Just before 8am on the first Saturday of May last year I stood on top of the concrete blocks that we have used every weekend since to provide the now familiar pre-run briefing and was pleasantly surprised to see 84 runners standing in front of me waiting to start the very first New Zealand parkrun.
I remember telling the assembled runners that we were a part of a worldwide group of free weekly 5km runs and that we were the 137th parkrun – the first being the famous Bushy Park parkrun in South West London that started in 2004 with just 13 runners (and now has been 800 and 1,000 runners most weekends!).
First runner home in event 1, and still the Lower Hutt
parkrun course record holder, Edwin Kaitany - with a time of 15:25
In the last 52 weeks we have had 53 Lower Hutt parkruns – one every Saturday and one on Christmas Day which attracted an incredible 96 runners!
We have had 874 different runners join us in that time, and between us we have completed the 5km course down to the river mouth and back an incredible 4,358 times.
Worldwide, there are now 242 parkruns and parkrun is now being enjoyed by over 30,000 runners each weekend – in fact there were 37,848 people at a parkrun somewhere in the world this past weekend.
There are now two parkruns in New Zealand and a third one will be starting soon, and with the support of our national sponsor, NZ Home Loans, it wouldn’t be a surprise if we see several more parkruns starting up in NZ in the near future.
For that first event I had roped in my family to help out as volunteers and on the morning I also found two spectators to help out - Luke Pollock’s mother Ailsa, and Derek Richardson who was unable to run that day, but was there to support his wife, Elaine. Luke became a regular at Lower Hutt parkrun through the winter before moving to Scotland where he is now a regular at Falkirk and Edinburgh parkruns, and both Elaine and Derek Richardson have also remained regular runners at our parkrun.
Things went perfectly on that first day with all runners recording a finish time other than whoever finished in 38th position. That person took their finishing token home and I suspect we haven’t seen them since. We have only lost one finishing place token in our first year – and that was on the very first day!
parkrun is based on the concept of “a free event organised by runners for runners”, and the following week my family were joined by three others who offered their assistance on the day, and it wasn’t long before we got to the stage where we had a full set of volunteers each week consisting of runners who wanted to give something back to parkrun by taking their turn holding the stopwatch or riding the lead bike, etc.
In fact, in the last 53 weeks we have had 166 different people volunteer in one way or another with many of them volunteering many more than the three times that we ask each regular runner to volunteer each year. We also now have different people volunteering to write the weekly run reports which is fantastic – reading about parkrun from different peoples view points and experiences just adds to the overall parkrun experience.
More importantly, for me personally, Kent Stead offered to help out as run director after the first six weeks. Given that I was going to be away for four consecutive weekends in July, Kent was a saviour, and I am sure that if it
wasn’t for Kent, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Kent has been instrumental in a number of innovative ideas including changing the finishing suite into a U shape to encourage runners back to the southern side of the finishing area where they could then cheer on other runners while they chatted with friends after their run.
In November Mark Malone joined Kent and I as run directors, which was just as well because both Kent and I found ourselves working overseas in late November and Mark was thrown into the deep end as run director. He did a great job in our absence and continues to do a great job both as a run director and is one of our two most prolific parkrunners – more about that later.
And recently Paul van der Splinter has joined the team as our forth run director, and as well as Paul, Julia Gordon has become what I believe to be a worldwide parkrun first – our own Social Organiser.
One of the great things about parkrun is that it isn’t just about the run. In fact for some people, it isn’t about the run at all. The social side is just as important, if not more important, than the running, and we now regularly have a group of 20 or more runners at the Cure Cafe post run for a coffee and chat.
And it is thanks to Julia, Paul, Mark and Kent, that we are also one of the first parkruns in the world (if not the first) to have an awards ceremony that hasn’t just been tacked on to the Saturday morning anniversary run event – not that there is anything wrong with that.
During the coming year Julia will also be organising other social activities for parkrunners which may include group trips to other organised races, potentially group trips to other parkrun events as they start to pop up elsewhere in New Zealand, and maybe the occasional visit to a local pub or other venue.
parkrun isn’t a race, and there are no prizes for ‘winning’. But we do have an annual points competition in which all runners earn points every time they complete a parkrun, or volunteer at a parkrun (points are only awarded the first three times that a runner volunteers) and we acknowledge the top three in the points competition each year.
The points competition winners this year were Mark Malone and Leanne Asher who also happen to be our too most prolific parkrunners, having both run 48 of our first 53 events.
