Tag Archives: parkrun

The holy grail of parkruns

Off the southern tip of the Beara Peninsula in south west Cork, there’s an island called Bere. Eileen Jones went there to run her 300th parkrun

If you’re not captivated by the notion of a parkrun on a tiny island of the southern coast of Ireland, there’s no romance in your soul.

I’d never heard of Bere until late autumn in 2019, after the parkrun at Cliffe Castle in Keighley, when we were chatting to a woman who’d spent the summer touring Ireland in her campervan. Bere, she said, was her favourite, and having a fair sprinkling of romance in MY soul, I was hooked. I’m going there next summer, I vowed.

Only there was no next summer, nor the summer after, and sometimes I wondered if Bere was a dream, a mirage. But the urge grew ever stronger, and when I mentioned my quest, my holy grail, to my friend Eithne, she insisted on coming along. Not for the parkrun, but to trace her mother’s family, who came from Bere. Little did we know then that around 75% of the island’s population are O’Sullivans, and my quest was going to be a lot easier than hers.

Family history

Plans were made. And altered at the last minute when our first choice of accommodation was cancelled because the hosts tested positive for you know what. We flew to Dublin, picked up a hire car, spent the first night in an exotic yurt somewhere in the Glantee mountains, and eventually made it to Castletownbere, from where I could see that the island actually existed. On the Friday we made our first crossing, for the launch of a remarkable exhibition, The Hold, curated by artist Mary Sullivan, who had gathered a remarkable group of creative women during lockdown to provide photographic evidence of their favourite “things”, and a tapestry of individually embroidered squares reflecting their lives on Bere. One of them featured parkrun; it was already clear that parkrun is a very prominent part of life on the island, and that it’s also dominated by amazing women.

1656 parkruns between us:   Anne Marie Harrington the latest member of the 250 club (2nd from left) with Eileen, John Walsh (the only male Bere Islander in the club) joining Sheila Walsh, mother and daughter combination of Joanne Sullivan and  Finola Crowley.

(I’d been told from On High that we would have a wonderful time. Paul and Joanne Sinton-Hewitt had been here a few years ago, and said that we would fall in love with Bere. They sent their best wishes to all the friends they’d made here; at the moment they’re cycling to Rome, to St Peter’s from St Paul’s, Dome to Dome. Sorry, Bere parkrunners, I got it wrong, they still have another three days to go.)

Where’s that ferry?

Saturday. I was awake at 5.30, we were at the pier at 8.30 for a ferry not due to leave till 9. This was more than disconcerting for someone who lives in fear of Being Late for Anything, and often arrives at a parkrun before the team of course setter-uppers. I know Irish parkruns start at 9.30, but there was a bus to catch at the other side, too?

And sure enough, our “bus driver” was on the ferry, Colin Gleeson, a retired GP in the over-70 category (no secrets with parkrun, sorry folks), who subsequently came fifth. In an event where the first finisher was a woman, and so was the third finisher, with a schoolboy in second place. Also on the ferry was Maureen Power who had done her 100th the previous week. And by the time we got to the start at Rerrin village, the numbers were starting to add up. And up. Joanne Sullivan was about to run her 303rd. Ann Marie Harrington was doing her 250th that day. And Edel Murphy was about to run parkrun no 284 then dash back to serve teas and breakfasts in the Bakehouse Café.

For all the stats, see the results page, but this report is all about the people. They were the warmest and most welcoming ever experienced anywhere, and this was my parkrun number 300 in location number 123. (Eithne, having abandoned family history for the day, was doing her ninth, and was just as warmly embraced.) There was love abounding, for their island, for their parkrun, for their friends, for their visitors. Their warmth more than compensated for the lack of time to “warm-up”; here you get your second wind after the first hill.

It’s a fabulous route on a fabulous island. Tarmac-ish, on narrow tracks which sometimes had grass in the middle. Awesome views. Some of it’s actually on road, but at that time on a Saturday morning the only drivers among the island’s resident population of 168 would be either running the parkrun or volunteering. We came back down past the Military Drill Hall where Mary Sullivan was opening up her exhibition for the day, and then turned a tiny corner beside Murphy’s shop which houses the Bakehouse Café. I loved every single step of the way; PSH, you were right.

But it’s possible that I’d never have got there without Proinnsias O’Keefe. A man of considerable running ability with a facebook profile that looks like a Smurf. I’m not sure how we first made contact, maybe via the facebook parkrun tourist group, but Proinnsias knew the answer to every question. What time does the ferry run? How will we get to the start? What’s the weather forecast? Where should we go for dinner? A million thanks for your help, your kindness, your welcome, your lift back to the ferry when we wanted to stay on in the café after the mini-bus had gone back.

