Introducing junior parkrun
23 July 2014
Chrissie Wellington, strategic lead for junior participation at parkrun (and four time World Ironman champion) explains junior parkrun and why she is so passionate about it.
A million people can't be wrong! Sharing the parkrun passion
It gives me great pleasure to connect with the whole England Athletics community via this feature article, but before I begin I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Chrissie Wellington and I’m best known for doing a little bit of ironman triathlon which basically means I warmed up with a 2.4 mile swim and a 112 mile bike ride before the all-important task of running a marathon. I retired from professional sport in 2012 but having previously worked in International Development I’m passionate about maximising opportunities to increase physical activity, especially amongst women, girls and children. I have the honour of working for parkrun as their strategic lead for junior participation and it’s with this hat on that I write this article.
For those that don’t know, parkrun is a not-for-profit organisation founded by Paul Sinton-Hewitt CBE, which delivers two types of running events: 5km parkruns and 2km junior parkruns. The 5km runs take place weekly at 9am (9:30am in Scotland and Northern Ireland) on a Saturday in areas of open space, such as parks, National Trust properties, sports grounds, recreation fields and more. Not considered races, parkrun events are timed runs with more emphasis on the individual than any competition. Each participant has a unique barcode (you register online before your first run) which is scanned along with a finish token given at the finish line, and finishers get sent their result via text or email later the same day.
The parkrun events are simple to organise and are managed by a local volunteer team. They are open to absolutely everyone – regardless of ability, age or background - and are ideal for people who have never tried running before. They don’t require any specialist equipment or even an ability to run, you can walk if you want to!
From our humble beginnings of 13 'pioneers' gathering for a run in South London back in 2004 parkrun has recently recorded its one-millionth registration and five-millionth finish across 420 events in ten countries around the world. A full list of events is available at www.parkrun.com/events. The UK boasts 275 of those events and with over weekly 50,000 runners makes up around a third of the global parkrun family.
We are incredibly fortunate to partner with a range of organisations, including the lovely people at England Athletics, who are fully supportive of our work and share our passion for getting people up and running.
Over a year ago, I was chewing the fat (literally!) with parkrun UK MD Tom Williams and Paul Sinton-Hewitt, over some fat-laden chunky chips, about the possibility of building a nationwide series of junior parkrun events. The dream was to provide an opportunity for children across the UK to participate in free physical activity, on a regular basis. We wanted to give them the chance to experience open space, to enjoy the natural environment, to be with their friends and make new ones, to challenge themselves, to keep fit, to laugh, to smile and to have fun. As Paul has said, 'It’s really important to keep children running in some sort of structured format all year so that it becomes a habit, just like brushing their teeth. That’s what helps them to keep going with it.'
And not only that, we wanted to encourage entire families to get involved, whether by running/walking/jogging with their children, as parkrun volunteers or simply as spectators and supporters.
That dinner-table discussion took place just over a year ago, and now that dream – the junior parkrun series - has become a reality. junior parkruns are timed, 2km events for 4 to 14 year olds, most of them held weekly on a Sunday. Children are also more than welcome to take part in the 5km events too.
In keeping with parkrun's ethos of encouraging regular participation, we award wristbands as an incentive to junior parkrun participants: a blue wristband for a cumulative ‘Half Marathon’ (11 junior parkruns), a green 'Marathon' band for 42 cumulative kilometers and an orange 'Ultra' band for those who have clocked up 100km.
Our events really do help to overcome some of the barriers faced by young people – they are free, children can wear what they like and nobody is going to look at them and tell them they’re not dressed appropriately, they can come with their friends, as often or as rarely as they want to, and they don’t have to commit to it in advance. And it seems as though the concept is catching on! At the time of writing there are 20 junior events throughout the UK, but this number is growing all the time.
