About eighteen months ago, I looked down my list of Facebook friends and realised that over forty of them were parkrunners on the parkrun most events table who I only ever saw at inaugural parkruns. As inaugural parkruns in the London area were becoming fewer and further between and high numbers of curious parkrunners at inaugural events were causing a few problems for some new event teams, I decided to see if there was any interest in developing a more structured tourist network in the form of a Facebook group.
It was a purely selfish act and I was utterly shameless about setting the group up in a way that suited me. I wanted to keep it small because I prefer groups where you could feasibly get to know everyone to large anonymous groups with thousands of members. I wanted to limit it to bona fide parkrunners because I am not comfortable sharing future travel plans with completely untraceable strangers. I wanted it to allow me to meet even more parkrun tourists as the ones I’d already come across were such good post-parkrun company. But perhaps most importantly, I wanted it to be a space where talk of setting the alarm for ridiculous o’clock before taking two night buses across London to catch the first train from Euston to Preston would garner the response “I didn’t realise that Preston parkrun was a day trip” rather than “You’re doing WHAT?!!!”
All of which meant that I opted for a closed rather than open group, chose to retain the final say on who could be added and set a single criterion for membership, namely being on the most events table. I invited my most events table friends to join, said they were welcome to add anyone they knew who was also on the table and sat back to see whether the idea had legs.
Apparently it did. We now have 356 members (just over 1 in 5 of the parkrunners on the table) and the desire to put real-life faces to social media names has proved universal enough to merit producing a distinctive yellow, white and black not-Buff to allow people to identify fellow tourists. We have tourists who have never repeated a parkrun, tourists who run new parkruns only when their football team is playing away, tourists who link their Saturday parkruns to Sunday races, tourists who are on their home parkrun’s core team and who visit other parkruns to pick up new ideas, tourists who have retired from tourism to set up new parkruns, tourists whose tourism ended when they achieved their goal of getting onto the table and tourists whose tourism is a side-effect of an official parkrun role. We have tourists who tour for the stats, tourists who tour for the terrain, tourists who tour for the people and tourists who tour for the cake.
The group has evolved far beyond my original idea, and would be bigger still if I stepped away from the most events table rule. But every time I am challenged about a rule which bars people (if only temporarily) from a group which has at its heart something as fundamentally inclusive as parkrun, I come back to this. If it were bigger, if it were diluted, if I ditched the rule, it would not be the group that I yearned for when I set it up and it would not be the group that people agreed to join. It is a special interest group for people who have dedicated enough Saturday mornings to parkrun exploration to attain the distinction of seeing their names on the most events table. That is not the only definition of a parkrun tourist, it’s not even the best one, but it’s simple, easy to apply consistently and has resulted in a small, friendly group where mad tourist jaunts are socially acceptable.
And if there is the demand for a more general parkrun tourism group, then somebody, somewhere will eventually set one up.