Sporting Story: Parkrunning - Peter Hooper

The third Saturday in January saw me do my very first parkrun.  parkrun (no capitalisation apparently) is a brilliant concept: simple, inclusive and global in its reach.  Its simplicity is its great strength – you register online on the parkrun site to get a unique barcode, turn up at 9.00 am on a Saturday at a location which has a parkrun (nearly 800 worldwide – Hanley is currently the only one in Stoke on Trent) and run a timed 5k.  

It’s not a race unless you want it to be, it’s much more about enjoyment, a bit of physical exercise (walking is perfectly OK) and meeting fellow parkrunners.  And that’s it.  It is run entirely by volunteers (I volunteered at a subsequent parkrun and have to say that it is as rewarding as doing the run itself), it has a simple barcode system for recording times, and a feel-good factor that left me buzzing for the rest of the weekend.  There are some great photos of what it’s all about on parkrun’s Flickr site.

I’m not sure what the best bit about the event was, there were so many.  Little things. In no particular order:

  • 206 people of all ages, shapes and sizes turning out at 9.00 am on a chilly mid-January Saturday in Hanley for a completely informal running event
  • a round of applause from 200 strangers for the parkrun first-timers – the newbies like a local dad with his daughter, plus me and a few others
  • more rounds of applause for parkrun veterans doing their 50th or 100th parkruns.  It’s addictive. And a cheer for the sprinkling of dogs who’d turned out to do the run with their owners
  • cracking a half decent 22.49 for the 5k on what is a somewhat less than flat course (it’s gently hilly)
  • thinking that I had another lap to do – and then seeing the finish line ahead, just as my legs started to give out on me
  • being first M55-59.  First!  Sky high.  And 39th overall, and 35th male.  Mr Competitive
  • holding off a determined challenge from two younger and very talented runners in the sprint to the line.  Both of them in the M10 (yes, that would be ten years old) category and coming in 1 and 3 seconds behind me
  • cheering in the dad and his daughter, who’d completed the course in their own time – as much of an achievement as anyone’s
  • chilling out (and warming up) over a coffee in a local cafe afterwards, sharing stories and future plans with runners from across Stoke-on-Trent (and a few beyond)
  • catching up with a great bunch of runners from the Stoke FIT club – plenty of club members visible round the course in their striking red-and-white strip

You could say none of this is particularly out of the ordinary in some respects – all sports have great communities and are a wonderful way to meet people – but taken together, what a brilliant morning!

And if I had to pick a best bit? Seeing those two M10’s make a 5k look easy.  And a dad coaching his daughter round. The future looks bright for Stoke on Trent running.  Roll on next weekend…