Trade for prosperity

If you’re looking for some motivation to pull on a pair of trainers and head out for a run, why not check out Parkrun

Running is one of the UK’s most popular forms of exercise and is on the up. A survey by Our Sporting Life in 2010 found there were about two million people running at least once a week in the UK. By 2020, that same figure was an estimated six million.

The various lockdowns of the past two years have obviously helped to boost that figure, but the core benefits of running remain. It’s not only free, but you can do it pretty much anywhere and it burns more calories than any other form of mainstream exercise. According to the NHS, regular running can reduce your risk of long-term illnesses such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke and also helps to boost your mood and keeps your weight under control.

But while those benefits are easy to recognise, having the motivation to pull on a pair of trainers and head out for a run can be rather tougher. Which is where the genius idea of Parkrun comes in. If you’re not familiar with it, Parkrun is a simple, organised event that runs each week at numerous parks and open spaces around the UK. Run by local volunteers, every Saturday there is an organised 5k event (just over three miles in old money) that you can run, jog or even walk and then on Sundays there is a 2k event (just under one and half miles) for juniors aged four to 14.

If you’re not up for running, then you can also volunteer in various roles, as Parkrun is all about inclusiveness and wellbeing. They want as many people as possible to be brought together by Parkrun events and feel part of the local community. It’s been such a success that there are now Parkrun events on 20 countries globally each Saturday and Sunday.

Parkrun started on 2 October 2004 with just 13 runners at the first ever event at Bushy Park in Teddington, Middlesex. It took two years before the event spread beyond that location, but now there have been more than 187,000 Parkrun events in the UK and they are in 754 different locations worldwide. More than 2.5 million runners have now completed a Parkrun.

“I’ve been doing Parkruns on and off for six years now and only began because one started on our local common,” explains Tom Webster from South London. “It was the first organised run I had done, but now I’ve completed 65 Parkrun events in total in 15 different locations. My wife and I stopped going briefly when we had children, but then started again in 2018 and have been going ever since.

“There’s a mix of reasons why I keep going back. I don’t have any pre-set organised exercise events such as gym classes, but you know it always starts at 9am, it’ll take around 45 minutes in total and there’ll be lots of other people there so there’s always a great atmosphere. It motivates you to get up and out to do a run, plus once you’re there and doing it it’s also motivating to keep up your pace as everyone else is running too. Compared to going out on my own, I’m much more likely to keep going and press on rather than have a breather if I feel like it.”

The beauty of Parkrun events is that if you don’t feel up to running or are just starting out, then you can also walk the course too. If you haven’t been active for a while, then starting out by walking is always a good idea to build your fitness level up slowly (see our feature on walking on page 181).

It’s crucial to get a good pair of running shoes that are right for you though, not just the pair that you like the look of in the shop. There are now plenty of specialist running shops who will be able to assess your feet and your running style and recommend the best pair for you. In some cases, they may even be able to fit custom-made in-soles that are specially moulded to your feet for extra support.

Also, as good as these running shoes will be, their cushioning effect and benefits do break down and weaken over time, so you should aim to replace them around every 300-400 miles. Obviously if you’re doing a regular route or distance, then that’s easy to work out roughly when that should be, although you should also keep a close eye on the tread on the base of the shoe before then. If that tread is soft or breaking down, then it’s time for a new pair.

Although you don’t necessarily need any specialist clothing for running, you should wear a comfortable lightweight top and pair of shorts, while women should also consider a sports bra which is sturdier than a regular bra and will provide extra support. Compared to walking, running places a higher load on the knees and joints, but it does cause them to adapt and grow stronger by building new cartilage. If you need additional ankle or knee support, then ask your local pharmacy about the range of support that different braces can offer.

When you start out running it’s important to warm up slowly beforehand and also ease yourself into the distances too. It’s tempting to go too far too early and either injure yourself or become disheartened due to muscle ache in the following days. Once you’ve warmed up, while you can start running immediately if you’re new to running then try walking and running alternately. Then, as you become more accustomed to it, you can extend the running part and shorten the walking section until you feel you can run constantly.

As well as not pushing yourself too hard too early, it’s important to keep your initial runs short to allow your body and muscles to adapt. And, just as before your run, when you get home make sure you spend a few minutes on some cool down stretches.

If you can go running with a friend of the same ability, then that’s a great motivating factor, otherwise things like the Couch to 5K programme is a good way of how to build up your time spent running as well as your distance. Once you’ve got a basic level of fitness, then you’ll be able to vary your distance, pace and also your routes or even consider joining a running club or regularly attending organised events such as Parkrun.

The beauty of Parkrun is really its simplicity. You just register for free on the website, sign up for a barcode which has an emergency contact number on it, print that out and you’re ready to go. There are briefings just before the start, so you need to be on time for that and then you’ll be handed a second barcode at the finish which, once scanned along with your start code, gives you your finishing time. Everyone starts at the same time but there are no ankle chips as with some events, hence the reason for the barcode scanning.

The courses themselves vary from place to place as do the numbers they attract. Although the original Bushy Park location is usually the most popular, numbers for each Parkrun can vary from 100 up to 1000, with the city-based ones tending to be busier. The good news though is that the numbers of Parkruns are growing all the time, so if there isn’t one nearby to you now – and they’re easily searched for on the website from Land’s End to Thurso in Scotland and beyond – then there may well be soon.

Some Parkruns have specific rules involving running with dogs and any children under 11 (if they’re not doing the junior runs), but these are always covered in the briefing. Some courses are also flatter than others leading to better times though it’s best to think of it as a run rather than a race. Others set themselves challenges to cover as many different Parkrun locations as possible with many runners getting into the hundreds.

Ultimately, it’s easier to find a reason to attend a Parkrun and give it a go for the first time than it is to find a reason not to. The chances are there will be at least one of them close by to you, if not more, while it’s a great opportunity to get out in the fresh air, meet new people and get some exercise. Even if you only decide to walk the course rather than run it, then nobody is there to judge you, everyone is there just to have fun. After all, 2.5 million people can’t be wrong.

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