There are few public health interventions as successful as parkrun. It wasn’t set up as a public health intervention, which may be one of the reasons it has worked so beautifully. The first one was just a group of friends doing a 5k time trial in London’s Bushy Park. But in the years since that first event in 2004, parkrun has spread across the world. It went from being a largely middle-class event for people who already considered themselves runners to being a part of many communities, deliberately expanding into deprived areas and trying to get a slower average time for participants completing the course, because that meant it wasn’t just reaching established runners and fit types. No one finishes last as at each event there is a ‘tail walker’, a volunteer who walks behind everyone else and keeps up morale.
So successful has it been that parkrun has had a partnership with the Royal College of GPs for a few years now. Doctors are prescribing the events to their patients with a range of conditions, whether they be mental illness or physical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and obesity.
That last condition is one the government is particularly keen to tackle, not least because of the links between being seriously overweight and developing serious complications with Covid. But parkrun has just delayed its UK events reopening again, largely because landowners — particularly local authorities — haven’t given permission for a safe number of events to start up again on 5 June as planned. If too few parkruns open, the fear is that they will be overwhelmed by runners desperate to get back on a course after more than a year away.
Councils say they’ve been overwhelmed by applications for events and have been trying to get through the backlog.