Parkrun’s birthday: Stevenage volunteers on why you should join them with new Letchworth parkrun ‘coming soon’

PUBLISHED: 17:39 12 October 2017 | UPDATED: 17:39 12 October 2017

Tracy Norris on barcode scanning duty at Stevenage parkrun. Picture: Tony Randfield

Tracy Norris on barcode scanning duty at Stevenage parkrun. Picture: Tony Randfield

Archant

Parkrun celebrated its 13th birthday on Saturday – but it was no bad omen.

Regular volunteer Jason Root at Stevenage parkrun. Picture: Tracy Norris Regular volunteer Jason Root at Stevenage parkrun. Picture: Tracy Norris

In fact, the number is rather special for all those associated with the global phenomenon, as 13 pioneering runners came together in October 2004 at a London park to complete a timed run – as four volunteers watched on.

Back then it was christened the Bushy Park Time Trial but now, as parkrun, sees more than 2,500,000 people take part in a free timed 5km at 9am on Saturdays.

Stevenage’s Fairlands Valley Park took up the baton in May 2016, and a Letchworth parkrun is tantalising ‘coming soon’ – a two-lap course taking place at the Grange Recreation Ground and taking in the Garden City Greenway. There’s also a junior parkrun for youngsters held at Stevenage’s Hampson Park at 9am every Sunday.

Everywhere you look new parkruns are springing up, with 14 countries – from Australia to the United States – now part of the fraternity.

Integral to the parkrun family is its volunteers, who give up their Saturday mornings to complete all manner of tasks to make the event the slick operation it now is.

To mark parkrun’s birthday, we caught up with willing volunteers that help make the Stevenage event possible to find out what motivates them to get involved.

Esperanza Castro loves cheering people on towards the Stevenage parkrun finish line. Picture: Tracy Norris Esperanza Castro loves cheering people on towards the Stevenage parkrun finish line. Picture: Tracy Norris

Chloe and James Marshall have been part of the parkrun family from the start.

“We love our Saturday mornings and being part of such a friendly and enthusiastic team,” said Chloe.

“Volunteering gives you a sense of accomplishment and when you see how much people enjoy and transform through this event it makes you realise what an important job you are doing.”

Jason Root agrees. “I love the fact that giving up a few hours of my time on a Saturday morning means people who might not normally partake in exercise will come along to a parkrun and complete a 5k course,” he said.

“One of the highlights for me is seeing how inclusive parkrun is – whether you need a visually impaired guide to complete the course, or partake with your dogs or babies in pushchairs.

“It’s great to witness people break their course PB – the look of achievement on their faces is brilliant – and seeing volunteers get involved, standing round in all weathers, and providing encouragement to everyone taking part is one of the best bits.”

Runners set off at Stevenage parkrun, which was held for the 70th time on Saturday. Picture: Danny Loo Runners set off at Stevenage parkrun, which was held for the 70th time on Saturday. Picture: Danny Loo

On any given week each parkrun has a run director who co-ordinates the volunteer effort, but there are a whole host of roles you can get involved in – and that doesn’t just mean marshals.

Essential to parkrun is that everyone who takes part gets a time and a record of what place they finished in – so timekeepers, finish tokens and barcode scanners are all needed to make this possible.

It sounds a complicated process, but for runners it is simply a case of printing off a unique barcode and bringing it along – the volunteers do the rest.

Volunteers can take part too – with a guide needed for visually impaired runners and a tail walker who ensures everyone gets round the 5k course.

Esperanza Castro, 54, says she particularly enjoys being a VI guide and marshaling at the finish is her favourite spot as you can “shout like mad for everyone”.

Julie Kempson, 49, said: “Volunteering is great fun and gives me the opportunity to give something back to a fantastic event. I love cheering on and encouraging all the runners and walkers – of all ages and abilities.”

The final word goes to 39-year-old Tracy Norris, who has made huge personal strides at parkrun – but regularly volunteers too.

“Volunteering has given me a new found confidence,” she said.

“I now often give the new runners briefing at the beginning of the event, and just love meeting and chatting to new people every week.”

Perhaps this Saturday you’ll join her?

To volunteer at Stevenage parkrun email stevenagehelpers@parkrun.com, and to find out more about the opportunities at the upcoming Letchworth event email louise.smith@parkrun.com.

To get your barcode to take part visit parkrun.org.uk.

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