Olympian sets off runners in first community ‘parkrun’ held at Rushmere Country Park

Rushmere parkrun
Rushmere parkrun

An Olympian athlete started the first community run in Leighton Buzzard which is to become a weekly event.

Leighton Buzzard has become the latest town to join the worldwide phenomenon of ‘parkrun’ as 126 intrepid runners braved the wind and rain at the first event, held on Saturday, November 7.

The free five-kilometre (three-mile) run, which will take place at Rushmere Country Park at 9am every Saturday throughout the year, is open to people of all ages and abilities.

The inaugural run was started by two-time Olympian and parkrun world record holder Andrew Baddeley, with participants completing a two lap circuit of the woods. There was an even split of male and female finishers, with an age range spanning from 11 to 69.

Rushmere parkrun is co-ordinated entirely by local volunteers and has a strong community emphasis, with participants and volunteers encouraged to meet in the café after the run for a hot drink.

Participants register for free before their first run and print off a personal barcode that is recorded at the event. That barcode is then valid every week, and can also be used at each of the 730 parkruns that take place across the world every Saturday morning. Everyone receives an individual results page on the parkrun website which allows people to monitor their improvements over time.

Event director Glen Turner from Linslade, one of around 20 volunteers who set up the event, said the aim of parkrun is to break down as many barriers as possible to people taking part in free regular exercise by creating a friendly, welcoming and inclusive environment.

He said: “I have been involved with parkrun for a number of years now and the best description I have heard is that it’s a run where you make friends. We offer a timed run – not a race – which means you are only competing against yourself.

“Every parkrun across the world is co-ordinated by local people for local people and everyone is welcome to be involved as a runner, volunteer or both. You don’t need any experience of either, just a smile.

“We are really lucky to have such a beautiful country park right on our doorstep, so what better way to kick off your weekend than a jog around the forest followed by a coffee with some mates.”

First-time parkrunner Kelly Blankley said the enthusiastic marshals cheering people along the course created a great atmosphere.

“As someone who is fairly new to running it was great to have the support of the wonderful volunteers. Thanks to them a wet early Saturday morning run was transformed into a bright, fun-filled community event. I will definitely be returning with family and friends.”

The first parkrun was held in London in 2004 with 13 runners and a handful of volunteers. More than two million people are now registered across 11 countries, with more than 10,000 people worldwide volunteering every weekend.

Registration is free at www.parkrun.org.uk/rushmere or email rushmereoffice@parkrun.com for information.