Time flies!

 

I can’t believe it’s been two years since we activated the junior parkrun series. Of course four splendid monthly events preceded this, and who paved the way, but November 2013 marked the date when the new weekly junior parkrun series started with a vengeance.

The first events were Southampton and Roundhay juniors and Wimbledon Park, Rushcliffe, Harrow Lodge, Newport, Barking & Dagenham and the inaugural event north of the border in Helix, Falkirk, quickly followed these. Time really does fly, and we now have a grand total of 76 junior parkruns across the UK, with many many more in the pipeline. I don’t think it will be too long before we reach 100!

As I said in the inaugural junior newsletter, the dream is to provide an opportunity for children across the UK to participate in free physical activity, on a regular basis. We want 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. Not only that, we want to encourage entire families to get involved, whether by running/walking/jogging with their children, or as parkrun volunteers or simply as spectators and supporters.

 

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We are achieving our goals. Every week between 4,500-6,000 children take part. We have had our first junior to complete 100 2k events – that’s 200k of running! We have welcomed hundreds to the three junior parkrun clubs, included giving out the much-coveted, orange ‘Ultra’ wristbands, which the children wear with pride.

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We are sent heart-warming photos and hear stories about how junior parkrun has changed people’s lives – from Ella Bloxsidge who has Retts, the parkrunning Sinclair family and little Red Fox. We have had successful junior takeovers of entire events, such as the one in Newport, and have seen hundreds of other children donning the high-vis and volunteering each week.

 

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As my husband Tom and I await the imminent arrival of our little junior parkrunner, and I head off on a years maternity leave, I am excited and frustrated in equal measure. Excited because this marks the start of a new adventure for us as a family; one that will surpass any endurance challenge we have encountered thus far! But I also admit to being a little frustrated in that I will be spending a whole year away from the coal-face of the parkrun world. Working for parkrun HQ is an absolute privilege and one that I am grateful for each and every day. To see the junior series grow and evolve, to see the smiles on the faces of the kids, to hear the feedback from the field and to have the opportunity to also work on developing strategies to get others involved in parkrun is an honour. Of course, I will be heading down to parkrun to walk/run and volunteer but I also love working behind the HQ scenes to drive this change and I will miss it dearly while I am busy changing nappies and coping with sleepless nights!

My sincerest thanks goes out to everyone who has helped on the first stage of this wonderful journey. There are too many to name, but you know who you are and we really couldn’t have done it without you.

Here’s to the next year, and more, of junior parkrun success!

Chrissie

 

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Preston Park passion

 

junior parkruns are springing up like wildfire across the UK. To the casual observer they are just a simple 2k run for children, with a few parents being dragged along for the ride. However, those that are more heavily involved in parkrun know just how much hard work and dedication goes into getting one of these events off the ground. We owe the success of the junior series to the passionate people who are willing to take the junior parkrun idea and literally run with it in order to bring an event to their community. I thought I’d use this week’s newsletter to profile just one of the junior parkrun catalysts and champions, Claire Hooley, who is based down in Brighton.

Claire is a GP, is married to fellow GP Al and they have two children, Polly aged 4 and Joan aged 5. She lists her hobbies as being (in no particular order of preference): sitting in sandpits with her family, swimming, eating curry with her friends and passionate parkrunning. Two years ago Claire moved house, to be within a very convenient four minute cycle from Preston Park parkrun where she attends most weeks.

She’s not averse to a bit of parkrun tourism either, and whilst visiting family in Manchester earlier this year she talked her dad into doing Wythenshawe parkrun. This also triggered an insatiable passion for parkrunning for this sprightly 77 year old! The photo below shows them both running together, sharing the family fun; although Claire’s dad is now very focused on trying to beat her time!

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Whilst on holiday in Glasgow Claire also did Victoria Park junior parkrun with Joan for the very first time. They held hands the whole way round, and this sparked a real interest in encouraging family participation not just amongst her own family but also in her community. Hence, she didn’t need asking twice when a Brighton-based parkrun devotee, Clare Ryan, put a call out for willing volunteers to help with the setting up of Preston Park juniors. The ball was ready to roll!

