Voice of Real Australia: In praise of parkrun

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The author celebrates his 100th parkrun in Mount Isa last weekend with a cardboard cutout of the 100 run t-shirt and followed it up by swiftly ordering the real thing online.

The author celebrates his 100th parkrun in Mount Isa last weekend with a cardboard cutout of the 100 run t-shirt and followed it up by swiftly ordering the real thing online.

Back in 2017 I had to get up very early one Saturday morning and drive 120km down the road to Cloncurry for an event.

The town was hosting a new weekly running event called "parkrun" which organisers were hailing as the most remote in Queensland.

Parkrun is a weekly 5km timed run or walk every Saturday morning, suitable for people of all ages and abilities.

It can be held in a park, or a track or any place where you can have a five kilometre run unimpeded by traffic.

Parkrun is free but to get a time recorded you need to register in advance with parkrun Australia.

There you can register your home parkrun and you will get your unique barcode, which you need to print off and bring on the day.

Some other handy items to bring are a hat and water bottle.

Other than that, you don't need anything at all except your smile.

It's very friendly and you can run or walk the five kilometres at your own pace.

Indeed the whole ethos of parkrun, founded in the UK in the early 2000s before heading international in the last decade, is to be inclusive and the average parkrun time has gotten bigger as the years go by.

That's proof positive that more slower runners and walkers are taking part.

While I enjoyed the Cloncurry experience, parkrun really took off for me when Mount Isa began hosting a parkrun in 2018. Since then I've done 60 parkruns locally and 40 more at 36 courses across Queensland (not too many outside the state yet due to COVID), making me a bit of a "parkrun tourist" (which I'm assured is "a thing").

I proudly wear the 50-run red parkrun t-shirt I got in November 2019 and last weekend I clocked over the 100 mark, so I've ordered the black 100-run one too.

That's two full years of forsaking Saturday morning lie-ins for a jog in the park and the occasional tee.

A bit obsessed? Maybe. But it is a lot of fun as the late great Olympian Ron Clarke knew.

Clarke was instrumental in bringing parkrun to the Gold Coast in 2011 and Main Beach parkrun, Australia's oldest event, is now 10 years old.

Parkrun has been wildly successful since then.

There are now 424 event courses across Australia and you can check out your nearest one here.

There have been 10,207,909 event finishes since April 2011, predicted to grow to 2.82 million by 2022 and 4.37 million by 2026.

Women aged 35-44 make up the largest contingent with 1,109,000 parkrunners at 13 per cent

With 389,000 members, Queensland is parkrun's most popular state, followed by NSW (259,000) and Victoria (159,000).

As the Mount Isa parkrun director Sarah Choyce says it is way more than a run in the park and singles out one group in particular.

"It is all about the vollies," she said.

She's right. The reason parkrun works is its 34,134 volunteers who every week direct runs, or marshal the courses, or take the photos, or record times or do whatever it takes to keep it running tickety-boo.

And they do it all with a smile on their faces.

Ms Choyce said volunteers could be any age and was a great way to get involved and help out, with immense mental health benefits.

Australian parkrun CEO Tim Oberg agrees that the real value of parkrun is not in the run at all.

"The physical activity is actually a tool to bring people together and it's that which makes the impact," he said.

Long may it continue. I'm already eyeing off that green 250-runs t-shirt.

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