Sheffield Hallam Parkrun hitting its peak five years on

Sheffield Hallam Parkrun: the start
Sheffield Hallam Parkrun: the start
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First-time parkrunner Claire Sanderson was warming down with fellow athletes after the morning’s field of 412 starters had run 1,280 miles between them at Saturday’s Sheffield Hallam Parkrun.

“Mentally I was there, but physically I wasn’t,” said Claire after her double circuit of Endcliffe Park. “I met a gentleman called John and told him it was my first run in so many years, and he said if you stick with me you’ll get 32 minutes, and he helped me shuffle to the finish line, so thank you John!”

“Running is like that,” said Justine Head. “It’s very sociable.”

“And it’s free,” said Claire Britt. “In Sheffield we like a bargain.” She added many runners like to get their kids involved, either as runners themselves, or spectators to gain good examples from mum or dad.

All of which helps to explain the success of Parkrun in Sheffield. The Hallam run, which recently celebrated its fifth birthday, regularly attracts 500 to 600 people for a 5km - 3.1 miles - timed run at 9am every Saturday morning, come rain, shine or snow. At the same time, hundreds more line up at Hillsborough, Rother Valley, Graves, Concord and Manor Fields parks, along with tens of thousands at 350 events around the UK, with even more around the world.

Sheffield Hallam is one of the biggest parkruns in England, and its top attendance of 650 earlier this year is getting close to the practical maximum, say organisers, who urge runners to try out the city’s other events (many of which have also seen their peak attendances this year).

At Endcliffe Park, the remarkable numbers show that 10,430 individual participants have run over a quarter of a million miles in total, in the 252 parkruns since summer 2010.

“It’s fantastic how it’s grown,” said Frazer Johnson. “Partly it’s about the social side, it’s not just about getting fitter. You have all ages and all walks of life taking part and then going to the cafe for a chat afterwards.”

The parkrun idea began in London 12 years ago aiming to offer a free, easy to enter, five kilometre weekly run against the clock for all ages and abilities. New participants simply register online at www.parkrun.org.uk, print out their unique barcode, and then just turn up at any run they like. Every event has a small team of volunteers who log finishing times against the participant’s barcode, which is then uploaded to the parkrun websites and emailed or texted out to the runner later in the day.

Participation is free, although if you take part regularly you’ll be encouraged to help an event volunteer team (for an hour or so) at least once a year. The Endcliffe Park event is managed by Sheffield Hallam University’s sports development office, and all the local events are supported by the city council.

“Anyone can do it - you can jog it, walk it, or run it, you don’t have to be the best,” said volunteer Alex Harding. “And the good thing is, you get your times and you can see your improvement week after week.”

On Saturday, veteran parkrunner Rosie Elmore clocked up her 100th run, for which she gets a special T-shirt.

“I found running too much like hard work in the past,” said Rosie, who holds one of the leading places in the age 70+ category. “But now so many people of all shapes and sizes are running, so it’s less elitist than it used to be.”

Another veteran participant was Martin Ward, a marathon runner on a visit from Toronto taking part for the first time with friend Mark Harris, who blamed a loose shoelace for his late finish behind his expatriate rival.

Martin revealed he’d used performance-enhancing substances, however. “You can’t get vanilla slices in Canada, and I must have had three yesterday. I think they gave me a boost.”