Yes, I’ve been running for over five years now and it’s taken me this long to do my first parkrun. That’s because at present there is no parkrun in The Netherlands (although this will soon change).
I’ve learned about parkrun through my British running friends. If you ask a Brit how they started running, more often than not they’ll tell you it all started with parkrun. Those same British running friends were shocked when they found out The Netherlands doesn’t have parkrun (yet). Several times I’ve considered going to a parkrun in the UK when I was there, but if I was there on a weekend it generally meant I was there for a race on Sunday and I didn’t want to run the day before.
If you don’t know what parkrun is: it’s a free, weekly 5k event held in parks in 21 countries around the world (soon to be 22 countries). In thousands of parks across the globe there is a free 5k event with timekeeping every Saturday morning. How cool is that?
Since me and lots of other volunteers are working on setting up parkrun in The Netherlands, we thought it might be a good idea to do a parkrun ourselves first, since some of us had never done one before.
The one closest to us was Düsseldorf, Germany. Germany has had parkrun events for about two years now and the one in Dusseldorf has been running for less than a year. It is held in the Volksgarten, which is quite a large park, so we had to look for the start, but when you see a bunch of runners standing together in the park on a cold Saturday morning, waiting for the start, you know it’s parkrun.
The Volksgarten is a lovely park with nice ponds and trees and some squirrels running around. Since the Volksgarten parkrun hasn’t been going for that long yet, they also don’t have that many volunteers, which means no marshals on the course. For those who do not know, parkrun is not a closed road event, you have to share the park, but some parkruns have marshals pointing you in the right direction. In Dusseldorf they made due with cones and it worked really well. The course is a double loop weaving through the park and since there are a lot of crossings they need a lot of cones to tell you which way to go.
At the end of the second loop I was almost the last runner and at times I couldn’t see a runner in front or behind me, but I could just follow the cones and it worked really well. I managed to do the loop even though it was my first parkrun and I’d never been in that park before.
Parkrun does have timekeeping, but instead of having to hire an expensive timekeeping system (remember, parkrun is a free event which runs on volunteers) parkrun uses a barcode system. Before you join parkrun you have to sign up at the website to get a personal barcode. You only have to sign up once and that barcode will be yours forever and you can use that barcode all over the world where there are parkrun events.
Parkrun isn’t a race. You can run, jog or walk. You can try for a personal best, but showing up and having fun is the most important part. There are basically three rules to parkrun: show up, bring your barcode and give way to other people in the park.
You have to bring your personal barcode (you can print it) with you every time you go to parkrun. Once you cross the finish line, the timekeeper will have recorded your time. You then get a token (which also has a barcode on it) with a number which corresponds to the place you’ve finished in and therefore corresponds with your particular time. You then go to the scanner and that person scans your personal barcode and the token. You then hand the token back so they can re-use it and your personal data will be linked to your time. Once the times are uploaded into the system you will get an e-mail telling you your time, place and some other stats. In your personal account you can see how many and which parkruns you’ve done and the finish times. And you can earn milestone t-shirt for participating and volunteering.
I really enjoyed my first parkrun. The park is very nice and the volunteers are very welcoming and as long as you bring your personal barcode, parkrun is very easy. You just have to show up and run. I hope I get to do a lot more parkruns around the world.