Time to bring benefits of parkrun to Oamaru

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If you have not heard of the parkrun, or gone along to one, you may be astounded that worldwide there are some 250,000 people who get up and do them regularly.

The parkrun is a weekly, free, timed 5km run on Saturday mornings – 8am (summer) or 9am (winter).

The first parkrun was in London in 2004.

Since then, more than 1600 parkruns have been organised in 21 countries, covering all five continents.

Parkrun arrived here in New Zealand in 2012 and now there are 29 locations.

It is great. The motivating idea was not running faster but to hang out with friends.

The appeal is widespread – in 2018 the over-65s had notched up more runs than the 18-24 age group, and in 2010 the first junior parkrun (2km) was established.

It is designed to get people out and moving, awarding those who have reached a milestone – 50th, 100th, 250th parkrun – rather than the fastest.

Obviously, chasing that person who finishes the 5km slightly faster than you is allowed. Friendly competition and rivalry can improve your time and will reassure you that you are making progress.

Additionally, parkrun’s impact on mental health extends far beyond physical activity and has the potential to support people outside of traditional mental health services.

Finishing the run, there is a sense of achievement.

You connect with others, the running community embedded in your area.

The run is equitable, with a tail runner at the very back, so you will never come in last place. Post-run you can definitely justify that bacon sandwich or indulgent coffee with scone.

Most of the runs have a regular cafe, that may sponsor the event, and you can go along afterwards.

The nearest parkruns to Oamaru are a little inconvenient to get there fresh for that early-morning start.

So far, we have travelled to Dunedin, where you run up the steep hills at the Botanic Garden several times; Hagley Park in Christchurch, a very fast course with lots of competitors; and most recently Wanaka. Wanaka is possibly the most picturesque parkrun I have done, on a peaceful sunny morning, along the lake edge.

It is also memorable, as it is the first run that I have won (I know, not about winning).

The other parkruns in Otago are in Balclutha and Queenstown, both on my list.

Lonely Planet, reassuringly, confirms that going to parkruns is a new way to inspire travel and suggests top 10 notable events. But none of the notable runs are in New Zealand!

There should be a parkrun organised here in Oamaru – we have enough parks, cafes and keen runners.

★ Francis Ridgeon is a PhD student living in Oamaru.