Mark Malone and Leanne Asher with their points competition trophies
Thanks to Cure Cafe and the Hutt City Council for sponsoring the points trophies.
It is interesting to note that in both the men’s and women’s points competitions, everyone in the top 15 has volunteered at least once during our first year. The points competition is really designed to encourage runners to run regularly and looking at the top 15 in both the men’s and women’s competitions, it would appear that you needed to run at least 20 times to feature in the top of the table.
As mentioned, both Mark Malone and Leanne Asher also have the distinction of having run more New Zealand parkruns than any other runner – 48 runs out of 53! Both runners missed the Christmas Day run and Mark also missed the very first parkrun due to other race commitments, but both runners are now features of the Lower Hutt parkrun scene and in another couple weeks they will both become the first runners in New Zealand to complete 50 parkruns. Congratulations in advance.
Other runners that have become regulars at parkrun during the last year and have completed at least 30 parkruns and were recognised at the awards function are:
- Mark Malone 48
- Leanne Asher 48
- Bruce McCardle 41
- Dionne Ward 38
- Kent Stead 37
- Michelle Malone 37
- Allan Hartley 37
- Floro Astronomia 36
- Kemp Englebretsen 35
- David Creamer 32
- Daniel Glover 32
- Martin O’Sullivan 32
- Anna Nowlan 31 (Anna now lives in Auckland and has also run 14 Cornwall Park parkruns putting her third on the NZ ladder of most parkruns completed in NZ)
- Winnie Cleary 30
Given that many runners didn’t hear about parkrun until we had been going several weeks/months, it wouldn’t surprise me if we have many more runners completing 30 or more parkruns in the next 12 months, and I wonder whether anyone might beat Mark and Leanne’s record and run more than 48 parkruns between now and our second anniversary.
At last weekend’s awards ceremony we also acknowledged the achievements of several other runners as follows:
- People’s Choice Lower Hutt parkrunner of the year: Tony Ting
- Most PB’s in the year: Bruce McCardle 17
- Best Passing Manoeuvre: Mark O’Sullivan
- Best Story: Alistair Willis & Hamish Johnson (Losing a shoe in the mud)
- parkrunners that had volunteered more than 10 times: Julia Gordon, Paul Gordon, Karen Baker, Harriet Willis, Brian Dunne & Zac McChesney
And thanked the following organisations for their support:
- NZ Home Loans
- Hutt City Council
- Cure Cafe
But as I mentioned at the start of this first anniversary report, the real heroes of parkrun are the volunteers. So special thanks must go to the following people who have either given up the opportunity to run on one or more weekends to hold a stopwatch, scan your barcode, ride the safety bike, etc, and/or have contributed behind the scenes by putting out the cones and kilometre signs (remember when we used to have km signs rather than the permanent km painted signs on the pavement), setting up at the start, writing the run report, etc, etc.
Aaron Queree, Abby Foster, Adam Hay, Adam Thorburn, Ailsa Pollock, Alan Crowe, Alana Hargraves, Alastair Willis, Alex Hargraves, Alexandra Riddle, Alison Speakman, Allan Hartley, Amanda Barnes, Amanda Bird, Amy Potter, Andrew Crosland, Andrew Kerr, Andrew Riddle, Angela Campbell, Anna Nowlan, Anthony Beckett, Anthony Blythen, Ash Walker, Astrid Van Meeuwen-Dijkgraaf, Barb Tucker, Barry Devenney, Bee Laing, Bimba Kumarasinghe, Bodie Walker, Brad Newnham, Brent Foster, Brian Dunne, Bruce McCardle, Bryan Botha, Camellia Yuen, Cathal Reilly, Chandima Kulathilake, Chris Duthie-Jung, Christine Collins, Christine Robertson, Claudia Campbell, Colin Price, Craig Linton, Daniel Reynolds, Daniel Glover, Daniel Bailey, Dave White, David Creamer, Deborah Blythen, Dennis Feaver, Derek Hodgen, Derek Richardson, Devery Foster, Dionne Ward, Dolly Seow-Ganesan, Dominik Hargraves, Donald Coley, Dorota Starzak, Duncan Ellis, Dylan Walker, Elaine Richardson, Emma Marlow, Ethan Foster, Ferguson Peter, Floro Astronomia, Freya Read, Gary Spierling, Gemma Hay, Georgia Rowe, Gina Foster, Harriet Willis, Helen Majorhazi, Huw Crosweller, Isobel Franklin, Isobel Franklin, Jack Anderson, Jamie