A gentle nudge for parkrunners

As you may be well aware by now, I’m a huge parkrun fan. parkrun is a big hug in a mug for me. I love the concept (free 5k events all over the UK, and indeed the world!). I love the community. I love the non-competitive nature of it. It’s inclusiveness. I love the fact that you can go to different ones and almost “collect” them and build up your stats.

Yes, I am a parkrun devotee. I love my home parkrun, Netley Abbey. OK the course can be tough; three laps meaning three inclines, the terrain can be tricky (compacted gravel and grass) and it can get a bit hairy when a lot of people show up (shouts of “keep right!” can be heard throughout). I’ve been going there now for a good number of years and I’ve become a fairly regular member of the set-up and close-down team for those years too. It’s a great way to volunteer and still be able to run. I love chatting and laughing with the crew and often feel guilty when I can’t make it because I’m heading off somewhere else that weekend.

Now, volunteering is a crucial part of making parkrun work. Without people giving up their time it wouldn’t work. People can volunteer and not be runners as well. It always amazes me when people become part of the parkrun community this way despite not wanting or being able to run. Run Directors, barcode scanners, course marshals, timekeepers etc., are all so integral to a Saturday’s parkrun.But often forgotten are the set-up and close-down crew. I obviously don’t know what happens in every parkrun, but at Netley we need to be there an hour before the 9am start. We need to get out the signs and parkrun paraphernalia from the store cupboard, which is  no where near the start (it’s the only safe place to store it on the park grounds) and then walk the course and set it up. I suppose at smaller parkruns or more obvious routes don’t require that many signs or that much walking in order to set the course up but for Netley we basically have to walk an entire lap (a mile). We usually don’t have enough people to make this process as efficient as possible. 
Now this is all fine and dandy during the summer months where it’s warm and sunny but when autumn and winter hit, it can be a rather miserable process. It sucks when you wake up for parkrun and see the weather outside. Rain battering against the window, frost, mist, COLD. It’s more of a struggle to get yourself to go. If you “just” run parkrun then you might hide in your car until the last possible minute and then dash off to the start at 8.55am. But the set-up crew have been out there for a good hour in that weather. I can’t speak for everyone else, but normally I’m rather cold, wet and a little grumpy. Peeling off my layers and heading to the start is a hideous process. I’m not overreacting when I say that during the winter I do tend to dread that hour before parkrun. We normally don’t get time to warm-up with a nice jaunty jog around the park.

OK I’m whining and moaning and this is out of the spirit of parkrun – of which, despite all this, I still adore. My moan is no one’s fault – it is what it is. We’ve tried to streamline things as much as possible of course but the weather and time of year can’t be helped.

So this year I’m going to take some time off at winter in setting the course up. It just wears down my love of parkrun and I don’t want that. I also want to explore other parkruns. I want a lazy Saturday morning, getting up at the last possible minute to race down to the start. To hibernate away in my car until the final second. Or have a bit of time to stretch my legs and get the blood flowing before I need to run.

What I will ask though please is when you’re next at parkrun, give a thought to how those signs were put there, who set the barcode table up, who placed each cone on the course, how the finish funnel is where it is…. parkrun fairies don’t exist. parkrun devotees and volunteers DO. Maybe consider giving up that extra time in bed and heading down to help them out. Or when you’re finished, how about clearing the course away instead of dashing home to the warmth or to the coffee shop for a post-run hot drink? It really does help.

Right, moan over!

Do you go to parkrun?

Do you volunteer?

Is your local parkrun course a simple set-up or more complicated?

16 thoughts on “A gentle nudge for parkrunners

  1. You’ve definitely volunteered a lot more than most people so enjoy your chilled out Saturday mornings. One of the reasons I don’t parkrun much is because I can’t guarantee I’ll be there to volunteer. I need to move nearer a parkrun so I can feel part of the parkrun community.
    I have volunteered a lot at my local tennis club and worked out I organised 15 tournaments in a 5 year period. I only stopped volunteering because the committee of my Club were blatantly starting to take advantage of me. The amount of admin was getting beyond a joke and to be honest, it stopped being fun. Also, trying to get people to help out for just an hour was getting increasingly difficult. Parents would leave their kids at the tennis club all day. I guess paying £10 to enter a tournament was cheaper than paying for childminders. Sorry, now I’m ranting!
    I’ve put my name down as a volunteer at four local races next month. I’m actually looking forward to standing around and not running!
    Emma recently posted…Great Birmingham Run training week 14My Profile

    • I think when people start taking advantage of volunteers it’s time to stop. When I go to Netley I will help close down for definite and potentially set up, but for the coming weeks I’m all over the place. I do feel guilty not going but then, like you said, I’ve done enough for the moment!

  2. I did a lot of parkrun volunteering when I was running halfs every weekend….I really ought to get back into that.

    That said, since February, I’ve logged over 200 hours of volunteering with (mostly) Girlguiding. And I’m knackered.

  3. A victim of it’s own success parkrun. When I ran North Carolina they had three volunteers. They relied on the leading athletes scanning the others in. I quite liked that but I’m struggling to introduce that in Fareham!

  4. Yes, such a great point! I am always so shocked and appreciative of those volunteers who actually aren’t even runners, they just love volunteering at races! I think that’s absolutely amazing because they are better people than me, I’d have a hard time volunteering at a race I wasn’t passionate about.

  5. I think the parkruns that I regularly go to have the set up pretty sorted- Panshanger is a one lap so they get someone on their bike to do it (or sometimes someone will walk but that means leaving much earlier). At Ellenbrook it is the same guy each week who sets out the signs (and it is nearly one lap so it covers a big area)- he doesn’t run but him and his wife are basically there marshaling every week (Danny Norman’s parents- so basically the core parkrun family). And both those parkruns have the tail runner hold a bag and collect all the signs as they go around, so when the last runner comes in all the team need to do it take down the finish funnel. St Albans used to give the few signs to the marshals so that you would put the arrows down on you way around to your marshal point.
    Maria @ Maria runs recently posted…A cinema trip, nearly a handstand and a few parcelsMy Profile

    • A bike would be a good plan but we have so many signs it wouldn’t be possible unless they had a trailer or something. Usually our tail runners or marshals do help bring back stuff but it’s really the setting up that’s the most annoying as no one is there early enough.

  6. I volunteer occasionally at our local parkrun (I think I have volunteered more than I have run it). I’ve never been to another but ours is a one lap circuit so setting up is usually left to the marshal of the post who is provided with a little map and pictures of where things are which is helpful. I think the RD has a run of the course beforehand though! But yeah, it is an early morning and is fine in the summer but a little nippy (and slippery, and muddy) in the winter.
    Steph recently posted…It’s been a while (again)My Profile

  7. I literally could have wrote this post myself, well about Lee rather than Netley! We struggle getting close down volunteers. I guess when people are done they just want to head off, usually it’s the same people putting everything away that it is getting it out at the start.
    Rebecca recently posted…October Memories Through The YearsMy Profile

  8. Our parkrun is pretty straightforward. The marshals have specific signs and cones to set out on the way to their positions and the finish funnel is set up by the barcode scanners/ funnel manager after the run starts.
    I love parkrun and make sure to volunteer any weeks I don’t plan to run (i.e. the week after a marathon!) and have started volunteering as a pacer at our monthly pacer runs. It’s so lovely to help others get a new PB.
    Well done to you on all those set up duties. Volunteering in the winter can be so miserable!

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