Through the early morning mist you could just make out some movement. Faint rustlings can be heard from the gathering masses. This is Bushy Park in South west London and this is parkrun, the brainchild of founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt. Teddington’s Royal Park offers a haven to dog walkers and cyclists, but undoubtedly the masters of this suburban retreat are the Parks Royal deer. Rutting season may well be over for another year but the Fallow and Red deer roam majestically as the rightful Lords of this Manor. On this and every Saturday morning since October 2004 another herd takes centre stage as world class athletes rub shoulders with running enthusiasts of all descriptions.
Having recently celebrated its 8th anniversary, parkrun is many things to many different runners. From its humble beginnings of 13 local enthusiasts, the field usually attracts in excess of 600 devotees and occasionally over 1000. Gratis to enter, all that is required to is an email address for results and a printed bar code which entitles entry to run at any of the events. Parkrun now boasts 150 different venues, from Aberdeen to Exeter in the UK, or for the more adventurous runs in South African venues, USA, and even one at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan.
Run times vary hugely each week as buggy pushing fathers can go head-to-head with their athletic heroes and heroines. The course record for men is a staggering 13m 48s set by Andy Baddeley. The women's record is no less shabby, England’s Justina Heslop setting a new best of 15m58s in 2011.
If a slice of star gazing is what you’re after Great Britain’s double Olympic champion Mo Farah is an occasional participant. But this is anything but an exclusive training session. Far from it. What other sport allows, and in fact encourages participation from the Average Joe?
All British parkruns start at 9 a.m. and congregating near the Diana Fountain car park the leaders head off down the wide tree lined expanses of Chestnut Avenue, for a stunning opening to this 5km charge. As the elite head off into the distance, the masses thunder along in their own private run against themselves, as they complete a breathless first kilometre. Onwards they blast towards the halfway mark and the Hampton Wick Royal Cricket Club. Swinging past the glorious splendour of Hampton Court Palace, there’s no time for sight- seeing as the Diana Fountain is now back in view again and you’re almost home.
The combination of running community and competitive edge spur everyone on in the final dash for the line. Volunteers usher you through the finish funnel and barcode checkout. Job done.
Parkrun represents for some an opportunity for a speedy threshold session, for others a way to spend some much valued family-time and others still a way back into some level of fitness and fun. Wherever your local Saturday morning run is make it whatever you need it to be and just enjoy. As runners, what better way can there be to kick-off a weekend outdoors?
by Bernie Howley.