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Q&A: How did Parkrun become a global phenomenon?

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Parkrun UK believes its events should be open and free for everyone

Thousands of free, weekly events are organised across the country encouraging people to take part in weekend fun runs. But how did the the Parkrun promise become a phenomenon?

What is Parkrun?

Parkrun organises free, weekly, 2km and 5km runs around the world.

The ethos for the 961runs it organises in 14 countries is for the event to be free and open to everyone.

There are Parkrun events each Saturday and Sunday in countries all around the world. Each event is based in a location such as a park, beach or promenade.

All events are organised by volunteers and encourages people of every ability to take part.

Participants register online, where they are issued with a barcode. This gets scanned at the race and gives confirmation of completion as well as tracking individual run times.

Image caption Parkrun founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt said it was never supposed to be more than a single event

Why has Parkrun grown?

Paul Sinton-Hewitt founded Parkrun in 2004 and now runs the group that manages the growth of Parkrun around the world.

Paul believes "Parkrun's simple concept should - and really can - exist in every town in the world".

He says "no-one should ever have to pay to go running in their community regularly, safely and for fun".

Parkrun says this is why the activities are never more than 5km - as it's a distance that anyone can complete.

And, they say, this is why the format of Parkruns is so simple: register once, then turn up and take part wherever you want, whenever you want.

Where did Parkrun start?

The first ever event was in Bushy park, Teddington, UK, where 13 intrepid parkrunners got together on 2 October 2004.

The volunteer team included Paul and Joanne Sinton-Hewitt, Duncan Gaskell, Simon Hedger and Robin Drummond.

By 2007, events evolved to Wimbledon, Richmond, Banstead, Leeds and Brighton. The first international event was created in Zimbabwe.

By 2011 there were 55 new events, with the first events introduced in Australia, South Africa and Poland. There was also a special event in the UK army base at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan.

In 2013 Parkrun introduced a Junior series, a weekly 2km event for children.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionOver 1.2 million people have taken part in the free running event Parkrun, as Mike Bushell reports

Is this the only park run available?

No, there are lots of organised runs that take place in parks across the country.

Such as the Regent's Park Run and Clandon Park Run. The Parkrun events seem to be among the most popular of the free events available.

Parkrun in numbers

Number of worldwide events - 98,673

Number of runners running - 1,516,302

Total time run worldwide by Parkrun runners - 822 years, 99 days, 12 hours, 21 minutes, 27 seconds

Number of runs to date - 14,858,750

Total distance run worldwide - 73,255,852km

Number of parks - 850

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Runners are issued with a bar code which is scanned at the race and gives confirmation of completion as well as tracking individual run times

What does Parkrun UK mean to runners?

Runners' success stories have been shared on the Parkrun website.

Eric Sila, from the Barry Curtis Parkrun in New Zealand said: "What I love about Parkrun in Barry Curtis is not only the great course of grass, pavement, footpath, gravel and dirt, but was run by good organisers who were motivating us towards the finish line and cheering us on! Also all runners from different cultures and different levels were running together for lifestyle and fitness."

Andre Butler, from the Hull Parkrun in the UK said: "Two years ago I turned 50. I was overweight at 18 stone and a HGV truck driver with an alcohol dependency. I started jogging early in the mornings when it was dark so no one could see me. Then I started going to my local Parkrun event, Hull Parkrun. I have since joined East Hull Harriers, completed two half marathons and am now training for my first full marathon in York."

Runners have also been sharing their experiences on the Parkrun UK Facebook page :

Elaine Berri said: "My first park run was on Saturday and despite finishing last with the lovely tail runner I will be back on Saturday to do it all over again. Great atmosphere and a lot of encouragement. Thank you park run x"

Keith Kelly said: "Lovely people. I've done 3 Parkruns recently at Watergrove and these ladies are there in all weathers always with a smile on their face. Keep up the good work."

Alison de Jongh said: "I especially love seeing the children getting involved AND those who feel intimidated taking part in other events - the progression and growth in confidence is a wonderful thing."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The first Parkrun event was in Bushy park, Teddington, UK, in 2004

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