Mark Armstrong: Why runners want parkrun more than anything else

Mark Armstrong running at Hatfield Forest. Picture: Alison Armstrong

Mark Armstrong running at Hatfield Forest. Picture: Alison Armstrong - Credit: Archant

Anything that can continually bring a crowd of people together must have something special about it. 

It’s why I’ve spent most of my life absorbed by football. From a young age I wanted to know everything about it – every spare moment was spent in my garden or in the street kicking a ball. When I was indoors, I’d watch it to the extent that my parents eventually bought me a television for my room so they didn’t always have to watch football in the lounge! 

But it was attending games that always took my breath away. There are still few better feelings than emerging from a stadium concourse, programme in hand, ready to take my seat. The sense of anticipation is unrivalled - watching the players warm up on the beautifully tended pitch with all the seats around it, ready to be filled. 

Even before the pandemic it had been a long time since I had experienced that feeling at a football match. 

However, I have certainly felt it elsewhere.  

In my column last week, I focused on what I’m looking forward to doing when the coronavirus is under control. On social media I asked the Run Anglia community what they are looking forward to most? 

The most overwhelmingly common answer was parkun... the Saturday church for runners. 

Most Read

Many column inches have been printed about how great it is and I make no apologies for adding to them. I don’t think a lot of the running community perhaps appreciated how important it has become, not just to our running, but to our general lives. 

It is one of my wife, Alison, and I’s biggest treats to go back to my dad’s for the weekend and go to parkrun. With grandad looking after our young children for a couple of hours it’s as close as we get to a date! 

Admittedly a huge part of the attraction is being able to sit down in a café afterwards without being disturbed and drink our coffees whilst they are hot... a surprisingly rare occurrence when we’re at home. 

There’s no doubt that it is the defining factor in making running such a huge part of modern life for so many in the UK. 

However, it’s still difficult to explain to non-runners the attraction of it. 

You have to have been to a parkrun to ‘get it’. Even I have to admit that it does sound a bit odd... you get up early (on possibly one of only two days you don’t have to) to run around often muddy fields in all the elements. 

But that is only one part of it, of course. The comradeship and sense of community at every parkrun is what makes them special and what makes people return week in, week out. 

The way it fits into any runner’s training certainly holds part of the allure for me. It can be a race (never refer to it as this though unless you want a slapped wrist – it's a ‘timed event’), it can be a tempo run but my personal favourite is to use it as part of a long run during marathon training.  

My personal favourite parkrun memory is meeting my sister Karen at the Hatfield Forest parkrun after I had run 15 miles. It was a scorchingly hot day and she had forgotten her drink so after a mile she proceeded to drink what was left in my hydration pack. I didn’t feel well towards the end! I’ve never let her forget it although I did get over it as I made her buy the drinks (and cake, obviously) afterwards! 

A sense of normality will certainly feel like it has been restored come each Saturday morning when friends and family can reconvene each at 9am ready to treat the 5K in any way they please. 

That first pre-race (there’s that word again) briefing is going to have a carnival atmosphere and that post race cup of coffee will taste extra sweet. 

I can’t wait... now where’s that barcode...