Claire attended a handful of team meetings, visited Eastney junior parkrun and jumped at the chance to be one of the new event’s Run Directors. Preston Park juniors finally started in May 2015. Despite an outward aura of calm, things didn’t always go smoothly: “I mislaid my crib sheet the first time I was Run Director and another volunteer had to whisper all the announcements in my ear.” But despite a few minor hiccups, Claire is full of praise for junior parkrun:

“It's such a lovely way to start our Sunday morning, especially because it involves so much smiling. Until you do parkun, you think it's just a run.  Then you realise it's so much more than that. Then you volunteer and it takes it to a whole different level! I love arriving before the participants, then watching everyone walking and running from all directions across the grass and gathering at the café. Before we know it the run has started, and finished, and everyone all disappears again. It's as if nothing has happened, aside from us all having smiles imprinted on our faces!”

Even when she isn’t Run Director Claire always volunteers and also likes to involve her whole family in the events; with Joan and Polly alternating between volunteering and running. There are about five children from Joan's class who now do junior parkrun and she likes meeting all her friends there on Sunday mornings. Before she turned four, Polly’s favourite role was enthusiastically giving out the finish tokens and being chief cheerleader as the runners cross the line, but since her landmark birthday has also run the event with her dad.

When asked about the most special moments, Claire replied: “Running with my children for the first time. Running with my dad. Watching my five year old run with my dad.  Hopefully the next time my dad visits, we might all run together!”

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Claire also values feeling part of a much wider family:

“I have met lots of lovely people through junior parkrun. Being involved in junior parkrun has made me feel much more involved in the 5k parkrun too. I love bumping into parkrunners on Saturday mornings and at other unexpected times and places. I have made so many new friends who I would never have met had it not been for parkrun”.

As GPs Claire and her husband Al and firmly believe in parkrun’s power to contribute to physical health and mental well-being, both through the running itself but also the volunteering and the friendships that are formed with all the other parkrunners. When talking about this, Claire mentions the five important steps to well-being – Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning and Give – and is convinced that junior parkrun meets all of these criteria, even “taking notice”:

Running with Polly this morning showed that it also ticks the take notice box.  We stopped to look at the moon and then picked up a very interesting and very large stick. Some people thought I might have used it to help Polly along, but really Polly wanted the stick in order to check out some interesting bird poo along the course!”

This shows that you can run and truly smell the flowers, or other slightly less favourable objects in the park!

Huge thanks to Claire and everyone like her who have helped to get junior parkrun off the ground, and continue to contribute to making sure it is such a success. Hopefully this story also demonstrates that adults can get just as much out of the junior parkrun experience as the children do, with our without a rather large stick!

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Smiles

Chrissie

 

Family ‘Netmum’ fun at parkun

 

A study, published in Pediatrics last year, suggests that the more active a mother is the more physically active her child will be. Active parents equal active children!

However, we also know that many mothers' exercise levels fell way below recommended levels.The study concluded that children are not ‘just naturally active’, and parents have a really important role to play in developing healthy exercise habits early on in life. Hence, the researchers recommended that policies to improve children's health should be aimed specifically at mothers.

As a pregnant parkrunner I want to make sure I take full advantage of opportunities to be active, now and after the birth of my baby. It’s so good to know parkrun and junior parkruns are 100% family friendly.

It’s not just about the individual: it’s about getting whole generations of the same family involved. That includes mums, as well as dads, and, unlike many other events, we welcome those who want to run with a buggy. Even at the hilliest of courses, like my home event in Ashton Court, I regularly see families with buggies pushing their child-in-buggy up the steep hill, and rivalling F1 drivers for speed on the downhill!

Kathryn Ambrose from Hanley parkrun is a great case in point: “I’ve been running with my buggy since Giovanna was about four months old, and I have to say it has become a key part of my training regime. It has meant that I can run without needing a babysitter, and my core/upper body strength has really improved. This has translated to faster times and greater endurance, which I am certain, has helped in the ultras I have completed this year. Not with the buggy, I might add! She thoroughly enjoys it too and we have a really good chat as we plod along”.

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We know from our own internal research that many parents can be put off doing exercise due to the lack of childcare. Well, as Kathryn mentions parkrun solves that problem because everyone can take part together, whether that is running, walking or volunteering.

Role modelling is a two way street - sometimes it’s the kids that get their parents running, and sometimes it’s the other way round. We are finding that junior parkruns are not only getting little legs running but are also encouraging many mums and dads to take part in something new. At junior parkrun parents can run with their youngster/s and for mums and dads who are just starting off, or coming back to, running 2k can be a more accessible distance. The children can often be seen dragging the parent around, rather than the parent encouraging the child! Of course, mums and dads can also volunteer while their child takes part in the event. That way they get out in the open air, meet new people, learn new skills and give their kids the opportunity to be active at the same time. That’s a win-win for all!

