Tuesday 28 January 2020

ParkRun making a big impact as a great attraction

ParkRun in Malahide
ParkRun in Malahide

Frank Greally

The explosion of interest in a simple concept called ParkRun continues at a pace and every Saturday morning you can see hundreds of walkers, joggers and runners arriving at venues such as Malahide Castle, St Anne's Park in Raheny, Rathfarnham's Marlay Park, Tymon Park in Tallaght, Griffeen Park in Lucan and Waterstown Park in Palmerstown.

These popular ParkRun 5k events are no longer confined to the Dublin area and there are now Saturday morning runs in Naas, Clonakilty and Westport - to name just a few.

One of the big attractions of these ParkRuns is that they are free to enter. The early morning start time is another attraction and there is no better way to get the weekend off to a positive start than a bracing run over five kilometres.

It will be two years next November since the first Dublin ParkRun took place in the grounds of Malahide Castle and every Saturday since then several hundred participants have gathered to enjoy the freedom and camaraderie of walking, jogging or running in this splendid setting.

Local recreational runner, Michael McMahon, was the man who set up the first ParkRun in Malahide. He had heard about how successful ParkRuns had become in the UK and Northern Ireland and a trip to Belfast to visit Matt Shields, who oversees the highly successful Northern Ireland operation, convinced McMahon that this was an idea that could become popular down south.

The ParkRun concept that Shields explained to McMahon was simple and without frills. All ParkRuns that take place at set locations on Saturday mornings, are free to enter, with reliable timing and accurately measured courses. Participants who enter an event are supplied with a barcode that they can use to have their finishing time accurately recorded at any ParkRun venue.

The original ParkRun idea first took off in England 10 years ago when Paul Sinton-Hewitt started what was to become known as the ParkRun Series in Bushy Park in south-west London with 13 of his running friends. The ParkRun founder, who mostly raced the half-marathon distance, was going through a period of niggling injuries at the time and so the shorter 5k distance was appealing.

The news about ParkRun spread slowly at first before the numbers began to grow. However, it was not until 2007 that another run was established, but others followed quickly after that. There are plenty of good standard athletic club runners who take part in the Irish ParkRuns, but the majority are recreational runners who enjoy the early Saturday morning run, which is often followed by a chat with other participants in a local coffee shop. There is an important social dimension to these ParkRuns and you can see this as runners congregate after the run is over.

Shields has been the real driving force behind the ParkRun events that continue to mushroom across Dublin and various parts of the country. A member of North Belfast Harriers, he is hugely passionate about ParkRun and has championed 18 events that now take place every week across Northern Ireland. He estimates that on any given Saturday over 2,000 people now take part in ParkRuns in Dublin and across the country and that there is an average of 400 new members joining up every week.

ParkRun looks for partners, such as local councils, to help underwrite the set-up cost of ParkRuns in their area. The stewarding of the events is done on a completely voluntary basis, with runners skipping one run a month and opting to steward instead.

It is a concept that is working brilliantly and ParkRun continues to make a big impact as an exercise programme of great attraction. Check out a ParkRun near you - www.parkrun.ie


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