9 things I wish I had known before my first parkrun

a photo of a group of runners running through a park
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Even though parkrun has a reputation for being one of the most welcoming running events out there, lacing up in a pair of the best running shoes and attending your first one can still be a bit daunting. While it's not an official race, there's an official start time, a designated route, and some things worth knowing before you rock up to your first one.

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So, what exactly is parkrun? It's a free community event that takes place in 22 countries and spans across 2,000 locations. Participants can walk, jog, run, or even mix it up with a bit of all three along the 5K route. The official event occurs every Saturday morning at various locations, all thanks to the dedicated volunteers. Most parkruns kick off at 9 a.m., but times can vary. When signing up on the parkrun website, be sure to check the event times for the specific one you plan to join.

Two years ago, I was a parkrun novice. I had put it off for so long, worried it might be cliquey or too informal and leave me wishing I had just stuck to my own run. However, I was pleasantly surprised on both counts and I have learned a lot from attending multiple parkrun events since.

Here's what I wish I had known before my first parkrun…

9 things I wish I had known before my first ParkRun

It’s not a race

ParkRun is not a competition. If you're looking for a running race, there are plenty of other events tailored for that purpose. However, if you simply want to show up at your local park on the weekend and enjoy a friendly 5K within an inclusive and supportive community, you'll likely catch the parkrun bug pretty quickly.

That said, there is a designated start and finish line, and you receive a finish time, allowing you to easily track your progress with each parkrun you attend. Even if you're participating just for fun without aiming for speed, you'll probably be surprised by the improvements you make. Whether your time changes or not, you're likely to feel fitter and more accomplished as a runner with each parkrun you complete.

You don’t need to register…but it’s better if you do

There's no obligation to register with parkrun, even if you want to participate. You can still complete the event without a parkrun profile; however, this means you won't receive a recorded time. Personally, I think you get much more out of the experience when you register and bring along your personal barcode. It not only allows you to track your progress but also avoids ruining it for the majority who do bring a barcode and wish to get an accurate time and position after the run. If you choose to run without registering, make sure to stay in the finish funnel, take a token from the volunteers and return it to them. 

You will notice when you sign up that you are asked to print off your barcode. I have found that as long as you have a copy of it on your phone to present to the volunteers when you finish, that’s fine. If you don’t like the idea of clutching onto your phone the whole way around, it’s certainly worthwhile investing in a running phone holder. You can even download your barcode onto some of the best running watches. Of course, the rules may vary across different parkrun locations so always reach out and check with the organizers to find out how they like participants' barcodes to be shown. 

Anyone is welcome

No matter your running level, everyone is welcome at parkrun. Dog owners can run with their pups, children over the age of four can join in, and don't be surprised if you spot someone navigating the course with a stroller in tow. For participants under the age of 11, it's required they run at arm's length from a parent or guardian throughout the race. Alternatively, there is a junior parkrun exclusively for kids, where they can participate without needing to run alongside an adult. 

parkrun also welcomes individuals with long-term conditions who are unable to propel themselves in a wheelchair. Those who this applies to are permitted to be assisted around the course or use a motorized chair.

a photo of a man running with a dog by his side attached to a leash

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

There isn’t anywhere to store valuables

Typically, when you arrive at parkrun, regardless of the location, you'll find a large tarpaulin spread across the ground where participants gather before the race. Many people leave their jumpers, coats, and water in this communal area. However, the volunteers are not responsible for your belongings, so anything you leave in the shared space is your responsibility. 

The concern isn't necessarily fellow runners, but rather opportunistic thieves passing by who might notice a large pile of unattended clothing, potentially containing valuable items like phones and wallets in the pockets. To minimize the risk, I prefer arriving at parkrun with the least amount of items to leave behind. I secure my keys and phone in a running belt around my waist, leaving only a jacket on the tarpaulin. 

Bring your own water

Parkrun is not like a 10K race or marathon where you have volunteers and locals handing you water and snacks left right and center. It’s a wise idea to bring a water bottle with you. Even though it’s a short distance, you will feel thirsty when you reach the finish line or at least get water envy when you see others guzzling from their water bottles.

It’s a great activity to do with friends

Proposing a 9 a.m. Saturday 5K run in the group chat might not go down too well. But you'd be surprised at how many converts you can make once you encourage them to join their first parkrun. The atmosphere is unmatched – the sun shining, an excited crowd of people assembling for a 5K, volunteers enthusiastically cheering you on, and the anticipation of crossing the finish line and enjoying a coffee and pastry at the local coffee shop afterward.

That being said, going with friends is enjoyable, but it's perfectly normal for people to show up alone. Whether running with friends or flying solo, fellow runners are friendly at these events, and volunteers will be cheering you on from kilometer one to the finish line.

a photo of men and women running in the park together

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Show your appreciation to the volunteers

The people who turn up and make parkrun happen on the day are under no obligation to be there. The volunteers arrive early to set up the event, mark the course out, act as marshals, cheer everyone on, time keep, scan the barcodes and hand out finish tokens. Some volunteers also take on the role of ‘Tail Walkers’ and stay at the back to account for all runners, ensuring anyone who finishes slower isn’t forgotten about.