And thank you to all on Bere Island. So many of you told me your stories, about how parkrun had changed your lives; I promised I’d come back to the island for my 400th, so I’ll be back in another couple of years or so. But probably long before then.

Eileen Jones is the author of How parkrun changed our lives , Gritstone Publishing (https://gritstonecoop.co.uk/product/how-parkrun-changed-our-lives/)


parkrun legend Tom Williams to “headline” at Cumbrian festival

A leading figure in the parkrun world, Tom Williams, will be a keynote speaker at the Eden Escape festival in May.

Tom, who is Global Chief Operating Officer at parkrun, will appear at the family-friendly weekend festival in Cumbria which has fitness and adventure at its heart. There’s also camping and music, running and swimming sessions, yoga and adventure films, and children’s activities.

Tom, whose wife Helen presents the Free Weekly Timed parkrun podcast with broadcaster Vassos Alexander, supports more than 2,000 parkrun events across 23 countries. With a BSc in Human Biology, Exercise and Health, and an MSc in Sport and Exercise Science, he spent four years in the academic sport science department at the University of Leeds then started working full time for parkrun in 2011.

Tom and son Aston on parkrun volunteer duty

In 2010 he started the Marathon Talk running podcast, which ran for 600 episodes over 12 years and throughout that time was the most-downloaded UK running podcast. He’s completed 25 marathons (with a PB of 2:49) and seven Ironman triathlons (with a PB of 9:24).

The Eden Escape Festival will be held at Mains Farm, Kirkoswald, on the banks of River Eden in the northern Lake District at the end of May. It’s organised by Wiz Lees and Leigh-Ann Newburn, from Shap, and Keswick-based wild-swimming guru Ali Phillips. Wiz is a personal trainer and fitness instructor, and Leigh Ann teaches yoga, and together they created Fox Red Events to organise the festival, which had a small-scale launch in 2019. After two years hit by the pandemic, they’re planning to offer adventures on a local level and a staycation experience for the whole family. Ali, a well known blogger for Girl About the Lake District, will be bringing her expertise to the river-swimming side of the adventures.

Staged at the farm camp site, the festival promises a real escape from the ordinary, a time to get away from it all, spend time together outdoors, getting active and enjoying great company and great food.

Wiz Lees said: “We are delighted that the inspirational Tom Williams will be joining us. He represents the parkrun ethos, to make the world a healthier and happier place through their free, weekly 5k events. That fits perfectly with our aim here, to offer open-air adventures at a local and sustainable level. We all know the benefits that come with exercise, especially when it comes to mental health. In today’s work-obsessed world, more people are finding it difficult to manage stress, and live in constant worry about something or the other.”

She added: “It’s possible to have a really exciting time, and have mini-adventures, here on the banks of the River Eden, without having to travel too far. We know that Tom will be an informative and entertaining speaker for everyone, even if they haven’t done a parkrun yet.”

More guest speakers will be announced shortly. The festival will stage music events, including a 1980s night on the Saturday featuring tribute band Under Neon, and films from Kendal Mountain Festival. Massage therapies will be available, and there will be a market area in the former milking parlour where locally-made crafts, clothes, toiletries, candles and much more will be on sale. There’ll be plenty of good food available, with lots of vegetarian and vegan choices, but also chicken and chips and pizza. Says Wiz: “We know what families want when they go away for a weekend, and we know it means catering for everyone.”

The festival is on May 27-29. For more information and to book tickets see https://www.edenescapefest.co.uk/

  • A number of parkruns can be reached from the festival site including Penrith (20 minutes), Talkin Tarn (25 mins), Carlisle (30 mins), Keswick (45 mins), Whinlatter (50 mins) and Tyne Green (65 mins).

The perfect Christmas present for a parkrunner

Stuck for ideas? There’s a book out this year that will be the perfect gift for everyone who’s ever done a parkrun. Or even better, for those who have thought about it, and might even have signed up for it, but not actually been and done a parkrun yet.

Fairytale for a story book: a wedding at a parkrun

How parkrun changed our lives * is a story book, a book of stories about people, their triumphs and sorrows, and how parkrun has had an impact on who they are and what they have become. And it emphasises the message that parkrun is about MUCH more than just running.

