Parkrun goes the distance in Glasgow

30 April 2019

Photograph: Jacob Nicol

Runners and volunteers explain why parkrun has become a runaway success in Scotland

It is 9.30am on a Saturday morning, and the rain is pelting down at Pollok Park. Yet despite these hurdles, a crowd of around 300 runners have left their warm beds to gather a short distance away from the Burrell Collection. They are listening to Rhoda Yarmahmoudi, this week’s Pollok parkrun director, who is making announcements through a megaphone.

“I would like you to know that it takes at least 20 volunteers to get this show on the road, so a big hand for them.” There is a large round of applause from the runners. “Especially when they come out in weather like this and cheer you on, so really, thank you.” There is another thunderous round of applause. “Today Helen Craig is our tail-walker and it’s actually her 25th time volunteering!” Cue further applause.

When taking part in this weekly event, there is a real sense of community. What is remarkable is that this camaraderie revolves around the simple concept of a five kilometre timed run. The story of parkrun in Scotland is one of sustained growth and popularity. The first Scottish parkrun took place in Pollok Park in 2008, with only 44 runners and seven volunteers. In the last decade, parkrun has expanded to 46 different locations in Scotland, six of which are in Glasgow.

Search the map below to get more information on the different parkrun locations and routes in Glasgow.

There appear to be several explanations for the continued success of parkrun. First and foremost, it is an event that aims to be as inclusive as possible. At this week’s Pollok parkrun, people of all ages were running side by side. Anyone can participate in parkrun, even dogs, as long as they are kept on a short leash.

Scotland parkrun Lead Ambassador Liz Corbett believes that much of the success of parkrun is due to this communal atmosphere. “It is a community event, we have families, mum, dad, children, who all run together on a Saturday morning. There are very few events that you can do that in. Especially ones that are free.”

Runner Pamela Joss shares this sentiment. “Someone described it to me as having replaced going to church on a Sunday. There are people who are your parkrun friends.”

Liz Corbett delivers a briefing to parkrun newcomers. Photograph: Jacob Nicol

The only competitive element of parkrun is trying to beat your ‘Personal Best’, which is your previous fastest completion of the 5k course. Every runner who registers on the parkrun website is provided with a barcode, which is printed out and scanned by a volunteer at the finish line, along with a finish token. The time of each runner is then put on the parkrun website, allowing runners to track their progress each week.

Corbett believes that the regularity of parkrun and the ability to measure your progress is another reason for its continued success. “The records are all there online, so you can look and see how you’ve progressed or regressed. People like to see how fast they’ve been and check how many parkruns they’ve done.”

Volunteer Campbell Joss said: “It caters for all standards obviously, but you’ve people who started the parkrun who had never run before and then became club runners. So it can be a stepping stone into mainstream athletics for some people.”

The runners walk to the start line. Photograph: Jacob Nicol

However, you do not need to be particularly athletic to take part in parkrun. “We’ve been trying to be more welcoming to people who wouldn’t perhaps be lycra-clad fast runners,” said Corbett. “We don’t talk about ‘winners’, we talk about ‘first finishers’. Instead of having a tail-runner, we have a tail-walker. That means that nobody is ever last.”

There are also many people involved with parkrun who volunteer regularly instead of running. “People of all ages volunteer, some young people use it as part of their Duke of Edinburgh.” said Joss. “The people who do volunteer all enjoy doing it, and they’re encouraged to cheer on the runners, which you wouldn’t normally get at a Scottish athletics event!”

Corbett believes that parkrun would not be possible without the dedication of the parkrun volunteers. “It’s a volunteer-led organisation and people are literally doing it for themselves. There must be enough people who really want it to happen, because otherwise you wouldn’t have the volunteers to sustain it.”

Volunteers sort out the finish position tokens. Photograph: Jacob Nicol

Another benefit of parkrun is the wide selection of different places to do it. Runner Blythe Lindsey, who completed her 50th parkrun this week, said: “I’ve been to 25 different locations to do parkrun. It’s the same set up no matter where you are. You can go for a day out and it’s taken me back to visit places where I haven’t been since I was a child, which is really nice.”

Runner Tom Keenan has run in various parkruns around the world, from Washington, USA to Wellington, New Zealand. “You can just turn up and the barcode system works. Most people print off their barcode to get scanned, but I wear this wristband with my parkrun barcode on it. The results just appear! I’m not saying it’s magic, but it’s all well-thought out.”

In Glasgow, parkruns have become so popular that at times there are too many runners for the course. Corbett said: “We can control them, but it makes it uncomfortable sometimes, with the shuffling start meaning many runners can’t shoot off and get a Personal Best.”

She added: “It depends on the parkrun course because there is a spread in Glasgow. So, Drumchapel gets maybe about 50 to 60 runners every week, whereas Pollok can get 400 to 500 runners, depending on the weather and the time of year.”

With the ever-increasing popularity of parkrun, there are plans to expand the number of parkruns in Glasgow. “Currently, we are looking at starting up a new parkrun at Queen’s Park,” said Corbett. “We also are looking at one at Whitelee Wind Farm, and looking for parks or other open spaces in the north of the city to get some new parkruns started there.”

If you are interested in taking part in a parkrun, you can register at parkrun.org.uk/register.

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