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.

Glasgow council “needs cyclists to help map best/worst city cycle routes”

My friend Maz pinged me a link earlier today to an Evening Times article  titled “Glasgow bike project wants cyclists to help map city routes”. Seems to be a re-run of a project the council ran last year, which I’d half-heartedly tried to take part in.

The main… challenge for my participation last year was they’ve partnered up with Naviki. Whilst I’m sure it’s a lovely and wonderful service run by wonderful people, alas it’s not an app/site I’d come across before this project: from a bit of a poke about seems to have a bit more traction on mainland Europe than here, where it’s pretty much all Strava in my experience.

The main technical problem was, as I subsequently tweeted, bulk uploads of GPX data isn’t possible, and they don’t seem to have a public API, which means the wonderful tapiriik service can’t hook up to it (either for backup purposes, or syncing). Indeed, there’s a github bug with all the details:

So I’d sort of uploaded some of my rides (all of which I log with a few presses of my watch; it’s not a faff to do this), but not all of them. I’m keen to help show the council there’s plenty of us out there cycling when they try things like this, but my time and patience is/was a bit limited.

So assuming I’d like to help Glasgow council again in 2018, my options to take part are:

  • Continue using my watch (requires a few button presses, and it all automatically syncs to Strava), and use my GPX export via tapiriik to upload each individual GPX file one at a time (==periodic faff)
  • Start up the Naviki app on my phone, as well as on my watch (==extra faff every day)
  • Have a bit of a moan and try and see if there’s anything other options, or more to it (==this hour-long drafting faff)

The larger question though is why are the council doing it this way anyway@BikeGobGlasgow pointed this out here, Strava already make a lot of data available, for free – see the Glasgow heatmap here (street level detail needs a login). But they also have (paid for) services available to bodies/organisations such as councils to access anonymised ride data.

I know one of the arguments might be that us Strava/Garmin users are already likely to be quite engaged with cycling, and are may be a bit self-selecting, which may not make it representative. Along the likes of ‘new protected cycle provision isn’t for people who already cycle, it’s for the people who aren’t yet comfortable doing so’.

However, I still rather doubt there’s a huge advantage using data sourced from (I fear) slightly patchy adoption of a clunky/special app involving various degrees of faff, over the richer, and more widely adopted Strava platform might offer – which would certainly average out to a good usage indicator.

The effort from the council links to a new(?) active/sustainable travel website too at  https://www.smartertravelgla.co.uk/ – promising stuff. On the running front, better information is available at https://peoplemakeglasgow.com/running-in-glasgow though, talking about running clubs, and parkrun (which first came to Scotland in Glasgow’s Pollok park, 10 years ago…)