If there is one thing that is true about runners, it's that they're intelligent about their exercise. For those who don't run, it's easy for the activity to seem gruelling, demanding, and the opposite of fun. Runners know it is a very difficult and challenging sport, and that there will always be times when their daily run tests their desire to push forward. As a result, runners are always on the lookout for new and fun ways to make their exercise engaging. When participating is a pleasure, it's much easier to stay active and involved. If you've been looking for something new to change up the way you approach your running, why not think about something like the parkrun phenomenon?

From marathons to holiday races and even endurance challenges, there's no shortage of organised ways to take part in running. What if instead of a corporation staging marathons or formal local clubs putting on events, you could participate in something done entirely by volunteers? What if it was just like showing up for a fun morning jog with your friends, but with an added social element? That's what parkrun is all about ? and it's why it's become one of the fastest growing athletic movements around the world in recent years. For those who aren't acquainted with the concept, let's start off by taking a closer look at how parkrun works.

The parkrun process explained

The basics are simple: every weekend, in parks and green spaces around the world, runners get together to take part in a group 2km or (traditionally) a 5-kilometre run. The event is entirely free to every participant, and it's also open to anyone who wants to show up and participate. From the most veteran runner to rank amateurs and total beginners, parkrun is for anyone who wants to test themselves in a fun and welcoming environment. Though it starts out humbly, parkrun today embraces technology while also relying on their all-volunteer staff.

To participate, it's as easy as signing up online. You get a participant ID and a barcode. At the day's race, a volunteer scans your barcode before and after the race; this allows for tracking your race time and for counting your race completions. If you make it the full 5k, you'll even get a cool "completion token" to take home with you.

No parkrun races ever exceed 5k, as the idea is that everyone should be able to participate in a race they can finish. Since 5k is achievable even with some casual effort and training, it's an excellent goal for beginners and an excellent way to stay sharp for others.


Growth and expansion: the evolution of parkrun

For an activity that now sees millions of participants, parkrun actually had rather humble beginnings. It all started almost 15 years ago, back in 2004 in Teddington, UK. There, a group of 13 runners, including the man known today as the founder of parkrun, Paul Sinton-Hewitt, got together for a fun and engaging 5 km run together. They continued to meet every Saturday, recording their times, and supplying each other with handmade finish tokens.

After a few years, they took their idea and expanded it to another event ? and then another after that. Soon, more people were picking up on the parkrun concept. By providing the overall framework for the event, ensuring that it always remains free and welcoming, and then turning it over to volunteers, Sinton-Hewitt gave parkrun all the ingredients it needed for growth.

By 2011, there were dozens of parkrun events, and the format had even spread to some countries overseas. The Sunday 2km race for junior runners came onto the scene in 2013 ? and then things really took off. Before long, new events were popping up every weekend in many more countries. Today its success is a testament to the fact that free and open collaboration for exercise is a fun way to work together.


The benefits and perks of joining the movement

Why participate? The benefits are numerous ? and they obviously start with the physical fitness boost you'll get. Think about what could happen if you participated every weekend at a parkrun event. Your running skills would improve just from that effort alone, and it might push you to start running more often during the week. Feeling better, breathing easier, and having a fitter body all comes from staying active. Participating in a weekly parkrun can provide the structure many need to stay on track.

There are social and mental wellness benefits to think about as well. Parkrun events are excellent to meet people. You never know just who you'll meet on the trail ? it could be your next best friend! At the very least you will have the opportunity to interact with friendly volunteers and some members of your local community.

Meanwhile, you're spending time outdoors in nature. That's something which scientists have shown can help to improve your mood, boost your general sense of satisfaction with life, and more. The best part? Since it's free, it doesn't cost you anything to access these benefits.

Who can benefit the most from parkrun?

So, there are obviously plenty of benefits to taking part in parkrun ? but who stands to benefit the most? Much is made about the events' lack of a barrier to entry and the fact that everyone is welcome. Is that really so? In fact, it is ? both young and old can see the benefits described above. With the easier 2km run available for the younger athletes in your family, getting out and enjoying good weather is simple.

For beginners, parkrun events can be an excellent way to challenge yourself and measure your progress. As you take part in more events, you might even start to see your completion times drop. Being with other runners of varying skill levels also provides many opportunities for learning and encouragement.

For the veteran runners out there, it can be a chance to mentor the less experienced or just to keep your running chops sharp on a day when you don't have more strenuous exercise planned. Even older individuals can enjoy these events. With no pressure to keep up with the pace, you can almost complete the race in any time you want. Of course, you'll want to finish in time to get your barcode scanned ? but otherwise, there's no rush.

Getting involved: how you can start, too

When you decide that you want to start running in these events, it's not difficult to begin. First, though, you'll need to find a local event. Register for an account on the parkrun website and then start to search for parks or areas hosting events near you. Note the time and be sure to show up and with your barcode ready to run.Ask the volunteers present if you have any questions or concerns about the event before it begins.

Once you've taken part in a few parkruns, it might be time to consider giving back some of your time. After all, the spirit of the event depends on people who want to see it continue ? so why not volunteer? Asking about volunteering is another great question you could ask a veteran at your local parkrun.See what they think about volunteering and find out how you can get involved.

More information is available through the parkrun website, but you should also consider getting in touch with any local leaders. Working as part of a team and enjoying different parks as you run together could soon be more of a way of life for you!

Get out there and enjoy running in some stunning parks

With physical, mental, and social benefits aplenty, parkrun offers its participants something special: a communal spirit, a chance to exercise in a welcoming group, and absolutely no cost barrier to getting started. When you take all these attributes together, you might find yourself asking why you haven't tried it out sooner. All it takes is a quick hop online to find out when and where your local parkrun events take place every weekend. Once you try it a few times, you might be hooked, just like the millions of others around the globe getting outdoors and moving their feet. Will you ultimately decide to become the volunteers who make it all happen every week?

This article was written for Sports Fitness, an online retailer stocking all your essential running gear, get shopping and head to join a Parkrun event near you.