We are inundated (in a good way!) with positive comments from children, their parents and members of the community about the benefits of the events and the change that participation has made to their lives. Here is just a little selection:
“The Helix junior parkrun in Falkirk is absolutely brilliant. It was the first junior parkrun in Scotland and has been really popular since day one. It makes use of a new community space - The Helix - and brings together youngsters of all ages and running ability. Kids come from all over Central Scotland and beyond to take part. We don't always have sunshine in the sky, but there are always smiles on the faces of the juniors and the volunteer team. The kids are encouraged to have fun and are cheered and clapped along the way by a great bunch of parents and a fab volunteer team (which it is a joy to be part of) I can't recommend Helix junior parkrun highly enough."
“I only started running last November and it was Bramhall parkrun that encouraged me to get physically and mentally fit. However on 5th January this year I was involved in, what should have been, a fatal road accident. Several life saving operations later and a few bits of titanium holding me together I was forced to relocate to convalesce at the family home in Reading. After learning to walk again and with a strict ban on running by the doctors, I turned myself into a regular volunteer at Reading parkrun. I would like to thank everyone at Reading parkrun for being so welcoming and being part of a great team and such lovely runners too. I just hope my hair grows back!”
“Brockwell junior parkrun is fabulous for the exact same reason that all the junior parkruns are fabulous. It is a chance for local youngsters to become involved with a fun, friendly and free form of exercise, an event where success is applauded (well done first finisher) but so is taking part, in fact taking part is applauded more (this can be heard from the vocal support heard all around the course for the first, right through to the last place. with the tried and tested parkrun formula, you just now add the location - what could be a better location than the historic Brockwell Park. The areas around the park have lively multi-cultural inhabitants who now they have the opportunity, will add their own story to the parkrun phenomenon. In short, Brockwell junior parkrun is fabulous for the opportunity it provides. Thankyou to the team there.”
“On 12th July 2014 I completed my 250th parkrun. It also saw me run my 100th Andover parkrun. At Andover we are blessed to have such a great and dedicated team who look after us. On this special day it included putting signs out to congratulate me, and what a wonderful surprise that was. We celebrated in style with cake and bubbly and a course attendance record. What more could one want, other than running round with my lovely wife and greatest supporter. Thank you parkrun for everything and thank you to all at Andover parkrun and those I have run with.”
“I just wanted to praise junior parkrun and with a special mention to Roundhay juniors. My little lad is only four and 2km is still a long way for his little legs. This weekend he did his second and loved it. The beauty of it is at that age he doesn't care that he is last (thanks to the marshals for hanging around a little longer than normal and encouraging him) and he doesn't even realise it's timed. He loves the group warm-up even if this is just to jump around and clap his hands. The run itself is very much a run/walk with lots of encouragement to keep moving. He manages a sprint finish because of his running shoes. He has his running top and he had to get proper barcodes like his mummy and daddy. It maybe a month or so before his next one as we aren't pushing him but what a great environment to grow up round. Thank you."
As these quotes show parkrun and junior parkruns truly are for everyone. All you need to do is register on our website (www.parkrun.org.uk) and head down to your local event. Of course, there may be people reading this who have never run before or who are nervous of doing a 2km or a 5km. We are all nervous about trying new things and giving ourselves bigger mountains to climb. We all worry about the ‘what ifs’ and, of course, we are all scared about being seen in public wearing running shoes or lycra.
Six years ago I was asked whether I would ever do an Ironman. My response? ‘No way, you must be completely mad to do something like that!’ Imagine if I had never gone back on my word, if I hadn’t changed ‘I can’t’ to ‘I can’ and most importantly what if I hadn’t had people to support, encourage, mentor and most of all make me believe in ME? I never ever thought I would be able to run a marathon, and once I finished my first in 2002 I realised it wasn’t such a big hurdle after all. And I never ever thought I would be crowned World Ironman Champion, but in doing so I achieved more than I ever thought possible. But in reality there are no limits to what you can achieve, in sport and outside. So whether it is a walk, a 5km parkrun, a 2km junior parkrun or a long trail race, if you have faith in yourself and a support network around you, those colossal mountains can truly become mole-hills once you have scaled them.
There really is nothing better than parkrun to get you started… and to keep you going! So join over one million other registered participants and head down to your nearest parkrun or junior parkrun and if there isn’t an event in your area maybe you could start one?
Believe me, you won’t regret it!