Parkrun For Beginners: A Guide to the UK’s Weekly 5K Meetup

If you are a UK runner, one of the events that you have surely heard about is Parkrun. It’s arguably the most famous running event in the country, and one of the best attended in the world.

The Parkrun series is one of the UK’s original initiatives to increase community involvement and activity. Parkrun is the collection of weekly 5K runs that started in London, England but has since spread to more than 2,000 locations in 22 countries worldwide. 

A Junior Parkrun event spinoff has even been adapted to encourage young ones to move their bodies and run a 2K event. Children ages 4 to 14 can join the running fun, creating the perfect environment for families to enjoy time together outdoors. 

These Parkrun events are free to enter and are made possible by volunteers each weekend. They’ve created a wonderful energy and excitement in their local communities surrounding the coming together of runners, walkers, and joggers.

The great thing about Parkrun is that it is accessible to runners (and walkers) of all abilities. Whether you are gearing up for a rapid personal best attempt, or simply trundling around having a chat with your friends… it’s an event that has something for everyone.

Let’s take a closer look in our full Parkrun For Beginners guide…

Who Can Enter a Parkrun Race?

Parkrun Free Forever
The spirit of Parkrun UK: Free for everyone forever

Anyone can join in on the Parkrun fun!

From children running in the designated 2K Junior Parkrun events to seniors taking their wheelchairs for a 5K spin, all ages, abilities, and athletes are welcome to sign up for a Parkrun event.

And that’s why it is such a popular tradition.

Parents pushing prams, dog parents walking their fur babies, club runners, casual runners, walkers, and joggers – all can sign up and join in the fun. Older adults, new runners, and people on their weight-loss journey are common members of the Parkrun community.

It’s important to note that not all courses are suitable for all participants. Some courses may not be wheelchair accessible or have amenities that meet each participant’s needs. If you’re interested in signing up, it may be best to check with your local Parkrun team and learn more about the course and local terrain.

Maybe volunteer as a marshal for a few runs to understand the runner experience and evaluate if it’s a good fit for you. 

Another lovely element of Parkrun events is that each run is absolutely free. Most of Parkrun’s income comes from sponsorship and grants, allowing the entry price to stay free so anyone can join. Some commercial income is collected from apparel sales, wristbands, and accessories, but this amount is minimal. 15% of Parkrun’s income comes from donations.

Where is Your Local Parkrun Race?

Parkrun events are held in various general locations, including city parks, forests, nature reserves, and racecourses.

Depending on the local terrain, some running locations are more difficult than others. While some routes are relatively flat, others could be hilly or steep. The running surface you can expect is also variable. While some runners may take on gravel trails, others could run across tarmac, grass, or dirt roads. 

Hot climates may have earlier start times to avoid runners overheating, but a 9am start is the tradition in the UK. Weather conditions (like rain) could impact individual Parkrun events – the safety of runners is always the main priority when it comes to event planning.

The Parkrun race series is usually at the same time, same place, and same course each week. It’s easy to track when and where to go if it’s consistent every week, and most runners return to their local Parkrun each week.

Parkrun events are rarely closed or shut down completely. There have been circumstances like poor weather conditions, the coronavirus pandemic, or changes to the running routes due to city infrastructure and development that have caused changes.

If a Parkrun event is closed at one location, it’s normally relocated to another nearby site. The Parkrun organization sees immense value in their efforts and works diligently to keep their events up and running.

Outside of your “Home Parkrun” location, runners can sign up for races all over the world.

There are fun challenges that runners can accomplish, like the “Londone” (awarded once runners complete all of the Parkrun events in London) and the “Alphabeteer” (awarded when runners finish 26 Parkrun courses with each location’s name starting the 26 letters of the alphabet).

These challenges are just for fun but are an exciting way to explore other running communities.

Parkrun Locations
Find your nearest Parkrun through the official course finder

How Can You Enter a Parkrun Race?

Runners can join Parkrun events even if they have not signed up, but their times will not be recorded. 

When you sign up for a Parkrun event through the Parkrun website, runners are assigned a personalized barcode linked to their profile. This barcode should be printed out (only once – you reuse the same barcode for each run) and brought to the 5K to be scanned and used for publishing run times. 

If you forget your barcode, no worries!

You can still lace up your running shoes and hit the trails with your community. Your time will not be recorded online or attached to your Parkrun account, but you can still enjoy the route. 

What Should I Expect For My First Parkrun Event?

