Say it quietly, but we’re not far from the longest and hopefully brightest and warmest days of the calendar year.
It’s time to leave the armchairs and Xboxes behind and, for many, an opportunity to get active and provide a much needed wellbeing boost following those dark and dismal winter months.
But being fit and active this summer doesn’t necessarily mean handing over your hard-earned cash for gym memberships, boot camps or personal trainer sessions.
There are dozens of free activities to discover – and many of them are on your doorstep.
Many council parks offer adult fitness activities as part of their facilities and, as was underlined by the Grand Depart of le Tour de France in 2014, Britain is also home to some superb cycling routes, for those who prefer to travel on two wheels.
ParkRun - Free for ALL
But in this article we’re focusing on an outdoor phenomenon currently sweeping the UK that can improve your fitness, provides an opportunity to meet new friends and won’t cost you a penny.
At home and abroad, the parkrun movement is growing from strength to strength.
Events take place every week in places like Australia, Denmark, New Zealand, Russia, South Africa, Singapore and USA, and their footprint is broadening all the time!
A relatively new innovation, the first record of a parkrun can be traced back to 2004, when the ‘Bushy Park’ Run was first held in London.
Then, as today, the event was organised entirely by volunteers and made free for runners of all abilities to participate in.
Parkruns are typically 5km events contested by runners of all ages, abilities and experiences.
And it is in their accessibility and inclusiveness that their strengths lie. It is grassroots sports participation in its purest form.
Mark Hudson who organises the Doncaster Parkrun said “I love how it is totally inclusive, we have regular fast runners, slow runners, joggers, walkers, older people, younger people, children, mums and dads with kids (some even in buggies) and even dogs! Everyone is welcome and it’s a ‘run’ not a ‘race’”.
“Parkrun offers a safe environment for people to exercise, there’s no traffic and you aren’t on your own, particularly good in the winter when its dark at night and lonely running on your own.
So many people have got the bug, they come once and then find it becomes part of their Saturday and they never miss, its addictive!”
In lean financial times, cutting the cost of monthly outgoings is often top of a household’s agenda. But cancelling that £30 gym membership need not spell the end of your active lifestyle – simply pull on a pair of trainers and seek out your local parkrun, a comprehensive database of parkrun events taking place around the country on any given weekend can be found here.
There’s even a dedicated section for junior parkruns, should you wish to make your newest hobby a family affair.
The only formality before you head out to meet your new friends on Saturday morning is the requirement of online pre-registration – sign up once and you can take part as often as you like.
Andrew Halliday of Danum Harriers Running Club agrees it was Parkrun that got him into running, “before joining 5k was the furthest I could run, but ParkRun introduced me to other runners, one of whom convinced me to join his locally running club, and now I run Marathons – but without Parkrun I would never have had the confidence to join the local running club, let alone do a marathon.”
Many run schedules also factor in a post-race cup of coffee or bite to eat, so you can get to know your fellow runners a little better while reflecting on a morning of athletic accomplishment.
For those with a competitive streak, the vast majority of parkruns will supply you with your time after each 5k race, so you can keep a personal record and give yourself the added incentive of smashing your PB each time you show up.
Recent controversy surrounding a decision made by one council to attempt to charge runners to participate in parkrun, did threaten to undo much of the movement’s recent strong work.
But a groundswell of support in reaction to the council’s suggestion appears to have forced a re-think, and odds are that the parkrun will continue to thrive in the years ahead as one of the UK’s fastest growing, free, outdoor athletic pursuits.
It’s certainly a noble approach to fitness and wellbeing in an age of premium gym membership prices that often force households to favour purse strings over pound-shedding.
But parkruns offer a revolutionary opportunity for millions across the globe to make a positive lifestyle change without the financial burden.
Head to parkrun.org.uk for details of your local parkrun – it just might become the habit of a life time, not to mention one of the most financially and physically savvy decisions you’ll ever make!
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