Parkrun is coming back.
The news was a welcome relief in a sports week that was otherwise dominated by tales of England footballers breaking Covid rules and one of the world’s best tennis players smashing a ball into a line judge. And also a week that saw Covid rules tightening again in the UK.
At the time of going to press, though, it remained the case that parkrunners will be able to return to their communal 5k efforts in England at the end of October after organisers said they believed the benefits outweighed the risks involved.
The last parkrun was on March 18 this year, the weekend before the country was locked down because of the coronavirus pandemic but Nick Pearson, the event’s chief executive, announced on Monday that the time had come for the public to get their trainers on again.
“Everything in life comes with a risk, and we know and accept that we cannot remove all risks from the parkrun environment,” he said.
“However, it is also important to balance the public health benefits of reopening our events, against the associated public health risks. We now believe, having spent considerable time gathering and understanding the evidence, that the benefits to reopening parkrun far outweigh the risks.”
Parkrun started in 2004 with 13 runners in Bushy Park in London and now operates in 22 countries. Four million people have taken part in one of the free timed runs, with around 350,000 people turning out each weekend for either the main 5km run or the 2km junior version.
The event embodies all that we value at Sportside because of its accessibility and inclusivity and, like so many members of the sports community in the UK, we have looked on in despair at times at how those without certain privileges (eg sports facilities, childcare) have found exercising hard over the past six months.
Pearson voiced these concerns too: “The last six months have increased inequalities around health and wellbeing, with many people more isolated and less active than ever in their life.
“Across many communities our events provide the most accessible and inclusive opportunities for people, of all abilities and backgrounds, to come together and be active.
“While it is absolutely critical we all remain cautious, and closely follow government guidance, we can say that the chances of an infectious person being in attendance at a specific parkrun event is relatively low.”
The organisation undertook a survey last month and nearly 80 per cent of runners said they would welcome a return to run again.
No date has yet been set for parkrun’s return to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland because of current restrictions in those countries but Pearson said: “We are also as committed as ever to opening our events outside of England as soon as possible.”
Oliver Dowden, the secretary of state for culture, media and sport tweeted: “Outdoor sport is low risk and there will be additional safety measures [at parkrun]. We’ve got to get Britain match-fit to beat this virus, and a 5k run at whatever pace you can is great for physical & mental health!”
Sportside believes the return of parkrun can not come soon enough.
Like Sportside’s app, the essence of the event is to connect and play, which so many people in the UK have struggled to do for so long. Sportspeople have a need to be with one another. To compete, to talk, to laugh, to support, and to share.
The health benefits of a 5km run are myriad: it boosts self-esteem, increases sleep quality, gives us energy, builds immunity and also reduces the risk of developing illnesses.
One of the gravest dangers of this pandemic has been that people have become too timid to get out and get active. And those with minor health conditions have become too worried to do the exercise they need.
Which is why it was so good to see another feel-good story of the week come out of the world of British athletics with Scotland’s Jemma Reekie beating all before her in the 1,500m at five out of six events across Europe since August.
Reekie suffers from asthma and, like many other asthma sufferers in the UK, has found the pandemic even more difficult to cope with.
Her asthma, coupled with a desire to continue her athletics development, saw her move in with training partner and fellow track star Laura Muir for three-and-a-half months during lockdown.
“As you get older, you learn to control things better and how to respect your body and rest when it has to rest,” she told reporters after her latest stunning win in Marseille.
“I know a lot of kids that have met me along the way and they thought they couldn’t run because they have asthma.
“I am able to say ‘I can do it’. I know loads of adults as well that have said they didn’t know they could push themselves that much because they had asthma, but as long as it is under control and you respect your body, anything is possible.”
Now, more than ever, it is going to be crucial for Sportsiders to listen to Jemma and believe in her. Sport is nothing to be afraid of – and a 5km run at your local parkrun may be all the therapy you need to get you through the week.