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Parkrun's three years of fun and friendship

March 17th, 2017 5:40 PM

By Southern Star Team

Celebrating the third anniversary of Clonakilty Parkrun were Brian O'Donnell (centre), event director, with volunteers Liz Dennett, and Micheál O'Sullivan.

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The Saturday morning Clonakilty run, echoed worldwide, has invigorated the local commnunity, writes Lizzy Swift

CLONAKILTY’S Saturday morning Parkrun has just celebrated its third anniversary. Parkrun is a free 5k run that takes places all over the world at the same time every week. 

The attraction of the popular event is that everyone is welcome to go at their own pace, whether they run, jog or walk. Parkrun’s goal is simple: to get as many communities as possible fit and running 5km every Saturday. 

Parkrun was first set up in Ireland in November 2012. Since then it has become a weekly tradition for over 8,800 Irish people. There are 56 events nationwide and each one is set up and run by local volunteers.

In West Cork there are five events – Glengariff, Bere Island, Clonakilty, Ballincollig and Castlehaven. The runs are open to people of all ages and abilities. And if you don’t feel like running (or, indeed, walking) on a particular day, you can get in touch with the organisers and  become a volunteer for the day.

Signing up has been made very easy, too – simply go to the website, register your name and print out your barcode to bring with you to the run. By registering you get entered into the Parkrun system which shows your time and place on the run, and records the amount of times you’ve done a parkrun and your best times. The website even lets you compare times. 

On their 10th, 50th or even 100th parkrun, participants can order a special parkrun shirt to celebrate these important milestones. 

One of the most attractive aspects of this craze which is currently sweeping the globe, is the fact that, because Parkruns are global, – taking place all over the world at the same time every Saturday morning – wherever you travel, you can join a local run. 

There’s even the phenomenon of the ‘Parkrun Tourists’ globe-trotting – literally – one 5km at a time. It’s also a great way to meet new people and get to know a new area, whether you’re a tourist or moving location with work or home. 

Brian O’Donnell, who set up the parkrun in Clonakilty, explains why he was taken with the idea. ‘It seemed like a challenge, and I love challenges! Parkrun is also a way to promote activity -ased community development, which is very much lacking in our technology-enabled modern lives. Never before have humans moved so little, or become so isolated in spite of online virtual communities. Parkrun provides a point in the week to allow people to be active in a structured, safe, participation-based, all inclusive, supportive environment.’

Brian said he was introduced to Parkrun with his wife Fiona when they took part in an Alps running camp run by Liz and Martin Yelling. ‘This husband and wife team are two former elite athletes who coach athletes of all ages and abilities. Their ethos of participation over competition promotes exercise and running as a way of life,’ he explained.

‘It was inspirational. They introduced us to the Parkrun model, which is directly aligned with the ethos of participation within an inclusive community.’

And when Brian got Clonakilty’s Parkrun off the ground on the first Saturday of February in 2014, the response from the community was overwhelming. ‘From modest beginnings, 1,770 people registered – in a town with a population of just over 4,000!’

Over three years, the town has hosted 152 timed 5k runs, so a total of 27,905km have been run around the perimeter track at the Showgrounds  – the same as running from Malin Head to Mizen and back, 21 times. A total of 1,261 different runners, including participants from 99 athletics clubs, have completed individual 5,581 runs, and there have been 1,159 new Personal Bests.

‘Our attendance is small relative to big city runs. But still, 30-60 people aged from four years upwards run, jog, walk and smile their way around, each and every Saturday morning. Friendships have developed and I’m delighted to include people I’ve met through it as close personal friends.’

Parkrun is a non-profit volunteer-run free-to-all organisation. ‘It wouldn’t be possible to host this event each week without the support of a very dedicated family of volunteers,’ said Brian. He added that central to its success is volunteer Michéal O’Sullivan who Brian describes as ‘a giant of a man in every respect, who has truly embodied the Parkrun spirit from the very first day.’

For more, see www.parkrun.ie 

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