Party on the Heath

Happy 1st birthday Hampstead Heath parkrun!

Today was the 1st anniversary of Hampstead Heath’s parkrun, one of over 100 free, timed, volunteer-led 5km runs that take place across the world every Saturday morning. Although HHpr (as it is known colloquially) is only one of many parkrun events, and is only one of 4 separate parkruns that I have visited (Eastleigh, Finsbury Park, and Brockwell Park), the Hampstead Heath event has a very special place in my heart. I really feel that if it wasn’t for HHpr I would never have become the (over)enthused and improving runner that I am. I have been running this parkrun since its inaugrul event last year and it was an absolute pleasure to be part of it’s 1st anniversary celebrations and to take note of how much this community has grown over the last 12 months.

I attended my first ever parkrun in 2010, just after completing my first 10K race. I loved the concept: free, volunteer-run, not for profit, community oriented, inclusive sport. It was a way to meet new (running) friends, a way to measure my improvement, and a hobby that I could take part in no matter how skint I was. After moving to West Hampstead, London I trekked across to my nearest parkrun at Finsbury Park a few times, but as it involved a 30-40 minute tube journey I did not go back very regularly. I begrudged the tube fare to get there at the end of the month, it was too hilly to cycle on my heavy town bike, and too far to run there and back. I was chuffed to bits when the weekly e-newsletter announced the first Hampstead Heath event, only a mile from my flat.

A few weeks after HHpr started I joined the volunteer team and regularly arrived at the Heath at 8am to lay out the course markers. I also volunteered as a timer and a registration helper during tapering weeks or during lazy weeks. Through HHpr I met some wonderful and inspiring people of all ages and from all walks of life, and have made some wonderful friends. It was one of these friends that coaxed me along to the Mornington Chasers running club, a club I had visited before pulling my hamstring but had lost the confidence to return to.

Would I have ever joined the Chasers and taken up regular half marathon running without the encouragement of the HHpr community? Probably not actually. There is something so very special about an event that spends as much time and effort celebrating its last finisher as its first. There is something so very special about an event that makes its volunteers feel more valuable than its sponsors. And I think that the incredible sense of community and the friendships that have blossomed from this particular parkrun event are an enormous credit to the event directors who have built it up, Bridget and Jessica, and the newer (but no less influential) directors Kayleigh, Carla, and Juliette. Somewhere between all of the overwhelmingly positive characteristics that define the parkrun concept my confidence as a runner has been built and I have confidently taken part in league races with the Chasers knowing that I will be battling to stay out of last position. Parkrun had taken the embarrassment out of learning to run because it celebrates that simple fact that you are doing it at all.

So to all of you lovely parkrunners on the Heath this morning, to all of you jolly parkrunners across the UK and the rest of the world, to all of you lovely chums that I have made, and all of the volunteers that make it happen week after week after week – thank you and happy birthday!

Oh, and how was the run? I finished in 26:29 – only 34 seconds slower than my course PB (this is a very hilly course – expect to add 40-60 seconds onto your normal 5K time!) Take that injured leg – I’m back on form!

For more info about the joys of parkrun, please visit their website: www.parkrun.com

And if you are a regular parkrunner, please think about offering just one or two, or perhaps even three, Saturdays a year to volunteer and keep these wonderful events running.

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