I was shocked at how overwhelmingly supportive and enthusiastic some of the marshals were at my first parkrun and now I always try and make an effort to shout ‘Thank you!’ when I pass a marshal during ParkRun. It’s just a small way of showing your appreciation to the people who make the event happen for free. 

It’s a great place to get a PB

While parkrun is not a traditional race, it's undoubtedly an excellent opportunity to achieve a personal best in your 5K time. Courses may vary, but some parkruns are held on wonderfully flat routes, and the collective energy of running alongside many others can naturally propel you to a winning time. 

Running with friends can also add a hint of competition, or it's sometimes hard not to identify someone in the crowd who you'd like to try to take over or at least keep pace with. However, there is no expectation to achieve a personal best every week; it's about getting out and enjoying the beauty of running with others, regardless of each person's abilities. 

a photo of a girl running in a park

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

It’s a mood booster

All in all, ParkRun is a great place to recharge your energy and mood levels. In fact, research conducted by Glasgow Caledonian University, involving over 8,000 individuals, found a striking 89% reported increased happiness as a result of their engagement in ParkRun activities. The study highlighted a predominantly positive influence on participants' mental well-being. 

The assessment of happiness was gauged using the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire, where respondents self-evaluated questions on a scale of 1 (unhappy) to 6 (extremely happy). Notably, parkrun participants recorded an average score of 4.4, surpassing the general population's average score of 4. 

Why not sign up for ParkRun this weekend and see what all the hype is about?

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Jessica Downey
Fitness Writer

Jessica is an experienced fitness writer with a passion for running. Her love for keeping fit and fueling her body with healthy and enjoyable food quite naturally led her to write about all things fitness and health-related. If she isn’t out testing the latest fitness products such as the latest running shoe or yoga mat for reviewing then she can be found writing news and features on the best ways to build strength, active aging, female health, and anything in between. Before then she had a small stint writing in local news, has also written for Runners World UK (print and digital), and gained experience with global content marketing agency, Cedar Communications.


Born and raised in Scotland, Jessica is a massive fan of exercising and keeping active outdoors. When at home she can be found running by the sea, swimming in it, or up a mountain. This continued as she studied and trained to become a PPA-accredited magazine journalist in Wales. And since working and living in London, she splits her time between weight training in the gym, trying new fitness classes, and finding scenic running routes. Jessica enjoys documenting this on her fitness-inspired Instagram page @jessrunshere where she loves engaging with like-minded fitness junkies.


She is a big fan of healthy cooking and loves learning more about this area with expert nutritionists she has met over the years. Jessica is a big advocate for building healthy relationships with food rather than building restrictive attitudes towards it. When she isn’t eating or running she also enjoys practicing yoga in her free time as it helps her to unwind and benefits her performance in other sports.

  • AnneTG
    If anyone's interest is piqued by this article, PLEASE make sure you read the official website and/or your local event's social media page to check things. Honestly, it sounds like the writer and/or editor have been to exactly one parkrun - if they hadn't been to any and researched from the official website they'd have gotten fewer things wrong.

    1. It's parkrun - one word, no capitals. If you really can't stand no caps or can't recast a sentence so it's not the first word, Parkrun might be okay but never ParkRun. Blech.

    2. I've been to exactly one parkrun that has a tarpaulin on the ground for participants to leave things. In my experience, it's much more common for events to use a picnic table or shelter if available, or nothing at all.

    3. The stock photo of the dog is misleading - global parkrun rules are that dogs must be on a handheld lead unless they aren't allowed at all (which is usually due to landowner rules for that specific location).

    4. While most parkruns in the UK are at 9 am, in Australia they're mostly at 8 am, but some are at 7 am or 9 am. While the writer acknowledges that times can vary, she gives the impression that 9 am is the default time in all countries.

    5. Yes, walkers, joggers, prams, etc, are welcome at parkrun, but some have a reputation for being less friendly to those of us who are slower, so it's worth checking the event results on the parkrun website. If you see lots of finishers at 40 mins and slower, you'll be fine (plus there's always a tailwalker which means you never come last). If you're building your fitness, you don't even need to finish but can do one out of two laps, for example, and just not go past the timekeeper.

    6. You only ever need to register once, regardless of how many parkruns you travel to, and barcodes can be scanned from a printout or phone screen at every parkrun - there's no real preference except paper ones can get wet and soggy.
    Reply
  • hotfeet
    admin said:
    Not sure what to expect from your first ParkRun? Our writer shares the things she wishes she had known before her first ParkRun.

    9 things I wish I had known before my first ParkRun : Read more
    But people should be aware that parkrunUK and many
    other countries operate a self ID policy and are promotors of gender ideology.

    When you register, you can't enter your Sex, you enter your "Gender" identity, this is used for results and rankings.

    There are loads of records and first finishes by males registered as females and parkrunUK refuse to do anything about them.

    Some records have been held for years are are unlikely ever to be bettered by actual Females.

    I love the parkrun initiative but this has ruined it for me and many others, so dismissive.

    Men get to have fair competition (if they want it, you don't have to run fast) but women have to just sacrifice and not complain.. as in many areas of life. I thought parkrun was better than this.
    Reply