The Journal of Youth Running enjoys an international readership. From our subscribers as distant as New Zealand and South Africa, we have learned how parents, teachers and coaches promote youth running, be it for health or for sport. Perhaps the best model to date is titled parkrun. Parkrun was introduced in London, England, in 2004, and is now a worldwide phenomenon.
The simplicity of parkrun is what makes it a success. A 5K run every Saturday - starting at 9 a.m. local time - run on the same course each week - open to anyone - timed (each finisher’s time is recorded) - and free. No separate entry form for each run, no gender or age divisions, no t-shirts for entering, and no medals or trophies.
Today there are more than five million runners and walkers enrolled in parkrun with an “event” (not a run or a race) held every week at more than 2,000 locations worldwide. At last count, nearly 45 million runners and walkers have crossed the finish line in a parkrun, many having been counted more than a hundred times.
Although serious runners were the nucleus in the early years, it is the casual runners, the joggers, the walkers, young and old -- some even pushing a baby buggy -- that make parkrun the huge success it is. Many entrants are new to running when they join. Some come to run with friends or family. Some to run hard, to challenge themselves. To many, it is just about staying physically active. To move, to get outside, to run.
The parkrun website recently reported that more than 258 million kilometers have been logged in the parkrun since 2004. That number continues to climb as runners around the world cross the finish line every Saturday morning.
All runners need to do is register on the parkrun website, print out their personal barcode, and bring it to the run (often on a wrist band). They only need to register once, with the barcode being valid forever and for any parkrun in the world on any Saturday.
For many runners, being recorded each time as having crossed the finish line is what is most important. Why? Because runners who complete the "milestones" of 50, 100, 250 or 500 separate runs are awarded a color-coded T-shirt with the number on the back representing the “club” they are in -- the 50-Run Club or the 250-Run Club. See the photo. The guy in red.
There are multiple runners who have logged more than 400 Saturday morning run's and are still counting. That is completing a parkrun every Saturday for eight plus years!
The success of parkrun must be attributed to what they do, and not just what they don’t do – no gender or age divisions, no awards, etc. What they do, and do very well, is offer an atmosphere, an opportunity, to be part of something special – a “happening,” with people coming to the park to join the crowd, to be with family and friends, to just run.
Although parkrun is free of organized competition, many runners race to be the best they can be on that day, to set a new PR. For others, these are casual runs, free of the sense of urgency to cross the finish line. The reward, regardless of where they finish, is the sense of accomplishment, for making running part of their life. For many, a parkrun every Saturday is a multi-generational family tradition. Grandparents to grandchildren, getting outdoors, rain or shine, being healthy, alive, having fun.
The first parkrun in the US was held in Livonia, Michigan, in 2012. And yes, it took a few years for parkrun to gain a foothold. The organizers, all volunteers, now point to steady progress with the launching of new sites (events) every year. But there is still much to get done.
According to organizers, the emphasis of Parkrun USA is on creating healthy communities throughout the US, reflecting the full diversity of the country, and having a presence in big cities and small towns. This is a great vision, worthy of all runners’ support. Parkrun USA “ambassadors” are ready to provide the tools and guidance to help to make a start-up event possible.
For those living in areas where attracting a field of runners might be difficult, the format of a run every Saturday is still a great option. There is no need for sophisticated timing equipment or awards. And the cost of shirts with the number of “events” completed printed on the back is at least 50 weeks away.
The Journal of Youth Running is supported by the
MICHIGAN RUNNING FOUNDATION