Brockenhurst parkrun – another inaugural event

Several months ago, back in the autumn I attended a trial run for Brockenhurst parkrun. Things went quiet afterwards and a combination of poor weather over the winter and finding funding meant that the event team postponed their start until the late spring.

At the time of the trial a 4 and a half lap course was being proposed. The event’s venue is Brockenhurst College (aka Brock) and each lap was of the college’s sports fields. Very reminiscent of Wide Lane Sports Field where Eastleigh parkrun was held during the winter before the move to Fleming Park.

Shortly after the trial, a revision to the course was made to make it a 4-lapper. Although, not ideal, reducing the number of laps makes it a little more tolerable. One of the great benefits if lapped courses is that fewer marshals tend to be needed. It also means said marshals have lots of opportunity to praise and encourage runners.

Fast forward to about March. I contacted parkrun HQ and offered my services in getting Brockenhurst parkrun off the starting blocks. This meant liaising with the event team to prepare documentation (risk assessment and event information) as well as provide advice on getting from the stage they were at to their inaugural event and beyond.

A start date was set and then changed to 25th May due to a clash with another event at the college.

Last week, once all the equipment had been delivered, we held a trial event. At the time there was some concern that the course was short by about 100m. With multiple-lap courses with lots of corners, this is surprisingly easy to do. Bringing the corners of the course 1m closer to the centre of the field can easily result in a course that’s that short. Fortunately, Gareth Jones very kindly offered to measure the course with the surveyor’s wheel to ensure the correct positioning of corner stakes to maintain the correct course length.

This morning Daniel and I were up at about 6:40am and left the house at about 7:40pm for the journey to Brock. Traffic was very light and we arrived at the college just after 8am. The course was being laid out and as we headed to the start area we saw David Blackman who’d also misjudged the traffic situation.

Daniel and I set up the finish funnel and the parkrun feather flag as parkrunners and volunteers started to arrive. Several familiar faces were evident including David, Neil Garton, Steve Darby, Louise Ayling, Rex Troop, Kev & Alive Yates, Rikki Prince, Charles Fox, Sophie Darling, Elaine & Colin Brassington, Robert Spencer, Richard Alderson, John Macinnes and, of course, Danny Norman.

At 8:55, Event Director, Mick Anglim, gave the pre-run briefing and we were off.

Daniel started well but it wasn’t too long before we had to resort to run, walk, whine (!), repeat. He was certainly a little sensitive but kept going which I was thankful for.

At the end of the 4 uneventful laps, it was time to sprint for the line. Daniel crossed the line ahead if me again. No idea how he does it!! 😉

Having helped pack up, it was time to head to the Portacabin cafe to help Mick and Rob process the results. The cafe’s menu was a little sparse but it’s hoped that if lots of runners are encouraged in after parkrun that they’ll extend the menu with some of runners favourite food, e.g. an assortment of cake!! Many thanks to Neil for the coffee. To say Daniel was upset that there was no coke or toast is probably an understatement!!

The results were processed very quickly. That was helped by having the same number of runners as times and no, I repeat NO, manual entries.

Rob and Mick were both surprised and concerned that I wouldn’t be at the next event to support them but I have ever confidence that they’ll do a splendid job along with Diana Davis who expertly managed the volunteer roster.

Another great parkrun joins the family. My 3rd activation in 5 weeks. Now have a couple of weekends away with no parkrun. 😦

Queen Elizabeth parkrun – inaugural event

This morning sees Daniel and I heading to Queen Elizabeth parkrun for their inaugural event. QE parkrun is held at Queen Elizabeth Country Park near Horndean and is about 30 minutes from home.

I’ve been involved with the parkrun since day 1 when the local council’s Sports Development Officer contacted me to find out whether we could hold a parkrun at the park. Kirsty had asked the Park Manager if the park could host the event and they’d given a tentative yes. Funding had also been secured based on the success of Havant parkrun.

Given two hurdles had been mostly overcome, I needed to find a team to manage the event and spoke with Dave Williams, ED at Havant parkrun about it. Before long, Dave had spoken with a keen parkrunner and Run Director at Havant, Kiernan Easton, who expressed an interest in taking on the challenge of bringing a new parkrun event to life.

Within a few hours, Kiernan had confirmed he wanted to drive things forward. Behind the scenes he had spoken to another passionate parkrunner, James Leighton, who coincidentally had contacted me previously to suggest QECP as a potential parkrun venue. James very quickly provides a detailed Word document detailing the venue, possible courses and other really useful information.

By this time, the Park Manager had made more positive noises about hosting the event at the park so I forwarded James’ information on and we subsequently arranged a meeting to discuss things in more detail.

Kiernan, James, Dave and I attended the meeting and met with Tim, the Park Manager, who couldn’t have been much more positive. Kiernan’s enthusiasm for parkrun and bringing a new parkrun into the parkrun family shone through and the rest of us didn’t really have to say much!

We recced James’ suggested course after the event. One word – challenging!! Probably the most challenging course in the south (although Ashton Court might be more tough?) It was beautiful though and *maybe* the scenery would distract runners from the pain the ‘undulating’ terrain would inflict!!

We had the green light and now it was time to step things up a gear. In my Ambassadorial role, I was main point of contact for Kiernan and between James, Kiernan and myself we produced the risk assessment documentation and event information. Once complete and reviewed, I forwarded it into HQ and tentatively suggested a start date of 18th May.

With several weeks to go, there was plenty of time to engage the services of Gareth and Dave to measure the course, order the necessary equipment from HQ and prepare for the arrival of this new parkrun.

Fast forward to today, 18th May. Date of Queen Elizabeth parkrun’s inaugural event. It’s currently 5am and I’ve got just under 2 hours until I need to get up and then make my way with Daniel to the venue…

We’re home!! The first QE parkrun went well. Lots of familiar faces from parkruns around the South. Around 140 runners enjoyed the inaugural event. Most found the course the most challenging they’d done and it’s arguably the most challenging course in the South. Robert Spencer believes it’s more challenging than Ashton Court in Bristol which is famed for its 2.5km up and 2.5km down.

