LETTER: Social running creates a sense of community

I ENJOYED reading your piece about Chichester ‘ParkRun’ published this week. I have been a regular attendee of Chichester parkrun, both running and volunteering, and it was so nice to see the regular weekly event being promoted in the local paper.

Since I started going on August 2 last year, parkrun (please note the spelling and the case) has had a real impact on my life.

I was a fairweather runner before. My running occurred on the sunnier days of months with no ‘r’ in them. They were slow, lonely affairs really.

Going along to Oaklands Park each Saturday for 9am, I met very inspirational people, I felt moved to join Chichester Runners & AC and have competed in some 40 other competitive races since then, including three half marathons.

This is in addition to the 27 parkruns I have run in and the 33 I volunteered at (I joined the core team last year as a run director myself).

I learned a lot about treating injuries, pacing a distance race, wasp behaviour, gardening and dragons as well as some great cake recipes. Importantly, I have made some friends for life.

I think it is very important to get across this point: parkrun (note again, the spelling, it’s a branding point) is a RUN: not a race or a competition. There is no winner, no ‘victories’: there is a first finisher.

No one comes last: the volunteer tail runner does that and everyone gets clapped and cheered over the finish line. No one is ‘disappointed’ about finishing second place. Nor are they ‘crushed’, ‘gutted’ or ‘heartbroken’ at crossing into the finish funnel in 240th place, because they have run 5,000 metres with friends.

The point of parkrun is widening participation and getting people from all walks of life, all ages, all abilities to run together. You can run as fast as you like for the 5k distance or you can take it easy if you have a race the next day, or run with a friend to get them a new PB.

It’s not about being ‘lapped’ by the fast, whippet-like folks who run it in under 20 minutes, nor about turning your back and going home before the people who need three-quarters of an hour to complete the run because of health, injury, confidence or whatever good reason they have.

It’s an international thing that has been going for well over 10 years now and yes, can be a good step up to a career in athletics for some. But for most of us it’s about getting together and running/jogging/striding against our personal best time and with friends for the sheer joy of the great outdoors and a sense of community.

I was concerned that the tone of your article may put prospective parkrunners off who were thinking of coming along having completed the NHS couch25k plan, or those who used to run lots but haven’t for years, those who are at the more senior end of the age scale, those with families, the very young, the novice runners/joggers, the self-styled ‘galumphers’, those who want to build confidence... basically many people. It is *not* a race. There’s no point writing a race report because that is not the ethos.

I encourage anyone who is interested in coming along each Saturday morning to arrive a little earlier, say 8.45, to have a chat with the team and stay for a watch. Visit the parkrun website (it’s all one word, all lower case: http://www.parkrun.org.uk/chichester) too and find out about volunteering as well as running.

I hope you’re not put off and we look forward to welcoming you at what people from all over the country regularly tell me is one of the friendliest parkruns they have ever been to.

And please, Observer, do come along again. We always enjoy having your reporters and photographers to see us and are more than happy to give you any information you need about parkrun.

Lynette Woodward