Run, walk, jog or volunteer – parkrun is for anyone and everyone.
2023 will mark the 15th-year anniversary of parkrun in Scotland. Founded in 2004 by Paul Sinton-Hewitt MBE at Bushy Park in London, parkrun has now expanded to more than 2,000 locations in 23 countries across six continents – 67 and counting in Scotland. The five-kilometre events for walkers, runners and volunteers take place every Saturday morning and offer new opportunities and challenges for participants as well as the chance for people to take part in free, inclusive, regular physical exercise – something that has never been more important amid the cost of living crisis and with health care services at breaking point.
Recent research has revealed that two in five people have reported the cost of living crisis as having an impact on their ability to take part in physical activity. Now, according to Stinton-Hewitt, parkrun is more important and vital than ever before: “It doesn’t matter who you are, what your ability level is, how old you are, where you came from, what your background is; and all participation at parkrun is equal – walk, jog, run, volunteer.” 2022 saw 50,000 events in the UK for the first time ever in a calendar year, with the eight millionth person registered for parkrun. It prides itself on the “power of community” and the belief that physical activity should be enjoyed, and time spent outside in the company of others prioritised and celebrated, rather than considered essential to burn calories.
There are so many reasons why people take part in parkrun, from using it as a way to keep active and motivated, an opportunity to visit new places and travel or for injury recovery and regaining strength and fitness. For me, I started doing parkrun as a way to regularly spend time with family and build up my fitness again as I wanted to start swimming competitively again after almost three years out of the pool. Despite hating running with a burning passion and unable to complete even two kilometres without feeling violently ill, I pushed through and persevered week after week.
I’ll admit that even though I dragged myself out of my bed on a Saturday morning, I really didn’t want to be standing in the middle (towards the back) of a field of keen runners, just waiting for the moment that my younger brother lapped me and my cousin went flying past pushing a pram with her six-month old son it. However, I found that parkrun was addictive. I didn’t want to miss out. It took me around three months before I finally started to enjoy taking part in the five-kilometre dash. Every time I ran, I was running further without feeling like I could throw up at any second, my time was dropping drastically, and I awaited the next challenge, slowly counting up my parkruns until the next milestone and t-shirt (a major bonus!).
After a summer of my dad (my biggest motivator, without a doubt) and I travelling across Scotland to visit different parkruns, each one unique and exciting, my next personal goal was to not break the habit when I return to university and the winter months begin to draw in. I’m pleased to say that I kept up my parkrun streak, thanks to my parents, aunt, cousins and friends who have continued to accompany me on my running journey, picking me up from bus stations at silly times in the morning to visit a new parkrun, taking me out for a post-parkrun breakfast (another perk!) or driving through to Glasgow so I can have a lie-in after a week of morning swimming sessions.
But, if you’re like former me, who loved a good walk and hated the thought of moving at speed, parkrun can still be for you. In October, parkrun introduced parkwalk, a five-kilometre walk following the same route and at the same time as parkrun, as a way of encouraging more people to get involved and enable goals and improvements to be made for people who are not keen on running but still want to get involved, the emphasis is further placed on the community and feeling the benefits of being outside with other people.
The advantages of parkrun, whether that be socially, mentally or physically, and the impact that it has had on local areas and the lives and livelihoods of participants cannot be understated as thousands of people continue to show up every Saturday morning for their weekly dose. While 9.30am on a Saturday morning may not be the ideal time for students, I’ve seen so many students braving all weather conditions to make a productive start to the day and reduce stress through exercise. With several locations around the Glasgow area, including parkrun at Ruchill Park, on the doorstep on Murano Street Student Village, and Victoria Park in Hyndland, as well as others that are easily accessible by bus or subway, there are many opportunities for UofG students to get involved as use parkrun as way of stepping away from university work and being outdoors surrounded by others. As I am on my way to achieving 50 parkruns, I am shocked by the benefits that parkrun has offered me. The amount of progress that I have made in such a short space of time (nine minutes in nine months) has astounded me and provided me with the motivation to use this initiative to my benefit. Parkrun is truly for everyone.