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On The Run: Carl Marston looks back on 13 years of Parkrun

PUBLISHED: 13:00 13 October 2017

The first Clare Castle Parkrun, staged two weeks ago on September 30.  Picture: ANDY ABBOTT

The first Clare Castle Parkrun, staged two weeks ago on September 30. Picture: ANDY ABBOTT

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Last Saturday marked the 13th anniversary of Parkrun, a running fever that has swept the country and has been going from strength-to-strength in Suffolk and Essex.

The scenic backdrop of the Clare Castle Parkrun, one of the newest additions to the world of Parkrun.  Picture: ANDY ABBOTT The scenic backdrop of the Clare Castle Parkrun, one of the newest additions to the world of Parkrun. Picture: ANDY ABBOTT

I have been trying my hand at a few of these non-competitive 5K runs, both locally and further afield, in recent weeks, and I can see how they can become addictive, both with runners keen to support their local event, every Saturday, and with the so-called ‘tourists’ who swarm across the country in search of new Parkruns each weekend.

It all began at Bushy Park, in Teddington, West London, not too far away from Hampton Court, where 13 hardy souls congregated for the first Parkrun (known then as a time-trial) on October 2, 2004.

Naturally, the event took a while to really catch on. The entry was down to 11 for the third week, but the first anniversary was marked by the first 100-plus field on October 1, 2005.

Of course the Bushy Parkrun, the ‘Daddy’ of all subsequent Parkruns, is continuing to blossom.

A field of 1,000 runners was achieved for the first time at the 392nd staging, on January 2, 2012, and last Saturday’s 13th anniversary event saw a massive field of 1,465 at Bushy Park. It was event No. 701.

I got in touch with the event headquarters during the week, to get a flavour of what is behind the magic of Parkrun.

Paul Sinton-Hewitt CBE, the Founder of Parkrun, explained: “When 13 runners and a handful of volunteers got together in London’s Bushy Park in 2004, never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that Parkrun would now be the biggest running event on the planet and one of the world’s largest providers of volunteering opportunities.

“This phenomenal growth shows how Parkrun has captured the imagination of millions of people globally, but what’s more important to us than the big numbers is the impact we are having. More so than ever we are reaching out to sections of society that are the least likely be involved with physical activity and volunteering,and yet have the most amount to gain from it.

“If we are to realise our ambition to create a healthier and happier planet then it’s vital that we continue to break down the barriers to people walking, running and volunteering at parkruns, and redefining what it means to be physically active.”

On a national scale, there are now 475 Parkruns over a 5K distance in the UK, with an additional 184 Junior Parkruns (for four to 14 year-olds) held over 2K.

Globally, there are now 1,250 Parkruns, with new events starting every weekend.

As Sinton-Hewitt revealed: “We are launching our 18th country this weekend with Finland joining, and Germany is set to start before Christmas.”

Closer to home, Clare Castle Parkrun is the ‘new kid on the block.’ The seventh event to be set-up in Suffolk, it’s inaugural meeting was two weekends ago, when 208 runners turned up on September 30.

Here is a run-down of the (5K) Parkruns in our region:

SUFFOLK

IPSWICH (Chantry Park): 265 events, first one on September 8, 2012 (debut field of 95)

BRANDON COUNTRY PARK: 241 events, first one on March 9, 2013 (57)

BURY ST EDMUNDS (Nowton Park): 222 events, first one on June 29, 2013 (160)

GREAT CORNARD (Gt Cornard Sports Centre): 191 events, first one on March 1, 2014 (65)

KESGRAVE (Millennium Field): 163 events, first one on September 20, 2014 (164)

LOWESTOFT (Lowestoft Promenade): 102 events, first one on October 31, 2015 (199)

CLARE CASTLE (Clare Castle Country Park): 2 events, first one on September 30, 2017 (208)

NORTH-ESSEX

CHELMSFORD CENTRAL (Central Park): 252 events, first one on January 19, 2013 (debut field of 82)

COLCHESTER CASTLE (Castle Park): 237 events, first one on April 6, 2013 (128)

MALDON (Maldon Promenade Park): 218 events, first one on August 31, 2013 (144)

GREAT NOTLEY (Great Notley Country Park): 176 events, first one on June 28, 2014 (230)

HARWICH (Cliff Park): 119 events, first one on August 1, 2015 (65)

CLACTON SEAFRONT: 52 events, first one on October 15, 2016 (156)

MERSEA ISLAND (Cudmore Grove, East Mersea): 43 events, first one on Decemer 17, 2016 (195)

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