Parkruns

The new get-fit craze!

What things should a new runner look out for on a parkrun?

As the crowds continue to pack into gyms around the country and the price of contracts continue to skyrocket, people are on the hunt for alternative ways to stay active and healthy that don’t cost an arm and a leg. The latest running craze has over 300 000 people spending their Saturday morning outside.

Bruce Fordyce, South African running legend, tells us more about his initiative and involvement in launching local parkruns.

People of all shapes and sizes seem to be taking up some form of exercise and running is one of the most popular. Why do you believe this is?

As the crowds continue to pack into gyms around the country and the price of contracts continue to skyrocket, people are on the hunt for alternative ways to stay active and healthy that don’t cost an arm and a leg. The latest running craze has over 300 000 people spending their Saturday morning outside.

It’s always been around; I just believe it’s being made more accessible to non-athletes now. If you look at races like the Comrades Marathon and Two Oceans Ultra, their cut-off times have been extended by an hour to allow more people to finish.

What things should a new runner look out for on a parkrun?

The cardinal sin for parkruns is not to register. Parkruns are free, but we require everyone who participates to register and bring along their barcode. This will ensure their time is recorded. Arriving without your barcode means you will be timed as an unknown. Parkruns are for people of all abilities, and there is no required level of fitness. We just want you there being active.

As one of the greatest SA athletes of all time, where did you get the idea to launch parkruns?

Thank you. Parkruns are the brainchild of Paul Sinton-Hewitt. He started them 11 years ago in the UK, he approached me in April 2011 to start them up in South Africa. I took my time to get them going, but I was finally able to launch the first one in South Africa by November that year. We now have over 300 000 registered parkrunners in South Africa alone, with a projected 500 000 people signing up by the end of 2016.

Parkruns are free and rely on the support of volunteers and sponsors. Who are the people and companies behind parkruns?

I can’t begin to thank the people behind the scenes of every parkrun enough. Because they are free to all runners, we rely completely on the help of each race director and their teams, who volunteer their time every Saturday, come rain or shine, to make sure that their community has a parkrun. We are also incredibly grateful for the support of our sponsors Blue Label Telecoms, Discovery Vitality, and adidas.

Parkruns have developed an almost cult following, what makes them so much more popular than just regular club running?

Parkruns are all about community. They are free; we run every Saturday regardless of the weather. If it’s raining, we run, if it’s a holiday, we run. For 52 weekends a year there is a parkrun and we encourage everybody to come along. There is no status given to winners or losers just bring your barcode along and run or walk and try to beat your own time.

Are there different distances for parkrunning and what is the end goal for those who join?

Every parkrun is modelled on exactly the same formula. It’s five kilometres long, on a Saturday and must be safe for runners of all abilities. We just want to get as many South Africans of all ages out and about.

Do you see parkrunning as a stepping-stone to bigger and better things? Would you encourage parkrunners to take up longer more traditional road runs or is the aim to develop the trail-running scene in South Africa?

Initially South African running clubs were threatened by parkruns, but the aim of parkruns is to get people running. Eventually, some of our runners are going to look to move up to bigger distances and more challenging runs. We’ve had people graduate from a five-kilometre parkrun, to finishing Comrades. More people run our parkruns across South Africa every Saturday than run Comrades every year. A great thing about the runners who go on to do those bigger events, they still make time to run their parkrun every Saturday.

We heard a friend’s dad bragging about getting his red t-shirt at his particular parkrun. What does this mean?

A red t-shirt is given to anyone who has completed 50 parkruns. That means you have dedicated a whole year’s worth of Saturdays to parkrunning. You get a t-shirt with the number 50 on the back and the flag of the country where you completed your 50 runs. What’s great about that is if you are running in another country, people know where you are from and how many races you’ve done. Kids get certificates for doing ten parkruns and there are shirts for those who have completed 100 (two years) races, 250 (five years) races, and 500 (10 years) races. Currently, there is only one person in the whole world with his shirt for 500 runs completed.

Initiatives like these always lead to success stories — which story has touched you the most?

There have been so many stories, some about weight loss, changing lives, running Comrades, but one that stands out particularly for me is that of Ari Seirilis who is the CEO of the QuadPara and wheelchair bound. He joined the Durban North Beach parkrun a while back and hasn’t stopped coming back. He recently achieved the feat of completing his 50th parkrun. Adidas made him a special shirt with his number on the front, so everyone would know he’d managed to complete his first milestone.

What are the most popular parkrun venues in South Africa?

Every parkrun is popular with their specific communities, but some of the more unique ones include the Stellenbosch parkrun through the vineyards, the Soweto Mofolo parkrun and Cannibals Cave parkrun in the Drakensberg. All the parkruns are having a great impact on local tourism, with businesses, coffee shops, and even accommodation seeing the benefit of these community-driven events.

As a member, can you run at any parkrun depending where you are at the time?

Absolutely. We have some parkrunners who are trying to complete all 64 different runs in South Africa. You can run any parkrun, anywhere in the world, as long as you have your barcode. I recently ran a parkrun in Dublin, Ireland.

How are parkrun venues chosen?

The community is responsible for where the parkruns are held, so it all comes down to where the people around you want to run. Because it’s volunteer run, we’re also approached by a particular community and asked to create a parkrun for them. They need to follow the rules concerning distance and safety, making sure it’s not too complicated, but once an idea is presented, we do our best to get it off the ground.

If you could give one message to anyone interested in taking up running, that is too afraid to do it, what would that be?

Try parkrunning. It’s a non-threatening way to pick up the sport. It’s a brilliant way to get healthy, make friends and no one ever gets left behind. No matter how slow you are, there will always be someone there at the end to clock your time.

www.parkrun.co.za