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People all over the world are springing out of their beds (on weekends no less) to be a part of the run revolution, and now parkrun has stirred up a stampede of smiling runners locally…

When it was first posted in the Willoughby Living Facebook Group that parkrun was arriving in our neighbourhood, the positive response was one of the largest to date. Obviously many in the local community had already heard of this weekend venture where everyone runs together – in a park. But why all the excitement? Surely any of us could go running in any of our beautiful parks any time we wanted?

parkrun began in southwest London in 2004, and came to Australia a few years later. There are now 239 events in Australia, and over 1200 worldwide with over 3 million registered parkrunners. Willoughby parkrun launched in November 2016 and has now notched up 49 events. Its Co-Event Directors are Charlotte Black (who worked tirelessly to get the event off the ground), and Grant Berthold, who was only too happy (must be all those endorphins) to answer some questions on what makes this event so special.

Why do people love parkrun so much? There are lots of reasons! Although there are quick runners and course records to think about, the emphasis is on participation, community, fun and health. Some come to run, run faster, run with their friends/families, get fit or fitter, or meet other people in the area. It’s free, and it’s timed so you have a record of your results, and it’s always friendly. You can bring your kids, granny, dog, prams, wheelchairs – just come and be part of it. Walkers are very welcome, and many parkruns (like Willoughby) have regular participants with visual impairment or other challenges and volunteers that guide them around the course.

How did you become involved? A friend dragged me along to Bushy Park in London in 2004, when it was still called Bushy Park Time Trial, as a way to do some relatively faster and shorter runs for my long distance triathlon training. I only did a few in the UK before moving back to Sydney in 2011. I then did a few parkruns at Parramatta and St Peters before initially getting involved with Mosman parkrun. I moved over to Willoughby when it launched.

What is it about parkrun that incites such motivation and devotion? It’s for everyone, and (although there’s now a head office and team), it’s done week to week by everyone. It’s hundreds of localised, all slightly different events with the same friendly ethos, offering a free, timed, 5km run/walk event every Saturday. Some people plan their holidays around parkrun locations, and a few have been to every parkrun in their state, or Australia. We’re more about the fun than the run. Juniors get a free t-shirt after 10 runs (both my kids have them), while adults get them at 50, 100, 250, and 500 runs.

What should a new participant expect? Everyone needs to sign up online first, for free of course, and print out their barcode. We start at 7am, although most parkruns start at 8am depending on local conditions. There’s a briefing by the Run Director before the start and we call out new parkrunners and tourists from other parkruns. At the start you’ll notice people of all shapes, size, and demographics – from 4 year olds to 80+, visually impaired runners, prams, dogs, and in our case lots of under 16’s – they make up 20% of the field some weeks. Then you can run, walk, skip, or some combination thereof around the course. You collect your finish token at the end, and take that and your personal barcode to the scanning volunteer to record your result. Stay, chat, cheer on others, or maybe come for a coffee afterwards (we meet at The Incinerator Cafe), and eventually head home feeling great.

Will Junior parkrun be coming to Australia soon? Yes, it’s in the early stages at the moment. It will be separate volunteer teams, probably locations, and will be a 2km event on Sundays. You can visit https://www.facebook.com/juniorparkrunAU/ for more information.

How many parkruns are currently in Australia? 239 at last count, and with the recent financial backing of Medibank there will be dozens more in coming months. There are about five in the pipeline around Sydney. This website shows your nearest parkrun anywhere in the world: http://touristtool.mybluemix.net/

Are there ever any costs involved? No. It’s always free to join, and free to participate.

parkrun is staffed by volunteers – how do you get so many people to work for free? Like most volunteer activities it’s because people care about what it gives to others. Some are runners who know that without volunteers there would be no event for them, so they take their turn helping. Many events have regular volunteers who don’t run at all, who live locally and just want to help their community. We have a great team of Run Directors who take turns each week to put on the event, and a growing band of volunteers who marshal the course, do the timing, hand out tokens, and scan the barcodes. They are the lifeblood of parkrun.

Are there any particular parkrun moments that stand out for you? I love running, and have run 84 times at 22 different parkruns in Australia and the UK. It’s been great helping initially at Mosman parkrun, and joining the Willoughby event team just as it was launching and to see it become such a well-attended and supported event each week. The stand out for me is when I volunteer to hand out the finish tokens, and watching the different way people choose to finish the 5kms. There are flat-out sprints, big grins, high fives, cartwheels, kids out-sprinting their parents, friends holding hands, or just ambling along as they’ve done for the whole course. The achievement of doing 5kms means different things to different people – for some it’s just another week and another result, for others it’s their first time, or maybe they’ve set a new personal record, or they’ve overcome man flu, or a hangover, or something far more serious and didn’t think it would ever be possible.

Is there anything else that’s great about parkrun? Lots. There’s fresh air, exercise as tough or moderate as you want to make it, friends, you can explore Sydney/Oz finding other parkruns, or just parts of your local community you’d never noticed before. There have been many posts on parkrun Facebook Groups about people finding friends, confidence, and helping with physical and mental health issues. One parkrunning GP in the UK prescribes parkrun before medication for patients with anxiety or depression, with fantastic results. Because of the emphasis on participation and community rather than who can run the fastest, it encourages people to come along, and keep coming, and becomes a healthy, positive, and enjoyable way to start their weekend. People who might otherwise never put on running gear, or head to the park, or attempt 5kms venture out and might just find it life changing.

For more information visit http://www.parkrun.com.au/willoughby/ and once you’ve signed up and printed your barcode head down to Artarmon Reserve for a 7am start every Saturday morning.