It’s been a little bit quiet around here recently, but I’m trying to get back in the blogging game and for my first post after a hiatus, I’m delighted to post this fabulous guest blog about reasons to volunteer at parkrun, written by Emma of The PhD Runner. Thank you so much Emma!
I promise that this isn’t going to turn into a really pushy post telling people that they have to volunteer at parkrun. It took me a long time to pluck up the courage to volunteer at my local parkrun. In fact, I think at one stage my parkrun stats were number of runs completed 28 and number of volunteering stints completed zero. Not the best ratio of running to volunteering. My eyes were very firmly on the 50 parkruns completed red t-shirt prize. Unfortunately, a series of running injuries at the start of the year meant that I wasn’t able to run so I decided to be brave and to volunteer.
Before I go any further, I’m going to share a bit of information about parkrun, its history, some stats, how it works and how you can take part.
According to the parkrun site https://www.parkrun.com/about/our-story/ the first ever event was held in Bushy Park, Teddington where 13 parkrunners got together at 08:45 on 2 October 2004. The volunteer team included Paul and Joanne Sinton-Hewitt, Duncan Gaskell, Simon Hedger and Robin Drummond. It took some time for parkrun to spread beyond Bushy Park and in 2007 when the second parkrun was started in Wimbledon Common, the number of events grew from one to five events, with the first event outside of London started in Woodhouse Moor in Leeds.
I’m a self-confessed stats geek so I checked out the current stats on the UK parkrun page. As of 6 August 2019 there have been 145,970 events, 2,130,705 runners and 29,928,915 runs in 645 locations. Each runner has run an average of 14 parkruns with an average run time of 28:41.
To begin with results were collated on paper and the finish tokens were washers from the local hardware store. I can’t even begin to imagine how time-consuming that must have been. As the number of parkrunners increased the technology increased and the parkrun registration and barcode result system was born. Now many hundreds of thousands of parkrunners are processed, websites updated and millions of emails sent out each week.
Although the parkrun community is growing all the time, the concept is still incredibly simple. In fact parkrun is still based on the simple, basic principles formed from the start: weekly, free, 5k, for everyone, forever.
Anyway, back to the point of this blog, volunteering at your local (or any) parkrun.
In the last few months I’ve marshalled in a range of locations in Sutton Park and have loved supporting all of the participants. I’ve had a go at tail walking, timekeeping, barcode scanning and finish token support. I’ve also written a couple of event reports.
A lot of events unfortunately struggle to fill their volunteer rosters during the summer holidays. Last weekend, my local parkrun was almost cancelled due to a lack of volunteers. Fortunately, a few people agreed to help on the morning so the event was able to go ahead. I’ve just checked and the roster for the next two weeks is looking quite empty. I’m hopefully tail walking on Saturday, I just hope there are enough marshals for the event to go ahead. I also hope that my ‘10 reasons to volunteer’ convince at least a couple of people who read this to don the famous parkrun high-viz.
1. As an injured runner, volunteering lets me experience the running buzz – I love the running ‘buzz’ that taking part in races gives me. In my opinion, few things in life beat the post-race high. I’ve found that volunteering at my local parkrun is a good way of recreating the running buzz, without having to actually pin on a number and race. So, if you’re injured, you’re training for a different event and parkrun falls on a rest day, or if you simply fancy recreating the running buzz, I can pretty much guarantee that volunteering provides all of the same feel good factors that taking part in a race does.
2. Regular volunteers can get a free t-shirt – I’m not ashamed to admit that I will do (almost) anything for a free t-shirt. Volunteers at parkrun can gain a free 25 volunteer t-shirt, you may have seen people wearing them at your local parkrun. This unique purple, technical t-shirt, recognises any volunteer who has volunteered on at least 25 different occasions. Quite a few people at my local parkrun have already earned their 25 volunteer t-shirt. As I’m injured and unable to run, I’m aiming to join them by the end of the year.
3. Volunteering can actually make you a better runner – As a mid to back of the pack runner, I used to think the front runners found parkrun effortless. I had visions of super speedy runners gliding around my local parkrun without breaking sweat. Believe me, they don’t. As a volunteer you get to see people of all ages and abilities run. I used to worry that I was the only runner who found the Sutton Park course challenging, I now know that everyone finds the course difficult.
4. Volunteering is good for your health – Searching ‘is volunteering good for your health?’ in Google yielded in excess of 97,000,000 results. I didn’t have time to look through many results but I spotted links to research showing improvements in blood pressure, mental health, self-esteem and many other amazing health benefits. I know that volunteering at parkrun improves my mood, reduces my anxiety and gets the weekend off to a positive start.
5. It’s relatively straightforward – Volunteering at parkrun should always be fun. First, and most importantly, volunteers will never be asked to do anything they are not comfortable with. If you don’t want a particular task – I personally avoided timekeeping until I got to know how parkrun works and I felt confident enough to give it a go – you can let a member of the Core Team know and they will give you an alternative task. All of the volunteering tasks are relatively straightforward and full training is provided when needed. I’m a technophobe and if I can operate the stopwatches and barcode readers, anyone can.
6. You can pay it back – I hope that running karma is real, and that by volunteering at parkrun each Saturday, I’m paying it back to the running community so to speak. During a race, if you’ve ever been lost, thirsty or just needed some extra encouragement, then you already know how incredibly important volunteers are. I’m sure that every runner will be able to remember at least one example of when some well-timed encouragement has helped turn a bad run into a more enjoyable run. Why not return the favour and spend an hour on a Saturday morning cheering people on as a marshal?
7. It’s a great place to gain work experience – I am incredibly fortunate as I have a full-time job and a lot of work experience. Not everyone is so lucky, this is where volunteering at parkrun can help. For example, if you are looking for a DofE volunteering opportunity, parkrun is perfect. I’ve met a lot of people working towards their Bronze and Silver DofE awards, without them my local parkrun would struggle for volunteers. As a regular volunteer you have the opportunity to take on a regular responsibility. I’m currently building up the courage to give a First Timers Briefing at my local parkrun. I’m not very confident at speaking in public so this will definitely push me out of my comfort zone.
8. You don’t have to be a runner to volunteer – I suspect there may be a bit of a misconception that in order to volunteer at parkrun you have to be a runner, you don’t. I can name quite a few regular volunteers at my local parkrun who for a range of reasons aren’t runners. Some have never run, others like me are injured and prefer volunteering to running. I’ve actually now reached the stage I’d rather volunteer than run, volunteering can be slightly addictive. So, please don’t let the fact you aren’t a runner stop you from volunteering. On the flip side, when you volunteer you may be so inspired by parkrun, you invest in a pair of trainers. This has happened quite a few times at my local parkrun.
9. You get to experience the magic of parkrun – This is going to sound a little cheesy so apologies in advance. By volunteering at my local parkrun on a regular basis, I’ve got to know a lot of the regular participants. I’ve witnessed several personal journeys, including people who initially had to walk the course progressing to running the 5km course. I’ve been on the receiving end of some slightly sweaty hugs when a participant has realised they have absolutely smashed their personal best. There have been tears of joy on more than one occasion, sometimes it can get a little emotional in the finish area.
10. It’s a great way of making new friends – And finally, thanks to volunteering at my local parkrun I’ve made some great new friends. Although I’ve lived in the Sutton Coldfield area for most of my life, I didn’t actually have a large number of friends. My once more or less completely empty social calendar is now looking slightly healthier.
And thank you Emma! Don’t forget to check out her blog – it’s one of my favourites. If you already volunteer at parkrun, what’s your favourite role?