The Growing Appeal of Parkruns, March 29, 2015
The Saturday morning races, which offer a relaxed atmosphere with state-of-the-art timing, are gaining popularity worldwide.
Parkruns, on my limited acquaintance (four in all), offer a unique mix of spontaneity, sociability, and statistics. The success of the parkrun movement—and “movement” has to be the right word for something that has exploded into global significance in 10 years—is astonishing. It started with 13 runners doing what they originally called a time trial, using washers as finish disks, in a park near London one Saturday morning in 2004. It has already grown to more than a million finishers in 10 countries, increasing by the week. Worldwide, there are about 560 per year.
The parkrun course I ran in the Dunedin Botanic Gardens is scenic, which is the New Zealand word for murderously hilly. First you loop gently around manicured lawns where sleepy ducks still doze, past flower beds and the radiant rose garden, but that’s only to lull you before zigzagging up through towering hillside trees to the Upper Garden, scrunching gravel trails so steep that they eventually turn into steps.
Over the years I have resolutely run up Heartbreak Hill in Boston, Doomsday Hill in Lilac Bloomsday, and Hospital Hill in Kansas City, but on Dunedin’s Stairs of Despair I had to bend over and walk. So did the young teenage boy in the soccer shirt with whom I was battling. (Dunedin also offers tourists “The World’s Steepest Street”—Baldwin Street, which goes straight up at a gradient of 35 percent. They hold a race up that, too.)