10 years ago, a guy in England invited a few friends to turn up and run round a park with him. 13 turned up that day. Now parkrun has over 500,000 people registered across 350 venues and can't keep up with demand from several new countries. Every Saturday morning at 9:30am in Belfast over 500 people alone take part in a timed parkun.
There are 5 parkruns in Belfast:
Each parkrun is FREE to run, and managed by local volunteers and community groups. Parkruns are runs and not races, catering for all ages and abilities. They are friendly and often with refreshments provided at the finish for all the runners that increases the social dimension. Runners need only turn up minutes before the start, with often everything put up and taken down within an hour, leaving no trace. Interestingly most runners are not club runners. Many are social and beginner runners who enjoy running as part of a large group in their local parks, which are often quite scenic.
People register online for free and are given a barcode and a unique ID number, which they then print out. Upon completing the run, runners are timed and given a chip which denotes their position (e.g. 1st, 10th, etc). Runners then give their chip and printed barcode to a scanner who scans both their position and ID. At the end of the race volunteers upload the split times and the scanned results, this then syncs up and produces a results page populated with names, times and background info (e.g. the number of runs, persons age range, PB, and % against world age-group best). Each participant is then emailed with their run time and run statistics.
As with all great ideas, the genius of parkrun is in its simplicity. Run in parks, managed by volunteers, informal yet friendly and open to all. The real magic is in recording the results and therefore the progress of each run and runner. Originally this was done by hand with names written on paper, but this soon became impractical to the stage where it is now a fully fledged online operation. By recording results, parkrun can state clearly how many people run each week, how fast they go, etc with having all their personal details (e.g. age, gender, address, club). In an increasingly analytical driven world this data is robust, priceless and unique, especially in the sports/social running sphere.
Viewed as a health programme, a social economy model, sports occasion, volunteer opportunity or a community event parkrun has proven itself a success. It has done this with little help from governing bodies and its journey is an interesting one, well worth exploring. I would strongly urge you to visit, run or volunteer at a parkrun to fully understand the fun, friendliness and effort around the events which make them so great. Most importantly we should acknowledge Matt Shields who brought parkrun to Northern Ireland and then throughout the island of Ireland, as a volunteer. There are 5 in Belfast, 15 in NI with numbers growing all the time.... so what's keeping you!
To find out more about how parkrun was set up in Northern Ireland and how it is expanding across Ireland read this article