For those of you who don't know what parkrun is, it's an organisation who run free runs, normally around 3 miles / 5K in parks all over the country (and all over the world). Once you've registered and have your barcode, you can turn up and run for free with the local community of runners wherever you are.
Why is this important? Well running can be lonely, when you exercise for yourself, sometimes it's easy to step off the gas a little or even put the exercise off for another day but parkrun makes you an instant part of a community. I went along and started talking to a Mum I recognised from my son's school, we'd smiled at each other but had never talked before. I saw someone I knew from work and ended up chatting to an ex marathon runner for the last mile (she was complaining about how much she'd slowed her pace as she'd got older, I was just chuffed I could keep up with her.)
At the end you get a token which represents your time which you then scan with your barcode and magic! An hour or so later, you get your time and position posted online and (if you opt for it) texted to your phone.
Was my time good? Nah, it was shocking but I had a good time and I ran the whole way, without stopping and I had fun. I really had fun. It was nice to run with other people for a change. Will I do it again? Next time I'm around and have childcare for the time it's on? Hell yes. Try and stop me.
So why on earth am I writing this? Well for the first time a council has brought in charging for parkrun. This is Little Stoke Parkrun in Gloucestershire.
I think this is stupid.
Ok, I understand that there are other park users. I understand that running on paths with a lot of people can lead to them getting muddy and needing quicker repair but people run in parks all of the time... In fact, if the argument is that "parkrun causes more people to go out running and so it damages the park more" then surely that is a price worth paying? Read that again... "parkrun causes more people to go out running".
Now put this into perspective. Councils are always trying to get people to exercise. Why? Because lack of exercise is a causative factor in obesity and exercise helps prevent or reduce the risks of heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes and helps improve mental well-being. Councils are always investing in exercise initiatives. There is a council subsidised gym and pool in my (small town) as well as an outdoor gym (free), tennis courts, football pitches and recently the council announced £1 million of funding for another leisure centre. At my park run, nearly 100 people turned up this weekend and all ran for free with little investment required. The last time I went into a gym to see 100 people there was, erm, never. Apparently £60,000 is required to repair some footpaths at Little Stoke. £60,000 is a drop in the ocean in comparison with investment in bricks and mortar sporting facilities and a drop in the ocean in terms of the money saved by investing in our health.
I'm not naive, I understand councils are short of cash and everyone is feeling the pressure on services but this decision is an appallingly short sighted one, however, what it has done is increase the profile of parkrun and got me off my sofa and running my first ever parkrun this weekend.
Be bold, be brave and give it a try.
I've linked this to the healthy, happy, green and natural party hop.