The “lovely Jaz” Bangerh

Here you’ll meet “the lovely Jaz” who’s not only head of volunteer management at parkrun HQ, but was also the first British Indian woman to complete 500 parkruns. You’ll meet Conrad and Jose who ran parkrun together on the day of their diamond wedding anniversary and crossed the finish line holding hands. At the other end of the age range are the delightful Pout twins, Hugo and Rory, who are popular on the parkrun buggy-scene; and Dexter who was the first ten-year old to complete 250 parkruns.

Jose and Conrad

You’ll meet the people who got married during a parkrun, the crazy guy who runs it backwards, the blind man who found a new life through parkrun, and the woman who wouldn’t have cope otherwise after her husband died.

The Pout family

There are the volunteers who talk about the sheer joy of being there every week to do the timekeeping or marshalling. There’s the doctors who literally prescribe parkrun for a range of physical and mental health problems.

Run briefing? Or morning prayers? Is parkrun a new religion?

You’ll meet some running reverends who discuss if parkrun is a new religion, and – of course – you’ll meet PSH, the founder, the man who came up with this great idea for a free timed run every Saturday that now happens in 22 countries around the world.

The author with Paul Sinton-Hewitt, parkrun founder, when a team of 105 runners in relay from the Lake District to London delivered the first copy of the book to him in Bushy Park, where it all started

*How parkrun changed our lives by Eileen Jones. Gritstone, £9.99. Signed copies available from: https://gritstonecoop.co.uk/product/how-parkrun-changed-our-lives/

** Eileen Jones, a member of the Gritstone Publishing co-op, is a journalist and PR working in the Lake District. She’s head witch at parkrun and will turn into a toad anyone who spells parkrun with a capital P.

The power of parkrun


IMAGINE going for your first ever trail run in the Lake District. Now imagine that you’re going for your first ever trail run, and you can’t see anything.

Dave Williams, a parkrunner and marathon runner, is blind, and has just experienced trail running for the first time, on the slopes of the Old Man of Coniston.

This is a story of determination, of overcoming life’s challenges, and believing that you can do something, and it’s here for the telling thanks to parkrun.

Dave, who lives in Worcester, has done 60 parkruns at 20 different venues, but hasn’t seen any of them. Dave was born with Leber Congenital Amaurosis, which causes sight loss at birth. I heard about him when researching my book about parkrun*; his father, Gwilym, is a member of my club, Clayton le Moors Harriers, now living in Austria, and a close friend of the husband of my running buddy, Judy Sharples.

I heard Dave’s story, and wrote about it, loving his enthusiasm and self-deprecation (his regular guide runner, Bex, is dyspraxic and can’t always tell right from left “so between us, we manage somehow!”) and when the book came out Dave bought a copy for his family. But he couldn’t read it himself, of course, and asked if there was an audio version.

That was something I’d not considered, but contacted the RNIB (Royal National Institute for Blind People), where Dave works, and arranged for a friend, Wayne Singleton – who has the know-how and access to the technical kit  – to read the book, record it, and supply the audio files to the RNIB library. From where Dave has recently borrowed it and listened to the whole book.

Then Dave said that he and his family were coming on holiday to Coniston and he asked if we could meet, and also asked if I knew anybody who could take him for a guided run as he’d always wanted to try trail-running. The multi-talented Wayne (who also has a business, The Running Concierge**, arranging trail and fell-running mini-breaks and holidays in the Lakes) is also a qualified running coach, and has experience of guide-running.

And that’s how, on a baking hot morning, Dave Williams had a taste of trail-running in the heart of Lakeland mountain country, with the man who had read the parkrun book to him. He and Wayne ran (and, wisely, sometimes walked) up the side of Church Beck, past the Coppermines Youth Hostel, and into the wilderness of Boulder Valley.

He saw nothing of it, of course, but heard the beck and the waterfalls and the cry of the buzzard overhead. He heard – from the best of all guides – the history of copper-mining in the area, and how in recent times water-power has been harnessed to create electricity, and how the top fell-runners come tumbling down these hillsides at break-neck speed.

For Dave it was a morning he’ll never forget. “I’m a road runner, I’m used to listening out for traffic, and being told where there’s a pavement step. I thought the hardest part would be the heat, and the steepness of the hills, but it was the terrain under foot that was the toughest.”

Dave told Wayne: “‘You can take what you’re given, and survive, and be happy with that, or you can work at it. There are blind lawyers and doctors. Don’t let it be a barrier.”