The course has a 250m incline followed by quite a sharp decent. Trail shoes are recommended and the descents could be a challenge in wet or icy conditions. It then has an undulating section that takes you to about 2.8km. There’s then a 1km climb (!) which passes the start area before another 2km of undulation to the finish. The last 400m or so is on a gradual incline so a little energy-sapping as you (attempt to?) sprint for the finish. As usual, Daniel’s self-imposed rules of running on the flat and downhill and walking uphill fell into disarray. We were soon adopting a run/walk strategy regardless of the terrain!

Daniel made a long sprint for the finish, seemingly having forgotten his tired legs and crossed the line ahead of me. Darn!

The cafe was full with parkrunners after the run which was a great sign. Lots of chat, beverages and cake (not to mention some odd-looking bananas which were in fact oranges!)

It was great to catch up with Dave, Joel, Neil, Robert, Colin, Elaine, David, Rex, Kerri, Alison, Louise, Barbara, Ian to name but a few!

Overall, a great parkrun morning.

Next weekend sees the inaugural event for Brockenhurst parkrun which promises to be less challenging but another excellent parkrun.

junior parkruns – inspiring the next generation to get active

Shortly after getting involved with parkrun at Eastleigh, I heard about the Junior parkrun at Bushy Park in Teddington. This is basically parkrun for under 14s. Each run is 2km (rather than 5km). The events are held monthly, typically taking place on the first Sunday of each month.

Although juniors can run alongside adults at a normal parkrun, these events are especially for the kids and young teenagers. Given how much children enjoy parkrun, this has to be a great idea.

With the media being full of stories of childhood obesity and a generation of children who seem to be being encouraged to compete in video games rather than in physical activity, we need to find ways to inspire this generation to get outside and get active together. parkrun, and specifically, junior parkruns could be (a big!) part of the solution. The government want to take action to reduce levels of childhood obesity by 2020 as detailed in their policy on ‘Reducing obesity and improving diet.

As regular readers of this blog will know, my son, Daniel, started running at parkrun a few months back and has now completed a dozen parkruns. He’s also taken part in the Eastleigh 2K Fun Run and won a good medal for his efforts and took part in this week’s Lordshill Road Runners’ Mile event (more about that later).
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Daniel loves parkrun and running ‘with Daddy’. He was even interviewed in a recent ITV Meridian feature on parkrun recorded at Netley Abbey parkrun. In the fun run, there were a few hundred children taking part and it was great to see them all enjoying the 2K (actually 1.4K!) course together.

When I first contacted parkrun HQ about being interested in setting up a Junior parkrun a couple of years ago, the events were being handled separately from the main parkrun events and they weren’t planning to roll out any new events due to a focus on expanding the main event series.

There are currently only a handful of Junior parkrun events in the UK at the moment with the biggest being held at Bushy park. This event celebrated its 3rd anniversary on Sunday and I’d hoped to take Daniel along but unfortunately we weren’t able to make it.

This week, parkrun HQ announced some amazing news; a review of the strategy and future growth of the Junior parkrun series and the appointment of Chrissie Wellington as ‘parkrun champion’ for Junior parkrun.

Here’s what the announcement said:

Chrissie is a four-time Ironman Triathlon World Champion and has recently retired from professional triathlon competition. Her enthusiasm and drive to make a difference to children’s health and to positively affect the position of women in sport is key to her decision to join parkrun. Chrissie’s first task is to review our existing Junior parkrun offering and to devise her own strategy to move this series forward.

Chrissie’s enthusiasm is amazing and I’m sure that she’ll drive forward the expansion of the series across the UK. To be honest, I couldn’t think of anyone better to be involved. Her book, A Life Without Limits, is well worth a read.

I’m very keen to be involved in setting up a Junior parkrun event in the local area and hope to be able to move this forward in the coming months. As an experienced Event Director and parkrun Ambassador I’d also be happy to help others set up Junior events once parkrun HQ are ready to move forward with their plans.

Seeing children participating in, and more importantly enjoying, these events is inspiring. Providing an opportunity for children to run with each other (and parents for those that need a little moral support on the run) outside the school environment will hopefully entice those children to enjoy running and physical activity at a young age and help establish the benefits of a healthy and active lifestyle whilst providing a regular opportunity to enjoy an activity with other children.

parkrun and Junior parkrun also gives an opportunity for juniors to mix with different people outside their family, friends and peer group. For example, at the Mile event, Daniel ran with Jim Davies rather than myself which was a great experience for him. Daniel normally insists on holding my hand for most of the 5km but Jim didn’t have that pleasure!!

When Daniel attends parkruns, lots of people talk to him as well as give him encouragement as he runs at the event. These opportunities help entrench him in the community around the event and are bound to help develop his interpersonal and communication skills.

The future looks bright. Could parkrun and Junior parkrun help turn the fitness of our future generations from one of doom to something positive where more children enjoy getting active and concentrate more on healthy activities and life choice? I think it could! I’m hoping Chrissie will be in touch soon but in the meantime, Daniel and I will be attending Bushy Junior parkrun’s on the 2nd June. We can’t wait!!

The journey to 50 parkruns

As a regular reader of my blog (with its less than regular posts), you’ll know that I started running in 2009. Over 3 years later and I’m still running. In fact, in February, I recorded 97 miles which is my highest mileage month ever.

There is one reason I’ve kept running and that same reason has changed my life, probably forever. That reason is parkrun.

Back in May 2010, I ran in my first parkrun in Eastleigh’s 3rd event. Since then I have run 1000s of miles and transformed my life both in terms of my fitness but also my social life. Without parkrun, it’s highly probable that I’d have given up on running a couple of years ago and returned to life where exercise played little part and I rarely left the house.

parkrun has given me a weekly opportunity to get out and run fast (until recently) and that’s led me to continue mid-week training to get faster.

