It might surprise you to know that the number 1 reason that more than 300 runners and walkers come to Albert Park Lake every week to complete the 5km parkrun course has absolutely nothing to do with running at all. It also has nothing to do with the stunning location or Melbourne’s eclectic weather system. No, you see what keeps Melbournians and visitors from overseas and interstate coming back to inflict what many see as torture upon themselves at 8am every Saturday, is the people.
The sense of community and camaraderie is what people value from this free weekly jaunt around a picturesque lake with its often-brutal head wind at the 3km mark. Pleasingly when the wind gods smile upon us there are PBs aplenty.
The friendships that have developed are treasured and cherished, many times bringing tears to the eyes when people recount the stories of the support they have received from others towards achieving their best ever times. Often people unknowingly inspire others to greatness, as they become unofficial pacers being chased down from behind. Other running angels have knowingly given up their chance at a PB to guide/push/encourage their fellow parkrunners to run or walk faster than they ever thought possible. This encouragement and motivation has seen many parkrunners go from 5km specialists to marathon runners and beyond.
A close second reason for parkrun repeat attendance was again nothing to do with the running but all about what the running enables you to enjoy. Consuming bacon, eggs, coffees and muffins were the top postrun breakfast goals of most runners. The best places to eat after Albert Melbourne parkrun are here.
Watching others celebrate significant milestones and trying to reach these heights motivates many to drag themselves out of bed, rain, hail or shine. For some it’s enjoyable to rub shoulders with local running royalty including the lovely Sonia O’Sullivan and speedy Craig Motram.
But for many it is no longer a decision to parkrun or not to parkrun, it's just what's done on a Saturday; a ritual, a habit, an enforced exercise regime but above all an addiction.
And what keeps me coming back? Having volunteered 19 times, completed my 223rd parkrun at 22 different parks and almost as many post parkrun breakfasts, the answer is simple – my friends, old and new. Thank you one and all for your ongoing friendship and support at parkrun and beyond.
The facts and how to get involved
In 2014 parkrun celebrated it’s 10th year and the founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt was recognized for his services to grass roots sports participation with a CBE, Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, in the Queen's birthday honours. I've had the pleasure and privilege of meeting Paul and he is so deserving of this recognition. parkrun is a worldwide phenomenon with over 1000 parks holding the free, weekly, timed, 5km run. The countries involved are Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, the UK and the USA.
So all you need to do is jump onto parkrun.com, find your local event and register your details. Once registered you will be able to print your free barcode, which I highly recommend laminating so that it lasts the distance. Alternatively, there are options to buy a permanent barcode to attach to your keys or trainers for a few dollars if you prefer.
Then of course you need to turn up to your local event and run/walk. Start times will vary slightly between states and countries so please check the website. Don’t forget to bring your barcode so that you can have your time published on the results page.
What’s the catch I hear you asking? parkrun remains free for all ages and abilities because it is a volunteer organisation. It is requested that each parkrunner volunteers 3 times a year. The volunteering activities are super easy and include giving runners their finish tokens as they cross the line, setting up the finishing funnel, photography and scanning barcodes. I can honestly say that the opportunity to see fellow runners/walkers cross the line after they have given it their all is a truly rewarding experience.
parkrun is also supported by various sponsors which enable the provision of milestone t-shirts for runners who complete 50, 100, 250 and 500 runs. There's also a t-shirt for people who volunteer 25 times.
So whether it's Albert Park's flat course, the well organised nature of the event, the ability to see the joy on other's faces as they cross the finish line, all of the above or shock, horror you simply love running, we do hope you will come back next week and do it all again with us or come along for the first time. And who knows, you might just make that new friend, get a PB and celebrate over breakfast. What a way to start the weekend.
Please feel free to share, comment and click the love heart below. If you visit parkrun let the local Run Director know that The Baroness of Melbourne sent you.
For more info on volunteering at parkrun read on.
Photo credit - all photos courtesy of Albert Melbourne parkrun Facebook page except the bircher muesli, that's all me