Why I love parkrun

Parkrun is a weekly, timed, 5km run. It happens every Saturday at 9am in England and Wales (and many other countries) and at 9.30am in Scotland. It’s run by volunteers and is free to enter. You register once (at parkrun.org.uk) and print out your barcode. Then turn up at a parkrun with your barcode and run, jog, or walk the 5k course. When you cross the finishing line, you receive a second barcode and someone scans both barcodes. Then, later that day, you get a txt message and email telling you your time.


There are currently 784 different weekly parkruns across the world. 376 are in the UK, where parkrun began, and the rest are spread across 10 other countries around the world. It all started in 2004 with just 13 runners and four volunteers at Bushy Park in London. As the name suggests, parkruns are never on roads, or crossing roads. And it’s a run, not a race; the emphasis is on doing your personal best (whether that’s finishing in a particular time or just taking part at all).

How I started parkrunning

I never wanted to run. I had no interest in running. I wasn’t even that keen on exercise, except for walking into town (or, for a brief time, cycling to work sometimes). Friends kept posting annoying photos on Facebook of their parkrun achievements on a Saturday morning while I was still sleeping.

Then I randomly heard an interview with Paul Sinton-Hewitt, founder of parkrun, on Radio 4 last summer. After hearing another parkrun feature on the radio around Christmas time, I found myself running three times round a cold, muddy field in Winchester with my friend, Gemma. That was the 17th January and that was my first parkrun. Two weeks later, I was staying with my runner friend, Wing, in London and we did the Greenwich parkrun. It was cold, muddy, and snowy that time. Then I did the Winchester parkrun every two weeks until I went on holiday to the US in April.


In Raleigh, North Carolina, I dragged my friend Chris along to his first parkrun in Durham, NC (8am start there!). We thought it was amusing that a man from Stockport, UK, had driven through the night from a business trip in Atlanta to run the Durham parkrun before driving back again. That really seemed beyond commitment…

Then I ran every Winchester parkrun between my US holiday in April and my Sicily holiday in June. Then my parents drove 3 hours with me from where we were staying in Sicily to stay overnight in Palermo so that I could run the new Uditore parkrun on the Saturday morning.

At this point, I accepted that I was hooked. Not just on parkrun but on running in general. It turns out, I actually enjoy running.

What I love about parkrun

Stats! For every parkrun you finish, your personal stats page on the website gets updated with the event you were at, your time, your position, and various other things. Something like this:


When I started parkrunning, my goal was to get to the end without stopping or walking. I had actually run 5k about half-a-dozen times a few years earlier and I knew that I could complete it without stopping as long as I went really, really slowly (basically jogging at a brisk walking pace). After my fourth parkrun, I discovered that I wasn’t quite so knackered at the finishing line and started to go a little bit faster. If you get a PB (personal best time) at a particular parkrun, that’s recorded on the website too.

While I enjoyed watching my PBs coming down, I was actually more motivated by the ‘collecting’ aspect of parkrun. That was what helped me get out of bed on a Saturday morning and get down there. Every parkrun you attend is recorded. When you have done 50 parkruns, you get a free t-shirt. Then another free t-shirt at 100, 250, and even 500 parkruns (just one, very dedicated, man has that one so far). By the end of 2015, I’d done 21 parkruns and volunteered at 11 (volunteering is recorded too and has its own free t-shirt to aim for).

Attempting (and not quite succeeding) to get a PB at Southsea parkrun in June.
Attempting (and not quite succeeding) to get a PB at Southsea parkrun in June. (Photo thanks to Southsea parkrun’s photographer on 13/06/15.)

After the first couple of times, getting up ‘early’ on a Saturday morning wasn’t so bad. My parkrunning friends, Tim and Andy, actually claim better times when a bit hungover or tired. And you can always (family permitting) go back to bed afterwards. According to Facebook, it’s not just me who often ends up napping on a Saturday afternoon after parkrun in the morning.

I also love the friendly and sociable atmosphere, especially at the smaller parkruns or if you volunteer. Runners are all ages; women; men; children running alongside; children in prams; dogs on leads. By my 8th or 9th parkrun, I’d caught up with a 60-year-old regular runner and, as I got faster, an 11-year-old.

What I learnt about myself

I actually enjoy running. That was a surprise! Not crazy marathon distances with all the training that involves but I quite like running 5-10k distances. In particular, I love sprinting. No matter how tired I am running the distance, I can almost always find the reserves to sprint the last 100m; kind of like my main course tummy being full but still having space in my dessert course tummy.

