More Than Just A Jog in The Park: How ‘Park Run‘ Got Me Hooked.

If you ever find yourself walking along Edinburgh’s Cramond Promenade at nine am on a Saturday, look west and away through the hazy morning placidity, a rumbling formation becomes visible, closing in on you at haste. Out of the middle of it, between the flower laden grass and the vast water out to Cramond Island, colours emerge, and just as you expect to hear chariots of fire, you hear the thunder of feet; runners.

First are the quick ones, small and light on their feet. Running at speeds normally only seen at a professional level. Close to follow come the other three hundred odd runners. Contrary to the ‘300’ that fought beside the great Leonidas (Gerard Butler) in the 2006 hit movie, Park Run participants come in all different shapes, sizes, ages and fitness levels. Although lacking the Hollywood CGI bodies, the Park Runners excel in their passion, commitment and courage.

The five kilometre long Edinburgh Park Run is an unusual, even beautiful sight. Park Run arrived in Edinburgh on the 17th of October 2009, and since then 14,000 different runners, including participants from 683 clubs, have completed 94,626 runs covering a total distance of 473,130km, and there have been 17,832 new personal bests. The Park Run is held every Saturday at 9 am at Cramond Promenade.

I was personally converted into a dedicated Park Runner a mere three years ago on a brisk February morning. It was an emotional and blurry morning to say the least. The night prior had been my brothers stag do and the latter part of the day my dear brother, Jamie, would be wed to his now wife Alice. My father, Alex (already a committed Park Runner) had come up with the plan to take us to Cheltenham’s Park run. To me, our group of nine from the wedding party were a perfect depiction of what the Park Run stands for. We were all different ages, varying in size, fitness level and even nationality. Our group was made up of Scots, Irish, English and even an American. We had all come together and we were all able to take part and enjoy a truly unifying experience, with no man, woman or child left behind!

We arrived at 8.30am and we were warmly welcomed to a first timers and visiting park runners’ speech. After being made aware of the course set up, who the volunteers were, their role and all the general amenities and rules of the local park we set off to slot ourselves into the crowd of other runners, already lined up raring to go.

Feeling a bit more at ease, we stood eagerly at the starting line to listen to the final announcements, shortly to be followed by the starting countdown. Our group was taken aback, when the announcers took time out to congratulate my brother on his big day, which was received by a loud clap and cheers from the rest of the runners.

“It was somewhere that anyone could go to, in any city and be able to improve upon their running, socialise and really, truly, enjoy themselves. “

With the locals being made aware of who we were, they made it their duty to make the morning extra special for us, being incredibly supportive to all of us the whole way round the course. I should probably mentioned that we were not hard to spot as I had somehow been tricked, in my role as the younger brother, into wearing a crocodile onesie; not the most aero-dynamic running gear I’ve ever purchased.

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Once the run had ended, we stayed and mingled for a half hour, talking to the new friends we had made drinking hot chocolates and teas provided by some of the locals. My eyes were now open to this new phenomenon. It was somewhere that anyone could go to, in any city and be able to improve upon their running, socialise and really, truly, enjoy themselves. What did it for me, was being involved in something bigger than myself, feeling part of a community, and since then I have not looked back, attending every park run I can at Cramond Promenade.

Park Run originally started in South West London in 2004, with a mere 13 people showing up for the initial run. Now Park Run is a global weekly event, with dozens of sister runs across the world. The five kilometre run is completely free and entirely organised by volunteers. You are given a barcode and number upon registration. Your barcode will be scanned once you have completed the run each week and will be used to record and track your time, so you can check it online, compare it to fellow runners, and work on self improvement.

That is the beauty behind the Park Run. It is up to the individual how to approach it. It can be run as a race, alone or with friends. It could be a bit of fun or a target for a new personal best. It could be walked, or even run with your dog or pram (hopefully not at the same time). It is a fun, family, community event.

You may spot the more serious Park Runners, easily visible, wearing t-shirts testifying their 50th, 100th or 250th completed Park Run. I imagine the Park Run outposts that have sprung up in places as far as Tasmania and as remote as Bere Island are not dissimilar, although the starting line in Camp Bastion is probably less varied. It’s a non-judgmental, unifying event, which stems from its non-competitive and fun nature. You are welcome to just turn up and run; it is your park, although I would advise you sign up if you want to get your recorded time, after all, it is free.

Finally, at the end of the five kilometres, once you’ve regained your breath, cheered others in and talked to neighbours and fellow runners, people whom you might otherwise have merely exchanged glances with as you passed each other on the pavement, you’re now ready to head home to begin the count down of the 6 long days, ready for the next one.

Now, what are you waiting for? Go and join your Park Run community, beat your personal best and most important of all, have fun!