It’s given me the opportunity to meet lots of people and make new friends. It’s also provided me ample opportunity to organise the events (as Run Director, Event Director and, most recently, as a parkrun Ambassador), speak at local council-run conferences and networking events etc.

One thing that prior to late 2012 it hadn’t given me was the opportunity to run that often at the event. However, Daniel’s desire to take part in parkrun changed that. We are now able to run almost every week.

It’s been great to be able to share my Saturday mornings with Daniel at parkrun. It’s bought us even closer together and, although it’s a challenge for him, he’s really enjoying it and loves the attention he gets.

So, after 34 months, yesterday morning, we headed to Fleming Park to complete my 50th parkrun and Daniel’s 10th. It was a little touch-and-go as to whether we’d make it due to my work commitments the day before Mother’s Day. In fact, I was busy trying to help rectify an issue until moments before we left the house.

We chose Eastleigh parkrun as the venue as it’s got a great community and it’s quite small and therefore you can feel part of it more easily than an event such as Southampton with its 350+ runners. It’s also Daniel’s favourite course. Next week, it’s Netley Abbey’s anniversary so we’ll be there for that.

The rain 24 hours preceding the event meant the course was muddy, slippy and wet again after the previous weekend’s relative dryness.

It was great to see lots of familiar and friendly faces and enjoy our T-shirt runs with Paul Kemp (running his 100th parkrun) and Becky Cleeves who was running her 50th.

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As we ran around the 3-lap course, Daniel got lots of encouragement (a real benefit of a multi-lap course) from marshals and other runners. It seems that each week more and more people know him and he’s slowly coming out of his shell and getting to know them.

Daniel made a real effort to run as much of the course as he could and, in fact, other than walking up the hill and a couple of 10 second walk breaks he ran the rest. That approach was rewarded by a 90+ second parkrun PB which was great given the far less than perfect conditions. As we ran around, I was having to keep in touch with work via email which was a bit of a pain but at least it meant we could be there.

When we crossed the finish line, Keith Whitaker pulled some poppers and we eat some of Saffy Cleeves’ delicious cake. Thanks Saffy!!

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We then had to rush back home and on the journey home, I had a call to inform me of an urgent issue at work that needed my attention.

It was great to be able to complete my 50th run. At times, it felt like I’d never reach the milestone what with volunteering at many early events once I became Run Director then Event Director.

As I said earlier, parkrun has changed my life and I hope my contribution has helped other’s change their lives too. The countless hours both at events and behind-the-scenes over the last 2.5 to 3 years has seen many, many others be rewarded with their 50 T-shirt before me and I’ve been proud to have helped organise and stage the events to allow that.

My life within parkrun has changed. I’ve recently passed on the Event Director role for both Southampton and Netley Abbey to allow me to become a ‘parkrun Ambassador’. Currently, I’m one of a select handful and our responsibility is to help support existing events as well as activate new events. These are roles I’ve done informally for quite a while anyway but the role solidifies my involvement within the parkrun organisation.

Although I have a lesser role at the 3 local events, I am still very active behind the scenes with both supporting those events on a day-to-day basis but also currently being in various stages of helping bring 4 new parkruns to life (aka event activation). These are Winchester, Brockenhurst, Petersfield and Portsmouth. Activation involves a fair amount of work including helping to build the local event teams, helping to secure funding from local councils, deciding on the course, training the teams and supporting them to the journey to their inaugural event and beyond.

I’m passionate about parkrun and how it can change lives and help develop strong communities and will do all I can to help parkrun spread into other communities.

I can’t wait to be able to wear my 50 T-shirt and to see Daniel receive and wear his. Although I have had lots of involvement with parkrun to date, I won’t feel as if I’m a true parkrunner until I have my T-shirt on.

My parkrun journey has only just begun…

(Many thanks to Paul Hammond for photos)

Daniel’s 2nd parkrun – Eastleigh parkrun 22/12/2012

The forecast during the week looked awful for Saturday and I was quite doubtful whether Daniel and I would be parkrunning at all. With over 10mm of rain forecast for before 9am, I knew that the conditions at Fleming Park would be poor but the reality was actually worse than I expected!

Daniel and I got up early and were out of the door at 8:15am. We wanted to leave early before Denise looked out of the window and put a stop to the morning’s adventure!!

When we got to Fleming Park, the condition of the field was bad enough. Very damp underfoot with puddles to avoid. Daniel, of course, made a bee-line for them! Once we’d crossed the field, negociating a path to the start area of the parkrun was tough enough. It really was bad. I didn’t Daniel to get too cold and wet before the start but, unfortunately, that wasn’t really going to be possible given the number of puddles crossing every path.

It was great to see lots of friendly faces as always. Lots of banter and lots of festive costumes some of which crossed the line of public acceptability (Mr Stocks, I’m talking about you!)

Before the start, Deb awarded the prize for the best dressed male and female junior. To our surprise Daniel won! This was mainly due to the fact that all the boys had a festive piece of headwear but Daniel also had a face-painted beard and red nose. Daddy’s handywork!

We were soon off running. There was a lake to negiociate within a few hundred metres. It was deep, cold and not very pleasant. The rest of the course was a mix of very damp, puddles or mud. Daniel kept hold of my hand which was lucky given the number of times he slipped! He was saved from falling over in the mud several times.

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It was soon clear that there was no way we were going to get Daniel a PB. Running wasn’t very easy and Daniel’s legs soon became tired. We probably walked and ran in equal measure and crossed the line in just over 43 minutes. It wasn’t a great run but we did it and Daniel completed his 2nd parkrun.

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Daniel got lots of encouragement from the marshals and other volunteers and even had a battle to the finish line with myself and Dave Clothier. Daniel beat us both!!

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Only 8 more parkruns to go until he reaches 10 parkruns and he’ll receive his coverted white T-shirt.

I was asked at the end in the cafe whether I thought I should be allowing Daniel to run 5km to which I replied that he wasn’t running the full distance and was run/walking with the run being a maximum of about 3km of the 5km. Daniel has been used to long walks with the dog so it’s not completely new to him and he’s enjoying parkrun. Things might be different if I were dragging him around under protest but that’s not happening at all.

