What to expect from your first parkrun

New to parkrun? Here’s what to expect come 9 am on Saturday morning.

woman tying shoelace

If you’re new to parkrun, you’re probably wondering what all the hype is about, and rightfully so… it’s quite literally dominating the world and edging its way into conversation each and every Saturday morning.

Related: The ultimate guide to completing your first parkrun.

It’s so popular that it’s even found its way into a total of eight prisons, starting at HMP Haverigg in Cumbria. Just like you or me, these prisoners rant and rave about parkrun with inmates socializing in the tight corridors beforehand, and of course, following tradition by mingling afterwards with a hot cup of tea or coffee.

Did you know @parkrun also takes place in prison? #running #parkrun #running101Click To Tweet

However, it’s so much more than a rewarding cup of tea – although that is one of our favourite parts! It’s the community feel, the fantastic volunteering team, the desire to push ourselves and others, and the challenge of beating ourselves each and every week granted you can make the 9 am call.

Related: 5 Reasons why you should volunteer at least once at parkrun.

Whether you’ve been running for a while, have been following a couch to 5k programme, or simply want to see what the fuss is about, there are a few things you should know beforehand.

Here’s what to expect from your first parkrun.

1. Runners and lots of them

With parkrun being a free, volunteer-run event held every Saturday morning in over 1,400 locations, it’s no surprise that lots of runners attend. The majority of parkruns will have anywhere from as little as twenty runners (although this is very rare) to upwards of one thousand as frequently seen at popular events such as Bushy parkrun – the very first parkrun set up in Teddington.  

Towards the beginning of the run, it can often be difficult to navigate your way through the sea of orange shirts and colourful club colours, unless you start towards the beginning of the line. Take your time, be respectful of other runners, and do your best to work your way through a field of tight turns, often muddy paths, and the occasional buggy runner who flies on past! 

2. The newcomer briefing 

Runner stretching on a bridge

If it’s your first time at parkrun, you’re going to want to make use of their newcomer briefing – this is also useful if it’s your first time running in a new location. Here the helpful volunteers will explain the course, general parkrun etiquette, health and safety, token system, bar codes, and what to do once you’ve reached the finish of the 5km course.

You will also be able to ask any burning questions, from what to do if you need assistance during your run to how quick the fastest runner is if you’re looking to set the new parkrun course record.

3. The actual parkrun briefing 

Once you’re on the line and ready to run it’s time for the actual parkrun briefing to begin. This often further welcomes newcomers, provides shoutouts to those with birthdays, runners who are visiting the course, those achieving a given milestone, and finally further course information you should be wary of.

Shortly after the main run briefing, at 9 am on the dot to be precise, the run will begin.

4. Runners, walkers, and everything in-between 

If you don’t already know, parkrun is entirely inclusive, with those who show up each week to walk the 5k distance to those striving to run under 17-minutes. With such a mix of abilities, it’s easy to tag along with another runner of a similar speed. Whether you’re looking to hunt them down and overtake them or trying to make a new friend along the way the choice is entirely up to you.

5. An exhilarating start 

woman about to start running

It’s almost guaranteed a select few will sprint off at burning speeds once the whistle goes, however, these runners (usually) end up falling back. Nonetheless, you can expect an exhilarating start, whether you’re starting towards the beginning or way back you can definitely feel the atmosphere, the cheer of volunteers, and the determination pumping through your veins to complete your first or even hundredth parkrun.

Top tip: don’t set off too fast, save your energy for the rest of the course – you never know, there may be a hidden hill or two.

6. The amazing work of the dedicated parkrun volunteers 

The volunteers, else known as the high-viz heroes are what makes parkrun happen each week. With the volunteers covering a mix of roles including race director, tail walker, timer, barcode scanner, and marshal there’s plenty of support scattered throughout the 5km course.

Without the volunteers, parkrun wouldn’t be possible, or it certainly wouldn’t be free and available each week. So, be sure to thank them, perhaps start a conversation, and maybe even try your own hand at volunteering at some point? You never know, you might just enjoy it!

7. Barcode, barcode, barcode 

If you say it to yourself over and over your less likely to forget it. Right? At parkrun, you get your own unique printed barcode (you must print this beforehand to get your time and finishing position).

While you don’t need the barcode itself to run, it’s a must-have on the day if you want to view your results online later that day. Besides, surely you want a little credit for the hard work you’ve just put in… on a Saturday morning when quite frankly many of us would much prefer to be asleep.

Did you know that you can also get your barcode printed onto a card, wristband, or on tags to attach to your keys? If looking for any of the above, please click here.

Top tip: If using a paper barcode and you have no pockets, place the barcode under your foot in your shoe.

8. A quick cuppa with your fellow parkrun runners and volunteers 

After most parkruns, many runners head for a hot cup of tea or coffee. Whether this is at the local sports centre café, cricket club, or even in the car park it’s a great opportunity to meet likeminded runners, discuss your results, and to thank the amazing volunteers.

You never know, you may just find a new running buddy or two to help you tackle the mountain that is your own training.

9. Online race results and race report 

While you can get your finishing time once you cross the line, much easier so if you record the run yourself on mobile apps such as Strava or on your GPS running watch, race results will also be published usually the same day early afternoon. Here you’re able to see your time, position, and age group category.

As well as this, a race report will also be available, usually on your local parkrun’s dedicated Facebook page where you’ll find the total number of runners, shoutouts to the volunteers, the total number of personal bests, and so much more!

So, what are you waiting for? Are you ready for your first parkrun? We promise you won’t regret it!

First parkrun FAQ:

How do I prepare for my first parkrun?

Ideally, get at least two to three weeks training under your belt, print your barcode off, and of course, read this guide to know what to expect!

Should I volunteer at parkrun?

Volunteering at parkrun is a great way to give back to the parkrun community. Not only is it a fantastic thing to do, but you may also find peace in sitting back and watching the action once in a while.

How do I beat my parkrun personal best?

In short, you want to train more, increase your weekly mileage and include some form of speed, tempo, and long-run into your weekly training. This combination of running sessions will work on all aspects of your running, helping you to achieve those well deserved personal bests.

Is parkrun free?

Yes, parkrun is an entirely volunteer-run free event held every Saturday morning at 9 am.

Do you have to run at parkrun?

No! Many participants also choose to walk or even push prams all the way to the finish line! There is no wrong way to do parkrun, so long as you head in the right direction!

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