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Fall in Love With Parkrun in 2024

Gemma C ParkRun

As the festive season comes to an end and we begin a brand new year, many of us start considering our goals for the year ahead. I believe now is a good time to write a blog about a community event that I love and believe could be of great benefit to both overworked teachers and our pupils.

When I was a newly qualified teacher, I was trying hard to maintain a running routine for the sake of my mental and physical health. A friend suggested parkrun to me—a free, timed, weekly 5k run in local parks. I decided to give it a try, having no idea what a life-changing journey I was about to embark on.

Parkrun is a very simple concept. Every Saturday morning at 9.30 (9.30 in Scotland, 9 am in the rest of the UK), people gather in their local park to run, jog, or walk a 5k. People bring children in prams, people bring their dogs, and even people in their 80s take part. Parkrun aims to be as inclusive as possible. Whether you sprint around the course in 18 minutes or use walking aids and finish in 80 minutes, everyone is welcome at parkrun.

I believe that parkrun is particularly beneficial for teachers. Taking a little time for ourselves on a Saturday morning is something many of us can commit to. 5k is a manageable distance that doesn’t require the same time commitment as training for a half marathon, for example. The exercise is beneficial, but it’s also good for us to get out in nature. Most parkruns are held in parks, beautiful woodlands, or on seafronts. Every parkrun has a designated cafe where everyone is welcome to gather afterwards for coffee, cake, and a chat—another lovely feature!

I find parkrun to be very motivating. When you sign up, you receive a barcode that you get scanned every week (you can now use your phone or smartwatch, which is very convenient). You then receive an email that tells you your time and also tracks how many runs you’ve completed and where. There are fun milestone T-shirts you can earn as your run count builds up: 25, 50, 100, 250, up to 500. Many people like to work on improving their time, while others, like me, simply enjoy a nice jog and watching their run count increase. You can also collect sought-after T-shirts for volunteering.

Speaking of volunteering, this is a great way to connect with your local community and meet new people. Many of the volunteer roles are well-suited to teachers, whether it’s marshalling to keep people safe on the route or leading a warm-up at the junior parkrun and encouraging young runners. There’s something for everyone!

What about children?

Children are very welcome at parkrun, whether they are being pushed in prams or running with an adult. A 5k might be a little far for young children, which is why there is also a junior parkrun! These events are aimed at children aged 4-14 and held at the same time on Sunday mornings. It is well worth checking if there is an event near your school and promoting it to your pupils. There are numerous benefits for children, including fitness, mental health, and social benefits. Running also teaches children perseverance and commitment. As schools try to recover from the pandemic, I believe encouraging the school community to try junior parkrun could be of great benefit. Children can also earn a 10 T-shirt after 10 runs and collect wristbands as they reach half marathon and marathon distances through their weekly runs.

As I approach my 200th parkrun and reflect on the start of a new year, I realise I have also completed over 50 different events. Parkrun “touring” is another fun aspect that keeps me motivated, and the school holidays provide a great opportunity to try different events, whether in the UK or in the many countries around the world that have parkruns. Parkrun has been essential to my mental health and stress management. It played a significant role in helping me recover from a bereavement and burnout last year. I believe parkrun has something to offer everyone, but I see it as particularly valuable to teachers and children.

So, if you’re considering New Year resolutions or goals, especially for your health and well-being, why not give parkrun a try?

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The author

Gemma Clark is a Scottish primary teacher, active trade union member and writer concerned with many issues including women’s rights and school safety. She has appeared on ITV news to discuss safety mitigations during the Covid 19 pandemic and regularly writes for the Times Educational Supplement. She has a passion for the wellbeing of school staff and children and is a qualified Children and Family Yoga Instructor, and Massage in Schools instructor. Gemma also believes in teacher allyship and supports anti-racist education and the decolonisation of the curriculum. She is an advocate for new the Scottish LGBT inclusion policy and a founding member and admin of a wellbeing group set up to support teachers in Scotland during the pandemic.

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