Friday Five: 5 ways to change your parkrun experience

5 ways to change your parkrun experience

Like many people in the UK, parkrun is what made me a runner. Before I went to parkrun, I always ran alone and was never sure of how far or how fast I went. I would head out from home and plod around for an hour. I didn’t have any proper running kit and didn’t see running as a social thing… however, nearly nine years on from my first parkrun running is a big part of my life and my week feels incomplete without parkrun. However, like many people, I’ve fallen into a rut.

For a long time, every week was focused on getting a new PB. My current pace is over 6 minutes slower than my PB, and I know that without managing to fit in some serious training, I won’t be matching it, so that isn’t motivating me right now. I’m also not focused on getting my next milestone t-shirt as that’s over 200 runs away.

My intrinsic motivation for attending parkrun is that I love the community, like chatting to my friends every week and just enjoy running. However, it’s sometimes helpful to have a little push to get me out of bed on a Saturday morning.

Here are five things you can do to change your parkrun experience.


If you’re brave enough to venture into the parkrun discussion group on Facebook, you’ll know that volunteering at parkrun is a controversial topic. Without volunteers, there would be no parkrun; however, without runners there would be no parkrun. Anyway, whether you feel that everyone should volunteer a certain number of times a year or not, if you have the opportunity to volunteer, I would strongly recommend that you take it.

It’s a good idea to book your volunteer spot as far in advance as possible. This helps the core team and also ensures you get the role you want! Maybe plan your volunteering around your race schedule/training plan.

Don’t forget that it is possible to combine some volunteer roles with taking part in the event:

  • pre-event setup
  • post event close down
  • first timers briefing
  • equipment storage and delivery
  • run report writer
  • social media support/communications
  • volunteer coordinator
  • tail walker
  • pacing
  • guide running
  • token sorting
  • maybe even scanning or funnel managing if you run fast enough (not me!)

There are also specialist roles, such as sign language support.

Run Director giving the briefing at Leamington parkrun
Run Director giving the briefing at Leamington parkrun

I volunteer as a Run Director, which is great fun as I get to meet so many different members of the local community.

Have you got your 25 t-shirt yet? Are there any roles that you haven’t tried?

Pace someone

Some events run regular scheduled pacing events. Others, like Southampton parkrun having pacing bibs available to anyone who wants to do it. (You just turn up, find the bib with the appropriate time on it and then add your details to a clipboard, so that the Run Director can add you to the list of volunteers after the run).

Alternatively, you might just want to be a pacer to support a slower friend. It’s even better if you can persuade someone you know to sign up and can support them at their first parkrun.

Have you been an official pacer? Did you enjoy it?

parkrun sandwich

What’s a ‘parkrun sandwich’? Well, it’s when you run to and from your parkrun. I appreciate that for many people who are lucky enough to live close to their parkrun, this is what they do every week, but I see it as being more than just a run commute. For me, a parkrun sandwich is when parkrun is the middle (or possibly end) of a long run in preparation for another event.

The advantage of incorporating parkrun into a long run is that it can help with your motivation. Back in 2013, I remember struggling to run over 13 miles. Conveniently, Brockenhurst parkrun was 13 miles away from my house, so I ran there and then managed to get to 16 miles by doing my last three miles at parkrun. I followed it up a few weeks later by doing a reverse duathlon, where I cycled there, ran and then cycled home again.

I’ve also incorporated Netley Abbey parkrun into a parkrun sandwich. It’s 10k away, so was perfect for a 25km training run.

Have you calculated the running distance to your local parkruns?

parkrun tourism

This links into my next recommendation to help mix up your parkrun experience. Why not try some parkrun tourism?

For a long, Eastleigh was the only parkrun that I did as it was the only one that was even vaguely near to where I lived and I used to go on my own. Now there are lots of parkruns within 25 miles of where I live and I’ve also tried the ones that are near to where my mum lives in Cornwall.

Sadly, parkrun didn’t exist in France when I did Paris Marathon, but I have managed to incorporate some other international parkruns. In 2016, I did Amager Faelled parkrun in Denmark and in 2017, I ran at North Wollongong parkrun and Orange parkrun in Australia.

Stuart and Tamsyn with M asleep in her buggy at Orange parkrun.
Stuart, M and I after running at Orange parkrun, New South Wales.

I think everyone has a special place in their heart for their local parkrun (or the one that they do most regularly) and also for the place where they did their first parkrun (if they’re not the same place). However, the advantage of trying other events is that you get to run on different terrain and see different surroundings.

How many different parkruns have you visited?

Running challenges

Running challenges are where it’s possible to get really geeky and obsessive about parkrun. parkrunners all over the world have come up with a range of challenges that you can track manually or online. One of the simplest ones is the play parkrun bingo. This involves trying to tick off all possible seconds from 0-59 in your finish time (the minutes don’t matter). If you want to check your progress with this and a range of other challenges, you may want to install the Running Challenges Chrome Extension/Firefox Add-on. This fantastic app works with your parkrun data, so you can see how you’re doing.

Screenshot showing Tamsyn's badges on the Running Challenges Google Chrome extension.

I’m currently chipping away at the parkrun alphabet challenge, but the distances required to get a new letter of the alphabet are increasing. I’d also like to complete the compass challenge – I got north in Australia and south and east were easy for me (Southampton and Eastleigh), so at some point I need a run that incorporates west.

Screenshot of the alphabeteer challenge.
My progress with the alphabet challenge in February 2019.

I’m now considering getting really geeky and trying to improve my Wilson Index – read on to find out more.

Wilson Index Tracking

First you need to get a list of all of your parkruns. I’ve installed the Chrome extension, so it’s easy to see a list of all of my results. Just sort them according to Run Number.

You can then go to a Google Doc called ‘Wilson Index Tracking‘.

I’ve currently got a Wilson Index of 1. The next five events I need to get are: 2, 6, 20, 25 and 29.

The next step is to find events that match up to these numbers. A tool that can help with this is the ‘Predictions’ tab of the ‘parkrun event numbers predictor’ Google Doc (no longer available).

Useful links

  • UK parkrun tourist links – a GoogleDoc with links to sites that parkrun tourists may be interested in
  • Visualise your parkrun stats by Adam Notley (no longer available in November 2019) – includes map, histogram and scatter plot
Map showing the parkrun locations where I've run.
Map showing the parkrun locations where I’ve run.
Histogram showing my finish times since 2010.
Histogram showing my finish times since 2010
  • Challenge chaser – this is a map with filters, so it’s easy to see where events that meet your criteria are
Screenshot of the challenge chaser map.
The challenge chaser map showing the location of parkruns beginning with specific letters of the alphabet.
  • parkrun elevation rankings UK (Jegmar – not avaialble in February 2021)
  • The 5000m Club (on Stride and Tested website – not available in February 2021) – see who has completed all of the parkruns in a particular area

I hope this post has inspired you and helped you to consider ways you can reinvigorate your parkrun experience. What’s your next challenge?

I'd love to hear your thoughts...

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