Gravesend junior parkrun is two!

Apparently it’s been three months since I last blogged (!), so I thought I’d share a little piece wot I wrote to mark Gravesend junior parkrun’s second birthday.  It was written for inclusion in a local running magazine published by So Let’s Go Running but I thought I’d make use of it myself 🙂

It’s hard to believe that it’s just over two years since Gravesend junior parkrun started.  At the time, we were the second junior parkrun event to start in Kent.  Checking the website recently, there are now nine (excluding those few which come under the Greater London umbrella).  I can’t remember how many junior events were taking place when we first started but there are now 136 across the UK.

November saw us not only celebrate our second birthday but also commemorate our 100th run and during that time we’ve seen more than 452 4-14 year olds take part.  Now obviously over that time, we’ve lost some of those runners (not literally) – some have become too old (!) whilst others have migrated to other local events as they’ve opened up but it’s great that most weeks we will find first timers taking part and that’s all without any obvious advertising.  And in total our children have run 7,574km since November 2014.

If you’ve never been to watch a junior parkrun event, it works on the same principles as the Saturday 5k event.  You register for a barcode, you turn up at the event, run 2k, get a finish token and then get “scanned” to receive your finish time.

As with the Saturday event, the proceedings start with a run brief when rather than milestone t-shirts, we have milestone wristbands.  The children receive coloured wristbands; half marathon (blue), marathon (green) and ultra marathon (orange) once they’ve completed 11, 21 and 50 runs.  If you do the maths you should be able to work out the logic.  Juniors can also download and print off a milestone certificate which can be included in the presentation.  At Gravesend, we also like to give the ultra marathon celebrants the opportunity to autograph and run in our special 50 t-shirt (a spare adult 50 t-shirt which came into our possession!).  This can cause much hilarity when the t-shirt dwarfs the runner but health and safety means we have ways to ensure no tripping ensues.  Although there have been complaints that the obligatory wearing of the t-shirt can jeopardise PB opportunities!

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Unlike the 5k event, we precede the run proper with a warm up.  Now in most cases the children have already warmed up, whether that be completing a few practice laps whilst waiting for the start, or climbing nearby trees.  Some even venture into the nearby play area.

The warm up is prescribed by HQ and at Gravesend, the Run Director is lucky enough to be helped out by some very willing volunteers.  Hip circles have been accompanied by cries of “ooh la la” whilst the requirement for bum kicks seems to cause much hilarity.  But the warm up routine is so effective I’ve used it to warm up an adult beginners running group.

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The warm up!

Once the warm up is over, the children congregate at the start area.  Some get ready to start their sports watches, some grip their furry friend even tighter and some hold on to their parent’s hand. But once the Run Director says go, they’re all off!

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Junior parkrun rules mean that we have to have sufficient marshals around the course to ensure the children are within sight of a responsible volunteer adult at all times.  And a tail runner is mandatory.

We are very lucky at Gravesend in that we often have the wonderful Dawn Granger on hand as our volunteer photographer.  Her photos are simply stunning but if you need to see for yourself, check out our Flickr page at https://www.flickr.com/groups/gravesend-junior-parkrun/pool

As part of our second birthday celebrations we encouraged the children to dress up as animals and it was amazing to see how many onesies and masks came out of the closet.  We had also hoped that the “animals” would cross the finish line two by two but the old competitive spirit took over along the finish straight.  It was either that or the fear of Becky’s celebratory cakes running out!

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One of the truly wonderful things to see at junior parkrun is the friendships that spring up and not necessarily just the children!  Children who only see each other at junior parkrun will greet each other like long lost friends and then run together chatting and encouraging each other around the course.  We adults would probably call it pacing!  Only this last weekend whilst marshalling, I saw three boys running together, one acting as coach and encouraging the other two.  I couldn’t help but smile when I saw the results later on that morning to note that one had achieved a new PB.

You can obviously visit any one of the other junior parkrun venues but we think our location at Gravesend is pretty special.  We’re right next to Gravesend Fort (great for Pokémon hunting) and as we’re also next to the river, we get to see big boats (or as Pete Granger insists on calling them “ships”), little boats, cruise liners and rowing shells.  We even get to see the house boats moored in the canal basin.  We are a truly nautical junior parkrun.  There’s also the aforementioned play areas to wear the children out a bit more before retiring for a lazy Sunday afternoon, and the Prom Cafe does a mean cooked breakfast or ice creams are available to anyone feeling a bit peckish after all that exercise (seasonal opening).

So why not come down to Gravesend Riverside one Sunday morning and see what all the fuss is about!  And if you’re too old to run, volunteers have a great time too 🙂

* all stats correct at the time of writing

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