I discovered that my body can do amazing things that I didn’t believe back in January. In just 6 months, I dropped 10 minutes from my PB. I completed my first parkrun in January in 38:11 and couldn’t imagine being able to do it in under 30 mins. But I got there in July.

#ThisGirlCan run 5k in less than 30 mins! (In fact, we both did that week.)
#ThisGirlCan run 5k in less than 30 mins! (In fact, we both did that week.)

It turns out I’m quite determined! Not only in running distances in a given time but also in finding ways to get to local parkruns whilst on holiday, even if they’re not that nearby. Running, mostly at parkrun, improved my self-confidence.

The runner’s ‘high’ is definitely a thing; once I started enjoying running, I found that I usually felt great after a run, even if I was really tired. I also found running to be calming. And I’ve made new friends both at parkrun and through the (it turns out) masses of people at work who are into running.

It turns out, too, that I’m a sucker for gamification. Strava is both a blessing and a curse. It’s great for the sociable aspect of running and for challenging yourself to get better times. But getting ‘kudos’ from your Strava friends and badges from Strava can be a bit too encouraging at times. That, combined with loving the social aspect and the physical wellbeing I got from running, led me to overdoing it and getting shin splints (bruised feeling in my shins). A common running rookie error of doing too much too soon. In my case, I think it was sprinting downhill on tarmac during lunchtime runs, on top of running too often and too far (in addition to parkruns) over about 3-4 weeks in the summer.

What I learnt about running

The main thing is to build up gradually. I knew from the start that I could run 5k very slowly so I just gave it a go. As I got fitter, I started to get faster. By running, I could feel myself getting fitter, physically and mentally. So in June I started running more with friends, not just at parkruns.

I didn’t understand that, to do a lot of running, you need to be quite fit. The muscles that you need to be strong when running (eg ankles, calves, thighs, buttocks) don’t really get stronger by running alone (or not very quickly anyway). It’s important to have strong abdominal (‘core’) muscles and glutes (buttock muscles) in order to have better posture and control over your movement. I didn’t have very strong any-of-these muscles so when I suddenly increased the amount of running I was doing, my shins got overstressed.

I had been warned to build up gently but I didn’t really understand why. Moreover, I didn’t realise that any injury might not reveal itself until after I’d stopped running. I’d assumed it would hurt whilst running but, although I was tired on my last run, my shins (and knees) didn’t start hurting until later that day and over the next few days.

2015-08-15 09.06.47

Frustratingly, my shins still aren’t recovered enough to run any more than a gentle walk/jog yet. I now go to the gym three times a week to do both cardio exercises (like rowing machine) and weights, as well as doing some stretching exercises that the physiotherapist recommended. As a result, my knees are better (my thigh muscles are now less tight) and I’m generally stronger, fitter, and I have better balance (I can stand on one foot without wobbling loads!). But I still have some way to go.

So, moral of the story: don’t go mad! Other moral of the story: cross-training (doing non-running exercise too) is important for running. I think I would probably have been okay if I’d stuck to just doing the parkruns each week as that was a nice distance each week and gave me plenty of rest time in-between. I have no expertise in any of this, of course, and have just gleaned this information from my GP, the physiotherapist, gym instructors, and online. If you want to know what the experts say and debate, go take a look online, in particular, Runners World seems pretty good at summarising the latest research and controversies.

Volunteering at parkrun

Being injured and unable to run for a while encouraged me to get involved in the volunteering side of parkrun. All parkruns are organised and run by volunteers each week. The number of volunteers required each week and the roles they take depends partly on the size of the parkrun (that is, the number of runners).


The timing technology is neat and it’s all about enabling events to scale up to larger numbers of runners without getting overwhelmed. I’ve only volunteered at Winchester parkrun, which typically has between 150 and 250 runners. I’m told that the nearby Southampton parkrun, which often has around 600 runners, handles the barcode scanning etc at the finishing line with necessary military precision.

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I’ve now done a range of volunteer roles, including marshalling (pointing runners in the right direction on the course and cheering them on), giving out finishing tokens, time-keeping, scanning barcodes, and tailrunning (where you run last on purpose). There are other roles like photographer, run director (responsible for the run that week), and event director (responsible for that parkrun event every week). Each time you volunteer, you get another parkrun recorded on the website. After volunteering at 25 parkruns, you get a free t-shirt.