I’m hoping that although I’m due to be RDing next Saturday that someone will hold the reins to allow Daniel and I to run again. If not, we’ll most likely have to wait until the 5th January before our 3rd parkrun together.

Many thanks to Paul Hammond for the great photos.

My favourite parkrun… ever

As a parkrunner, we are all aware that the events are open to runners of all ages and abilities and I, for one, am often amazed at just how fast some of the junior runners are.

I’ve always hoped that my boys would get into parkrun as a way of being active, socialising with lots of different people and enjoying a great community event. Both boys (aged 6 and 4) have been to parkrun events on numerous occasions, help out where or how they can and are fairly well known amongst the regulars at Eastleigh, Netley Abbey and Southampton. However, other than an attempt to run around with them 18 months or so ago at Lakeside which was less than successful (tears from both within about 200 metres followed by having to carry them around the rest of the lap), neither has completed a parkrun.

Daniel, our 6 year old, has been talking about wanting to get fit and strong for a while now (not sure what prompted that!) and has swim for most of his life. He occasionally gets on our treadmill for 20 minutes while watching cartoons on the iPad but he’s never run any real distance. During our recent holiday, he was very pleased to have beaten me in a mini-race from the swimming complex to the accommodation. Of course it was staged but it made him feel proud and he reminds me often that he’s a faster runner than me!

I found out a few days ago that they have a cross-country team in the Junior school Daniel will go to in September. Given Daniel’s lack of coordination and the fact that he’s not very sporty made me think that if I could get him into parkrun then maybe, just maybe, he’d want to join the x-country team at school. His football skills are awful!!

Earlier this week, I thought I’d ask if if he wanted to run at a parkrun and he gave a very excited reply. I then explained about the 10, 50, 100 and 250 T-shirts and he got even more excited and started telling me who he wanted to show his 250 T-shirt too. When I explained that it would take almost 5 years of going every weekend, he didn’t lose any enthusiasm.

For the next few days, I was expecting him to change his mind but every time I asked if wanted to go to parkrun, he replied ‘yes!’

On Saturday morning, we layered up and headed out to Fleming Park for my 40th parkrun and Daniel’s first.

As we arrived, Daniel looked a little unhappy. He thought he was just racing his ‘daddy’ and not 80+ other runners as well.

Once the pre-run brief was over, we headed to the back of the pack at the start line.

As the air-horn sounded, he sped off. Being concerned whether Daniel would complete the 5km, I had to reel him in. For the rest of the run, we walk/ran the course. When he wanted to stop running, we either stopped or I encouraged Daniel to run a little further before slowing down. To make it easier for him to judge how far through the run we were, I told Daniel that we had to get to 500 and then kept him informed of how many 10m sections we’d completed.

By 2.5km, Daniel was tiring and we were having to have to take more regular walk breaks. However, we kept going.

As we crossed the finish funnel area for the last lap, we had to lose a few layers and grab a (forgotten) drink before heading out for the last mile.

We continued our walk/run strategy and having hydrated a little, Daniel found some more energy. He kept telling me his heart was really beating and clutching his chest. I was a little worried especially when he said he felt a little sick (visions of him yodelling across the line sprang to mind!) All the way around, I gave him almost constant feedback about how well he was doing, how proud he’d feel to complete the run, how proud I was of him and how far we had to go ’til the finish.

We had one more walk break and then it was time for a sprint to the finish. I had to explain what a sprint was and then Daniel accelerated. I kept behind him, telling him I was going to beat him across the line weaving from one side to the other. Daniel was laughing and ahead of me, heading for the finish funnel.

For some reason, he almost ran to one side of the funnel. Fortunately, trusty Ron was there to guide him into the funnel. The marshals all shouted lots of encouragement as he finished a step or two ahead of me. We crossed the line in 38:53. What a result. Our hopes of sub-50 beaten by a healthy margin.

Daniel was really happy. He’d completed his first parkrun and was keen to do his second.

I am very proud that Daniel completed the 5km in a very reasonable time.

I wish someone had captured a picture of his face as he headed for the line. I wish his mum had been there to see him finish. Hopefully next week.

There is no other event that I’m aware of where you can enjoy sport with your baby, children, parents, grandparents, dogs and world-class athletes at the same time. parkrun is truly inspiring, inclusive and amazing. For those that don’t believe that children should participate, I would recommend they take their children, grandchildren or other related children with them and enjoy the event together. It’s truly special.

I started running to be fit for my family and have always wanted to share the parkrun experience with my boys.

If Daniel wants to keep parkrunning, I’ll be happy to run with him rather than run alone. My parkrun PB, which I’d hope to beat this year, can wait until both Daniel and I can beat that PB together. I’m even willing to change my races planned for 2013 so I can take Daniel to more parkruns.

The aim of the Olympic Legacy is to inspire a generation. parkrun simply does this and does this simply every week. We inspire generations both old and new every week.

A special day. The first of many hopefully.

Worried about new parkruns opening up in the area? [Updated]

parkrun is a phenomena that’s growing and growing. Not only are existing events seeing more participants but more events are opening. We’ll see 1 million parkruns complete this year. Yes, 1 million!

As we come to the end of 2012, there are about 160 events in the UK. At the start of 2012, there were only about 120 events. That number will increase to 200+ by the end of 2013 (due to planned controlled growth).

For event teams, the rumour of the arrival of a ‘new kid on the block’ (e.g. a new parkrun event opening) can cause worry and sleepless nights. I even used to have the same worries. In fact, I’ll share a secret with you. There were rumours of a parkrun opening in Southampton about a year before I opened one. At the time, I was fearful of the future of Eastleigh parkrun.

