Thursday, 19 September 2013

The parkrun tweet that made me sad

A couple of days ago I read a parkrun tweet which made me just a little bit sad.

I won't name the Twitter user that made the tweet and I won't quote the tweet too accurately as I don't want anyone to feel bad about this.

The tweet went something like this....
...I overheard a woman saying to someone "my son won parkrun this weekend", and I said to her "your son didn't win parkrun, because parkrun isn't a race" 

To be honest, this is correct really, parkrun isn't officially a race but was this response really necessary or helpful? That woman may have been the most proud she has ever been of her son. No good reason to dent that pride.

I'm certainly not intending to reject the content of that tweet, far from it. It's fair to say that the tweeter has only repeated what parkrun (the organisation) have said themselves. parkrun isn't officially a race. And this in itself is an excellent standpoint for parkrun (the organisation) to have. Simply by stating this, parkrun opens itself up to a far greater proportion of the public. Many people are put off by the idea of a "race", and parkrun therefore gives many more people the chance for regular exercise than any other running event or race.

So really, I'm writing this more to provoke thought and perhaps discussion. Was it really necessary for her to speak up in this way? Did it achieve anything positive? The only positive thing I can come up with is protecting a brand, but I don't think it was worth it in this case.

parkrun is fantastic for making running an inclusive event. No longer do you have to be a club runner, decent runner or anything else, in order to access regular timed, marshalled running events. The parkrun community is amazing. Many of us have made numerous friends at parkrun. parkrun has broken down so many barriers that stop many people from running or exercising in general.

Perhaps, might a better response have been "...your son does parkrun? So do I! Where does he parkrun?". That is more the kind of parkrun inclusivity that we are used to seeing from parkrunners.

So, onto my main point....parkrun is not officially a race, I've said it already, but I'm saying it again. That doesn't mean it can't be a race. A very significant part of what part IS, is that it can be whatever you want it to be....I'll say that again, as it is my main point....parkrun can be whatever you want it to be. And none of us should judge anyone else who treats parkrun differently to ourselves.

parkrun can be....a great way to start the weekend, somewhere to exercise as a family, on your own or with your friends. It can be one of many training sessions a week, it can be your only weekly, fortnightly or monthly exercise. It can be part of a longer run, a training run or speed work. It can be injury recovery, it can be race preparation. And yes, if you want it to be, you can even treat it as a race. There is one caveat to that, and that is as long as you racing it does not detrimentally affect the enjoyment of other parkrunners (other than by "beating" them) or any other park users for that matter.

Racing is not just limited to the fastest few. Their can be little races at the back of the parkrun field just as much as at the front. And so long as no one gets hurt, no problems are caused, and the aftermath is a shake of the hand, a pat on the back or a good discussion on the run and how each other did, then where is the harm in that? I don't think there is anything other than good to come from that. I have seen many "races" throughout the field at parkruns and I have never seen anything other than a positive outcome once the line has been crossed. I, for one, have parkrunners that I now count as my friends, purely and simply due to "racing" each other at parkrun before I even knew them.

On another point....
We have all lived through the last decade or more, where competition has often been considered a bad thing, particularly in our schools. I think we all know that experiencing competition is an important part of life, certainly for kids preparing for "the real world". I also believe that there is a fair chance that one (perhaps many more) of the 5 to 10 year olds that we regularly see enjoying our parkruns will one day go on to be great athletes and perhaps even Olympians. parkrun is a great way to introduce these kids to running and even running (semi-) competitively. Certainly competitively with themselves, their PB, and against the clock, so why not also against their peers? It's a great enviroment to be introduced to this, where the outcome really doesn't matter at all, except to the individual.

If you hear someone say they "won" parkrun, you may not consider it to have been a race, by they might. And as long as it hasn't done them or anyone else any harm, why not congratulate them? For all you know, it may be the only thing they have ever won and may do them more emotional good than any other achievement in their life to date. Why risk taking the shine off someone else's achievement just to say "it's not a race" for little or no benefit.

parkrun is amazing and can be anything you want it to be. That should be the message we all spread.

For me.....
This week I think my parkrun will be about sharing my love of parkrun and exercise with my 9 year old and my 5 year old as we stroll around at their pace.
Next week I will be introducing some of my childhood friends to parkrun and I think we will all be "racing" each other and the clock to some degree.
The following week I will probably be Run Directing, to put something back into our brilliant community event.

Three weeks, three different ways to treat my parkrun. 

parkrun can be anything you want it to be!


  1. Nicely said Ian.

    parkrun really is what you want it to be and it doesn't need to be the same thing every week. Be it a race with your mates, a stroll down on the park or a chance to volunteer and enable all of the above for parkrunners everywhere.

    And whether the young lad won or was the first finisher, it was a great achievement!


  2. Well put Ian! I understand the front runners will see it as a race and be keen to beat the other regular 'fasties' and I would be proud and boast if my son or daughter came in first at parkrun but I still wouldn't see it as a race as I am more in favour of 'the spirit of parkrun' which for me is about the social side as much as the running. Whilst volunteering I have witnessed a few (and it is only a few) of the fast finishers not appreciate the volunteers and the effort that goes in to putting parkrun on every week, or ever volunteer themselves and I wonder what their view of the rest of us is?

    I am in awe of the speed they can go and fully appreciate the effort involved but I do wish that everyone took their turn at volunteering so that they can see it from the other side and so that Run Directors do not have the weekly battle to get enough people to volunteer!

    OK, I went off track there a bit.... ;)

    Happy parkrun Saturday everyone!

  3. Let's hope the "front runners" and those with 50 or 100 teeshirts, also remember parkrun needs volunteers to work.... eh? I was wondering the other day - when talking a gent at my parkrun - how many times people volunteer. I have ran about 20 times and volunteered 3 times.

    The woman with the son who won parkrun was very proud to be announcing it and maybe it is a race for her son, although he doesn't get a prize. I know for certain I will never come first in a crowd of runners but I came JOINT FIRST last week coz I matched my Personal Best.... Now I am racing.... I am racing myself....

    Unless I take my dog... then we will be jogging and staying out of the way!


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