THIS JANUARY Heslington acquired its very own parkrun. Parkrun is a collective of locally organised five-kilometre runs taking place on five continents and in eighteen countries every Saturday, free of charge and open to everyone.
Runners register online, and the only thing one needs to bring is a printed version of the barcode one is given upon registration. All runs are timed and what is more, use Age Grading. This means runners are given a percentage calculated with the help of their own time and the world record for their gender and age category, which allows them to compare their time across categories.
On 13 January at 9am, 532 runners and 26 volunteers gathered on the cycle circuit next to the Sport Village on Campus East for the inauguration of Heslington’s course. 532 runners took part, with a group of men and women of all ages: from children below the age of 10 to adults above the age of 70. At the very back of the line-up runners were pushing prams, at the front those who had come with a more competitive spirit surged forward at the queue. Heslington’s parkrun is an out-and-back course, composed of two kilometres on the cycle circuit and three on Lakeside Way, taking you past Campus East and back. The first to cross the finish line that day was Gregan Clarkson, with a time of 16:27.
“It was a lovely parkrun,” Mr.Clarkson commented, “first one I have done using part of a cycle track. Great set up and well organised. Great course.” His enthusiasm has since been echoed many times. In fact, overall, the Heslington parkrun has received nothing but positive feedback.
Emily Baines (20:36), a 2016 graduate of York and the third woman to cross the finish line that day, also praised the organisation, adding: “the volunteers were really supportive, as is always the case with parkrun.”
This is certainly why people keep coming back to parkrun. Everyone was a first-timer on Heslington’s course on Saturday but for most it wasn’t their first parkrun. parkrun awards badges for participation that come with free T-shirts. The marks are at 50, 100, 250, but of course no one had Dave John Williamson beat, running his 442nd parkrun.
It is in part the concept’s popularity which has brought a parkrun to Heslington. The initiative came from the one other York parkrun in Knavesmire, which had become over-popular. But, in the end, it was a group effort: Heslington’s current team of run directors and volunteers coming together with the University, the Sport Village and the Student Union, the latter represented on Saturday by Alex Urquhart, York’s Student Union President.
The University is an ideal location, as it has the space, but organisers also anticipated quite a high turnout from University runners. There are after all quite a few of them and Knavesmire is quite a distance to travel for many students. So far, they’ve not been disappointed. Sean Flanagan (16:42), a University of York student, finished second in the inaugural race. Many others participated and some have already joined the ranks of the volunteers.
“We’re ticking so many boxes here,” said Rob Hunt, one of the run directors on the Heslington team and Head of Procurement at the University, “community engagement, student engagement, wellbeing.” Andrew McMorris, another run director in Heslington, stresses the importance of inclusivity. “The inclusivity of getting people to do walkingor run-walking,” he says.
Inclusivity has become one of parkrun’s central tenets, as the organisation has grown from a group of thirteen runners in London’s Bushy Park to an international community. Not least does parkrun emphasize that by expanding into new territory. In November 2017, the HMP Haverigg in Cumbria became the first prison to have a parkrun.
As diverse as the people, the ages and motivations are, what people bring to a parkrun as varied as ours are their speeds. Forty-five minutes after Gregan Clarkson, the last runners crossed the finish line. “It doesn’t matter as well” remarks Rob Hunt on that topic. “Everybody is doing their own run.” He says this one week later, standing outside York Sport Village, and surrounded by a group of other volunteers, having just cancelled the second parkrun due to ice on the cycle circuit. They have stayed behind, to inform those runners who did not see the cancellation on Heslington parkrun’s Facebook page an hour earlier.
Everybody agrees, “It’s a run, not a race.” If one is writing about parkrun, it is important to mention that, they stress. It’s a run, not a race.