On the run: The ‘father’ of all parkruns at Bushy Park
PUBLISHED: 16:26 21 December 2018
Athletics correspondent Carl Marston is travelling around the region (and beyond) running in different parkruns. This week he heads to the Bushy parkrun in London
Ever since I took part in my first parkrun, I had always wanted to visit the ‘father’ of all parkruns – at Bushy Park.
And I did just that last Saturday, following in the footsteps of such distinguished visitors as Mo Farah and Sonia O’Sullivan to toe the line at the 765th staging of the Bushy parkrun, in the borough of Richmond upon Thames.
It was an amazing experience.
I have been accustomed to turning up at venues, up-and-down the country, at 9am on a Saturday morning, to join fewer than 100 like-minded souls in a 5K jaunt around playing fields, on a promenade or in woodland.
Bushy Park shares the same features as all the above, a free 5K run organised by volunteers, but it takes parkrun to a new level.
I was certainly not alone on Saturday, when I trundled into West London beside the River Thames to Hampton Court Palace, and the nearby Bushy Park.
It was only just past 8.15, but already the park was awash with colour and alive with the sounds of runners, joggers and walkers.
In fact, I was one of a massive field of 1,107 who toed the line close to the Diana Fountain.
In short, it felt like I was about to start a big city marathon, or perhaps participate in the annual English National Cross Country Championships, not just chalking up another parkrun.
Bushy parkrun has a long history, going back more than 14 years to when the inaugural event was held on October 2, 2004.
It was known as the ‘Bushy Park Time Trial’ during those early years, and a tiny field of just 13 runners, supported by three volunteers, turned up on that particular Saturday morning – not one of those could have dreamt that this free weekly 5K would take off to such an extent that there are now 586 in the UK alone.
Numbers gradually increased, after falling to a record low of 11 in week three, but it wasn’t until three years later, in 2007, that a second ‘Time Trial’ was added, at Wimbledon Common.
A year later and the name ‘parkrun’ was adopted, and it has stuck ever since. Now it is the norm for more than 1,000 runners and walkers to turn up every week – yes, there is nothing ‘ordinary’ about the Bushy parkrun!
Bushy Park is the second largest of the London Royal Parks, at 1,100 acres, second only to Richmond Park.
Herds of red deer and fallow deer can be seen on the grasslands, harking back to the days of Henry VIII, though known to my knowledge have so far competed in the parkrun.
The course is dead flat, and resembles a figure-of-eight, out to Hampton Wick gate, the Sandy Lane gate and Teddington Gate, and along Chestnut Avenue before skirting Heron Pond to the finish.
Last Saturday’s results
Jonathan Cornish, of Hercules Wimbledon, led home the 1,107-strong field in 16mins 36secs, although he was some away adrift of his personal best of 14:52.
Club-mate Claire Grima, an over-40 veteran, was the first female finisher in 18:15.
There was a familiar name in second – Mara Yamauchi, the former British international marathon runner, who posted 18:33. Yamauchi currently holds the second fastest time (2:23:12) by a British woman over the marathon distance, behind world record holder Paula Radcliffe.
An impressive 75 achieved that feat ... but I was NOT one of them!
Andrew Baddeley has the distinction of holding not only the course record at Bushy Park, but also the fastest time ever clocked at a parkrun in the UK. Baddeley scorched around the park in just 13mins 48secs in August, 2012.
Twice double Olympian champion Mo Farah is in 32nd spot, although his ‘modest’ 15:06 was recorded on November 19, 2005, when he was aged 22, and when he was no doubt treating the run as a gentle jog. As an aside, three of the top 12 are described as ‘Kenyan internationals!’
For the women, Justina Heslop holds the course best of 15:58 from 2011. Olympic silver medallist Sonia O’Sullivan (5,000m in 2000) is sixth with her 16:22 from 2005.
What a cracker!
Despite the near-freezing conditions, with the wind chill as an added attraction, I loved my visit to Bushy Park.
Bushy parkrun is always the best attended event in the UK. The second largest last Saturday was actually at Chelmsford, which had less than half as many at 515.
Size isn’t everything, of course, but Bushy Park is a must-stop for any parkrunner.