Community Parkrun – free fun with friends

Parkrun – free fun with friends

Kanata park run at the scenic Beaver Pond Trail

How you can take part in the global phenomenon that’s gotten 5-million people running around the world … for free!

On any given Saturday morning, in parks across the country, there’s a diverse group of people of all different abilities enjoying themselves while running 5K. It’s free, it’s fun, it’s inclusive, and if you participate, you can make friends from all over the globe.

Linda Newton, along with her husband Keith, can attest to all of these elements of the healthy weekly gathering. The leaders of the Kanata park run who were living in London, England when they discovered parkrun, says, “…my parkrun barcode is my passport to a community wherever I travel.” Organized by volunteers, and run with an emphasis on community engagement (runners are encouraged to join the group post-run for coffee), parkrun, which is sponsored by Saucony though has a decidedly non-corporate feel, is opening running to a diverse group of people.  As volunteers for parkrun, Linda and Keith have experienced the rewards of this global phenomena—they travel with the friends they’ve made through the event gaining steam all over the world.

“We want to see everyone running, it doesn’t matter your abilities, and we get all sorts of people out every Saturday,” says Euan Bowman, the British-born, Vancouver-based country manager for parkrun Canada. “We can all benefit from a parkrun—from the exercise, from the camaraderie, from the fun. There are no strings attached.”  

iRun recently attended a parkrun with Linda and Keith on race weekend in Ottawa and it was love at first run. There were parents pushing running strollers, kids having the time of their life and runners using the event as their shake-out run before their race.

The park run barcode (right) issued with every free registration. Finisher tokens issued at the end of the run.

Parkrun is free—always—and enrolment is done online. Each person brings their personal bar code to the event and it’s scanned at the finish to coincide with a token issued at the end of the run. It’s like an arcade for runners and adds to the novel outdoor experience in a beautiful environment, free of judgment, free of stress.

“We want to provide a parkrun to every community that wants one,” says Euan Bowman. “I don’t see why Canada can’t have 500 events.”  

The total run time is synchronized with your check-in at the finish and the results are emailed to each participant. No need for timing mats or stop watches, as the timing can be done using a mobile phone on the event’s Virtual Volunteer app. Membership provides access to all parkrun events—regardless of your hometown. What’s more, there’s an all-call for volunteers to start new parkruns where they live. There’s no ceiling on how many people can participate. How many events can be held. How many lives can change.

“A parkrun will benefit any community and it’s a massively, hugely rewarding experience —addictive, some might say,” jokes Bowman, with a laugh. “Very few people, we’ve found, do just one. It’s like running in that way: when people just realize that it’s accepting and fun, why wouldn’t do something healthy with friends?”  

A few more parkrun tidbits you need: volunteers ensure that the course is accurately marked and marshalled, and there’s a code, worldwide, of which the parkrun ascribes: no runner is left behind. (Each event has its own “tailwalker,” who picks up the rear).

In Kanata, where the course runs through the scenic Beaver Pond Trail, there was no shortage of wildlife and smiles. Some runners went hard, racing the course; some went easy, trying to stay limber for their event the next day, and some just went at their own pace, talking about how lucky there were to spend the morning with friends in the post-run meet up at a local cafe.  

There are milestone shirts to mark the number of occasions a participant completes a parkrun. The colour-coded shirts to mark the occasion at fifty, one hundred, 250 and 500 events. Over the fifteen years of parkrun’s inception, there have been only a handful who wear the coveted dark blue 500th parkrun shirt.

Since the start in 2004 by founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt, there are over five million registered parkrun participants, who have logged a total distance of 237,255,688 kilometres in 1,863 parks with a grand total of running time worldwide of 2,828 years,177 days, 4 hours, 53 minutes and 5 seconds. Slightly shy of 10,000 participants in Canada, find the location closest to you at the 27 Parkrun locations, right here at home.

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Parkrun Kanata runners and volunteers