In Praise of Parkrun

I know this will be / is one of a million such articles that praises the wonders of parkrun. Its basic concept, a weekly timed 5k, free at the point of use, has been lauded by better people than me. Its basic ethos, “it’s a run not a race”, discussed and debated by many a bar room philosopher. Its impact on health endorsed by no less a person than the Chief Medical Officer (http://www.parkrun.org.uk/news/2016/03/30/chief-medical-officer-endorses-parkrun/).

However I still believe its greatest contribution is to civic society. The day after the referendum result came through we gathered at Cutteslowe and Sunnymead Park, Oxford. I have often bored people with my view that, as an atheist, parkrun is the nearest thing to my church. We gather every Saturday morning just before 9 and running has become a simple act of communion. It is where I feel closest to the world.

There was an unsuprisingly downbeat mood amongst the runners, the majority of whom I would guess voted for Remain. But there was a lack of bile and hatred too, which, on Twitter at least, seems to have become the central part of our body politic for a number of months. Our run celebrated a fun raising effort for dementia, applauded a woman who had volunteered to marshal parkruns twenty five times and clapped and lauded the final runner, number 200 who took over 50 minutes to run 5k but was treated no less important than the man who cross the line over half an hour before. Every runner achieved, every runner counted.

Parkrun may improve the health of the nation but more importantly reminds me, reminds us that civic society matters. We still have to live together.

And this (admittedly rather weak) reflection is not just a comment on where I live. I have been lucky enough to take part in parkruns from Newcastle to Sicily. The same sense of community exists at all, for all. Cameron’s Big Society is dead. Long live parkrun…

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