Little and large: size is NOT everything when it comes to parkrun

A picturesque scene as runners make their way alongside Willen Lake during last Saturday's Milton Ke

A picturesque scene as runners make their way alongside Willen Lake during last Saturday's Milton Keynes parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTON - Credit: Archant

Athletics correspondent Carl Marston is travelling around the region (and beyond) running in different parkruns. Here he heads to Milton Keynes and discovers that size is NOT everything at parkrun

Willen Park,the home to the weekly Milton Keynes parkrun.

Willen Park,the home to the weekly Milton Keynes parkrun. - Credit: Archant

Big or small; record highs or record lows; bumper fields or just a dozen starters - it doesn't matter, in the world of parkrun.

In fact, size is most certainly NOT everything, when it comes to the free weekly 5K at your local park or out on the tourist trail.

Actually, size is irrelevant.

I, like most seasoned (and unseasoned) parkrunners, have experienced the joy of being a small part of a massive field of parkrunners, perhaps at one of the 'heavyweights' such as Bushy Park, Southampton or Cardiff.

Runners and dogs approach the finish to last weekend's Milton Keynes parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTON

Runners and dogs approach the finish to last weekend's Milton Keynes parkrun. Picture: CARL MARSTON - Credit: Archant


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Likewise, I've equally relished being a visitor to one of the 'small-but-perfectly-formed' parkruns, where fields of below 100 are the absolute norm.

parkrun does not differentiate between enormous 1,000-plus fields of runners, joggers and walkers, and those 'struggling' to even break into double-figures.

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And that, of course, is one of the attractions of parkrun.

I mention all of this, because last Saturday morning I headed off to one of the 'bigger' parkruns in the UK, at Milton Keynes.

Runners congregate for the start of the 492nd Milton Keynes parkrun, which had a field of 631 on Sat

Runners congregate for the start of the 492nd Milton Keynes parkrun, which had a field of 631 on Saturday. Picture: CARL MARSTON - Credit: Archant

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As always seems to be the case for me, I arrived one event too late to experience the true delights of a record-breaking feat.

Flashback to the start of the Bushy parkrun, when columnist Carl Marston took part, one of a field o

Flashback to the start of the Bushy parkrun, when columnist Carl Marston took part, one of a field of 1,107 that morning. - Credit: Archant

The previous Milton Keynes parkrun, a fortnight ago, had attracted a mighty entry of 1,075 to Willen Lake, so smashing the previous highest of 918 from New Year's Day, 2019.

Size isn't everything, as we have already established, but that was pretty impressive and just reward for some very pro-active Facebook posts from the organisers.

It represented a 91% increase on the previous week, with 511 more toeing the line, and in fact Milton Keynes was the third highest attendance that weekend, just behind normal 'leaders' Bushy Park (1,583) and Southampton (1,076, so just one more than MK!).

Perhaps the most encouraging statistic for the organisers/ volunteers, was the 56 'first-timers' experiencing parkrun for that never-to-be-repeated first time, a great reason to celebrate.

A runner is happy to reach the finish of the wonderfully low-key Beckton parkrun, held in the Boroug

A runner is happy to reach the finish of the wonderfully low-key Beckton parkrun, held in the Borough of Newham in East London. Picture: CARL MARSTON - Credit: Archant

Naturally, the excitement had died down when I visited, last weekend, but the field of 631 was still one of the largest that I have been a part of, on a joyous Saturday morning.

Highs and highs

Like the majority of parkrun tourists, I have made a pilgrimage to the Daddy of all parkruns, at Bushy Park, the first one to be established back in 2004.

As far as I can make out, the top five highest attendances in the UK are: 1 Bushy Park (2,011), 2 Southampton (2,295), 3 Cardiff (1,192), 4 Cannon Hill (1,118), 5 Norwich (1,104). And No. 6? Milton Keynes with that 1,075!

But at the other end of the number scale, a glance back at previous parkrun excursions suggests I have yet to sample a truly small-and-cosy experience.

I was one of 62 at the Beckton parkrun (London) on April 14, 2018, though I note this event once welcomed a happy dozen, and I was one of 67 who turned up for the Westmill parkrun in Herts, on September 15, 2018, well above the lowest total of 29 for that wonderful, undulating event.

I've also enjoyed an intimate experience at Pymmes (Edmonton in North London), Swaffham (Norfolk), Haverhill (Suffolk) and Snowden Field (Lincolnshire).

And come to think of it, these 'smaller' parkruns, if anything, have been among my most enjoyable.

Naturally, my aim is to savour a sub-50 parkrun, perhaps up the East coast at Gainsborough, or further afield at Kirkwall (Orkneys) or Bressay (Shetlands).

One day.

But then there's no guarantee of a tiny field, when I do roll up - which won't matter, because size is irrelevant!

Run-down of Suffolk parkruns

Highest attendances for the 11 Suffolk parkruns: 1 Felixstowe 671; 2 Lowestoft 566; 3 Ipswich 502; 4 Kesgrave 456; 5 Brandon Country Park 442; 6 Bury St Edmunds 395; 7 Sizewell 247; 8 Great Cornard 233; 9 Clare Castle 208; 10 Thomas Mills 171; 11 Haverhill 137.

Carl's experience

I can only imagine what it felt like to be a member of the record-breaking 1,000-plus Milton Kenyes parkrun for Event No. 491, but No. 492 was a cracker.

Much of the course is around the two north and south Willen Lakes, after an initial stretch along a canal, but there's also a testing climb up the Zig-Zags.

It makes for a dizzy but delirious Saturday morning in Buckinghamshire.

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