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Up and Running

The worldwide phenomenon Parkrun UK has just turned 15. LIAM HEADD joined the runners at Greenham, where Newbury parkrun celebrated its 400th run in the summer, to find out why it is so popular

Liam Headd

Liam Headd

liam.headd@newburynews.co.uk

Contact:

01635 886629

Up and Running

ON October 2, 2004, a new event made its debut at Bushy Park, Teddington, London and nobody could have imagined then how big it would become.

Parkrun is a free 5km running event, which takes place every Saturday morning at more than 1,400 locations in
23 countries across five continents.

It was founded by Paul Sinton-Hewitt and originally started off as a series of events called UK Time Trials, before adopting its current name in 2008.

As a result of its phenomenal success, Mr Sinton-Hewitt was appointed a CBE in 2014, for services to Grassroots Sport Participation.

The first Newbury parkrun took place on February 11, 2012, at Greenham Common, which every Saturday morning is now filled with runners of all ages and abilities. Greenham is one of 89 parkruns in the South East of England.

One of the race directors of the Newbury run, Jeff Bird, is delighted to see the large numbers that turn out every Saturday.
He said: “We have between 500 and 600 people that come out each week and it’s grown a lot this year, which is good because it normally drops off after January.

“Anyone can run, it’s not aimed at anyone in particular,” he said. “We have dog walkers, people with pushchairs and people aged from four or five right up to their 70s and 80s.”

Taking part is simple. Once you have registered online you print off a unique barcode, which is scanned each week along with a token, which is handed to you as you cross the finish line. The results are posted on the website where you can then track your progress. You can use your barcode at any parkrun in the world. Every parkrun is organised in the same way. The only person you are racing is yourself.

To find out more about parkrun Newbury visit www.parkrun.org.uk/newbury/ 

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One person who played a pivotal role in bringing parkrun to Newbury was Rachael Elliott.

Rachael began her involvement back in 2005 when the first event took place in London’s Bushy Park. After many Saturday mornings spent in London, Rachael was keen to see if parkrun could take off in Newbury.

“The first person I spoke to was Paul Hendry from West Berkshire Council and he thought that it was a brilliant concept. “By then, it had evolved because it was getting people involved within the community and it’s about making friendships – it’s not all about the running.”

“Greenham seemed the obvious place to do it, but there were a lot of stakeholders who have ownership of the common.
“In order to set it up, we had to devise a course which didn’t go into areas where there were restrictions.

“I had to present the idea to different people involved with the common and it was difficult because some of them didn’t understand the concept.”

But Rachael got the green light and with a small team, they prepared for the first parkrun event. “For the first event, I wanted to get an inaugural parkrun record and I used my contacts to get people to come a long.”

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However, things didn’t look good as Newbury was hit with heavy snow leading up to the run. “There was six inches of snow on the course and I thought it was going to be a complete write-off,” said Rachael. “I bought about 20 bags of grit, but it only covered about 20m of the course. “We had to tell people that there was loads of snow and they would be running at their own risk, but we still got over 300 people who took part.

“It’s built up and now there’s a whole team of people who run it,” she said. “I attended every week when it was first set-up because we had a small team. But it’s grown well and it’s also great to see all of the different running groups who have spawned off it.”

It has now completely taken off in Newbury, with around 550 runners taking part every Saturday.

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It’s a big rise on the 317 that turned out for the first one back in 2012 and Rachael isn’t surprised by the increase. She said: “I always thought it would get bigger because word-of-mouth is brilliant and we could see it growing all the time.

“It’s a mainstream concept in many people’s lives and it encourages everyone to come out and take part. I am pleased it has got like this and the team do a great job.”

Rachael praised the efforts of the volunteers, who play a huge part in making the run enjoyable every week.

“The volunteering is crucial and it’s a major part. I’d encourage anyone to volunteer because it is really fun and I felt it was more enjoyable than running. You get to meet new friends and the social aspect, as well as the health benefit of it all is fantastic.”

To read personal stories of why people took up running click here

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