Why the 9:30am start time for parkrun in Scotland?

I get asked a few questions quite regularly about parkrun in Scotland. One of the main ones is “Why the 9.30am start?“, and it certainly came up in many of the lovely chats I had with people about the course today. It’s also probably the main difference for parkrun in Scotland (and the island of Ireland) compared to the England and Wales.

So, there are two reasons for the 9.30am start time at Glasgow, now Pollok parkrun, which was the first parkrun in Scotland.

Firstly, well, Pollok park is a tree lined park. I was looking to do setup at about 7.30am – cycling from home and putting the signs up (always the reverse of route), before returning to collect my car with the kit (we eventually needed a few traffic cones for our finish area, and they’re heavy).

I went back through my emails to Chris Wright, the first employee of UKTT (now parkrun), who provided critical logistical and moral support in getting us, and many other events, off the ground. I wrote this on 10th October, 2008, as permissions came together and we needed to start planning the detail of the event:

We’re actually considering a later 9.30am start simply because the sun rises 40 minutes later here in the depths of December. Add the heavy tree cover in some parts of Pollok Park, as well as the gorgeous Glasgow weather, we’d been thinking it’d make sense to set a slightly later start time, at least in the winter months. But there’s an argument (for sheer simplicity) to stick to one time all year round.

Chris responded:

Re start time, there is something to be said for a regular start time throughout the year so I’d be tempted to make it 9.30 throughout the year, but it really depends how busy the park gets during summer at about 10.30. I’d say start with it at 9.30 and keep it under review.  If you later decide to say Winter 9:30 GMT, Summer 9:00 BST then that’s always an option.

It was always at the back of my mind how much darker it’d be for any time trial/parkrun that started further north, if another community ever wanted one. I’d not visited anywhere much further north in the winter at that point, but I had a rough idea after a few winters in Glasgow just how dark it can get/feel in the depths of December. I’d also less awareness of what other city parks were like at the time, so figured they’d be at least as dark and foreboding, and fiddly to setup, as Pollok’s North Wood.

Secondly, the proposed event was to take place in the North Wood of Pollok park, which is just behind the Burrell collection, so there was a perfect post-run coffee venue to hand. But it opened at 10am. I was very worried about how – or even if – the community/atmosphere of the events I’d enjoyed (Bushy park time trial (now Bushy parkrun), and Richmond park time trial (now Richmond parkrun)) would develop if we had a 9am start, with most runners finishing about 30 minutes before the cafe opened. They’d simply go home rather than hang about. So, we’d have no easy post-run natter spot, and the event wouldn’t flourish. We’d then struggle for volunteers. It’d be hard work.

So, a 9.30am start would fit perfectly with the venue schedule, and would help foster the community.

It’s just important – certainly after parkrun grew beyond the 10 UK events it had at the end of 2008 – to remind Scots travelling south so that they don’t miss the local parkrun. Tourists who visit Scotland over the summer, or people who catch national publicity, do sometimes arrive for an earlier start. Alas the difference in start times doesn’t get spotted (assuming it’s stated!).

But that’s it really. We stuck with it, and didn’t really ever consider revisiting it. Dark parks in winter, and the need for coffee and cake, that was important to build the community, and it all just fitted. It felt right, and works well with other park venue opening times around Scotland.