Hargraves, Janet Comeskey, Janine McCouchman, Jannene Allwood, Jasmine Greening, Jason Hooper, Jo Clark, Jonny Anderson, Joseph Sime, Julia Gordon, Julia Gordon, Julie Johnson, Karen Baker, Kath Bier, Kelvin Maxwell, Kemp Englebretsen, Kent Stead, Kerry Beaumont, Leanne Asher, Lizia Ward, Logan Akers, Lucy Butler, Luis Solano, Lynne Isberg, Maggie Davies, Malcolm Sime, Mani Crawford, Maria Kerr, Mark Malone, Mark O'Sullivan, Mark Malone, Mark Stone, Martin Laing, Martin O'Sullivan, Mary Walker, Mathew McChesney-Benson, Mathieu Perron, Matthew Ford, Michael Wray, Michelle Malone, Morag McConville, Murray Reece, Natalie Hogg, Natalie Thompson, Natasha Hargraves, Nick Hyde, Nicola Evison, Nikki Cleary, Nneka Okonta, Nuala Dunne, Paul Gordon, Paul Timms, Paul Van Der Splinter, Paul Gordon, Paula Dunne, Peter Ferguson, Peter Himona, Quentin Duthie, Rebecca Kendall, Renee Dunford, Richard Hocken, Richard McChesney, Richard Sime, Roy Ferguson, Ruth Kerr, Sally Nash, Samantha Loong, Samuel Hargraves, Sarah Harvey, Sharon Wray, Shaun McCarthy, Shaun Thomas, Sheila Astronomia, Shna Galindo, Simon Rea, Sonja Fry, Stephen Barnes, Steve Wass, Stu Henderson, Suzanne Riddle, Tony Te Huia, Tony Ting, Tracy Anderson, Trent O’Sullivan, Warren Burke, Wendy Serpa, Winiata Cleary and Zac McChesney.
And lastly, thanks to you, the runner, or walker. Without you, parkrun would not be what it is today.
Some statistics from our first year:
- Number of events: 53 (52 Saturdays plus Christmas Day)
- Number of runners: 874
- Number of runs: 4,358
- Percentage of male versus female finishers: 56% to 44%
- Number of events with more female runners than male: 4 (events 2, 20, 21 and 42)
- Breakdown of junior, senior and veteran finishers: 16%, 33%, 51%
- Average number of runners each event: 82.2
- Highest number of runners: 146 in event 53 (27 April 2013)
- Lowest number of runners: 36 in event 19 (8 September 2012 – check out the run report from that event and you will see why)
- Total hours run by parkrunners in year 1: 2,065
- Total kilometres run in year 1: 21,790
- Current men’s course record: 15:25 by Edwin Kaitany in event 1 (5 May 2012)
- Current women’s course record: 19:01 by Nicola Handley in event 28 (10 November 2012)
- Age graded record holder: 87.42% by Pam Graham in event 46 (9 March 2013)
- Number of volunteers: 166
- who volunteered a total of 499 times
- Most PB’s: 17 by Bruce McCardle
- Most consecutive PB’s: 7 by Bruce McCardle, Camellia Yuen, and Jack Anderson
- Number of weeks where we had a head wind on the way home: Too many! But we now have a new name to describe the northerly wind that often arrives just before 8am on a Saturday morning – the “parkrun northerly”
- Number of photos taken and posted to facebook and flickr (see photos page on the website): 7,922
- Number of new friends made during the last year: many
Before I finish this review of our first year, one of my favourite comments about parkrun was the following which Julia Gordon wrote on our facebook page after the Hutt News 5 and 10km fun run at the beginning of March:
“.... Just another positive spin-off of the parkrun phenomenon; there we were today, all catching up at the finish line and I realised this is a group of friends who 9 months ago I'd never even met. I would have laughed if I'd had the energy, when heading south, at about the 7.5km mark, an encouraging official said "not far now, just two more bridges and 2.5km to go". If only she had known, that some of us, as Lower Hutt parkrunners, are so intimate with "our" section of the rivertrail, we know every slope (up and down), every bridge, every building, every little white stencil on the path, and certainly precisely how far we have still to go!”
(Lower Hutt parkrun founder and absentee event director)
P.S. A year ago when I established parkrun in Lower Hutt I never envisaged that I wouldn’t be a part of the first anniversary celebrations, but whilst I might be 12,000 miles away on the other side of the world at the moment, you were all definitely in my mind when you ran the final parkrun of our first year and celebrated at the awards function afterwards, and will be in my mind again as you start our second year this coming weekend.