This week marks the 10th anniversary of parkrun - the free weekly 5k event which has become the Saturday morning cornerstone to tens of thousands of runners. I wonder whether founder Paul Simon-Hewitt, presiding over a field of 13 runners at Bushy a decade ago, could have envisaged parkrun having such a global impact?
Initially known as Bushy Park Time Trial, the opening event heralded what would become a worldwide phenomenon. Fast forward a decade and the name Time Trial is firmly old news, dropped for the more user-friendly parkrun (lower case sensitive); a name change that underpins its egalitarian, inclusive and non-competitive ethos.
Bushy, now 537 events in, regularly hosts over 1000 runners, while parkrun has now spread to almost 300 locations across the world. In the UK alone, over five million separate runs have taken place, with a total distance of 25,679,920 km covered - prior to this weekend’s activities.
Herein also lies one of the organisation’s greatest strengths: it’s a haven for statistics, an analyst's dream: numbers, figures and percentages teeming from every corner. Runners, looking for patterns in form, peaks and dips in training, can easily access a detailed profile of their parkrun career. It is also - and without seeking to remove the magician’s cape too hastily—an invaluable resource for us journalists.
Perhaps the most difficult thing when reflecting on parkrun’s trajectory over the last decade is identifying the most important factor in its success. Is it, in a time of austerity, a cost-effective way to introduce so many people to running? Does its community-focused and egalitarian ethos represent something that has been long absent in today’s culture? Where else can a runner put their training to the test, safe in the knowledge it will be translated into a proverbial matrix of reliable stats?
Or is it simply the feeling of togetherness on a chilly Saturday morning: the cheer of those oh-so-faithful marshals, foregoing their tea and toast in bed to support you round that last hairpin when your legs are on fire; or is it the promise of the post-run cake and coffee, eagerly and deservedly devoured as you, and your running buddies, deconstruct your respective performances? Perhaps it’s the cumulative combination of all of these.
My parkrun career has spanned three years and brought up a number of memorable adventures: with two colleagues from work, where one made a hilariously elaborate detour to avoid a (minor) puddle, an act he is still ridiculed for today; I’ve run with my best friend as we prepared for our first marathon together; and, finally, I’ve taken part in two events with my mum, when I thought that the days of us sharing a sporting activity had long since disappeared.
Each and every runner have brought their own experiences to their local parkrun today; enjoy the celebrations and the development of an event that started out with a small party of 13, ten years ago.
(As part of the celebrations, the BBC will be airing a short review today. Mike Bushell and his crew were at Bedfont Lakes parkrun a week ago and have prepare a piece which is set to be aired around 6:40am and every hour thereafter on BBC news on Saturday).