How parkrun is a ‘running phenomenon’ in Norfolk
PUBLISHED: 08:05 02 January 2020 | UPDATED: 08:38 02 January 2020
Get out, get moving, make friends and “be a better you”, is what any parkrunner will tell you if you ask why you should sign up.
Moving into the new year, event directors and organisers in Norfolk who have made parkrun possible look back at its success over the last ten years.
Described as the "running phenomenon", in the past decade Norfolk has been hit by a fitness craze which has seen communities across the county getting active.
It's a place where people of all ages, abilities and fitness levels come together to improve their physical and mental wellbeing.
Parkrun is a free running event which takes place every Saturday morning with groups across the UK which draw in thousands of people.
Chris Harbord, who started the first parkrun in Norfolk in 2009 at Gorleston clifftops, said it has been amazing to watch it grow over the past decade.
He added: "In April 2009 we started parkrun in Gorleston and we only had ten runners and that grew to a consistent 40 and then it took off. Now we are averaging 400 people.
"There is no obligation, no payment, no club, people can come along and do it on their own, or even do one lap. There is no pressure.
"Clubs can be seen as elite runners, but you don't have to be, you can walk your dog, or mums and dad can come along with a pram - its inclusive for all."
One of the biggest parkruns in the county is in Norwich at Eaton Park and on Christmas it saw its largest ever turnout with 1,360 runners.
Richard Polley, inset, is event director who set up the group in 2010. He said they wouldn't be able to do it without the volunteers, who give up their time every week.
He added: "One of the best things about it is that it's for all ages and abilities. It's a run not a race.
"It's for everyone to get out, get active and enjoy themselves meeting new people.
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"One of the big things about parkrun is that it's entirely organised by volunteers and we rely on people helping out to put it on each week.
"Where will it stop? Nobody knows. But it's now a worldwide phenomenon where people come to do something worthwhile and be a better you."
Melanie Sturman, event director at Thetford Parkrun, which started in 2013, said: "In 2020 have our seven-year anniversary and 400th run event.
"I started it in the town to try and encourage people who wouldn't normally think about running to give it a go.
"Now the parkrun average times are slowing down which is showing we are targeting individuals that perhaps wouldn't otherwise do it.
"What we want to do is improve the fitness and wellbeing of everyone and support individuals, but my greatest joy is watching people do things they never thought they could do."
Nick Eley, event director at Brundall Parkrun since 2015, originally started running to lose weight but became hooked on the sport.
He said: "It's not a race, it about participation, enjoying yourself. We are all there for the same reason, it's a fantastic community of friendly people.
"It is amazing seeing people transform from someone who couldn't run to being completely obsessed."
Karl Read, event director for Sheringham parkrun, has worked in sports development for 20 years and said it is the best project for sustainable exercise he has ever been involved in.
He added: "I work for North Norfolk District Council and we helped set up Sheringham parkrun with Active Norfolk in 2012.
"What I have found is that adults turn up and then they bring their children and then their whole family.
"On our anniversary run one woman said to me 'thank you for getting my family moving'. Her husband was a larger gentleman and now he runs marathons.
"It makes a massive difference, for entry level getting people off the coach into exercise. It's a real social event, absolutely amazing the best event I have ever put on working in sport."
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