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How to start parkrunning

To give it a go, find your nearest parkrun (look on your country’s website if you’re not in the UK). Dig out your trainers.

Register on the parkrun website and print out your personal barcode.

Get out of bed on Saturday morning and go along to your local parkrun. You don’t have to run if you don’t feel up to it. You can walk, even if no one else is. Don’t worry about other people’s times; you’re only competing against your own goals, whatever they are.

If you really don’t feel up to it, try downloading a couch-to-5k app and doing that in your own time before you tackle a parkrun.

More than anything, though, enjoy it! And don’t forget your barcode! No barcode, no time.



This post is based on my OggCamp 2015 talk. The talk slides are on SlideShare.net but the speaker notes are badly presented on there so I decided to write it up properly.

Lord Nuffield and Tampon Club in WWII

Eagle-eyed AndySC was out and about visiting Nuffield Place and spotted this for Tampon Club:


“an early example of someone taking @tampon_club needs into account!”
— AndySC

Lord Nuffield is the Nuffield of Nuffield Hospitals and the William Morris of Morris Minors. Nuffield Place is his old home, which is now preserved by the National Trust for people to visit and find out about the things he did, including his contributions to the war effort during World War II.

Laura Ingalls Wilder House & Museum, Mansfield, Missouri

The real, actual reason for my trip to the US in March/April this year was to fulfil a childhood ambition (or tick something off my bucket-list, if you will) to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder House & Museum. That involved a trip to Mansfield, squarely situated in the ‘fly-over state‘ of Missouri.

Many people have responded to this explanation with “Who?”. So I ask if they remember Little House on the Prairie on TV. If you do, well, not that, but the books that the TV series was based on. Despite being a bit obsessed with the ‘Laura books‘ when I was a pre-teen, I saw the odd episode of the TV series but never got into it. It was the books all the way, for me.


Laura Ingalls Wilder and Mansfield, Missouri

Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in 1867 in Wisconsin just after the American Civil War (1861-1865) ended. As a result of the US Government’s Homestead Acts around that time, her family became American pioneers, moving around the middle states to lay claim to free land and farm it. Her childhood took place in log cabins, covered wagon trains, and wild prairies. As a teenager, settled in North Dakota, she saw the immensely rapid growth of new towns around her family and other settlers.

In 1894, she and her husband and daughter travelled again, this time to the new town of Mansfield in Missouri. They bought some land and built a house and farm where she and her husband lived for the rest of their lives. She lived through the inventions of cars, flying, radio, cinema, and TV. She died in 1957; it’s quite amazing how different the world must have been by then.

In the 1920s, already an experienced writer, she started to write about her early life. With collaboration by her daughter, Rose (a successful journalist and, later, a war correspondent), she wrote the ‘Little House‘ (or ‘Laura’) books. Although fictional, they were based heavily on the real experiences of her life. The books were successful from the start and provided her with a comfortable income, as well as fans who would come to visit her at her home when she was old. When she died, the farm became (with Rose’s financial assistance) an early incarnation of the not-for-profit museum that’s still there today.


I learnt about the existence of the Laura Ingalls Wilder House & Museum in the Introduction of my copy of The First Four Years, the final book in the series. Obviously I wanted to go. It wasn’t until the dawn of Google Maps that it occurred to me to actually look up where Mansfield, Missouri (MO) was. I’m still not sure I really appreciated just where it was until I started trying to plan a trip there early this year.

Getting there

As I was coming from the UK, it was quite a long and expensive trip to make just to go to a museum for a day. So I managed to build it out into a bigger trip, My Big American Adventure. The upshot was that I flew from Boston, MA, to St Louis on the Eastern border of MO (the main alternative would be Kansas City on the Western border of MO).

I picked St Louis mainly for its Gateway Arch. I didn’t want to be travelling at weird times or hauling my luggage around with me, so I spent a couple of nights in St Louis at the awesome, if odd, Missouri Athletic Club. As it turned out, when I was in St Louis planning my drive to Springfield (where I stayed two nights in a motel), I discovered that I would be travelling in the direction of the historic Route 66, which was a nice serendipity that I wrote about separately.

