I don't believe that running is for everyone. But I do believe that everyone should give it a try. That doesn't mean signing up for a marathon or putting your name down for an Ironman on some sunny island on the other side of the world. It can be as simple as going down to your local park on a Saturday morning. If you do that, you'll be imitating tens of thousands of people across the world who turn up at their local park for an event known as Parkrun.
Parkrun was founded in the U.K. in 2004 by Paul Sinton-Hewitt, a 43-year-old engineer and runner who was going through a rough time in his life. The first event had 13 runners, 3 volunteers, and was managed by Sinton-Hewitt himself. Now, it is a global phenomenon held in 21 countries, with close to 4 million runners registered. More than 51 million runs worldwide in more than 1,900 locations have taken place with the help of over 490,000 volunteers.
Impressive, right? But what is it that makes these runs different from regular running events? Simple: Parkrun events are managed by volunteers, are completely free and have no cut-off times. No long-term training plan required. No complex logistics or planning necessary. Just register once online to get your barcode, then show up at any event and run.
No need to be hesitant about who else will be there, either. These weekly events attract people of all different abilities. Club runners show up looking for a weekly challenge. Others that have never run before take part. Those who want a light jog in a pleasant location arrive, barcode in hand. At the end, each participant's barcode gets scanned and their result is emailed to them. There is no winner. There is no prize. There is no medal at the finish line. The only objective is for participants to have fun.
Not only are the people involved less intimidating to newcomers, the distance is too. Five kilometers is a distance that most people can run, jog or walk in a single stretch. It's enough to represent a challenge, but not enough to discourage a new runner from ever running again.
In Canada, Parkrun started in Kelowna and now takes place in more than twenty locations across the country. During the hot summers and the very cold winters people gather together, run, and often go for coffee after. Some places have made adjustments to their starting time, like in Florida where they start earlier in the morning. Other courses are adjusted to compensate for snowy or icy conditions in the winter.
The Parkrun community continues to grow. New locations are being added around the world, new participants are registering to take part, and more volunteers than ever are offering their time as a gift to their local community. It doesn’t matter whether you're someone looking to start running or an experienced runner who's on their fifth pair of running shoes. Why not give it a try?