People say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. Truth is, you knew what you had, you just never thought you’d lose it.” Clarissa Wild, author.
On 18 March 2020, parkrun HQ announced that all UK parkruns (and those in Eswatini, Namibia, Russia and South Africa) were suspended “until at least the end of March” – which meant that the pandemic had forced the closure of parkrun in every territory around the world. At that time, I suspect none of us could have possibly envisaged the duration of the UK suspension – but, although nothing is certain, fourteen months and twenty-two days after the last event at Northampton Racecourse, parkrun HQ “currently expect” that we will return on Saturday 5 June 2021 (alongside all 5k parkrun events across England).
We will, sadly, have been deprived of the nation’s favourite weekly bout of exercise for over a year, but, to put things into context, I want to acknowledge those in our local parkrun community who have suffered from the virus or have undergone the loss of a loved one during this period. A close friend’s passing way was hastened by COVID-19 and I know the additional pain that relatives etc were forced to endure as a result.
During the restrictions and lockdowns, I’ve come across quite a few local parkrunners (who I spotted or who have approached me!) in a variety of locations ... whilst I’ve been out shopping, walking, litter picking, eating or drinking - and even when I’ve, rarely, been out jogging myself. Without exception, they’ve all expressed the hope for parkrun to return as soon as safely possible. And why wouldn’t they?
Most of us recognise and agree, I think, that parkrun has become more than just the regular 9:00 a.m. Saturday morning walk, jog, run or wheel … (or volunteering stint). The (theoretical) emphasis may be on participation rather than competition (!) … but, for many people, parkrun provides an escape from pressurised work environments and schedules, a social opportunity for meeting up with friends/colleagues/family before, during and after the event and the enjoyable experience of being part of a community of supportive, like-minded individuals.
The benefits and appeal of parkrun (according to some academic studies I’ve been perusing … as you do) are many and varied. Apparently, traditionally underrepresented groups in sport and physical activity, such as women or those who are normally less active, are more likely to be attracted to parkrun’s inclusiveness; the demographic of parkrun is ever changing, enticing more previously-inactive people to take part each year. You’ll also be encouraged to learn that, as well as developing fitness and total physical activity, parkrun participants show improvements in “mood (stress, anxiety and depression)”. As one study reported: “Most encouraging is that the positive effects are largest for those who are less active when they registered with parkrun, and that there is a dose response: that is, the more frequently someone participates in parkrun events, the bigger the positive impact.”
And you thought that beating your PB was what it was all about?!
There has been a remarkable rise in the number of people running during the lockdowns, demonstrated, not only by the obvious sightings in parks, on the pavements etc, but by a boom in trainer sales, increased purchases of GPS wearables like Garmin or Fitbit and a surge in the downloading of Public Health England’s ‘Couch to 5k’ app. A downside has been the cancellation of organised races, but I know that many of you have been keeping up with (and exceeding!) your pre-coronavirus running efforts and taking part in virtual events, often with a charity-supporting connection. (not)parkrun has provided an opportunity to run etc a 5k on a route of your own choosing, on a day and time of your choice – and you can record up to one activity per day, with your fastest time each week included in a weekly results table! (Predictably, Lindsay ‘299 Northampton parkruns’ Reeves, who has been part of our event from the beginning, was one of those completing the first Northampton (not)parkrun, which took place between 15th and 21st June 2020).
For some of us, however (and I confess that I’m one of them) there’s been a loss of motivation, a lesser incentive to do anything running-related and a ‘steadier’ pace when you do eventually drag yourself out! I did one (not)parkrun – it was my slowest ever time! But we’re not to worry, apparently - the experts say it’s understandable and completely normal in the short term; runners are creatures of habit – we just need to get back into the routine.
So, if we get the go ahead for ‘Bob400’ day on 5 June, will things be different? Yes!
Details aren’t finalised but here’s a few things you might expect. Participants will be encouraged, wherever possible, to minimise travel by taking part in their local parkrun and to avoid unnecessary travel to other events. Pre-event briefings will be more in the style of ‘Szabolcs’ than ‘Michelle’ (!) – they’ll only cover information critical to the safety of participants and the smooth running of the event (and will be for a maximum time of two minutes). Social distancing will continue to be the norm before and after the event – “making use of all available space and minimising the amount of time in close proximity to each other” will be the advice when you’re taking part. Runners will be asked to informally seed themselves at the start to avoid unnecessary bunching during the event. There must be no high fives, hugs, physical contact etc with volunteers … (or anyone else!). Consideration will be given to moving start/finish areas to maximise available space (remember when we used to veer off left to finish?). The finish procedure will also change, so that a contactless scanning process can take place.
My last run report closed with a Dame Vera “We’ll meet again” reference. I’ll end this one by quoting Captain Sir Tom, who said of the crisis in April 2020: “We will get through it in the end but it might take time … at the end of the day we shall all be OK again. The sun will shine on you again and the clouds will go away”.
The clouds are clearing, the sun is beginning to shine, we will be OK again - soon ….