Over the last couple of weekends I have indulged in a bit of parkrun tourism, at Exeter and Rosliston in Derbyshire. Until recently I had not really come across the concept of parkrun tourism, despite having taken part in parkruns at more than one venue in the UK. But I have come to realise that there are hosts of parkrun tourists (or PTs as they shall now be known), some taking it very seriously indeed!
The volunteer team setting up at Rosliston
My parkrun habit crept up on me slowly and has developed over the past couple of years; I first wrote about it in April last year: #loveparkrun. My “home” parkrun is Walthamstow; this was where I started volunteering and with the encouragement of the lovely Walthamstow parkrun family I moved on to being able to run it myself. However, my third parkrun was at Oakwell Hall in Yorkshire. I was staying with family in Leeds, and having just started to run I didn’t want to lose the momentum and miss out on my Saturday morning parkrun fix. The same thing happened a few weeks later when I was staying for the weekend in Salisbury; again I looked up on the website and found that there was a parkrun a mere 20 minutes’ walk from where I was staying. But it was not until a few months later, when I tried out another Yorkshire parkrun at Cross Flatts, that I first heard the term “parkrun tourist”. During the Run Director’s briefing at the start they asked if there were any PTs present. Those that put their hands up were asked where they were from. I thought I would have come the furthest, being there from London, but was amazed to find some PTs from abroad taking part. This has gone on to be a feature of my tourism – I often think I’ll have come the furthest, only to find someone there from Melbourne, or Cape Town, showing just how far parkrun has developed to become a global phenomenon.
So what qualifies you to become a PT – and how is the term parkrun tourism defined? Again, I have only recently become aware of a number of different social media groups that are devoted to all things parkrun, such as this facebook group: parkrun discussion group. The subject of what defines parkrun tourism has been much debated in these groups, with various differing opinions being held. One view is that you are a PT if you are simply running at any parkrun other than your home run; another is that you have your home parkrun, then your “local” parkruns (any other run in the geographically based section of the parkrun website that also features your home run, e.g. Greater London, Wales or Yorkshire and the Humber) and anything further than that makes you a PT. There are some who favour the idea that if you have to stay overnight to attend a particular parkrun you are a PT – everything else is ‘local’. And other more hard-core people who insist that you are only a PT if you make a special effort to go somewhere different to run parkrun, rather than merely attending a different parkrun to your home run because you happen to be away for the weekend.
Through social media, I was also introduced to the wonderful analogue tracker designed by Hannah Perrin – and yes, there is even a parkrun analogue trackers group!
Hannah’s tracker allows you to keep track of your parkruns in a fun yet organised way, colouring in a different block for each run in different colours to represent your ‘home’, ‘local’ and ‘tourist’ runs. And this also introduced another concept to me – the alphabet challenge! The idea is that you try to run a parkrun that begins with each letter of the alphabet, colouring them off on the tracker as you go. And no, there are no parkruns beginning with the letters X and Z (unless you count eXeter for X, and until Zennor starts up a new parkrun!). If you’re at all like me and you like lists, bullet journals and collecting things, this opens up parkrun tourism to a whole new ballgame. Suddenly I was starting to look at where I was away for the weekend and seeing if I could ‘bag’ a new letter. So when staying in Devon, should I do Exeter Riverside, or save the “E” for when I’m in Edinburgh in May and do Killerton instead? Planning a weekend away in Lulworth, Dorset, in May, so I look for nearby parkruns and find… oh no… the nearest is Seaton which begins with an ‘S’ and I already have Salisbury – d’oh! And another weekend in Lyme Regis gives the possibility of running at Weymouth – but I don’t need another ‘W’ as I have my home run at Walthamstow! I seriously need to get a grip before this thing takes over my life…
As I embraced the idea of parkrun tourism, a bit of guilt started to creep in though. Was I abandoning my home parkrun, or being disloyal to them? I am lucky in that there are a number of parkruns near to where I live, so I am spoilt for choice. My home run of Walthamstow is run entirely on grass which gets very, very muddy in winter, so as winter set in I started running at nearby Hackney Marshes, which is run entirely on tarmac paths. And yet I felt incredible guilt at running there, as Walthamstow struggled for runners during the inclement weather and even in midsummer rarely gets above 100 runners. Of course, the fewer runners, the fewer people there are to volunteer and I didn’t want the lovely Walthamstow parkrun family to think I had deserted them. I don’t feel quite the same guilt if running a lot further away though; if I’m away for the weekend in Devon, or Yorkshire I can’t get to Walthamstow, so the least I can do is fly the flag for the ‘Stow by wearing my Walthamstow-branded apricot parkrun t-shirt at the different course. This, of course, also marks me out to be a PT and opens up many conversations, such as one I had with a marshal at Rosliston who had noted the t-shirt and came up to talk to me as his family came from nearby Leytonstone! And I can encourage anyone I talk to as a tourist to come and do a bit of tourism and run at Walthamstow!
