Many of us may be familiar with the weekly parkruns that take place up and down the country, but how often do we focus on the volunteers who bring the event to life? I caught up with two such volunteers about their experiences of volunteering at my local parkrun: the Run Director, Richard Lord, and Tailwalker, Monica Thompson.


What are your roles as volunteers?


Richard: “Making sure the event starts and that everyone finishes without injury. It’s a bit stressful but fun, it’s like the swans you see in the stream: very pretty but underneath you can see that fast movement of their legs”


Monica: “I stay at the back to make sure everyone finishes and then at the end I pick up the cones.”


What benefits have you found with volunteering?


Richard: “The fantastic community. For me and lots of other people, it’s the only thing to do locally within your community, especially for people who are going into London, for example. There’s people from all walks of life here and with different fitness levels - our fastest time this week was 16 minutes but the slowest will be about an hour. Maintaining the relaxed and chilled atmosphere is the main part of that.”


Monica: “You feel like part of the community and you get to know some interesting people and start recognising them in places. It’s good for talking with new people, and without it the events wouldn’t happen so I think everyone who runs it should volunteer at some point,”


What is it like finding volunteers? 


Richard: “Normally around 15 are needed, especially with COVID restrictions. But it’s not a struggle to find, and we send out reminders through emails if we feel we’re lacking in a certain week. Everyone wants to do their bit - one week, we were two short and asked for volunteers and hands shot up so people do want to get involved.”


What have been the difficulties with COVID restrictions?


Richard: “Mainly in the number of volunteers as we need more at the end now to keep it spaced apart. But the main difficulty was just in waiting for the go-ahead to bring them back after lockdown,”


Monica: “I did walks over lockdown with people to maintain it, but a lot of it has remained the same. It hasn’t put anyone off,”


Why would you recommend being a volunteer?


Monica: “I’d recommend it to everyone. I run it sometimes instead of volunteering, but I’ve been doing it for a few years and now I go every week. But it is open to everyone - if I can do it, anyone can do it. My role is good for everything: for your physical and mental health and you get to talk to all different types of people every week,”


Clearly, the main focus in these answers is the inclusivity and communal atmosphere at parkrun that is brought by the volunteers’ hard work and commitment. As a runner myself, the contribution of the volunteers is always obvious and really helps to involve us as a community and make showing up on a Saturday morning more entertaining - especially with the tailwalker moving across the course wearing the signature tail to mark the end! Seeing the levels of organisation that these events require has been very eye-opening, so if any readers are interested in this, I would highly recommend joining Richard and Monica’s team!