How parkrun runs!

Dear parkrunners,

Our little community has grown into a somewhat bigger community and we must now be one (if not the) biggest (participation) sporting event in town which is superb!!

This July will be our 5th Birthday and we’ve grown from an average of around 180 weekly runners to over 400.

As there are lots of newbies, I thought it might be worth explaining how the St Helens parkrun setup works and how we manage to put on the runs every week, rain or shine.

Your parkrun is brought to you by a Core Team of 7 volunteers. We are each on a rota as Run Directors and usually do another task in addition, either on a Saturday or midweek. All of us have day jobs and none of these are in sports provision (i.e. we are amateurs).

Supporting the Core Team, we are blessed to have a group of very regular volunteers who do Marshalling or Funnel Roles on a Saturday. These regulars are then supplemented with occasional volunteers from the runners. Perhaps those having a rest or injured.

In the background, we have had support (when needed) from the Park Rangers, Friends of Victoria Park and the Council.

We couldn’t do parkrun without all of these people and I would encourage you to volunteer whenever you can. It really is as much fun and as rewarding as running!!

To set up the parkrun we needed funding support from the Heritage National Lottery. Their donation helped us to register with parkrun HQ, buy the initial kit and get off the ground. In return, they got good footfall through the newly renovated park.

Post launch, any new funds we need for signage, special occasions etc has to come from donations. Each parkrun has their own “pot” that people can donate to. Here is ours. We recently used it to buy new tokens, as our current ones have started mis-scanning. They should be with us this week.

In the last few weeks, HQ have also launched parkrun Forever. This is a national initiative, designed to enable “the organisation” to be sustainable and achieve its higher goals. It also enables parkrun to claim Gift Aid on donations and therefore, make the donation go further.

And at St Helens parkrun, we are very fortunate to have support from local running group, The Bandstanders. Formed in the early days of the parkrun, but not connected to the parkrun organisation, there are now several social groups of runners (and walkers) who meet up. Volunteers from the Bandstand are usually there on a Saturday offering “brews in the bandstand” which is really well received by regulars and visitors alike. The brew equipment and goodies are paid for by way of small donations and the Bandstanders often donate any surplus generated to the St Helens parkrun pot. The surplus has also supported the Bold Forest Junior parkrun when they were buying a defib unit.

We are really lucky to have "Brews in the Bandstand", not many parkruns have such an offering and it's certainly not part of the commitment that we made when we set it up. In fact, HQ often tell you to keep things simple, as it reduces potential issues. Fortunately, we have some key people who don't mind a bit of complication :-)

I often get asked, how do the barcodes and results work?

(and they are possibly thinking to themselves “why are you so grumpy when someone plays around in the funnel?”)

  1. Pre-parkrun, we usually arrive at 7am, unlock the toilets, put out the signage and unpack the trolleys ready for the first volunteers to arrive at about 8.15am.
  2. The stopwatches capture your time (obvs as the kids say) and a position.
  3. 5 metres further on you are then given a Position (P) token.
  4. You then stagger, jog or stride with pride, down the funnel to the Barcode Scanners.
  5. The volunteers should scan YOUR (A) token first and then OUR P token. They give you yours back and keep ours.
  6. The Barcode Units then tie your A number to our P number.
  7. Post parkrun, we pack up the trolleys and leave at about 10.30am after locking up at the lodge.
  8. The Run Director gets home, puts the kettle on, boots up the laptop and connects to the web.
  9. We upload the results from the watches and the scanners.
  10. The parkrun results system then squidges it all together using the Position as the common denominator between the watches and the scanners.
  11. We then manually enter any results from faulty barcode scans. Hopefully only a handful.
  12. This process usually takes about 30 minutes to an hour.
  13. During the evening, usually with a glass of rehydration fluid in hand, we sort out and restring about 400 tokens, clear down the equipment and recharge it all.
  14. We then check email for the next couple of days to see if we get any issues reported.
  15. Midweek we meet up with the next Run Director to swap all of the kit over.

So….

When you go past the watches twice, or refuse to take a token, or join or leave the funnel before being scanned, the process above fails because the P's the A's and the Times are all in the wrong places.

We now have 400 people with the wrong time or position and our afternoon plans just changed. Action 14, staying on top of emails, becomes a major job for the next few days.

People think I go a bit OTT about someone “just” going past the watches twice, or not wanting a token because their time was rubbish, but perhaps you can appreciate why it's frustrating?

It also explains why HQ don’t want Core Teams to do manual entries for people who forget their barcode. There is already quite a bit to do and the bigger the run, the bigger the issue.

Unfortunately, we've had a few issues in the past few weeks with results, for various reasons. I think many would be amazed by the tone of some of the emails we've received.

Please remember that volunteers don't purposely screw up the results, usually it's a runner that causes the problems. PB's are fab, but it's not likely to be a world record, so please stay calm and revel in the fact that you just got a bit healthier and met your friends for an early morning chat and a brew.

We LOVE delivering parkrun and changing lives for the better. We’d love you to join the volunteer team next time you are at a loose end, all you have to do is email sthelens@parkrun.com

We look forward to seeing you all on Saturday.

#DFYB

#loveparkrun

Your Core Team