When it was born, in 2004, it wasn’t called parkrun. It was the Bushy Park Time Trial (BPTT), a 5km race against the clock. I used to see it listed in Runner’s World and vowed one day to give it a go.
What I did not realise is that this time trial was becoming so popular that runners were fetching up from all over the place to gauge their 5k times. In the end, BPTT’s founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt, had the idea of staging other time trials in parks across the country. The rest, as he says, has made running history (and earned him a CBE for his services to grass roots sports participation):
‘The parkrun brand was conceived late 2009. We then formed the not-for-profit company – parkrun UK limited – which allowed all the events at the time to be rebranded as parkruns.’
It wasn’t until the summer of 2012 that a determined little band of Lewisham folk, who were fed up with having to toil all the way to Bromley for their free Saturday 5k fix, decided to apply to the council for permission to establish parkrun in their local park.
I can’t remember how I learned about these plans afoot, but I was in on the route testing, and came along for a trial run with the Hillyfields parkrun founders one summer evening. That gentle run, with people who would become friends, sticks in my memory for all kinds of reasons, the most significant being the fact that I brought my then 14-year-old daughter with me. She’d spent the past eight months in hospital, but by that time was well enough to come out for home visits. She wasn’t really allowed to exercise, but I sneakily brought her along and she loved it. Five years on, she has her own barcode, a clean bill of health and an ambition to join the runners at Forest Rec, or Beeston, or wherever the closest parkrun to Nottingham University may be when she starts studying there at the end of the month.
That first Hillyfields parkrun comprised about 40 runners. These days about 250 people of all ages, shapes, speeds join the merry throng. It’s not a race. Some people prefer to walk. It’s only nerdy obsessives like me who dream of a miraculous personal best, despite injury, hangover, lack of sleep or all three.
Today there were cakes aplenty and a party atmosphere to celebrate five years of Hillyfields parkrun. I wore my 100-parkrun T-shirt, jogged up the hill with my tin of flapjacks and once again coveted the green 250-parkrun T-shirt modelled so elegantly by one of the founders, Siggy.
Siggy (who shares a birthday with me), her husband Stephen, Sarah, Adele, Eric, Margaret, Andrew, Laura, David, Janette, John, Jen…
…the list goes on – are all friends I’ve made in the past five years, because of Hillyfields parkrun. Before I started jogging up the hill with my barcode every Saturday at 8.45am I had precious few local friends and a solitary weekend running habit. Now, whatever my mood on a Saturday morning, I know I’m going to be a beaming, sweaty bundle of bonhomie by the time I’ve had my barcode scanned.
And that one frabjous day (callooh! callay!) when I thundered down that finishing funnel to earn my (now two-year-old) Hillyfields parkrun PB? Euphoria.
The best thing about Hillyfields parkrun? There’s always next Saturday, and it may be the Saturday when my emailed result includes the longed-for words ‘New PB!’