At the Laura Ingalls Wilder House

I rocked up at Rocky Ridge Farm at about 10.30am and was in time to join the 11am tour of the houses. For the $10 admission, I watched a brief introductory video, and saw the main Rocky Ridge Farmhouse, which Laura and her husband, Manly, built, and The Rock House, a bungalow that Rose built for Laura and Manly when they were older. The latter house is important because, although Laura lived there for less than a decade, it’s where she started writing the Little House books. Sadly, you can’t take any photos of the inside of the houses or museum (which is also included in the admission). There are postcards you can buy of the farmhouse’s interior (and I did) but none of The Rock House. Which is rather frustrating as it’s not like I can pop back any time to remind myself what it all looked like.

Rocky Ridge Farmhouse
Rocky Ridge Farmhouse

The inside of the farmhouse is really interesting. Because it was built, room-by-room, over 17 years as they could afford it, the styles changed so that the later rooms were more modernly styled. The kitchen (the first room) was pretty cool for its time, though, in that the units were all fitted. Laura designed it so that it would be easy to clean and so that it could cope with both family cooking and the messy chores of a farmer’s wife, like gutting and plucking birds. She later wrote about the design of the kitchen for a magazine. It even had a ‘hatch’ so that dishes could be passed through to the dining-room table without having to keep walking back and forth between the rooms.

Manly, her husband, was very handy and had made a lot of the furniture himself, including a three-legged desk-lamp that wouldn’t now look out-of-place in Habitat. There were also cushion covers he’d ‘hooked’ (like rugs) on the settee in the living-room.

The Rock House is round the other side of the land. Until recently, there was a footpath you could take to get there from the main farmhouse. That was out of action when I was there, though (maybe something to do with the on-going building works for the new museum building elsewhere on the land), so we had to drive ourselves round to another entrance to get to The Rock House.

The Rock House
The Rock House

The Rock House was built in the early 20th Century, by contractors, and paid for by Rose. I think it was meant to be a sort of retirement bungalow for her parents. It had all mod-cons like central heating, modern plumbing and electrics, and lots of light. It even had a fully fitted bathroom – which is still there in its original form! The evidence suggests that Laura wasn’t that happy about being shunted off into a new house by her daughter, despite its benefits. Rose had moved into the farmhouse but when she moved away again, Laura and Manly sold The Rock House and its land and moved back into their own farmhouse again.

Still, whilst living at The Rock House, Laura started writing the Little House books and I saw the actual desk she wrote at!

Outside The Rock House
Outside The Rock House

Back at the museum

The museum is currently just a large, single room with display cases all around and the main desk where you buy your admission ticket. Some of the Wilders’ belongings were displayed in the houses but a lot were kept here. That included things like Pa’s fiddle, Mary’s Braille slate, a collection of ‘name cards’ (think Moo cards of the 1880s), patchwork quilts, letters, books, magazine articles, manuscripts, household goods and crockery (including Laura and Manly’s English Wedgewood wedding crockery!) and a load of Rose’s possessions too.

Although the museum is very proud of having Pa’s fiddle, the glass dish that was rescued from a house fire, and many other things, I was somehow most moved by seeing the actual piece of lace that Laura’s friend Ida Brown made for her and presented to her as a wedding gift in These Happy Golden Years. It just seemed the most personal thing that had survived through more than a century.

Somewhere along my travels to Mansfield, I’d picked up a nasty cough and cold and spent much of the day in a slightly glazed, snotty, spluttering mess. That didn’t stop me spending about 3 hours in the museum itself looking at the exhibits and reading the articles and boards on display. I must’ve left so many germs in there…

Other sights in Mansfield, Missouri

After that, I browsed the onsite bookshop for a while and bought some souvenirs. Eventually, I accepted there was nothing else I could see there, so I headed off up to the Mansfield Cemetery where Laura, Manly, and Rose are all buried.


In Mansfield is still the Bank of Mansfield, where Laura and Manly got the mortgage for the land at Rocky Ridge Farm. You can’t see at this resolution but over the door it says it was established in 1892, just two years before Laura and Manly moved there. That’s how new Mansfield was when they arrived.


I also stopped off in the centre of Mansfield itself to get some food. There, I saw the bust of Laura as an old woman:


A note to 9-year-old Me

Dear Laura (not that one),
It’ll take you about 25 years to get to Rocky Ridge Farm. I know that seems like an unimaginable amount of time but, I promise, you will get there. And it’ll be worth it. It’ll be as brilliant as you expect it to be.

Me. Exhausted but happy.
Me. Exhausted but happy.