Ron Marinucci - January Column

Ron Marinucci - January Column

Provided by RMDC

parkruns? “Never heard of ‘em.” Well, many runners should acquaint themselves with parkruns (with a lower case “p,” even to begin sentences, to emphasize and promote their inclusiveness, I guess; but it plays havoc with the auto-correct on my computer). They are weekly, free, all-volunteer, accurately-measured 5Ks. “Was that ‘free?’” Indeed, it was.

parkruns have become a world-wide running phenomenon. Begun in the United Kingdom in 2004 by Paul Simon-Hewitt and some friends, they have been slowly, but surely growing internationally. Today, almost twenty countries, including the United States, hold hundreds of parkruns each week. There are currently fifteen American-based parkruns, with more sites for them planned in the not-too-distant future. And yes, they are all weekly, open to all, 5K, and free.

Except for some venues that hold 2Ks for junior runners, all parkruns are never longer than 5K. To emphasize inclusiveness, it’s a distance that practically anyone can finish, running or walking or both.

Luckily for Michigan runners, one of the parkrun sites is Bicentennial Park in Livonia. Five or six years ago, Rick Brauer started what is believed to be the first parkrun in the US. On a visit to London, Brauer discovered a parkrun and brought the idea home to Michigan with him.

Brauer “retired in October of 2016,” said Tim Gallagher, who eagerly stepped in to keep the parkrun idea afloat in Livonia. Gallagher notes that “Lynn Boven and Spencer Greeve have been helping to organize and direct the Livonia parkruns since then.” In fact, as noted by several parkrun Web sites and Gallagher himself, volunteers form the backbone of the weekly happenings. “It is entirely organized by volunteers.” The Livonia parkrun newsletter lists and “thanks” each week’s volunteers, who number up to a dozen or more.

Gallagher said, “We have the support of both the ‘parkrunUSA’ team and the home office in the UK, who supply the behind-the-scenes technology and the free milestone tee shirts.”

Gallagher and others, as you’ll see, are very enthusiastic about the Livonia parkruns. He noted, “parkrun is an amazing world-wide phenomenon that has been quietly doing its thing here in Livonia for over five years. While exploding internationally, it is finally starting to grow a little in the US in the past two years.”

He is surely a convert. “I have parkrun at twelve different venues in six different countries. I know a lot of the ins-and-outs and behind-the-scenes goings-on at parkrun.” He also contributes to a parkrun blog.

“The basics,” he explained, “are very simple. It is free. It is a 5K run, or race, but we don’t call it a ‘race.’ parkrun is very welcoming. We welcome all shapes, sizes, ages, and speeds of runners and walkers. You can come once, occasionally, or every Saturday. You can volunteer, which is very rewarding, but you don’t have to.” And he repeated, “You never have to pay a dime to run these 5Ks.”

Plus, besides offering a well-organized, accurate, and free race, er, run, “You get personalized results within an hour of the run.” And, as the television commercials tout, “Wait, there’s more!” Free tee shirts are awarded for “completing certain [parkrun] milestones.” The tee shirts reward “participation over performance.” There are shirts for runners and walkers, for “participants” and volunteers. For instance, completing 50 or 100 parkruns merits a milestone tee, all the way up to 500! Volunteering at 25 or more events also reaches a milestone.

Well, there is a “catch,” but only one of them. Participants must register online with parkruns, but only once. Then, for each race, they need only bring printed copies of their registration barcodes. “Phones don’t scan.” So printed copies are required. And registration includes a newsletter, results and even reminders by e-mail. Some “catch,” huh?

Attendance in Livonia is fairly steady each week. Gallagher noted that about forty runners and walkers show up at Bicentennial Park. Some days the number will rise to 70 or so, with the largest total so far reaching 130.

He pointed out another “interesting aspect” of the Livonia parkrun. That is its “international flavor.” It attracts “tourists.” On a recent Saturday, “We had four international tourists, two from England and one each from Australia and Canada. This happens almost every week.” He quipped, “Out of the blue people will show up with funny accents asking if they are in the right place for a parkrun.”

John Tarkowski and Jerry Mittman are long-time Michigan runners. And they have often led their respective age-groups in a variety of race distances. They know running. Each is a big fan of the Livonia parkruns.

Tarkowski has been a top local runner for many years. He not only runs on Saturdays, but “I sometimes volunteer. One of the things I love is so many people telling me it’s their first race.” He added, “The parkrun provides a non-intimidating event that welcomes runners and walkers of all abilities. The events are timed and results are provided so participants are able to measure progress in improving their times and fitness.” And, he too joked, “Of course, the price is right!,” noting that, “Once they try it, many continue to return.”

Mittman has run races all over the US and world. He discovered the Livonia parkruns about five or six years ago. “I saw it as a great alternative to larger and expensive racing,” he recalled. “I ran my first parkrun in 2013 and have now run 31.” He echoed Tarkowski, “It’s a low-key, fun event targeted at runners and walkers of all ages and abilities.” One of the “appeals” of the Livonia parkruns “is the cross-country-type course, using grassy fields, paths in the woods, and a few asphalt sections. It’s a nice change from a typical road race.”

He added, “It has to be one of the best bargains around, a well-organized event with no fee, accurate timing, and a dedicated crew putting it on.” He also enjoys “the timing and results information, which is e-mailed shortly after the runs,” emphasizing that “It’s the most extensive of the many races I’ve competed in.”

Turning philosopher, Mittman admitted, “As I get older and slower, I’m more interested in staying active than in spending $30 to $50 for a 5K race. And I don’t need more shirts or medals that I have little interest in.”

Gallagher, too, found himself “at a loss that thousands of runners and walkers” will pay $30 or $40 or more while “We get only 40 to 70 people every Saturday for a free 5k.”

As mentioned, the Livonia parkruns are held every Saturday, year-round. From June to September, they start at 8:00 AM and an hour later the rest of the year. Be mindful that, although the 5K is always free, online registration is required before the run—and remember to bring the printed bar code that is sent. More information, all one needs, can be found at the Livonia parkrun Web site: