On the Run: 14th anniversary of parkrun and a previous visit to Hackney Marshes

The famous football pitches on Hackney Marshes, where the Hackney Marshes parkrun takes place every

The famous football pitches on Hackney Marshes, where the Hackney Marshes parkrun takes place every Saturday. It was a misty morning when Carl Marston visited, in early 2017. Picture: CARL MARSTON - Credit: Archant

Athletics correspondent Carl Marston is travelling around the region (and beyond) running in different parkruns. Here he marks the 14th anniversary of parkrun, and also recalls a visit to Hackney Marshes

The setting for the Hackney Marshes parkrun, when columnist Carl Marston visited in January, 2017. T

The setting for the Hackney Marshes parkrun, when columnist Carl Marston visited in January, 2017. The event is one of the oldest parkruns in the world. Picture: CARL MARSTON - Credit: Archant

This week was a very special week for the parkrun fraternity, because Tuesday marked the 14th anniversary of parkrun, from small beginnings to a worldwide phenomenon.

It is remarkable to trace what has happened over the intervening 14 years, ever since 13 hardy souls, all of them pioneers, met at Bushy Park in Teddington, south-west London, on October 2, 2004 to take part in what was then loosely called the Bushy Park Time Trial.

Speed on 14 years and parkrun has just celebrated having five million people registered – the 5,000,000th person signed up this week.

Ironically, my eldest step-son, Jack (now aged 23), is set to tackle his first-ever parkrun this Saturday, at Nowton Park, Bury St Edmunds, while my wife Helen is also planning to hit the parkrun trail in the near future.

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And yet ‘parkrun’ took time to take off. The event was still known as a ‘Time Trial,’ until 2008, and for two years after its inception in 2004, Bushy Park remained the only event of its kind, a free, low-key, weekly 5K event.

In the early days, results were recorded with pen-and-paper, at the nearby Caffe Nero, and numbers remained well below 100.

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Yet gradually numbers began to increase, so that they were up to as high as 378 at Bushy Park by 2006 (last Saturday, 1,288 toed the line at the 754th event), before parkrun ‘fever’ finally began to spread. There were six new events in 2007, a handful more in 2008 and a further 15 in 2009, including the longest surviving non-UK parkrun, in Denmark.

Thirty more events were added in 2010, including the Hackney Marshes parkrun – more on that to come, in this column – so that by last year there were a staggering 1,500 parkruns worldwide, across 20 countries, with approximately 250,000 runners, joggers and walkers in action each Saturday morning.

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Nowadays, e-mails are sent out to every parkrunner who has completed an event that particular weekend, revealing details on his/her time, finishing position and age group grading, usually later that same morning.

Before this weekend, the number of parkruns in the UK had risen to 569. The latest to be established, the 569th, was not far away at Cambridge with the birth of the Coldham’s Common parkrun last Saturday.

parkruns have emerged in the most unlikely locations, including on the Shetland Islands (Bressay parkrun), in prisons (Black Combe parkrun, in Cumbria, was the first of this kind) and a young offenders institute (Keppel parkrun, in Wetherby).

Suffolk has embraced parkrun, and there are now 10 in the county, the oldest at Ipswich (317th tomorrow) and the youngsest at Sizwell (seventh this weekend), in addition to several 2K junior parkruns for 4-14 years-olds.

Essex too has parkruns dotted all over the county, and tomorrow is a special day for the Clacton Seafront parkrun, which is holding its 100th landmark event.

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As you might have guessed, I caught the ‘parkrun bug’ myself a couple of years ago.

My initial fear was that these free, weekly 5K parkruns would have an adverse effect on the established road races, with their entry fees, and the running clubs themselves. But the opposite has been the case, with an estimated 8,000 parkruns joining affiliating running clubs each year.

Hackney Marshes parkrun

I am currently injured and nursing a sore hip, from my exploits at the previous weekend’s Raphael parkrun in Romford, so for the first time in more than 50 weeks, I didn’t line-up somewhere for a free 5K jaunt last Saturday.

But while this ‘parkrun tour’ has ground to a halt, for the time being, there have been a couple of earlier events that I have yet to feature in this column, so in the immortal words of ‘Blue Peter’ – ‘here’s one we (I) made (ran) earlier!’

Hackney Marshes, like the founder father Bushy Park, is in Greater London, although the two are 33 miles apart.

I visited on a weekend trip to London, staying at the nearby Olympic Park in Stratford, and was therefore able to jog the mile-and-a-half to the start.

It is one of the oldest parkruns in the UK, having been first held on May 29, 2010, and is staged in one of the most iconic settings.

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Hackney Marshes is widely acknowledged to be the spiritual home of Sunday League football, and there are still a total of 80 football, rugby and cricket pitches spread across a sprawling mass of common land.

When I visited, back on January 21, 2017 the marshes were enshrouded in early morning mist, which gave it a ghostly appearance with rows upon rows of goalposts disappearing into the distance.

The parkrun is great - a dead-flat out-and-back route around the top of the Hackney Marshes, with a stretch along the River Lea navigation, and great views (the mist did lift!) of the Olympic Park in the distance.

I ran a modest 20:14 that day, and such was the standard at the head of a field of 240, that I didn’t even trouble the top 20.

Happy anniversary, parkrun.

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