However, there really isn’t anything to worry about and here’s why… (I apologise if the following is a little rambling and disjointed but I’ve given this a LOT of thought of the last 6 months, had a lot of sleepless nights as some of you will testify, and it’s not just a view shared by myself). I may not be at each of the 3 local events every weekend (physically impossible I’m afraid), but I spend a few hours each week worrying about each of them! Before I start, the fact that you are worrying is healthy. It shows you’re passionate about parkrun. Join the club!

parkrun’s goals include having an event in every community that wants one. Although there are 160 events in the UK, there are many towns and cities where there isn’t a parkrun for many miles and I can guarantee there’s at least one person that would love to be able to take a sub-5 mile journey to get to one. We really don’t want participants to have to get in the car to get to their local event. Wouldn’t a warm up jog be better and more environmentally friendly? However, wanting a parkrun isn’t the same as organising one. It takes committment and dedication to stand up to the mark and then bring a parkrun to fruition. If you’re in one of those places without a parkrun and are desperate to have one, don’t ask ‘why isn’t there one?’, instead ask, ‘what can I do to help start one?’

I’m in the privileged position to have been the Event Director for a great parkrun event (Eastleigh) whilst opening two others (Netley Abbey and Southampton). Each time a new event has opened, a percentage of its participants move across to the new event. This is natural, to be expected, and, for the reasons given above, should be encouraged. As well as runners, there will most likely be the loss of some of the event team (e.g. Run Directors and volunteers). This is unfortunate and we’d clearly all prefer that they didn’t leave, after all, they are a key part of the community and essence of the event. However, in hindsight, in the times it’s happened to date, it not been the end of the world (at least not for too long) and each time a key team member has moved to another event, someone else stands up and takes on the role. Change isn’t a bad thing. Of course, just because a new event opens that’s closer for a Run Director doesn’t mean that they’ll never return to their original parkrun. Many Run Directors do their duties at their home run and visit other local parkruns on their ‘weeks off’.

parkrun isn’t just about one event; it’s not even just about Bushy parkrun! It’s about a family of events all striving for the same things; to get more people active and build vibrant communities around these events. An event doesn’t need to differentiate itself with special events to stop it feeling inferior due to less participants. The key to parkrun’s success is its simplicity and the fact that every event follows the same formula to guarantee its success. That’s not to say that pacing events, Junior volunteer events, and the like aren’t worth having. They most definitely are. We’ve seen some great examples of how the local events teams can add something extra to the parkrun experience with these kind of events. But, no event team should worry unnecessarily about having to put on these events simply to try to compete with another parkrun event. In a nutshell, no parkrun event should ever feel that it’s either superior or inferior to another for any reason. There simply are no tangible facts to give anyone cause to try to rate parkruns against each other via any criteria.

Which brings us onto the reasons why parkrunners stop attending parkruns completely. These might include:

  • not wishing to travel too far to get to the event
  • the travelling making parkrun take up too much of their Saturday
  • the terrain or course not being to their liking
  • poor conditions make the course less safe than they’d like
  • other factors that mean they can’t commit regularly to attending the event

Some of these factors can be overcome by having more events across the country. That means that rather than losing parkrunners completely to chores, shopping, lie-ins, we’re retaining them but at other parkrun events. Another example of retention was raised with me via email today whereby a regular parkrunner from one of our events contacted me to ask for a couple of corrections to references to her in the latest news report and let me know that she wasn’t enjoying her home parkrun due to slippery conditions caused by the recent weather and had temporarily been attending another of the local events so she could still get her parkrun fix. Had there not been a local parkrun event so close with different terrain, the likelihood is that the parkrunner in question would have stopped coming to the events and may have never returned.

Many people worry that having a new parkrun open 10 minutes away from their existing event will result in such a loss of participants that it’ll make the event unsustainable. This simply isn’t the case. There are many, many parkrun events where the attendance is under 50, many more where the attendance is under 100. These events are as good, if not better (based on opinion rather than fact), than the events where attendance is regularly in the 100s. They may be more informal and relaxed. The event team may be under less pressure to ‘perform’, there may be less people to worry about if things go wrong. The smaller events may have a stronger community feeling with the core participants understanding the work that goes into bringing each week’s event together and are more accepting of when things don’t quite go to plan.

A related concern of a decrease in runners is the fact that there are less potential volunteers to call upon and that this could add extra stress to the event team and core volunteers. I think there’s some truth in that but we’ve become quite reliant on the need for volunteer teams of 12 or more. Many events cope just as well with half that number. The key roles that need filling during the event are:

  • timer
  • numbers – e.g. handing out tokens
  • barcode scanning

If the number of volunteers is low, early finisher can be used to take on some roles once they’ve completed their run. The Run Director can also take on one of these roles at events with lower attendance. Obvious roles would be second barcode scanner or manual entry, pacing or encouraging marshals.

The underlying issue is that only a small percentage of parkrunners volunteer and we do see the same faces week by week (and we’re very grateful to them for giving up their time and opportunity to run for others). That’s something that HQ and each event has to try and resolve and events such as the recent Junior-volunteer events should go someway to encourage other parkrunners to realise that the roles aren’t difficult and volunteering is actually a really rewarding experience and, as I’ve said before, and will no doubt say again, the parkrun experience isn’t just about the run and you can’t really truly understand the parkrun ethos without volunteering. It’s one of the greatest ways of embedding yourself in the parkrun community. If you’ve not volunteered before, try it. The regular volunteers will remember your name and you’ll be encouraged by name at future events.

One final thing about the correlation between the number of runners and volunteers at an event. There doesn’t appear to be one. For example, this week at Aberystwyth there were 23 runners and 11 volunteers.

So… Size really isn’t important!

It’s interesting to note that the shortest distance between the start of two parkrun events is less than 2km. Even more interestingly is that both events are thriving. This is a concrete example that distance between parkruns really isn’t anything to worry about.

Take a step back… when your parkrun had 200 or 300 parkrunners participating was it any better than it is with 100? When there were 100, was it any better than when there were 60? Did you enjoy the larger attended events more? I doubt it. There may be less people crossing the finish line but there’s still that vibrant community spirit that makes each parkrun far more than just a running event. If you are worried about attendance, take a look at http://www.parkrun.org.uk/results/attendancerecords/ and click the ‘this week’ column and look at how many events have far fewer participants than your event.

