Paul Kilfoil's World of Travel, Technology & Sport



Posted on  by Paul Kilfoil.
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And they're off! The Fish Hoek Park Run starts

Ten years ago (in 2004) a fantastic initiative was launched in England. The idea was to have free, timed runs over a standard distance of five kilometres in various public open spaces (parks, green belts, beaches, recreation areas, etc), open to everybody and preferably not on roads or paved surfaces. There would be no cost or entrance criteria whatsover - anybody, young or old, fit or otherwise, could participate ; walkers, dogs and people with prams would also be encouraged to take part. A web site was set up at www.parkrun.com and anybody who was interested could apply to set up a park run in their neighbourhood. Software was written to allow event organizers to capture runners' times via bar codes, which could later be uploaded to the park run server so that runners could look at their results and times across all park run events in the world. Park runs are generally held at 8 AM on Saturday mornings, and the only thing runners need to do is register on the park run web site to obtain a personalised bar code.

And thus was born the concept of Park Running. It was a phenomenal success in the United Kingdom, so much so that it was soon introduced into other countries - Denmark, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia amongst others. Park running was brought to South Africa by ultra-distance running legend Bruce Fordyce (best remembered for his unprecedented nine victories at the Comrades Marathon in Natal, eight of which were consecutive), and he still tries to attend the inaugural run of each new park run event in South Africa.

I am a very average middle-aged non-competitive runner ; my weekly mileage is about 18 kilometres and I run primarily to keep fit and stay healthy (although in my younger days I did complete six half marathons, with a best time of 1:34:58). I was unfortunately away in December 2013 when a park run was launched in the wetlands no more than two blocks from where I live, so I missed meeting Bruce Fordyce (who officially opened the route) and taking part in the first run of my local event.

A runner crosses a wooden bridge near the finish
But as soon as I found out about it, I joined in and have been hooked ever since. Even my wife, an active walker but very much a non-runner, has been taking part. Our Saturday morning routine has thus changed from "late lie-in, eggs on toast at 8 AM, coffee at 8:30 AM" to "coffee and a biscuit at 7:15 AM, running gear on, jog slowly to the park run start at 7:50 AM". There's fantastic comraderie at the start as runners who last saw each other the previous week exchange greetings ; afterwards there's usually a lot of post-race banter, with people comparing times and discussing PBs (Personal Best times).

The other aspect of this that is of particular interest to my wife and me is that our local park run starts and ends in the Sun Valley wetlands, very near our house. For the past couple of years we have been driving an initiative to clean up and rehabilitate these wetlands, and have formed a non-profit organization called Sun Valley Eco Watch to do this (see my blog about Sun Valley Eco Watch). We've picked up bags of litter, taken out masses of alien vegetation and cleared paths through the bushes.
Park Run Details
International: www.parkrun.com
South Africa: www.parkrun.co.za
Fish Hoek: www.parkrun.co.za/fishhoek
Register at: www.parkrun.co.za/register
Facebook: www.facebook.com
Having a regular event like a park run through the wetlands is exactly the kind of recreational activity we envisaged for the area. So we support these runs whole-heartedly and encourage people in our community to take part - it's a great way to exercise and stay fit, but also to meet your neighbours, socialize and use our precious public open space for recreation ; the more we use our "green" areas, the less likely they are to be bulldozed for development or turned into squatter camps or dumping grounds for trash.

So if you haven't already done so, register TODAY and join a Park Run in your area this weekend!


  © Paul Kilfoil, P O Box 1091, Sun Valley, 7985, South Africa