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There’s no event quite like parkrun — an international, community-based 5K that is held each week in countries across the globe. Always spelled with a small “p,” parkrun is led by volunteers and always free for every participant. Walkers, joggers, runners and volunteers of all ages and abilities are welcome to participate. While the 5K is timed, there are no fees, numbers or awards — just fun, exercise and encouragement. These events are safe and inclusive, with many people taking part for the motivational, community and social aspects.
Values of parkrun include building healthy, strong communities; promoting social support; encouraging diversity in age, gender, speed, appearance, ethnicity, and social and economic backgrounds; and fostering stewardship of the land. The mission of parkrun is to make the world a healthier and happier place.
These values fit well with Cleveland (Ohio) Metroparks’ mission and values of health and wellness, equity, and conservation. The park district began hosting one of the 45 weekly parkruns across the United States in October 2019 at its Ohio and Erie Canal Reservation (OECR). The park reservation was selected due to its central location, trail and road network, and lower visitation than other nearby reservations.
The participant experience at parkrun is very simple and straightforward. Registrants enter their information once on the parkrun website and subsequently receive a barcode, which they can use to participate in parkrun anywhere in the world. This has resulted in “parkrun tourism,” as people seek opportunities to participate while traveling. In its first five months, the OECR event at Cleveland Metroparks hosted visitors from seven states, Canada, Russia, Spain, China, England, Australia and Poland. Participants can view their own personal parkrun webpage to see all the events they’ve visited, where they’ve volunteered at parkruns, and keep track of their times and statistics.
The key to the success of a local parkrun is the post-event social, where participants and volunteers mingle while results are processed. A Cleveland Metroparks visitor center located in OECR hosts the social each week, driving attendance and awareness.
The most challenging part for some parkrun events is driving volunteer support on 52 Saturdays per year. Park agencies or similar government institutions can offer an advantage by allowing parkrun to draw on its volunteer base. Cleveland Metroparks volunteers regularly fill the weekly event roster because they enjoy the positivity of the event and enjoy being in the parks. They are encouraged to cheer for everyone and get to know the other walkers, joggers, runners and volunteers over the weeks and months.
If you’re thinking parkrun might be a good fit for your agency, parkrun provides equipment, such as flags, cones, scanners and a laptop for processing results and uploading them to the parkrun website. Perhaps, most importantly, parkrun offices provide ongoing technical and webpage support, insurance, event guidelines and communication with participants. In Cleveland Metroparks’ case, because the event was so mission-compatible with the agency’s, the department decided to assign an employee to help establish and manage the event. Once established, the work was minimal and translated easily to the agency’s volunteer system. Within a couple months, the event was running every Saturday without the need for any employee presence.
The OECR parkrun at Cleveland Metroparks brings a free, healthy, social activity to the community every Saturday morning. The parkrun model is quite different than the standard American 5K model. Participants and volunteers gain a sense of belonging, ownership and pride in their event, and they also can celebrate by visiting other parkruns. Every parkrun event has its own culture. It’s not just a run, it’s a community.
To find out if there’s a parkrun near you, visit parkrun.us.
Nancy Desmond, CPRP, is Special Projects Administrator for Cleveland Metroparks.