How Harrogate Parkrun changed face of running

Popular event - Some of the hundreds of entrants in the Harrogate Parkrun pictured on the Stray on Saturday, December 22, 2018. (1812221AM11)
Popular event - Some of the hundreds of entrants in the Harrogate Parkrun pictured on the Stray on Saturday, December 22, 2018. (1812221AM11)

Has Parkrun changed the face of running in Harrogate since it first came town less than a decade ago?

As I discovered when taking part myself in this popular volunteer-run event during the festive season, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.

Rather than sombre-looking Mo Farahs in club vests with a look of steely determination in their eyes, there was chatter and laughter from the large gathering of runners of all abilities and backgrounds milling around in anticipation of the weekly start-time - 9am on the Stray on a Saturday morning.

A handful of the assembled 348 runners, like me, were taking part in their first Parkrun, others were gearing up to become the latest members of the ‘100 Club’ in an event which was first launched in London in 2004.

Such is its popularity, Parkruns are now held in city parks, country parks, national parks, stately homes, castles, forests, rivers, lakes, reservoirs, beaches, promenades, prisons, racecourses and nature reserves across the world, all with the same mission statement of helping create “a healthier and happier planet.

Free to enter, since Harrogate Parkrun was first held in January 2102, its popularity has risen steadily.

In fact, Harrogate Parkrun set a new all-time attendance record on Christmas Day when 524 people turned up to run the three laps of the lovely 5k grassy course.

Entrants may be given their own barcode to record their time but the volunteers who turn up in yellow like hi-vis heroes are keen to emphasise Parkrun is a run, not a race.

It’s an approach which suited me just fine when I lined up to to make my debut three days before Christmas for my first proper run out since both my hips were replaced.

On hand with advice and morale boosts on the Stray are a group of key volunteers - event director Ted Welton and run directors Alex Whapples and Caroline Rainbow.

Also milling around to provide guidance is event support ambassador Sean Brennan.

This Knaresborough-based chartered mechanical engineer and family man first experienced Parkrun in the second ever Harrogate one, running with his children

He soon got the bug and, after becoming a run director and co-event director, he eventually became an event support ambassador which has included helping obtain defibrillators for many events and setting up new ones in new locations, including, possibly,Knaresborough shortly.

Despite its fantastic organisation, Parkrun’s success is simple. It’s about people rather than competition.

Good vibes abound.

Still, everyone taking part does care about their times, even the ones pushing baby buggies or running with their pets.

On the day itself my time of 34 minutes was nothing to write home about.

As a statistic it pales in comparison to a couple of other significant figures.

A total of 13,591 runners have taken part in Harrogate Parkrun and more than five million people are registered for Parkrun worldwide.

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