Glasgow parkrun: 4 months on

It’s quite hard to believe that it’s over four months since Glasgow parkrun started, and I thought it was perhaps time to write a bit of a personal reflection on how things have gone.

Quite simply, it’s been stunning. We’ve been completely taken aback by the enthusiasm and uptake of the event since starting. We always knew it’d be quiet in December, and would pick up a bit more as the spring kicked in (and Glasgow’s spring 10k’s approached), but it’s surpassed even our most optimistic projections.

Some stats illustrate this: Our first event had 44 runners, but the proximity to christmas meant numbers dropped until January: Event #2 had 24 runners, #3 22 and #4 25. I look back at those events with a strange fondness, as we were learning so much about running the event, but the numbers feel almost, er, pedestrian. You see, since January, we’ve not really slowed down. 10th January say 81 runners, 28th February 114 runners, and the 28th March 153 took part. So with 18 events under our belts, we’ve had 644 runners take part, with 1490 separate runs totalling 7450 km. An average attendance of 83 participants each week, with the average run taking 24:11, and the average runner taking 38 seconds off of their course time over the duration of the event.

We’ve had a our fair share of problems. We had to adjust the course twice, first to move the start/finish away from a persistent puddle (ironically it’s not made much of an appearance since then!), and secondly to take account of a formal course measurement one of our runners did for us. But the new course has a much wider, downhill start section, and better accommodates the larger numbers we’re now seeing Our ‘best’ problem was actually only last week, when our timing device had a problem that meant we didn’t record the first 11 participant times. Thanks to the quick thinking of Frances, we soon got back on track. Best of all, everybody affected understood and wasn’t too bothered by the inaccuracy.

Glasgow council, and in particular the management at Pollok Park, have also been incredibly supportive. I recall our first meeting, and was worried there was some concern about what we were proposing. Perhaps they found it difficult to understand what motivated a couple of chaps to want to put on a free 5k race every week. I recall a few frowns, and certainly was a bit concerned they weren’t ‘getting’ it. We had a good few hoops to jump through to get the permits, and it was certainly quite a difficult process, but we got there in the end, and all the better for it. All the risk assessments came good, and covered us. The managers are enthusiastic, and we’ve been delighted to report to them that as a result of our event, many participants are coming back to enjoy the entire park and the Burrell Museum. Plus they’ve got a regular event taking place at a quiet time of the day.

Speaking to other park users I see when out and about putting up or taking down the signs, almost everybody is supportive of what we’re doing. The park is, after all, very quiet at 9.30am on Saturday mornings. Dog walkers are probably the only ones who are adjusting their habits, but all our participants know to respect other park users and yield to them. So far, so good. We take our respectful use of the park very seriously.

But by far the best part is the sense of fun and community that is building up around the event. I think it’s a bit of a puzzle to people when they first hear of it. They perhaps think of more ‘formal’ races, with their pinned on numbers, serious athletes, and entry fees. Once you get in on the running scene, they’re friendly enough of course, but new comers are often put off by them (I know I was). They’re just a tiny bit intimidating, at least until you start to enjoy them. But with parkrun it’s different. Here we have a free event that you can just turn up to once you’ve registered. It’s deliberately sociable and enjoyable, and it’s run by runners, taking their turn to volunteer on the day.

Somehow, there’s a real ‘magic’ to parkrun that brings participants together, and enables previous strangers to start chatting to each other in the post-run registration queue, or coming along for the post-run coffee. I don’t think I’ve ever really seen as much chatter at a local race, from and between elite runners and newcomers.