Opening a new event on your doorstep has several benefits that far outway the negatives:

  • people in the area have less far to travel
  • people don’t have to rely on cars to get to an event
  • the new event acts as self-promotion of the parkrun concept and local events in particular and thereby increases participation
  • the new event brings a different course, terrain and running challenges to the existing event

To put this in context… When Eastleigh parkrun was the only event in the immediate area, we reached an attendance of just under 300 runners. These were drawn from the same geographical area that is now served by 3 parkruns and attendance across all 3 events peaked at 500+ runners a little earlier in the year. However, we are still only serving a small percentage of the runners in the local area. How often do you go out in close proximity of one of our venues and see runners you’ve never seen at parkrun. There’s a good chance they’ve never heard of parkrun (of course some will have but the time, venue, other committments prevent them from coming along). Imagine if every runner knew of parkrun as one of the main running brands alingside clothing manufacturers, sports drinks, magazines, etc, etc. parkruns would be filled to bursting and we’d be desperate for new venues to prevent saturation. That’s not even taking into account the fact we have 3280 registered Eastleigh parkrunners, 640 registered Netley Abbey parkrunners and 1425 registered Southampton parkrunners. That’s over 5300 people that have engaged with parkrun and printed a barcode. We see less than 10% of that number attending each week. Imagine if that doubled to 20%. Would we stop worrying about new parkruns opening in the area then?

We’re really lucky in the south of Hampshire to have so many events locally and I, for one, don’t see that we should prevent new events starting or worry unduly about them doing so. Within 5 years, there will be far, far more events than we have now, many of us will be doing more parkrun tourism and getting involved with other parkrun communities. We’ll look back and our home parkrun will still be thriving. There may be lots of new faces there and a few of the old, but that community spirit we all love about parkrun events will still underpin each event.

Where these new events start is largely out of our control. Local councils might approach us to see if we/they can start a new event in such a town. If we can find enough local support for the event, we’d be crazy to turn the opportunity away simply due to concern the event might have on an existing event or events. We might get approached by an enthusiastic individual or team who want to start up a parkrun in their local area. Again, we shouldn’t turn down that opportunity. We’d be crazy to. parkruns are created through enthusiasm. The last thing we want to do is quash that enthusiasm just for the sake of an existing event that feels threatened. To those of you that have enjoyed a spot of parkrun tourism in the local area, remind yourself that those events were started because there was some impetus and enthusiasm to start them regardless of their location or proximity to your home parkrun.

In summary, to embrace parkrun, you need to embrace its growth. Growth is great for the events and isn’t something to fear. Fear of change is natural of course. Being scared of change is the reason why many of us stick in the same jobs for years and years and years. However, most changes are good (PS if you’ve been stuck in a rut at work or any aspect of your life, read ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’). Embrace them! Don’t worry about the attendance numbers. No one else is. Don’t worry about competition between events. There isn’t any. Don’t think (or worse, make out) that your event is any better or worse, any friendlier or more social than any other. There are no facts to support it, only your opinion. If person X tells you someone else thinks it, that’s just heresay. parkrun is a family where each event is a family member that shares the same passion and ethos as every other event but that has different attributes (course, event team, etc) all combining to bring untold benefits to 10s of thousands of runners of all ages and abilities each Saturday morning. Let parkrun grow. It’ll do nothing but good. Finally, thanks to each of you for making parkrun as amazing as it is! I, and every ED, is ever-thankful to everything you do to ensure that the parkrun is the best… it can be.

[PS Don’t worry about recent drops in attendance. The weather can be solely blamed for that. Let’s face it, if Bushy gets 65% of its recent highest attendance at a weekend, there’s every likelihood your event will do too.]

New Blog Post – Alice Holt parkrun – another inaugural

Today it was an early parkrun start. Up at 6am, breakfast, wash and then out of the door for 7:10am. The reason? Alice Holt’s inaugural parkrun.

Alice Holt is the name of a large country park near Farnham. http://www.parkrun.org.uk/aliceholt is the event website.

My involvement with this parkrun started about 6 months ago when I met with the Sports Development Manager for Havant Borough Council about starting up a parkrun in Havant. The SDM, Richard, brought along his contemporary in the Farnham area and I took along Dave Williams who, at the time was a Run Director at Netley Abbey (and previously Eastleigh).

I had prepared a PowerPoint presentation covering what parkrun was, what the benefits are, a case study of Eastleigh parkrun and the steps involved in setting up a parkrun. It was an easy-sell. Both Richard and Kirsty were keen and had already secured a majority of the funding required.

Havant parkrun started shortly after in June with Dave as the Event Director. Due to the location, I wasn’t able to help bring Alice Holt to life so handed the hot prospect back to parkrun HQ to see if they could entice an event team out of the local runners. It wasn’t long before there was some interest and now, 6 months later, it’s the morning of their first event.

The course is described as a 2-lapper which is a little hilly. Oh joy!! Terrain is all off-road on gravel paths and trails. Am not sure which shoes are best so am taking road and trail shoes just in case.

Every parkrun is the best in the eyes of those that work tirelessly to make it happen. Or, at least, that’s what we like to think of our own parkrun offspring. However, as soon as you start to visit other parkruns, you find that isn’t the case. All parkruns are equal. Well organised and friendly. There are differences in them all due to the course, locality and the team that run them but all share the same essence.

What I have found is that it takes a few weeks for a parkrun to gel and start its own community. This is to be expected but inaugural events are always interesting as you get to meet more and more familiar faces and tourists from further afield. Today I’m expecting to see several Lordshill Road Runners as well as several other regular parkrunners from the Solent events.

Neil very kindly offered to drive and so a small contingent from Southampton (Di, Tamsyn, Neil and myself) headed up to Alice Holt. The weather was a little miserable on the journey with drizzle/rain but the conversation was good!!

