun on February 22, 2020

Runners at the bandstand at Eaton Park before the 500th Norwich parkrun on February 22, 2020 - Credit: Archant

Nick Richards says the 500th Norwich parkrun at Eaton Park shows the incredible rise in popularity in running across Norfolk since 2010

Runners making their way to the 500th Norwich parkrun on February 22, 2020

Runners making their way to the 500th Norwich parkrun on February 22, 2020 - Credit: Archant

Cast your minds back to August 2010. Paul Lambert's Norwich City were League One champions and kicked off their Championship campaign at home to Watford in front of the Sky cameras on a Friday night.

They lost 3-2 but ended the season promoted to the Premier League. Less than 12 hours after that season opener, Eaton Park hosted the first ever Norwich parkrun.

On Saturday, 718 runners from across the county and beyond were back at Eaton Park for the 500th running of the event - the fourth biggest attendance ever at Eaton Park and the largest number for an event not held on Christmas Day.

Two months ago the Christmas Day parkrun attracted an astonishing 1360 runners, joggers and walkers which was the most at any parkrun in the country outside Bushy Park, where the event started in 2004.

The continuing success of parkun in Norfolk shows both the rise in popularity of running since 2010 and the dedication of parkrun volunteers across the county to put these events on.

Back in 2010 a mere 117 people attended that first run and Norfolk only had one other parkrun, at Gorleston Cliffs, which celebrated its 500th event in December 2018. In contrast to 2019's Christmas Day record breaker just 54 hardy runners swerved opening presents and headed to Eaton Park on Christmas Day 2010.

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This rise in numbers ties in with the rise in events. We're heading towards 20 events in Norfolk now, from long-established locations that also include King's Lynn which will celebrates its 500th event next Easter to a new course on the beach at Great Yarmouth which staged just its third event on Saturday.

In the last 10 years Norfolk has lost an event at Fritton Lake but gained more than a dozen others. New events are in the pipeline all the time and I predict by 2030 everyone in Norfolk will probably have a parkrun within five miles of their home. What an achievement that would be.

I was late to the parkrun party, only doing my first one in 2013 but despite not being a regular at Eaton Park these days, I've still been at more than a quarter of those 500 runs and will personally hit the 300 total parkruns mark by April.

It was a pleasure on Saturday to cross the finish line two places behing Andrew Lane, who was running his 405th parkun. Andrew was one of the orignal 13 runners who took part in the first ever parkrun - then known as the Bushy Park Time Trial - in 2004.

Even on Saturday Eaton Park attracted a plethora of first timers with runners aged from under 10 to over 80 taking part.

The wider picture of parkrun and running is all very positive. The average time for the 5k event is getting slower all the time which means more runners are taking part and importantly those who are by no means elite athletes are getting involved in an event that can be ran, jogged or walked.

This is key to parkrun ethos and what event founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt wants. Slower average times means more people are taking part in an event that proudly welcomes all abilities.

I made a point of giving the chap who goes around on crutches at Eaton Park most weeks a pat on the back on Saturday - that's just as much dedication and effort as the first finisher.

While parkrun will always remain free, the number of paid events in Norfolk has rapidly increased since August 2010 and they have become as desirable leisure activities as going to football matches, the theatre or watching gigs.

The fact that this year's Run Norwich 10k sold out within nine hours shows the level of interest in a sport that has minimal cost to take part in and is incredibly sociable and rewarding.

Parkruns like the one at Eaton Park and all the other events across the county and beyond rely on volunteers who are the true heroes behind the scenes, many putting in countless hours of organisation and their own money into driving to events and meetings plus giving their own time to keep these runs going on behalf of others.

As Eaton Park celebrates 500 events, let's not forget all those who regularly volunteer across Norfolk every Satuday and keep these brilliant, addictive and so-good-for you events going.

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