I usually run in London and the South East, where parkruns are plentiful and many date back years. 50 and 100 t-shirts abound and there are even some 250 club members, though I have yet to meet one.
When Oak Hill parkrun started in North London two weeks ago, twenty of its runners had more than 10 parkruns to their names, including five 50 club members and one runner who is very nearly a member of the 250 club.
In Wiltshire, things are different. Southwick Country parkrun is only the sixth in the whole of the South West and is a marathon away from its nearest neighbour in Bristol.
So on Saturday, at the inagural Southwick Country parkrun, there were no 50 club members, only four runners in double digits and I found myself in the unsual position of being one of the most experience parkrunners present.
So, what wisdom can I offer to a new Event Director?
Not much. But for what it’s worth, and in no particular order, these are the things that spring to mind.
This might sound strange coming from a nomad like myself, but the key ingredient of a parkrun is its community, and this is strengthened by loyal runners who turn up week in and week out. With its monthly prize and annual points table, parkrun does already reward the loyal, but there are other simple ways to do this, for example, the collage put together by Riddlesdown parkrun for runners who had been at each of its first nine runs.
Going to a parkrun for the first time can be daunting, and one of the questions I hear most from first-timers is “Will I come last?”. If your parkrun is small and speedy, then consider nominating a tail runner to run along with the slowest person and take the dreaded last place. Or do as Wormwood Scrubs do and encourage people to stay around at the finish area to cheer home the last runners.
They are usually easy to spot. They will be the ones who turn up at 8.30am nervously clutching their barcodes. A few words of reassurance (yes, you are in the right place for parkrun; no, you don’t need your barcode until the end; no, you won’t be so slow that the volunteers pack up before you finish) work wonders.
Use your news page
The speed with which results come out never fails to amaze me. So if the results don’t appear by mid-afternoon on Saturday, I start to get a little twitchy. A short announcement on the news page “slight hitch, we’re working on it, be patient” works like a charm.
Encourage parkrun tourism
I know this is seemingly at odds with rewarding loyalty, but bear with me. Your parkrun is special. It’s in a beautiful place, it’s run by great people and the course has a usp. How do I know this? Because it’s true of every single parkrun I’ve been to. Whether your course is one, two or three lap; flat, undulating or hilly; grass, path or tarmac it will be perfect for someone. So don’t fear other parkruns. They will not steal away all your runners and volunteers. In fact, if they get too large, they may send runners and volunteers your way.
Offer personal invitations to the cafe at the end
Every parkrun I’ve been to says that people go to the cafe afterwards for a drink. But people are far more likely to go if someone they are chatting to asks them to join in. So if you’re talking to someone at a parkrun, why not suggest a post-run drink?
Thank your volunteers
Because, as we all know, parkrun wouldn’t exist without them.