There are thousands of examples, but here are just two stories from the field…

parkrunner, Emma Andrew, started running after accompanying her son to the trial run for Aylestone junior parkrun. Her words are music to our ears:

“At the trial event for Aylestone junior parkrun Ali, the Event Director, suggested that I take on the role of tail runner. I loved it. I also got to complete my first ever 2k mostly non-stop. That was it: I was hooked. It gave me the confidence to attempt Braunstone parkrun the next week where a friend helped me complete my first non-stop 5k. From that point on I decided I could call myself a runner!

Of course, Aylestone junior parkrun has helped children get more active but for me it has been a life changer. I met a great team of people who have encouraged and supported me along my running journey. I have completed the Leadership in Running Fitness Course and set up beginner running sessions in my village, I run a Workplace Running Group for Leicester-Shire and Rutland Sport, become a Run Leader Champion, become the Sport Development Officer in my local Council, ran a 10 mile race and I’m about to run the Leicester Half Marathon. So although junior parkrun is ultimately for the kids, it’s impact is much further reaching.”

Here's Emma (with full beard!), her sister Katie and her son Ewan volunteering at Braunstone parkrun at the end of last year.

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The second fantastic story comes from Emma Poole and her children Lewys and Carys, from Bedfont Lakes parkrun and Moormead juniors.

“In February 2014 my daughter Carys, then aged 7, asked me to run the Race for Life with her. I said "Of course!" and then panicked as I couldn't run to the end of the road, let alone 5k! Carys was already a regular junior parkrunner and I had some serious work to do to keep my promise. My husband, who has 287 parkruns under his belt, dug out a beginners training programme and in April 2014 we were ready to try a 5k. Whilst visiting Swansea, Carys and I ran our first ever parkrun at Llyn Llech Owain in a time of 42:22. That day marked a sea-change in my life, where I discovered a love for running that I never knew I had. It also made a huge difference to us as a family, as we then started regularly running together at our home event at Bedfont Lakes. Initially, the children and I would go and support their dad by volunteering together. Carys has even been a Run Director and I am now a Run Director at Moormead junior parkrun. 

The best thing is that we get to enjoy each other's company without any distractions of homework, television or Lego! We get a chance to talk, sing, run through puddles and generally just be a family, with our extended parkrun family. I can honestly say it has brought us much closer together as a family. Individually, it has helped Carys's fitness and confidence and she recently passed the 50 milestone. For Lewys, it has stabilised his asthma and given him huge amounts of stamina (not always a good thing!) - "I love running with my Mum as she helps me get a PB and let's me run through puddles!" For me, I have discovered something I am actually quite good and have the opportunity to get closer to my children and talk about our week. I have also learnt to embrace running through those puddles!”

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The desire to promote physical activity amongst mums like these two Emmas is one of the reasons why parkrun has decided to partner with Netmums in an exciting new campaign. With almost two million members Netmums is the UK’s largest parenting website, and collectively Netmums have more than 2,000,000 children! Netmums is actually a family of local sites that cover the UK, each site offering information to mothers on everything from where to find playgroups and how to eat healthily to where to meet other mothers.  The Netmums’ mission to help families have fun with their children and bring people together to make local communities more lively and friendly firmly aligns with parkrun’s own vision.

As you may have read in the weekly Newsletter last week, this new Netmums Run Programme is a three-month initiative which is focused on encouraging the Netmums community to get active by running, jogging or walking - and helping them to realise the many benefits that this brings. We believe that there is no better place than a junior parkrun or a parkrun for Netmums and dads and their kids to begin, and carry on, their running journey.

The Programme has been developed in collaboration with England Athletics, and comprises a comprehensive website which includes a 5k training programme, inspiring and informative articles and videos, personal stories, a running partner and group finder. Of course, there are also many links to parkrun and junior parkrun throughout the site as the perfect place for Netmums and their kids to get active. You can find out more details about the Run Programme here.

We all know that parents are strong influencers in the lives of young children, with patterns of behaviour established in the early years laying the foundation for future choices. Likewise, children can also help their parents get active. We want to see more mums, dads, kids, grandparents and even great-grandparents taking part on a Saturday or Sunday, and the Netmums initiative is just one small, but important, way that we can make that happen across the UK. So please get behind it in any way you can and get those little legs, and adult ones, moving!

Chrissie

Nostell 23rd May 2015

 

 

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