Preston’s first parkrun: A step in the right direction

Posted on - 12th May, 2012 - 6:43pm | Author - | Posted in - Recreation, Sport, What's On in Preston

Will Buckley, co-organiser of Preston’s first ever parkrun, offers us his thoughts on the day’s events.


At, 7:45am this morning, Michael Ash-McMahon and I met to mark out the course and set up for the first Preston parkrun event. The weather is bright and sunny, very untypical of Preston at this time of year, but it bodes well for the morning run. We had been told to expect a lot of interest in the Preston parkrun and a sunny day might just bring all those interested people to the start-line. Michael had already spent time on Friday with Tom Williams from parkrun, getting final training notes for the time-keeping and uploading to the website, and he is clearly anxious that the day goes well.

Avenham Park is spectacular this morning. It’s 8:15am and the course is now marked out with fluorescent arrows pointing the way around the three lap course. Marshals will be in place to guide the wary runner where the choices are unclear, but the route is simple enough: start at the bridge near the pavilion, along the river towards Frenchwood but turn up the hill towards the Belvedere, past the flag pole and along the top of the park to the Swiss Chalet, along the Italian Palisade above Miller Park and then right under the railway bridge, turn left passing the hockey pitches and back in to the park at the next bridge, finally following the river back to the pavilion for two more turns around the same loop. Runners will finish by pealing left at the pavilion on their final lap. Volunteers are already gathering near the pavilion as we approach.

Runners arrive in ones, twos and small groups greeting each other and warming up. The warning of a big turn-out is beginning to come true. No-one is doing a head count, but 50 or 60 runners are already here and it is only 8:30am. When Michael and I met back in November 2011, we were already aware that there had been several attempts to get a parkrun going in Preston. The perseverance of the team has paid off. Michael’s efforts in particular, in liaising with Preston Council and Don Ingham, the Park Manager, emailing and calling funding bodies and local businesses for support, discussing the setup of the event with the parkrun people and a multitude of other small jobs, were now all coming to a satisfying conclusion.

The new parkrunners want to know how to use the barcode, how to get their time, what happens if they forget their barcode, is there a toilet. Those of us that know help out, point the way and answer as best we can. parkrun is set up to be as simple as possible for runner and volunteers alike. You turn up, you run, and as you finish you are given a token with your place number on it. Someone has timed you as you crossed the finish line. Simple hand-held scanners are used to record the times and scan the barcodes and place tokens. In the Pavillion cafe afterwards, the timers and scanners are plugged into a laptop where the software matches everything up and, after a few corrections, uploads the data straight to the parkrun website.

Suddenly it is 8:50am and time to move everyone to the start line. Michael hops up onto a bench and says a few words, thanks the volunteers and welcomes everyone to the first Preston parkrun. It seems that about a third of the runners are from out of town. Some have travelled from Huddersfield and one runner came up from London especially for our first run. After a few safety notes, the runners move to the start line under the bridge. Michael counts down, “three, two, one…!” and they are off.

We have a moment to reflect. It is clear why parkrun is so popular. Club runners run alongside newbies, young, old, fast and fit or slow and getting fitter, the parkrun welcomes them all. There are no prizes, no special kudos for winning a parkrun because you are running against yourself and the last time you ran. If you run this one quickly, another parkrun may have more challenges for you. People travel the country to collect parkruns. One lady was wearing a special 50 parkruns t-shirt. parkruns are also social events, strangers meet as friends, competition is friendly and the sense of accomplishment for finishing another one, this one, is palpable. The quick runners are finishing the first loop. 6 minutes. We had better get ready. The start was a relaxed informal affair, the finish is where we will be tested. From the Pavilion we can see the field spread out around the park. The front runners passing back markers and each aiming at their own target. The finish is a flurry of place tokens, scanning and applause for every finisher.

Preston did itself proud. The rain kept away until we were clearing up. The city’s inaugural parkrun welcomed runners from all over the country and those from within the county were overjoyed to have a good parkrun course closer to home. The gentleman from London had never been to Preston before, and was so impressed he promised to return. The group from Huddersfield said that they would be back with more runners. With 100 runners counted at the finish on a busy race weekend, we can expect even more when the race calendar is light. We had hoped for 20 to 30 runners when we first met, so to have 100 runners at the first event was delightful. With the suggestion that many more runners will be coming to future events, Preston parkrun seems to have been a resounding success.

You can find Will on Twitter @willbuckley.

Image credit: Paul Melling

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