We arrived at 8:10am with plenty of time to spare. Parking wasn’t particularly cheap but as parkrunners that cost could be offset by 10% off in the cafe. As we sat in the car keeping warm, the event team were setting up the finish funnel.

After some coaxing from fellow Solent parkrunner, David Blackman, who’d travelled up with John Maccines, we got out of the car at about 8:30am and headed to the start area. The start, finish, cafe and car park were all located very close together. Perfect really. Also present was Karen Hazlitt and several familiar parkrun tourists amongst many tourists who looked less familiar!

I had time for a quick chat with the Event Director, Martin, and one of his chief volunteers. I’d emailed them the evening before to offer some assistance but they clearly had everything in hand.

Martin drew the runners together for the pre-run briefing and then we walked the short distance to the start. It was good to see parkrun über-tourist Louise Ayling at the start. Louise had recently run at both Southampton and Netley Abbey.

The first 0.5 km was largely downhill and I ran with Di for most of this before she sped off into the distance. The paths were forest trails and mostly firm underfoot. There were plenty of puddles and I was very glad to be wearing trail shoes in places.

Given the downhill start, it wasn’t too long before a few climbs were needed. These were, as Danny Norman described them, playful. Challenging is another word I’d use!! Fortunately, the climbs were broken up by some flat sections and some gradual drops.

Marshalling on the course was good with marshals at all the key intersections.

As a 2-lapper, having to re-live the hills on the 2nd lap wasn’t particularly appealing but as a T-shirt run ( more interested in getting a run closer to the elusive 50 T-shirt than a PB), I had to cross the finish line. Given I now knew the course, I throttled back a bit further to ensure I got to the finish line.

At about 4km, parkrun founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt passed me with one of his dogs. As I headed for the finish, Di shouted some encouragement (having finished a couple of minutes earlier) and I sped up towards the line.

As I crossed the line, it wasn’t immediately clear where the barcode scanners were and that’s about the only issue I can think of.

Having been scanned, it was time for a post-run beverage and some cake. Briefly chatted with Danny Norman, parkrun’s UK Comminication Manager, and then went in search of food where we were joined by Robert Bryan.

Once cake was duly demolished, it was time to head home.

Overall, a great morning. A lovely park with lots of car parking. A playful course. Definitely one that’s going to thrive in the summer and early autumn but may be more challenging due to conditions in the winter and early spring. Certainly a more challenging course than Havant parkrun too which has a steep drop and a energy-sapping climb.

At home (parkrun) with the Yellings

Week 2 of my 56 week training plan has gone to… er, plan. All workouts completed except for one swim which I missed through poor organisation which I replaced with a short Fartlek-style session on Friday to loosen my legs ready for Saturday’s parkrun.

On Sunday, I was official starter for the Lordshill 10 Mile Road Race. It was a surprise but it was also lovely to be asked. I’ll be honest with you, I’m not sure why I was chosen but I really enjoyed the role.

The highlight of the running-related week was undoubtedly meeting Tom Williams, parkrun’s UK Country Manager, during the Southampton leg of his UK tour meeting event teams and prospects. At the Southampton meeting, there were 31 of us including teams from Brockenhurst, Eastleigh, Havant, Southampton, Netley Abbey and Poole. Tom, and fellow MarathonTalk podcaster/presenter, Martin Yelling, had some great anecdotes and the meeting was excellent.

Martin announced that he’d be joining us at Southampton parkrun on Saturday along with his wife, Olympic Marathon runner, Liz Yelling and their daughter, Ruby (aka Roo). I’ve met Martin once before at Eastleigh parkrun but not met Liz before.

This brings me to Saturday’s parkrun. Each weekend that I’m available for parkrun (2 in 3 weekends) I have some guilt that I’m not visiting each of ‘my’ events. Clearly that’s not possible without cloning so the guilt then focuses on deciding to run rather than volunteer. However, I do spent several hours during the week dealing with emails, preparing the volunteer rota for Netley Abbey, hanging out on the event Facebook pages and, more than occasionally writing news reports. I also Run Direct at Netley Abbey once every 5 weeks and keep an all seeing eye over the other events. Maybe the guilt should subside a little.

Given the fact I’d decided to run, I chose Southampton mainly because I wanted a fast run but also due to Martin, Liz and Southampton parkrun first-timer (Olympian and GB record-holder) Iwan Thomas being there. Southampton Common offers a fast course and is likely to be the venue where I’ll regain a parkrun PB (unless I visit Poole).

Having arrived, said a few ‘hellos’, I chatted with Martin and Liz (a thoroughly nice couple who run and volunteer regularly at Poole parkrun. Both regularly grace the front cover of running magazines and its not difficult to see why!), it was time to say a brief hello to Iwan before the start. He let me know he had received his parkrun barcode…

…There’s a bit of back story here but I don’t have time to share it other than to say the we’re strictly enforcing the ‘no barcode, no result’ policy common across all parkruns. Why do we do this?

We don’t ask parkrun participants to do much but offer a lot for free in return. All parkruns are run at a local level by volunteers who give up their own free time to help out. The key role of Run Director requires 3-4 hours on, and leading up to the Saturday event, of which runners only really see the 5 minute pre-run briefing.

One of the more time consuming tasks is that of results processing which involves downloading the data from the assorted gadgetry (barcode scanners and timers), uploading the data, processing it and then submitting the results to HQ. On a good day, this can typically take 5-10 minutes but if there are any discrepancies in the data (mismatched times and positions for example), the process can take much longer.

Having to enter manual barcodes slows the whole process down and means the Run Director has to spend more of their time on parkrun than is necessary. Given the time they’ve already given up, this is rather unfair and we, as parkrunners, should be making their lives easier rather than harder. We therefore ask you to bring your barcode with you. You wouldn’t be able to compete in a race without your race number (or having registered and paid your entry fee). We don’t stop you participating but won’t give you a result.

Manually entering a barcode number (or searching for a parkrunner) typically takes 20-30 seconds. Although this may not be much for one barcode, if 10 or more runners forget their barcode, this can (and has) doubled the time to process the results.

