Free, and open to everyone, parkrun has gripped millions across the globe since its inception in 2004. So much so that every Saturday morning there are now some 250,000 people eagerly lined up to start their timed 5km run in more than 1700 different locations across 23 nations on five continents. There is even a growing contingent using these events as an excuse to travel the world. Will you soon be one of them?
How parkrun began
Amateur club runner Paul Sinton-Hewitt was injured and dealing with depression in 2004 when he came up with an idea to help pull himself from the darkness – organising a weekly 5km time trial in nearby Bushy Park, London, as a way of spending time with his beloved running mates. Things soon fell into place and on the 2nd of October that year the first event took place, with 13 runners and three volunteers. Over the next couple of years word spread and the number of those taking part grew quickly, leading to the start of a second weekly 5km time trial in Wimbledon Common in 2007. By the end of that year there were six more sites across England, and one in Zimbabwe. The number of runs continued to blossom in the UK and by the end of 2012 there were also events in Denmark, Australia, Poland, South Africa, Ireland, New Zealand and the USA.
Running, not racing: parkrun is a story of inclusivity and simplicity
With no entry fees or run-day registration required, taking part could not be simpler. It’s just a matter of registering once with parkrun online and then printing out a single barcode that you can use week in, week out, at any parkrun event. Simply rock up a few minutes before the start, listen to some directions from the jovial volunteers and then get moving. After finishing your 5km you’ll receive an email and/or text with your time.
A key point is that these 5km time trials are not races, but participation-led events designed to get people out and moving on Saturday mornings. It’s all about the participation and personal progress, whether using a wheelchair, pushing a baby stroller or chasing your overly-fit grandmother. Rewards aren’t given to the fastest runners, but rather to those who’ve completed memorable numbers of parkruns – free ‘milestone’ T-shirts are bestowed on those who’ve finished their 50th, 100th, 250th and 500th runs. That said, if you want to go for broke in hopes of lowering your personal best 5km time, you’ll have plenty of people to cheer you on too.
Become a ‘tourist’ at a parkrun
Somehow both jovial and low-key, the welcoming atmosphere at parkruns has led regular participants to seek the feel-good vibe further and further from home. Some even work these runs into their holidays abroad, while others go so far as to organise their foreign vacations around exotic-sounding parkruns. The popularity of combining parkruns with travel has led UK-based tour operator Exodus to start integrating the events into a number of its adventure itineraries.
Anyone who has travelled to a parkrun is termed a ‘tourist’, and organisers like to heap adoration on those who’ve ventured the furthest to be at each event.
Complete a local or global challenge to join a novel club
Some runners choose to combine travel and parkruns to complete unique challenges, such as undertaking a run in a country beginning with each letter of the alphabet, thus becoming an ‘Alphabeteer’. Those who manage to finish all the parkruns in London will have accomplished a ‘Lon-done’, while runners who’ve taken part in 250 different global events become part of the Freyne club.
10 notable parkruns to try around the globe
Bushy Park, London, England
No parkrun round-up could be complete without the run that started it all. Held in London’s second-largest Royal Park, the route meanders through the scenic leafy fields of what was once King Henry VIII’s hunting grounds.
Crissy Field, San Francisco, USA
On clear days this bay-side run through Crissy Field takes you out towards the iconic sight that is the Golden Gate Bridge, while the return leg offers views of the unique San Francisco skyline, Alcatraz and the beautiful Palace of Fine Arts.
Kangaroo Island, Australia
The epic coastal scenery and wonderful wildlife – wallabies, kangaroos, seals and even koalas – on this South Australian island make its parkrun more than memorable.
Portrush, Northern Ireland
Running on sand is as much hard work as it is romantic, and this entire parkrun takes place on the soft stuff at the beach of Whiterocks. Runners are rewarded with views of the headland of Giant’s Causeway, the Skerries islands and Dunluce Castle.
While starting and finishing in the Polish town of Ciesyn, this parkrun actually takes in two countries as it crosses into the Czech Republic while skirting the banks of the River Olza.
East Coast Park, Singapore
Dodge Buddhist monks on this early morning parkrun in Singapore’s East Coast Park. It starts at 7.30am to avoid the worst of the day’s heat.
Runners here complete three gorgeous laps along trails in the National Trust property of Colby Woodland Garden, which sits in an eastern valley of Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.
Root44, Cape Winelands, South Africa
This parkrun is through a wine estate in the Western Cape's famous Winelands region, and it boasts grand views over the vineyards to mountains beyond.
Whistler, British Columbia, Canada
Circumnavigating Lost Lake, this parkrun takes place on forest trails at the base of Whistler, North America’s largest ski resort.
Main Beach, Queensland, Australia
The first of Australia’s 350 plus parkruns, it’s still one of the nation’s best. The popular course is along a scenic section of beach on the Gold Coast.