England is onto something, and the US should take note.
Last week, I experienced my first ever Parkrun. I went to the one in Bushy Park, but each London borough hosts one of these informal 5k races every Saturday of the year at 9am. The races are hugely popular- Bushy attracts nearly 1,000 people on a given Saturday- and it’s easy to see why: they’re free, regular, timed, social, and inclusive of all ages and abilities. They’re powered by volunteers and sponsored by Adidas, Lucozade Sport, the Sweat Shop, and the London Marathon.
This is how they work:
1. Find the Parkrun nearest you, register online (if you want to record a time), and print out your individual barcode.
2. Show up at your race’s starting line a little before 9:00 am on any Saturday and bring your barcode print-out.
3. Race the 5k and latch onto a pace group if you want help achieving a certain goal time.
4. Scan your barcode at the finish line and see your results posted online that afternoon.
The range of talent levels at Bushy was really cool. A 2012 Olympic miler dominated the field (and continued running 2 more loops as a workout), while whole families and very recreational runners filled out the rest of the course. And afterwards, lots of runners stuck around to mingle, put down some muffins and coffee, and answer questions from a curious American.
These races have been so well-received in London that they’ve spread throughout the UK and to other countries as well (including a couple that are in the works in the US). The Parkrun directors make it almost too easy to establish new ones- their website says that they “aim to have an event in every community that wants one” and they offer help and guidance getting them rolling. If you’re at all interested in finding or starting a Parkrun, check out http://www.parkrun.org.uk (maybe drop the UK if you’re in the US?). I would love to see the movement take off back home!