'It's free because it's yours'
The Diggers, the radical San Francisco community action group of the 1960s (who got their name from the Protestant radicals that emerged during the English Civil War of the 17th century), used, among other things, to run free stores, give out free food daily in Golden Gate Park and provide free medical care (in a country where this still doesn’t exist 50 years later). They were fond of saying, if asked, ‘it’s free because it’s yours’. (They were also responsible for the it-hasn't-aged-well saying 'Today is the first day of the rest of your life'.)
You get something of the atmosphere of the time from one of the founders, Emmett Grogan, in his sprawling, gob-smacking, often funny and probably very exaggerated memoir Ringolevio.
There’s something of this ethos behind parkrun. Of course, it is not a political organisation, does not promulgate a society free from buying, selling and private property, and is unlikely – I think – to stage free concerts involving groups such as the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane (but over to you, parkrun HQ). However, parkrun is, in its way, free because it’s yours – and you can contribute as much or as little as you like.
All this pseudo-intellectual verbosity comes after I completed my 500th parkrun. I’m not obsessed with such things – indeed, I’ve found reference to it rather embarrassing ('but, hey, you just mentioned it yourself', I hear you say. D'uh!) – but I think it’s allowed me to gain some insight to what makes parkrun tick along so well. One of the main principles laid down by the organisation is that its runs will always be free; nor will parkrun pay specifically for the right to run on a particular piece of land. These concepts are non-negotiable and have led in the past to the closure of at least one event because the local council wanted to be paid to host it.
Cutting its nose off to spite its face? I don’t think so. To my mind, parkrun is a public service, the idea being to get people outdoors, getting some exercise and enjoying some of the wonderful open spaces we have around the country, without worrying about cost. It is and should be open to everyone, whatever their ability, and it should be welcomed everywhere. Nor should it make a profit for someone, though it brings in money from sponsorship.
I know first-hand the benefits it has had for a number of people. Just the other weekend I was talking to a regular who said they’d come to parkrun as an overweight non-runner who rarely got exercise, but had progressed to completing an Ironman. Not everyone has to go that far, of course, but plenty of people who've decided to give parkrun a go have improved their health, joined running clubs, run other events longer than 5k, competed in related events such as duathlons and triathlons, and, last but not least, recognised the value of volunteering (and there are a few who give of their time in this way without ever running!).
Enough of the eulogy. Some well-earned milestones were passed this week. Dominic Casey ran his 100th parkrun, though it was just his 12th at Wimbledon: he seems to split his running between Oxford and Fulham Palace – there’s a story, right there. Dominic Goodliffe, almost a 70s sitcom, chose to run his 100th parkrun here, though he was a first-timer on our green pastures (Nonsuch is his natural home). David Ford, who IS a Wimbledon regular, posted his 200th run, though sadly the 200 Cup was unavaible, having also been awarded the previous week and yet to reappear.
Love him or hate him, Mr Marmite is always there
Mr Marmite, Philip Butler, ran his 250th parkrun, as ever clad in his 'Marmite’ running top. And last, but nowhere near least, Windmiler and Wimbledon parkrun regular Jayne Hurrell finished her 400th parkrun in under 30 minutes the day before completing her 14th half marathon at Hampton Court in a brutal wind (I know, because I was there too). Well done to all.
Jayne Hurrell puts on a brave face before her 400th
First-timer James Stocker of Herne Hill Harriers was the first runner to finish, in a time of 18:32. Not far behind was Adam Harwood of Hercules Wimbledon in 18:55, and an unknown runner was third.
Charlotte Davies of Bedford & County AC was the first woman over the line, in a time of 20:56. Wimbledon Windmiler Sophie McKay took the silver position in 23:11. The unaligned first-timer Erica Bewsey bronzed out in a time of 23:39.
Top age-grader this week was round-the-world cyclist Richard Evans, with 76.66% for a time of 20:34. Andrew Lenon scored 74.17% for his time of 22 minutes exactly. And Caroline Lee posted 72.34% for her 27:36, then ran a superb PB of 2:03:36 in the Hampton Court half the next day. Phew!
Numbers were down this week to 379, which would have felt crowded just a few years ago but is now a couple of hundred below par. The very wet conditions and the seemingly never-ending wind will have been factors, not to mention the plethora of half marathons that took place this weekend. The car park breathed a sigh of relief.
Eleven people ran their first ever parkruns, which, given the conditions, surely deserves special-edition t-shirts all round.
And now the attention turns to a couple of special events: first, this coming Saturday will see the first parkruns ever organised for 29 February. I’m not sure when or if this will ever happen again, but I’m guessing it’ll be a fair few years before it does.
And the week after that, 7 March, is when parkrun as a whole has partnered with International Women’s Day (IWD is actually on the Sunday, but we do what we can) in a bid to get more women out of bed and down to their local parkruns to run or walk 5k. We’re pretty pleased with our gender balance here, but apparently, although 54 per cent of registered parkrunners are women, fewer woman than men actually get out to run. So if you know someone who is registered but hasn’t run, or just know someone who might want to do it but hasn’t yet plucked up the courage… bring them down.
Finally, thanks to our beloved volunteers. You know who your are. Deep respect. It’s free because it’s yours.
Peter Collins, event director