Back in June I put my name down to volunteer for a junior parkrun event which at the time was very much in its embryonic stage. Shorne Woods’ parkrun regulars, Matt Baxter and Becky Robertson, have worked really hard over the intervening months to get the run off the ground – including securing funding from Gravesham Borough Council and identifying a suitable location – and this Sunday saw the test event for the run which will take place each Sunday morning in Gravesend. The inaugural run takes place next Sunday, 2 November and details can be found on the website here.
Junior parkruns are based on exactly the same model as the original version – open to all whatever your ability, free, timed and manned by volunteers. The difference is that they are open only to children between 4 and 14 and the run is 2k rather than 5k. Adults are allowed to run with their children but they have to veer off before the finish line so they don’t get a time!
Initially, Matt and Becky had hoped this event would be the first in Kent but they were pipped to the post by an event which started a few weeks’ ago in Whitstable. Hopefully these will be the first of many in the Kent area. They are certainly beginning to spring up all over the country. I think when I first looked, there were four! Now? Well just look at the map!
As the test event got closer, I put my name down to try out the time keeper role, a role which bears great responsibility. I’ve always been in awe of this role when volunteering at parkrun. How on earth do you cope when you have a large group of runners heading towards the finish line? Would my stopper finger go into overdrive? Supposing I missed a runner? The possibilities were endless!
The operation of the timer was actually quite straightforward in the end. Press Button A when the run starts, press Button B each time a runner crosses the finish line, and press Button A again when all runners have finished. Even I could cope with that early on a Sunday morning. And of course volunteering meant I got the opportunity to don a hi-viz jacket – the ultimate in parkrun haute couture!
We started off with a run briefing by Tony Russell, during which he outlined the route, and then Becky led a warm up to get the children (and adults) limbered up. To be honest, most of them had already warmed up. There was lots of frantic running about and climbing lampposts and trees before the run actually started! (Yes, I am still talking about the children!)
We had nine runners cross the finish line in the end. There were a few more at the start line but somewhere along the course it all got a bit much for one little girl and there were a few tears. Perhaps she took a leaf out of my book and realised she’d peaked too soon with all that pre-run activity. But I’m sure she’ll be back to complete her run.
With all the media coverage on childhood obesity, initiatives like junior parkrun can only help to encourage children to get more active, surely? And hopefully as the run expands, it will help inspire community spirit in the local area. There were certainly plenty of people milling around the Prom this morning so perhaps we’ve spiked their interest and they’ll come along next week with children and/or grandchildren to join in.
So well done Matt and Becky for getting Gravesend junior parkun off the ground. I don’t know about the children of course, but I’m certainly looking forward to next Sunday morning.