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‘Uplifting’: Parkrun returns for first time since COVID-19 pandemic started

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Runners up and down the country have hailed the return of Parkrun events, as the starting pistol was fired for the first time in more than a year this morning.

The weekly Saturday 5km runs, which are free and led by volunteers, were suspended during the pandemic as gatherings were banned.

Parkruns have been going for 17 years and are aimed at just about anyone, regardless of age or ability, in an effort to get people regularly running, jogging or walking in their local parks.

Runners taking part in the Parkrun at Bushy Park in London, the largest and oldest Parkrun in the UK, and one of many runs taking place across the country for the first time since last March. Picture date: Saturday July 24, 2021.
Image: Runners navigated the course in Bushy Park, London, the oldest and largest Parkrun event
Runners taking part in the Parkrun at Bushy Park in London, the largest and oldest Parkrun in the UK, and one of many runs taking place across the country for the first time since last March. Picture date: Saturday July 24, 2021.
Image: People of all ages took part

Across the country, 500 Parkruns happened this morning, with an estimated 100,000 runners of all ages taking part as outdoor running events were allowed to return after lockdown was lifted in England on 19 July.

At Brabyns Park in Greater Manchester today, 230 people turned out for the first Marple Parkrun to be held for 70 weeks – 497 days.

Sky news correspondent Frazer Maude, in the park, said: “Families, friends, and those who simply love to share their enjoyment of running took part in the 5k event.

“They included 85-year-old Brian Platt, who has done over 500 Parkruns. Brian’s stayed fit during the pandemic by running alone, but says he’s thrilled to be getting his exercise in a more social setting again.

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“The fastest runners finished in a little over 17 minutes. Brian took a little longer.

“But at the end, regardless of their abilities or finishing times, everyone had one thing in common: a beaming smile.”

Brian Platt, 83, was happy to be back at Parkrun in Brabyn's Park, Marple Bridge
Image: Brian Platt, 83, was happy to be back at Parkrun in Brabyn’s Park, Marple Bridge
Start lines were made wider to ensure not too many people were crowded together
Image: Start lines were made wider to ensure not too many people were crowded together

Among those in Southwark, southeast London, on Saturday morning was 63-year-old Paul Williams, who has learning disabilities and a bad leg and was completing his 78th park walk while being cheered on by fellow participants.

It took him an hour and 16 minutes to complete his walk, and he said after he crossed the finish line: “I have been stuck indoors for about a year because I have got diabetes and I wasn’t allowed to go out. There was no exercise. I have been meeting everyone again and seeing everybody.

“It gives me exercise, helps me lose weight. I like to keep myself fit and to talk to people.”

Paul Williams, 63, was happy to be back to complete his 78th Parkrun
Image: Paul Williams, 63, was happy to be back to complete his 78th Parkrun
This year's fawns in Bushy Park, southwest London, are not used to seeing hundreds of runners every Saturday, unlike their parents
Image: This year’s fawns in Bushy Park, southwest London, are not used to seeing hundreds of runners every Saturday, unlike their parents

Taking just 16 minutes to complete the course in Southwark, and the first to cross the line, was PhD student Cameron Dockerill, 24, who said: “It has been a lonely time for a lot of people with lots of lonely training miles, solo runs, along with virtual and cancelled races.

“It is good to have people cheering you on again. I think this (Parkrun) makes a difference not only to someone’s physical health but also to their mental health as well. It has been quite a lonely time and to come here is quite uplifting.”

Runners taking part in the Parkrun at Bushy Park in London, the largest and oldest Parkrun in the UK, and one of many runs taking place across the country for the first time since last March. Picture date: Saturday July 24, 2021.
Image: Organisers were on hand to help anybody feeling anxious about returning to crowds

There were still some measures in place to keep people safe, including wider starting points, longer finishing areas, an app to record timings and more volunteers to ensure extra safety controls were in place.

Volunteer Augustine Moemere, an NHS wellbeing adviser, said the organisers looked at how they could support people who might have anxiety about being in a crowd for the first time in a long while.