There isn’t an overly-formal structure for Parkrun events.

Part of the goal of Parkrun is to make running more casual and accessible to runners of all abilities – no fancy equipment or training necessary. 

Runners are asked to arrive at the designated 5K site shortly before the start time and gather around the start line. The race director then provides a brief overview of the course and an introduction for newcomers. This portion of the introduction also includes a safety briefing and general community news. The heart behind Parkrun is to foster community, right? 

Once the race starts, there are markers and volunteers (called “marshals”) along the 5K route to help direct runners and keep them safe from the second they cross the start line down to the final stretch of the finish line. 

At the end of the 5K course, runners cross the finish line and receive a chip. You hand this over to a volunteer who records each runner’s place number and elapsed time. This information is later computerized and made available to runners so that they can see their finish time.

Race results are posted online to the Parkrun platform, making the information easily accessible for all participants. 

Runners can go to the Parkrun website to see a smattering of statistics, including: 

  • Finishing position for both male and female runners each week 
  • Finisher times 
  • Whether runners have achieved a personal best or not 
  • The total number of runs completed by each runner 
  • Age grade results and a measurement of how each runner did compared to their peers 

Who Will Be There?

The volunteers serving at Parkrun events truly are the organization’s heartbeat. They host each 5K run, help facilitate the Junior Parkrun Race, monitor all the sensors and timers, and are responsible for setting up and tearing down each event.

There wouldn’t be Parkrun without them. Parkrun considers its volunteers to be the “heart” of the organization, for they are absolutely integral in maintaining Parkrun’s non-profit status and success. 

If you are interested in volunteering with Parkrun, you can check out the “volunteer” section of their website. Parkrun HQ sends all of the equipment necessary to efficiently and safely host a Parkrun event to the local volunteers, equipping them for every need or circumstance they may encounter.

Because of the streamlined process, volunteers can step in and help with minimal training. This makes the volunteer position accessible and easy for anyone to jump in and help!

The common volunteer positions that you will interact with at a Parkrun event include the run director (makes announcements and manages the event), the timer (records the run times for each runner), marshals (direct runners along the running course, keeping them on the correct route), barcode scanners (scan the finisher tokens of each runner), and the set-up/tear-down crew. There are also designated pacers that help runners run consistently and result processors that computerize and submit runner results to the Parkrun database. 

Steve Flowers of the University of Kent’s business school division noted that this business model is “driven by users rather than producers, by volunteers rather than professionals.” This makes Parkrun a “people’s innovation.” It’s easy to see how this organization empowers people and fosters connectedness. 

Start line of a frosty UK Parkrun
The start line of a frosty UK Parkrun

Parkrun Fun Runs

There are festive-themed runs worldwide across the calendar within the Parkrun organization for runners to accomplish. Local Parkrun teams make these special runs possible!

Some of the more exciting fun runs include:

  • New Year’s Day
  • Christmas Day
  • German Unity Day (specific to Germany)
  • National Days (for respective dates in Singapore, Sweden, Malaysia, Canada, etc.)
  • Boxing Day (unique to Poland)
  • Freedom Day (specific to South Africa)
  • Thanksgiving (unique to the USA)

Completing runs on special days is a unique way to celebrate the culture and history of certain countries and areas. 

Junior Parkrun

The Junior Parkrun event is perfect for your little runners that need to get their wiggles out on a Saturday morning. The Junior Parkrun is a 2K race that is also free and available for runners between the ages of 4 and 14. Parents can run with their children but, for obvious reasons, are not eligible for finisher place spots. 

Junior runners that have completed 11, 21, 50, 100, or 250 events are awarded special colored wristbands to proudly display their hard work and commitment to contributing to an active community. These events typically take place on Sunday mornings.

Why Should I Join the Parkrun Community in My Area?

There are many individual and communal benefits that come from people of all walks of life, ages, and abilities coming together for community-building activities.

Let’s look at how Parkrun has impacted its localities and become an organization bigger than just a business title. 

Community Engagement

The running community is known for being ever-supportive and ever-encouraging. This is true for runners across the globe of all abilities and types of runners. People build a special bond over the sport of running, jogging, and walking that is unlike any other. 

Being part of this type of community with high engagement and encouragement is something everyone should seek out in their friendships or local areas. What is beautiful specifically about Parkrun is that there is a built-in routine. You’ll likely see the same runners each week. You’ll probably run with the same people in your pace group, see the same volunteers and familiar faces at the starting line, and see the same celebratory faces when you finish. 

