In defense of parkrun

On Saturday morning, I got a pass to run parkrun at Crissy Field. The Husband’s triathlon was the following day so he would ‘run’ it with the Dude, then cycle down to HMB for packet-pick up. This left me free to run my best during the 5k.

parkrun family us

I talked about parkrun when we ran it in January but it’s worth reiterating…this is a free 5k every Saturday at 9am at the Beach Hut Cafe on Crissy Field. It’s an incredibly friendly event – both times we’ve been, we’ve met some lovely people! They also provide plentiful, great race-photos.

Our races were fun. I came in 3rd lady at 25.19 which is basically what I predicted (between 8.00 and 8.30, I’m not in PR shape). My boys rocked up last, with the Dude complaining all the way and then BLITZING it at the end of the race to annihilate the Husband!

parkrun me golden gate bridge GGB
They told me to smile…
dude husband parkrun golden gate bridge
Crushing his father into last place!
parkrun dude
The Dude was unimpressed that his dad made him work for the win!
parkrun me
I spent half an hour helping the guy in white amass arguments to persuade his wife to move here from South Africa

It was a particularly good day to run parkrun, not just because the weather was so good that I momentarily forgot how much rent we pay in the Bay Area. Back in the UK, there’s all kinds of parkrun drama!

Little Stoke is a parkrun in South Gloucestershire. It’s been running a few years and has 5,000 people on the list but about 300 people running each week. There’s also a popular junior parkrun on a Sunday morning for kids. However, recently, the local council decided parkrun should charge all runners 1 GBP per week to run. parkrun have said no – it goes against their ethos that each run should be free to all runners – and therefore it’s likely that Little Stoke parkrun may have to close. There has been a media furore with Paula Radcliffe, Chrissie Wellington and the London Marathon weighing in, and a motion has been tabled in Parliament in support.

I was curious about this.

On one hand, I see where the council is coming from. I’m sure they have a hole in their budget that needs filling, and this is an easy way to do it. They’ve talked about the wear and tear on the park that such a weekly event incurs. They’ve stated that parkrun is an organisation with paid directors and therefore should be charged as other organisations are charged. So far, feels fair enough even if I don’t like it.

So why is parkrun fighting it?

  • One pound is not a load of money, clearly, but it’s setting a precedent that other councils might pick up on and before long, parkrun is a massive money-making machine instead of a free resource for all local runners.
  • It also adds complexity – collecting money, handing it over etc. This makes the whole event less attractive to the volunteers that parkrun depends on.
  • Whilst parkrun DOES have paid directors, it’s a non-profit. Each individual event is run completely by volunteers.
  • The council have also said they’re not going to charge for Junior parkrun (too contentious, I imagine). However Junior parkrun is run in exactly the same way, on a voluntary basis with a paid board of directors. So…inconsistent!
  • The council’s role is to provide parks for local residents to use for fitness. That’s their job! Just imagine if they tried to do THIS!

  • The council have been unable to quantify (or even provide details of) the ‘wear and tear’ caused by the event.
  • Some valid operational issues (such as parking for non-parkrunners) have been addressed and parkrun is willing to work with the council to contribute to the park’s wellbeing via volunteering etc.
  • The benefit to public health and mental health is undeniable, which makes savings to health provision costs.

There’s a great article here in the Guardian! And this comment on the article moved me to tears.

‘2014: Male, 27, Diagnosed with Depression and Anxiety. Almost 16 stone and with an alcohol problem. Spent 3 years recovering from a breakdown locked in a room in my parents house. 1st parkrun 27:46.

2016: Male. 29, No depression relapses for 2 years, anxiety controlled, more friends than I can count, HM pb of 1:18:50, 12 1/2 stone, Sober for almost 2 years, 1 marathon under my belt last week, another marathon next week, 82 parkruns, 5600km run since 2014, joined a running club a parkrun pb of 17:48. Met my girlfriend at parkrun. And most importantly the happiest I have ever been in life.

There is a magic to parkrun that changes lives for the best.’

The parkrun magic is real! Crissy Field parkrun attracts a load of tourists (often from the UK) who love parkrun at home and want to run whilst they’re away. One lady on Saturday was celebrating her 50th birthday (she looked 40) by flying from the North of England to San Francisco FOR THE WEEKEND to run Crissy Field parkrun!!! What other free event do you know inspires that kind of love???

The battle is not over. The council’s recent vote means that, unless they relent, Little Stoke parkrun will have to close in a few weeks. But it’s lovely to see people speaking up so loudly in favour of free running events. parkrun has changed the face of British running, it has to be defended…even if it does lack a capital p at the start of its name!

Good luck, Little Stoke parkrun!!! This Californian runner stands with you, in spirit at least!

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