Loyalty to your ‘home’ parkrun used to be encouraged by the awarding of ‘points’ – you collected points by running or volunteering at a particular parkrun, and the more times you ran/volunteered there, the more points you got. At Walthamstow we have had a points ceremony at the anniversary celebration, with trophies being awarded for those with the most points. Whilst this encouraged loyalty to a particular parkrun, I understand that parkrun HQ have now scrapped the points system – perhaps because so many people are now doing parkrun tourism, which makes the points system defunct.
So having decided to do a bit of parkrun tourism, how do you do it? Well, first you need to decide which parkrun to go to. You can use the event finder on the official parkrun website which shows all the events in geographical sections, and then on each parkrun home page there is a section which shows other parkruns nearby. But even easier is the unofficial tourist tool which shows the nearest 10 parkruns to any location in the UK. Once you’ve decided on a parkrun, check out the course details on the official website which tells you everything you need to know about the type of course, how to get there, and often even which café they go to after the run. And then just turn up – but don’t forget your barcode of course! #dfyb
Turning up as a tourist at different parkrun to your home run is, for me, both anxiety-inducing and oddly comforting! Anxiety-inducing as I find I worry a bit about whether I’ll be able to find it ok, will I be there on time, will there be toilets that I can use pre-run etc. But as soon as I get there, the familiar parkrun branding is like a comforting blanket – the distinctive branding means that the event is instantly recognisable as a parkrun and familiar, no matter how far from home you are. And ALL parkruns are friendly and welcoming – we are parkrun family. However familiar and recognisable each parkrun is though, they are also all slightly different, as different parkruns introduce innovations and different ideas unique to that parkrun, such as the different ways that people sort the parkrun finish tokens. Sometimes the scanners stand just by the finish line, sometimes they have the benefit of a table – and in Exeter they even sit at a table in a café upstairs in the nearby climbing centre which is some way from the finish line. But they had a great idea for sorting the finish tokens – by using a marked-up ice-cube tray! At Oakwell Hall I noticed they had a blackboard for people to sign up to volunteer in future weeks, and ideas of different ways of doing the briefings – and being heard and seen – can all be taken back to your own home parkrun, so your home run can benefit from your tourism!
The Exeter Riverside scanning team
So having embraced the idea of parkrun tourism, I feel like I’ve joined a secret club; a new parkrun family – that of the parkrun tourist family! Over a post-parkrun coffee at Rosliston I was chatting with a woman who was also a tourist – she was only on her 7th run but she had a little camper van and she had started using that to become a parkrun tourist. She would drive somewhere on the Friday night, park up and sleep in the van near the parkrun of her choice and then after the run would spend the day exploring the locality of the parkrun. So parkrun tourism had introduced a whole new hobby to her, and the excuse to get out and about and to see more of the country. At Rosliston there was also a group of women on a hen party – all sporting “Runaway Bride” t-shirts! I’m not sure if they were PTs or at their home run, but often when you get hen/stag parties running at parkrun you inevitably get a few PTs as the bride’s/groom’s friends won’t necessarily be local.
So far I have only completed 7 different parkruns including my home parkrun, so I have a long way to go before I complete 20 runs and get onto the official Most events list. But I’ve just discovered today that when you get onto this list you are entitled to wear the unofficial PT “cow cowl”! I haven’t noticed these being worn, but having only just found out about them today I’m sure I’m suddenly going to start seeing them everywhere!
I started this post by saying that I had indulged in a bit of parkrun tourism over the last two weekends, at Exeter and Rosliston, and you couldn’t get two more different parkruns. Exeter Riverside was entirely flat being run alongside the riverbank – as the name says on the tin – and started at Exeter Quay which is quite built-up but with a number of handy coffee-shops for a post-run coffee. Whereas Rosliston was a complicated course but excellently marshalled so there was no chance of getting lost, set in part of the National Forest, hilly and muddy and scenic! Out of the two, I much preferred Rosliston as a parkrun experience; on arrival I was greeted by friendly marshals who called out a cheery ‘hello’, all the marshalls on the course were really encouraging, the course was varied and ran through a bluebell wood (sadly no bluebells were out!) and fields with sculptures, and afterwards there was a superb bright and airy café right next to the finish for a post-parkrun coffee and breakfast. And they even have a gate made of logs that looks like the parkrun logo – the perfect parkrun course!
I’m already eagerly planning the places I can visit over the rest of the year – keeping in mind the letters I need for the alphabet challenge! But then I read this blog post by Paul Jeffrey, which has raised the game to even new heights! On the parkrun website you can look up your most recent runs which are displayed in a table. Paul has worked out that by running certain runs his table will show the word ‘cornetto’ if you read the first letter of each parkrun he has done vertically – cornetto being his post-parkrun treat of choice! This opens up a whole new avenue of parkrun tourism challenges – to spell out words by the careful selection of venue! Perhaps I’d better stick to the alphabet challenge for now – I’m reliably informed that currently there is only one option for ‘J’ – Jersey. I’d better get planning…