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Parkrun turns running into fun


Always wanted to run with running champ Bruce Fordyce? Now’s your chance – join Parkrun and run 5 kilometres on a Saturday morning with the legend.

Parkrun is a worldwide event, with just under half a million runners signed up to run every Saturday, in whatever weather. It started 8 years ago in London, when expat South African Paul Sinton-Hewitt decided he wanted to get the community together to run a sociable 5 kilometres in Bushy Park. Only 14 people turned up but these days thousands start their weekend with the Saturday run, in countries as far flung as Australia, Denmark, Iceland, Ireland, New Zealand, Poland, the US, the UK, and South Africa.

Fordyce was in the UK to run the London Marathon a few years ago, when Sinton-Hewitt, a friend of his, invited him to join their Bushy Park run, and after that he was hooked – he started Parkrun in Joburg, his home town. “I saw the magic of Parkrun - that’s why he invited me, I think,” he explains.

Twenty-two people turned up to run in Delta Park in November 2011. “There are now 9 000 runners doing Parkrun in South Africa, 5 000 of whom are in Joburg,” says Fordyce. Some 3 000 runners are registered to run at Delta, and each week about 200 turn up for the run.

Besides the social runners, some hard core runners get ready for the “on your marks, go” at Delta Park, and clock in a time of around 16 or 17 minutes. That’s just more than 3 minutes a kilometre, an extraordinary speed for a cross country run. “It’s a wonderful way to have a fast run,” enthuses 57-year-old Fordyce, who has run 30 Comrades Marathons, and 29 Two Oceans Marathons.

Other venues in Joburg where you can run are Modderfontein, Roodepoort and Woodmead. Or Benoni on the East Rand. There’s a Park Run club in Cape Town, Durban, Hazyview in Mpumalanga, and two in East London. In the coming weeks several more will be inaugurated around the country.

The trick was to find a suitable venue, one that is not too busy with other events, but at the same time scenic and easy to navigate. He considered Zoo Lake, but it’s too busy, he says.

The great part of the run is that it is free, with the emphasis on runners running against themselves, in what is a “community event”. All you need to do is sign up on the website, and this qualifies you to run in any Parkrun anywhere in the world, where your time will be recorded on the website. A weekly newsletter keeps you in touch with the community.

But more important is the social aspect of the run, where a percentage of people just walk around the perimeter of Delta Park, enjoying the chat and being part of the community.

The only payback expected is for runners to volunteer to record runners finishing, and getting their times up on the website a few hours after the run. Others collect the cones around the course at the finish of the run.

“It is very addictive,” says Fordyce. “Some say the worst day of the week is Sunday, because they have to wait six days for the next run.”

Runners and volunteers get points, with a random prize being given every month. Fordyce has got two sponsors on board, but no one takes a salary.

The run is largely for the average Joe, he says, who enjoy the outdoors. After the run there’s a standing invitation to go for breakfast at a nearby restaurant.

The day I joined the run, there were fathers with their 8-9-year-old sons, dads pushing their babies in pushchairs, and runners with several dogs on leads. There is no age limit, with several 70-somethings jogging along cheerfully.

Runners come in all shapes and ambitions. A woman told me she was preparing for the Two Oceans. A lean 20-something runner said the 5km was “good cross country training”. An over-60s gent said he’d finished 12 Comrades and was running 1 000km before the next Comrades. He added: “I will be doing 50km at Suikerbosrand and 50km at Hartebeesfontein Dam. This 5km adds to the total.”

In October 2012 Sinton-Hewitt celebrated the 8th anniversary run in London, where nearly 1 000 people turned up to run. He says in a video clip on the website that he was nervous on the first run, as he “didn’t know whether they’d be 100 or 1 person. It was just a run, everyone would be responsible for yourself”.

He adds: “I’m gobsmacked – who would have ever thought that something so simple would capture the minds of so many people, not just nationally but across the world. It’s just crazy really, after all, this isn’t a cure for cancer or anything, this is just a 5km run but it permeates society at a level I never anticipated.”

He said that many people make friends on the run, and they do the run for “support and companionship, or just to get their weekend off in the right way”.

Sinton-Hewitt explained that what is special for him is the kids who participate. “I think running today for me it’s the kids, seeing the kids running, taking part, and everybody’s got a smile on their face, there’s a sense of accomplishment, and it’s just brilliant.”

Seventy-three-year-old Derek Warwick, who runs the Roodepoort Parkrun, says on the website that Parkrun has changed his running: “[It has] replaced one of my weekly runs on my own along busy roads to running in a park with many running friends from earlier days who I would not otherwise have seen again.”


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