Parkrun, the free weekly 5 km run, celebrated its 15th birthday earlier this month on 2nd October 2019. Since the inaugural run in Bushy Park in 2004, the event has spread to nearly 2,000 locations in 21 different countries; with over four million people having completed a parkrun throughout the world.


On 2nd October 2004, Paul Sinton-Hewitt founded the first ever parkrun, which took place in Bushy Park and was then named the Bushy Park Time Trial. 13 runners and 5 volunteers turned up for this original event, which saw them run 5 km, and these participants are now known as the ‘parkrun pioneers’.


The run took place weekly in Teddington until organisers decided to expand to a second location in the January of 2007, when the inaugural event at Wimbledon Common took place. Also during this year, the first international event took place in Zimbabwe, the country where the founder was born. Since this initial foreign run, parkrun has expanded to over 21 countries, reaching as far as Malaysia, Australia and Canada.


Instead of focusing on speed, the organisers are clear that anyone of any ability can take part, resulting in thousands of runners, walkers and joggers kitting up every Saturday morning to head out on the run. To further promote this concept, the previously named tail runner was renamed the tail walker, assuring all runners that there is no pressure to finish in a certain time.


Another core aspect of the event is that it has always and aims to always be free of charge, relying on volunteers to organise the runs and take down participants’ times. This means that anybody at all can join in, making the runs a whole-community event. Despite the opportunity to make millions, the organisers have always ensured that the events are free for all, encouraging as many people to stay fit as possible.


I asked Olivia Bradburn, a local 14-year-old who regularly competes in parkrun Bushy Park, about why she enjoys it so much. She told me that “It’s a good way to get in exercise in the morning and meet new people. Also, the park is a lovely outdoor setting with great scenery while you run.” This proves that the parkrun is a community event and also a way to spend time with people who have a similar passion for running. She also mentioned that the timing system allows you to try and beat your previous times and improve on them, so regular runners can see the results of their hard work.


As the parkrun surpasses its 15th birthday, it is important to recognise the amazing achievement of inspiring millions to get outside and run, along with the creation of a weekly community event that participants love. From just the first small event in 2004, parkrun has transformed into a global event impacting millions and will continue to do so in the future.


Toby Gwynne