Parkrun For Health
As parkrun celebrates its 15th birthday, Sarah Varley talks to the organisers and participants of Clitheroe Castle parkrun
In 2004, 13 runners and five volunteers turned up to Bushy Park in Teddington, London for a free, timed, 5k run, known then as the Bushy Park Time Trial. Fifteen years later, more than four million different people around the world have completed a parkrun across 21 different countries.
Remaining true to its founding principles to be free, weekly, for everyone, forever, parkrun is a truly inclusive event and requires the dedication of many volunteers. In May 2018 this global phenomenon arrived in the Ribble Valley, thanks to our own group of dedicated volunteers, in the form of Clitheroe Castle parkrun.
Event director Chris Donald had started a running group in Clitheroe that was so well received he looked to formalise it into an official parkrun: “We have had great support from Ribble Valley Borough Council, who provided all the initial funding and permissions to help get the parkrun started here,” Chris explains. “It is a fantastic community event – it’s inclusive, free and a great thing for Clitheroe to have, a really special experience to be part of each Saturday morning.
“I love seeing all the benefits people get out of it, the way it encourages people to get into running and perhaps go on to join running clubs, and the friendships that have been established.”
“We have water, biscuits and a chat at the bandstand after the run and everyone is welcome to join us at the Atrium cafe for hot drinks or breakfast while we do the results processing. Parkrun is a brilliant event to be a part of. You are not running against other people, because of the time tracking technology you are trying to beat your own personal best each week, which makes for a really supportive atmosphere.”
As co-director Paul Dudbridge explains: “Parkrun to me is about community, it’s for everyone to enjoy running, jogging or walking with friends and family, having fun in our scenic park,” says Paul. “Our course is five undulating anti-clockwise laps around the perimeter of Clitheroe Castle gardens on tarmac footpaths. It is a great location for the parkrun, at our most famous local landmark, which also helps to tempt visitors to come and run in such a unique venue.”
“We get quite a few tourists each week, from as far afield as Australia, and we encourage visitors to enjoy the delights of the Ribble Valley after their parkrun. But the majority of our runners and volunteers are from Clitheroe and the surrounding area. People have been genuinely thrilled that parkrun has arrived in Clitheroe, as are we! It’s a brilliant way to start your Saturday and get outside.”
Co-director Natalie Nicholls explains: “As well as the fantastic support from RVBC, we have quite a large group of organisers so we can take it in turns to organise or run ourselves. It is something we can do together as a family as it is open to all ages, and under-11s can run with you as long as they are only arms-length away. We were also fortunate that junior parkrun was already in place in the castle grounds, running every Sunday since 2017 for ages four to 14, and the two events work closely together.”
“It is addictive, everyone loves checking their times and statistics, and we have even gone along to other parkruns on family holidays such as Scarborough and Richmond Park,” says Natalie. “It’s very interactive – Clitheroe Castle is part of the ‘seven Cs’, where participants try to complete seven parkruns beginning with C. It is known for being quite a tough, hilly course but you go at your own pace and one of the really inclusive things about parkrun is that there is always a volunteer ‘tail walker’ so no-one else comes last or feels left behind.”
One of Clitheroe Castle parkrun’s most regular and inspiring runners is Helen. “I started doing Clitheroe Castle parkrun in May 2018 the very first Saturday it started,” Helen tells me. “I needed some form of exercise as I was putting on weight and had high cholesterol. In the past I had tried the gym but gave up after a few months, I can’t swim and I hated athletics at school, so parkrun was another crack at something different. I lined up with all the other parkrunners and gave it a go, and the feeling I got was fantastic. The sense of achievement, especially at my age (77) of running with people of all ages and the support from volunteers as you go round the five laps is great.”
“As the weeks went by, my goal was to get a 50 T-shirt, which is presented to each runner for finishing 50 parkruns, and it was a great day for me when I achieved it! Now my goal is to get a 100 T-shirt. My family and friends are very proud of me and that also encourages me to get up every Saturday morning and join the friendly faces all eager to get running around the castle park. It doesn’t matter if you walk, jog or run, nobody laughs at you, everybody encourages you, a tail walker is there every week to stay with you until the end. Who knows, maybe next year I will try a 10k!”
Clitheroe Castle parkrun is a weekly, timed 5k event every Saturday at 9am meeting at the bandstand and is free. Simply register before your first run and take along a printed copy of your barcode in order for your run to be timed. Go along and join in whatever your pace!