Flying start for new running initiative

Participants in the first first-timers event at St Andrews Parkrun head for the start. (Picture Vicki Charlton.)
Participants in the first first-timers event at St Andrews Parkrun head for the start. (Picture Vicki Charlton.)
  • First-timers’ event a runaway success
  • Meet-and-greet session welcomed 35 newcomers
  • Hailed by national group
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A running initiative is helping new runners and others taking up exercise to show a clean pair of heels to nervousness about being part of an organised event.

And now the St Andrews Parkrun ‘First-timers’ idea could provide a blueprint for other Parkruns to reach out to those who need to increase their physical activity.

People who did not know what Parkrun was about or were nervous that it was only for ‘real’ runners were invited to go along to a meet-and-greet session at Craigtoun Park last Saturday.

“The response far exceeded my expectations, with 35 first-timers turning up,” said event director Gary Ovenstone.

Among those were an American family who had moved to the area but had not heard about Parkrun, a regular runner’s mum and dad, and gran Catherine Scanlon, who had previously only watched her daughters and grandchildren but this time came along with a pal to take part.

“There was a real friendly, family feel to the day,” said Gary.

“One of the highlights for me was at the end when one of two elderly women first-timers, who had said they were just going to walk the course, put on a wee sprint at the finish - she said she just got a bit carried away with the whole day.”

The special event was prompted by research being carried out - with St Andrews one of three Parkruns being studied - to look at how Parkrun can reach out to non-runners and encourage people to embark on a healthier lifestyle.

“I think this shows without a shadow of doubt that there are people out there who just need a bit of extra encouragement,” said Gary. “There were a few first-timers I spoke to at the end who said this was the help they needed to get back into some sort of fitness.”

Parkrun is the collective name for 5km running events, all organised by volunteers, that take place on Saturday mornings in several countries - there are now nearly 350 in the UK alone.

Event director Gary Ovenstone welcomes and briefs the St Andrews Parkrun first-timers.

Event director Gary Ovenstone welcomes and briefs the St Andrews Parkrun first-timers.

The St Andrews success has also caught the attention of the national organisation.

“It’s initiatives like this that are well worth celebrating, learning from and rolling out and scaling up as they seem to truly make a difference,” said Chrissie Wellington, head of participation.

Managing director Tom Williams described it as the kind of targeted promotion the organisation needed to reach those most in need of physical activity.

The first-timers events at Craigtoun will now be a regular fixture, with the next one on September 5. For more details see www.parkrun.org.uk/standrews or St Andrews Parkrun on Facebook.

It’s initiatives like this that are well worth celebrating, learning from and rolling out and scaling up as they seem to truly make a difference.

Chrissie Wellington