Happy ninth birthday parkrun

By Paul Sinton-Hewitt, parkrun founder
— Tuesday 8 October 2013

Today we are nine years old! Happy birthday parkrun.

Who would have imagined on that first day nine years ago as 13 folks lined up to run the inaugural event that we would now be overseeing over 45,000 runs a week and have in excess of 630,000 parkrunners registered. Even more mind-blowing is the fact that each week over 4,000 volunteers take the time to make this all possible.

Looking back over the past nine years there are many highlights that come to mind. Starting our second event in January 2007 required a great deal of guts and determination not to mention a little gentle persuasion from my close friend Jim Desmond. Leaving my ‘baby’, Bushy parkrun, in the hands of another good friend Duncan Gaskell, I headed over to Wimbledon to begin the parkrun expansion program. Allowing some 12 weeks to see if the project would be successful, I eventually walked away after six weeks when Ian Higgins and his team stepped up to take on the challenge of running this event. The principle of volunteering at parkrun was born.

That was 2007, the year when we grew to seven events. Included in this list is another memorable moment, starting Leeds parkrun. This was a point at which paths were crossed, friends made and lives changed. Tom Williams and Paul Tilley came down from Leeds University to discuss the potential of a parkrun in their city and Tom has since become a good friend and gone on to become parkrun UK’s Managing Director.

Reviewing the list of events that we started I have fond memories of some great courses and of meeting the finest people you could ever wish to meet. In fact, it would be wrong to call these folks friends because the way I am treated when I bump into them these days is like family.

Wimbledon parkrun has been a hotbed for influential meetings for me as it was there that I met Jonathan Sydenham, the pioneer who singlehandedly started parkrun in Denmark. It’s also the place where I sat down with Tim Oberg who has since driven the growth of parkrun in Australia and my relationship with adidas was also born at Wimbledon parkrun.

There are many significant moments that have contributed to the growth of parkrun, probably too many to recall today. But it would not be right to leave it there. There is my friend and colleague Bruce Fordyce, a legend in his own right long before parkrun and now the person spearheading a mini-revolution in South Africa. Jakub Federowicz who first ran at Newcastle parkrun has taken the concept to his home country of Poland and is fighting against the odds to make it successful there. Matt Shields is forging a parkrun path in Ireland while Lian De Charmoy is doing the same in New Zealand. A chance meeting online with Rick Brauer has led to the beginnings of a parkrun family in the USA.

Leaving all that aside for a moment and reflecting on that first event nine years ago, I remember feeling nervous. What if it didn’t work? What if the folks got lost? Then I remembered it’s just a simple run around the park with your mates. This remains the principle of parkrun. Of course we offer a great deal more, the volunteer teams always strive to make their event the best they can, but in truth when you line up at your parkrun next Saturday all that matters is a 5k run with your mates and having a bit of fun doing so.

Hugh Brasher, the London Marathon Race Director, once said to me that parkrun was the second most important thing to happen to running in the UK. The Marathon was a turning point that saw the average person take up distance running and he said that parkrun would have a similar effect. Looking back, the evidence is that he has been right so far, but lets not be complacent because for every person doing parkrun there are thousands who are not.
My goal is for there to be a parkrun in every town or village that wants one.

Have a great birthday party on Saturday, it will be a global celebration with all eight countries taking part. I hope that many of you will get involved by making short 30 second videos of your experience and uploading these to social media channels alongside the hashtag #loveparkrun.
Thank you for your involvement with parkrun, you are the folks making the difference.

Paul Sinton-Hewitt, founder

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