There’s another runner in Hannah the Runner‘s family and he’s called Luke… Luke is six and he loves running! Here’s his guide to parkrun and junior parkrun…

What is parkrun?

Parkrun started in London in 2004. It wasn’t called parkrun then. It was called Bushy Park Time Trial. A man called Paul started parkrun and now he’s famous in the running community. When it started parkrun was only a 5 kilometre run, but now there’s also a 2K parkrun called junior parkrun. There are parkruns and junior parkruns all around the world. Parkrun can be a trail run or on tarmac, but it’s always the same distance, it’s always at the same time on the same day (9am on Saturdays for parkrun and Sundays for junior parkrun), and its always FREE! 

Before you do parkrun…

You need to have a barcode. Go to www.parkrun.org.uk and register and print your barcode. You don’t need special running clothes, but you do need clothes (don’t go to parkrun in your pyjamas). You’re allowed to dress up for parkrun if you want to, especially at Halloween or Christmas. You do need shoes that are comfy to run in. In Bath junior parkrun is on tarmac and parkrun is a trail run which means sometimes it’s a bit muddy at parkrun, so don’t wear your best sparkly trainers even though they’re comfy. We always take jelly sweets to parkrun and we have one every kilometre, but that’s only on 5K runs, and we also take water.

Starting parkrun…

Although parkrun starts at 9am it’s a good idea to get there 10 or 15 minutes before that, because at every parkrun they have announcements (like people getting special bands at junior parkrun or people doing their 50th or 100th parkrun), they ask if there are any first timers or tourists from other parkruns, and they do a briefing for new runners. At junior parkrun there is a special warmup that we do together. When it’s 9am we all line up at the starting line and there’s a countdown. Sometimes at parkrun there are lots of people and sometimes there are not many people.

Finishing parkrun…

At the end of the run you need to go through the finish funnel. You get given a finish token. You take your token and your barcode to a person with a barcode scanner. They scan your barcode and your token and they keep the token. Don’t take your token home. They need them for next week! Later in the day you get a text and an email with your time and finishing position.

Volunteering at parkrun…

The reason that parkrun is free is because all the jobs are done by volunteers. If you run parkrun you should take your turn at volunteering, or you can run while a member of your family volunteers. All the jobs are: marshalling, warmup leader (at junior parkrun), timekeeper, barcode scanner, tail walker (you will never be last at parkrun). At junior parkrun marshals have big foam hands to give high fives. If you’re a volunteer you have to tick yourself off on the list when you arrive.

Why should you do any parkrun?

Parkrun is a special run. Parkrun helps you know how to run. And parkrun is fun. Parkrun is very friendly. No one minds if you don’t run all of it. If you don’t want to run you can walk with the tail walker. Each week you can try to run a bit more until you get to do all of it. You can try to beat your PB (personal best time) each week.

So, there we go. I hope Luke has inspired you to give parkrun or junior parkrun a try with your child. As a coach and a mum I support anything that encourages the whole family to be active. Running is a brilliant exercise to do as a family and parkrun is the ideal place to do it. Children aged between 4 and 11 can do junior parkrun. You need to accompany them to the run and stay there the whole time, but you don’t have to run with them. You can watch and cheer them on, or even better you can volunteer to help out. You’re very welcome to run with them of course, but you don’t get a time. Children are also welcome at 5K parkruns from the age of 4, but if your child is under 11 they must be within arms reach of a responsible adult – that might mean that your child needs to slow down and wait for you, or that you need to work on your running (give us a shout if you need help with that).

If you watch children when they play you’ll see that all children run, but that younger children tend to sprint and stop, sprint and stop. Running for longer distances without stopping is a learned skill. If your child hasn’t run longer distances before, definitely start with junior parkrun, even if they’re older. Talk to them about the idea of pacing themselves – the tortoise and the hare is a handy story.

5 kilometres is a very, very long way for a 4 year old. It’s rare to see 4, 5 or 6 year olds at parkrun, so don’t feel like your child is missing out if they aren’t ready to run that far yet… or ever. Every child is different. I have non-identical twin boys. They both gave junior parkrun a try when it started in Bath just after their 5th birthdays. One of them didn’t enjoy it, the other loved it and after running 2K around a dozen times he wanted to try running further so we gradually upped our distance until he was ready for 5K. After running 5K he’s tired and fairly grumpy for the rest of the day – in the same kind of way as I am after a 15+ mile run – so I reckon doing parkrun every week would be too much for him. Also it’s not recommended that children who are still growing run long distances too regularly. It’s obviously up to you as a parent to decide with your child how often and how far they should run, but just be aware that growth spurts can affect a child’s balance and coordination. And just like you and me they’ll have off days.

Please, please, please don’t ever force a child to run when they really don’t want to, even if you’ve gone to a lot of effort to print barcodes, get up early, get there. Sometimes your child will just go completely off the idea when they see what’s happening. That’s not to say that I’m encouraging you to let them off easily – a bit of bribery is an excellent idea. What’s not acceptable is forcing children to carry on when they’re obviously hating it. One of my sayings when I’m coaching adults is “this is supposed to be fun”. Sometimes that’s tongue in cheek, like when I’m telling my Bath Half runners that they’ve got four more hill repeats before they can have a rest, but I firmly believe that if you don’t end a run or a training session feeling happier than when you started you should try something different!

Thanks Hannah and Luke for that fab bit of inspo! If you’d like to know about the parkruns in Bath then head over to the parkrun website. Alternatively if you want to know a bit more about Hannah’s running groups then check out her page.