What sort of an idiot bans a parkrun?

I've been shortlisted for the UK Blog Awards 2016 Final.

THIS isn’t the best day to write about running as I am suffering from that sporting complaint known as a bit of a sore knee. I have creaked before and will creak again. Most aches and pains can be run through, although some do sabotage you in the end.

Two stories about running come to mind as me and my potentially uncooperative knee sit down at the laptop, a sedentary occupation, if that’s what it is, and one that needs an occasional outdoors escape.

The first is the much-reported decision by Stoke Gifford parish council to ban its local parkrun. This has received widespread coverage and stirred up much anger.

Parkrun is a great idea, although I say that as someone who has never gone along. I am more of a solo pavement plodder, but I do like to put on my running shoes and get out once or twice a week.

This communal and volunteer-led event was established in 2004 in Teddington in south-west London. Parkrun is not a race but a free, timed 5k run, open to anyone who first logs onto its website.

What a tremendous movement – and moving is what it’s all about, getting people to take exercise in the company of others. It is not, as I understand it, competitive – your only opponent is yourself, or perhaps your desire to stay in bed at 9am on a Saturday rather than put on those shoes.

There are 850 parkruns around the world in 12 different countries, which is remarkable. So it will take more than a bunch of killjoy parish councillors in Bristol to spoil such a popular party. Parkrun does not charge those who take part and the organisers say that this free access encourages the least active members of society to start taking exercise, simply by logging on and turning up.

I don’t know what manner of idiot sits on Stoke Gifford parish council, but went looking anyway. Perhaps I was hoping to find someone who looked like they could do with a bit of exercise.

Sadly, I discovered no pictorial evidence of slackness, but instead learnt that the parish sits to the north of Bristol and covers 1717 acres, a good figure it must be said, and contains Stoke Gifford, Little Stoke, Harry Stoke, Stoke Park and other areas not called Stoke. There are 15,500 inhabitants, many of whom like a Saturday morning run.

There are twelve local councillors, who between themselves cooked up quite a bit of negative publicity with their daft decision. They banned the local parkrun because of damage to paths and so on, saying that it is unfair that non-runners should pay for the wear and tear, thereby misunderstanding the nature of local democracy: not everyone does everything, but everyone should support everything if they can.

I see that the run took place anyway, moving to Pomphrey Hill Park in Mangotsfield. That’s the thing with runners – you can’t stop them. Whether the local councillors of Mangotsfield intend be miserable too is not recorded, but hopefully they will see the sense in allowing people to exercise and become a little fitter.

The other running story is that England Athletics has joined with the charity Mind to recruit 128 volunteers to do a bit of running and talking in the name of good mental health. This links to Run And Talk, a campaign to improve mental health through running.

Solo running brings mental health benefits too, clearing the head as the body gets on with its stuff, but running and talking is good too, and that is the idea with Run And Talk. Running is therapeutic in itself; running and talking things through doubly so.

Mostly I run alone with my music, but in the past I have run with friends. I should be running with friends on Saturday morning during a stay in Northumberland, dodgy knee permitting. Mind you they are a lot fitter than me and I don’t have much left in the way of breath for talking.


Leave a Reply