And so to my parkrun…

I started a little too far back within the 220 runners attending and had to do some weaving to find my pace. Before I hit the Flats, Martin Yelling floated past pushing Roo, Martin made pushing a 3 1/2 year look far easier than it actually is.

As I got to the Bellemoor entrance, the field was spreading out and it was time to prepare for the hill, er hill, that goes around the northern end of the Common. I’ve run the course several times but the length of the incline seems longer each time. It’s deceiving as you get an incline, a plateau, then another incline. This pattern continues about twice more than expected with the last incline being steeper than the previous ones.

Fortunately, after the first mile, there’s a downhill stretch back to the Bellemoor and then a flat section back through The Flats. I’d tried to keep things strong on the climb but was looking forward to a little respite.

Lots of encouragement as I passed the finish area to start the last ‘lap’ was much appreciated. By now I was beginning to feel a little fatigued and I wondered whether I’d finish (in reality, I do this at every parkrun, dreaming up excuses for why I didn’t finish). I’d said to Kirsty, a fellow LRR, that I wanted to finish in 24 minutes and not finishing would have been an embarrassment after such an announcement.

As I entered the gravel path that leads towards the paddling pool, the mental battle continued. As I passed Irene who was marshalling at the far side of the paddling pool and headed north along the path that runs almost parallel with the Avenue, I almost stopped. Feeling defeated and told myself not to stop, zipped up my man-suit and slowed (without stopping!) to conserve some energy. At this point, dreams of a 24 minute finish went out of the window and sub 25 looked likely (probably 24:35).

I made it to the top of the incline knowing it was downhill or flat from there.

Before long I was on the flats and with about 300 metres to go, I could hear Kirsty say ‘there’s James’ and start shouting encouragement.

With what seemed like a long way to go, Kirsty stsrted a countdown from 10 and I sped for the line. I crossed it one second past 24 minutes in 24:01. Not bad considering I’d almost lost it at 4km. I’m not sure how I found the energy to cover the distance to the finish so quickly, but it just goes to show what a goal and encouragement to reach that goal can do.

Had it not been for the encouragement from some of the marshals, it would have been an ‘ok’ performance. Instead, it was a course PB at Southampton and my second fastest 5km, 8 seconds away from my PB set over a year ago. Happy with that.

Unfortunately, I was unable to visit the cafe for post-run chat and beverages as I had to look after the boys earlier than expected. Given the athletics royalty in attendance, this was pretty disappointing.

Overall, however, a great parkrun morning.

A trip to Bushy parkrun for parkrun’s 8th anniversary

Being Event Director for 3 parkruns is one of the things I’m quite proud of. However, I’ve not been to many other parkruns other than those I’ve been instrumental in getting off the ground.

Ever since I started running at parkruns, I’ve wanted to visit the first, and biggest, Bushy parkrun in Teddington. As it was parkrun’s 8th anniversary today, it seemed a great opportunity to make the trip.

Fortunately, fellow parkrunner, Robert Spencer, wanted to go so along with Geoff Collins and Mike Harper, we made the trip up the M3 this morning. It was an early start (7am and we arrived at 8:15am).

It wasn’t long before the park started to fill up with parkrunners, we bumped into Danny Norman for a chat, and at 8:40am, we congregated for the anniversary awards ceremony with trophies being presented by Nell McAndrew.

All of a sudden, the crowd of almost 1000 runners moved subtly and we were ready for the start almost at the front which was definitely the wrong place for us to start.

The pre-run briefing was short, sweet and very difficult to hear.

The first straight was on grass alongside the road that enters the park. To say it was waterlogged was a slight understatement. Trying to avoid the surface water was pointless.

Before long, we were on a gravel path littered with more puddles. Due to the number of runners, I was always running in a pack. I was hoping to equal my recent course PB at Southampton parkrun of 24:20 and kept pace at about 4:50 mins/km throughout the run. Given the flat nature of the course and the fact there were no tight turns, this wasn’t too difficult. No sudden inclines to zap energy.

Before too long I had reached the 4km mark and felt ok. The last km went by quickly and it wasn’t too long before I was crossing the finish line. I looked down at my Garmin. 24:02. 18 seconds better than my course PB at Southampton and only 9 seconds away from my 5km PB.

The finish funnel had been honed to ensure that everyone was kept in order during peak periods and given the right position token. The solution was to keep runners in batches and take one batch at a time. During peak finishing times, batches were shepherded in parallel to ensure the finish funnel didn’t get overcrowded. This seemed to work well.

It wasn’t long until Robert and Geoff crossed the line. In the meantime, I caught up with Jo and Paul Sinton-Hewitt.

Before we headed home, we indulged in a rather tasty cooked breakfast.

Overall, a great trip and definitely interesting to see Bushy parkrun with its 2nd highest attendance of 994 runners. I crossed the line in position 344 in a confirmed time of 24:02.

I’m hoping to beat by 5km PB the next time I run at Southampton parkrun (most likely early November).

Alice Holt parkrun looks like its going to start on the 17th November and as I had involvement in the initial meeting with their local council, I hope to make their inaugural event. If possible, I’ll try and squeeze a visit in to Poole parkrun too.

Just looking forward to 2013 and the races I’m planning on doing, I’d like to focus on:

– Stubbington 10K – January – booked
– Eastleigh 10K – March
– Brighton Marathon – April – dependent on training and no injuries
– RVCP 10K – May
– Eastleigh Sprint Triathlon – July – booked
– Wyvern 10K – July
– Gosport Half Marathon – November (as long as it doesn’t clash with holiday)

It’s unlikely I’ll have the chance to do GSR in 2013 particularly as I’d like to consider doing an Olympic Triathlon of the Sprint Tri goes well.

Would love to hit the following targets in 2013:

5km – get closer to 23:20
10km – sub-49:00
Half marathon – sub 1:49:00
Marathon – sub 4 hours

It’s good to have a target!