For Wayne it was a humbling experience. “It’s amazing to be trusted to guide someone with a visual impairment, and presents all sorts of challenges that I wouldn’t normally think of. There’s a constant commentary to ensure that Dave didn’t trip or stumble, as well as making sure he didn’t get branches in his face. It’s awesome to be able to try and describe our scenery to someone, in an appropriate richness, to enable them to ‘see’ through words. It’s also interesting to learn about vertigo from the perception of a person who can’t see the drop. It presented me with equal amounts of joy, terror and glee to have the responsibility of guiding Dave today, and it was topped off by being introduced to his family, and sharing a paddle in Coniston after our run.”

And for this experience, for this meeting, for this connection: the power of parkrun. It really does change lives.

*How parkrun changed our lives (https://gritstonecoop.co.uk/product/how-parkrun-changed-our-lives/)

** https://www.runningconcierge.co.uk/

What makes a great book cover?

The most important part of any book is the cover. No matter how terrifying the thriller, how marvellous the mystery, the reader has to be invited in first of all.

A new book about the world’s favourite Saturday morning pastime, parkrun, has just been published and the cover photo is the talk of the running world.

It’s a striking picture, loosely based on the famous evolution of mankind image, featuring four runners on a beach below sand-dunes.

But look again. There’s actually just two runners, twice, husband and wife team Laura and Dave McGuigan close to the route of one of their favourite parkruns at Woolacombe Dunes in Devon.

And the photographer is…Laura.

She’s developed a style that she calls bespoke movement imagery, which combines multi-exposure and chronophotography techniques, and has applied it so far to a series of joyfully presented books about not just running but moving, happily, freely and playfully.

Laura McGuigan

Laura and Dave have developed a philosophy of living based on everyday adventure, and have been encouraging us all to revert to more child-like ways of enjoying the outdoors.

They call it an adventure into the world of natural human movement, encouraging readers to “marvel at the sense of joy and contentment you can attain simply by moving your body in the ways it was made to move, in settings it was made to move in”.

There’s a new website, http://everydayadventurous.com/ through which Laura and Dave aim to encourage anyone who loves to spend time moving around outdoors in nature to rethink and redesign their lives, so they can get out more and make the absolute most of it.

Movement artwork

Laura is currently putting the finishing touches to a series of video tutorials to show others how to make pictures like hers and she’ll be inviting people to send in their own photos from which she will create bespoke works of movement art just for them.

Meanwhile, the four books she and Dave produced in the Adventures For Adults series have been combined into Move Forever to provide an entire year of guided movement adventures. There’s more than 250 images to inspire readers to get out and get moving more adventurously; all you’ll need to do, they say, is keep the momentum going once you’re out there.

Evolution of a book cover

The cover for How parkrun changed our lives was a collaborative effort, beginning with an idea from David Burnip, the son of the book’s author Eileen Jones. His picture was used as the basis for Laura’s photo, which in turn was created into the stunning book cover by designer Ellen Longhorn.

Move Forever is available on Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Move-Forever-adventurously-lifetime-adventures-ebook/dp/B08V9DJHZL/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=move+forever&qid=1615032940&s=digital-text&sr=1-1

How parkrun changed our lives is published by Gritstone, £9.99 https://www.amazon.co.uk/how-parkrun-changed-our-lives/dp/1913625036/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1T7IV6Q9ZRH5U&dchild=1&keywords=how+parkrun+changed+our+lives&qid=1615033062&sprefix=how+parkrun%2Cdigital-text%2C157&sr=8-1

Parkrun heroes awarded at birthday event

annual shield

Two veteran runners, both in their eighties, were the star attraction at Fell Foot Park for the first anniversary of the weekly parkrun.

John Nettleton and Conrad Slater were awarded jointly the Race Directors’ Shield which will be presented annually to the most supportive volunteer.

The award was made as more than 200 runners lined up for the birthday event at the foot of Windermere which is hailed on the parkrun circuit as the most scenic in England.

Joining in the celebrations were the Dalton Brass Band playing by the lakeshore as the runners came in to the finish. And among them was trombonist Stuart Wallace who ran the parkrun first before joining his colleagues in the band.

There was a party atmosphere with cake for all the finishers sliced by staff from the National Trust who helped set up the event.

Parkrun is a worldwide association of free timed 5k runs which start in England at 9am in parks throughout the country.

Pictured are Conrad Slater and John Nettleton with race directors Cecilia Flint, David McGuigan, Ron Eadington and Karen White.

Below: Stuart Wallace, playing trombone in the brass band still wearing his running shoes.