There’s a unique camaraderie that Parkrun has built in local communities, which is not something to miss out on. 

Personal Record Incentive

There’s just something special about setting a new personal record (PR) on a run, and honestly – that is incentive enough for many runners to get their butts out on their local Parkrun course every Saturday.

Having a regular run time scheduled each week can be an incredible source of accountability and keep you dedicated to lacing up your running shoes at least once weekly. It can be integrated in to other beginner-friendly programs like the Couch to 5K — a great way to add some actual Race Days to your 5K training regime.

The Daily Telegraph insists that this isn’t a race against your peers, and we agree. It’s a timed run to help you virtually run against your last-week self. 

It’s not complicated: if you are disciplined in running more frequently, you will see improvements in your speed, pace, cardiovascular health, and run times. Signing up for these weekly 5K races is a surefire way to see yourself become a more efficient and skilled runner. 

The male record holder in the Parkrun database is Andrew Baddeley, who has a personal record time of 13 minutes and 48 seconds. The female record holder, Isobel Batt-Doyle, has a personal best Parkrun time of 15 minutes and 25 seconds.

Maybe one day, you could be a new record-setter!


Closely related to personal record incentivization, Parkrun offers participants a higher level of accountability to runners than just the everyday training schedule.

Because participants likely see the same runner and volunteers weekly, hitting snooze and skipping your Saturday morning 5K jog is not just saying “no” to yourself. It also means saying “no” to your running community. 

Additionally, runners are more likely to wake up ready to run if they have signed up for a race and committed to being somewhere. It is too easy to skip a Saturday morning run and make excuses like tiredness, laziness, or not being in the mood to run.

Let’s be honest – being in the “mood” to run is a few-and-far-between occurrence! Parkrun helps get you in the mood.

Milestone Club

Parkrun Milestone badges

When a Parkrun runner completes 50 runs, they’re automatically recruited to the “Milestone Club,” also called the “50 Club.” Milestone Club members are given a red Parkrun t-shirt, and when they advance to the “100 Club,” they are eligible for the black t-shirt. These are a big deal and something to be celebrated! 

Volunteers that help with 25+ races are given a purple Parkrun t-shirt as a thank-you from the organization for making these community running events possible. 

Runners that have been around the Parkrun community for longer are awarded privileges to the green (250 Parkruns) and blue (500 Parkruns) shirts. These are comparable to the highest honor a runner in the Parkrun community can accomplish, making them legends in the organization! 

How did Parkrun Start, Anyway?

Parkrun was founded by elite runner Paul Sinton-Hewitt back in 2004.

He hosted the first Parkrun event in Bushy Park in London, England, and spread across the UK as a series of running networks in different communities. In 2008, the gathering was renamed “Parkrun” and started expanding to other countries. 

By 2018, over five million runners had registered for a Parkrun event from all corners of the world.

It’s now a thriving international running community that has made local communities more active and cohesive. This is worth celebrating and is aligned with the heart and vision of the Parkrun organization. The UK Parkrun branch has even partnered with the Royal College of General Practitioners in a collaborative effort to promote healthier living for individuals and communities through increased physical exercise, socializing, and community support.

If you are interested in learning more about the organization, Parkrun hosts and has published a couple of podcasts called “The Parkrun Show” and “Free Weekly Timed.” This branch of Parkrun aims to widen the avenues of engagement and share more about the organization for publicity. 

Parkrun For Beginners: Just Turn Up and Run!

The mission of Parkrun is to create “a healthier and happier planet,” and this organization is doing just that.

Global running communities have grown and flourished through this organization, creating unity, more active lives, and communal adhesion. 

The interconnectivity that has resulted from the young running with the old, the seasoned runner coming alongside the beginner, and children exercising together as play has changed the status quo for local communities. It truly is a beautiful picture of multi-functional exercise serving people from all walks of life and all stories. 

We are excited to see how Parkrun continues to impact our local areas for the better. With this organization growing its network, we are sure you’ll see Parkrun events in your local park or city trail running area soon. Keep a lookout for opportunities to connect with your local community. 

Author Profile

Thalia Oosthuizen

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Thalia started running during the the pandemic as a way of getting out of the house. The running bug bit, and now much of her life revolves around everything to do with running - videos, podcasts, studies, books, articles, and interviews. She's also done several courses on running nutrition and mechanics to aid in her training and advising others.
Thalia Oosthuizen

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