Parkrun: Visitors Welcome


Parkrun: Visitors Welcome

You already know that Parkrun has become a very important part of my life. Our local Parkrun has introduced me to a whole new group of amazing people, friends, supporters and just a community from all different walks of life that otherwise I may not have had the pleasure of knowing.

What you may not know is that the Parkrun community is worldwide, having started in the UK.  Members are encouraged to visit other Parkruns when they have the opportunity. Part of the weekly kickoff before each run is to ask if there are any first timers and any visitors.  I am pleased to say every week Charleston, WV has first timers and visitors. The visitors are asked to tell us which Parkrun they are visiting from.  We’ve had people from Maine to the UK and everywhere in between. From the first time I knew this was a “thing”, I’ve been wanting to be a visitor at another Parkrun. 

I recently went to visit a friend in Richmond, VA. First thing I did when we made the plans was to see if there was a chapter there.  There is!! I was so excited.  I told Kathy about it and she was excited to go too. I prepared by looking at the website to learn more about their group, looked at the map of the course (which didn’t help me at all because I can’t read maps), found out where they do coffee afterward and emailed the director to ask a few questions, who promptly responded.  I even ordered a Parkrun shirt to wear, which I did weeks in advance because I knew they were shipped from the UK and didn’t want to take any chances it wouldn’t arrive in time.

As time drew closer I was full of emotions- excited to be a visitor, nervous that I would get lost, apprehensive about how I would be received. The morning of Parkrun the main emotion was nervous. I know when people visit our Parkrun we are all over them, almost to the extreme, to make them feel welcome.  I wondered if it would be the same. Would they like me? Would I like them? Our weekly route is an out and back. Theirs is in a park, with a lake, turns and hills.  Like I said, I can’t read maps. Will I get lost?

We made the 15 minute drive to Deep Run Park. At first we had a little trouble finding where we were supposed to be. Once we found it, we still had several minutes to “meet and greet”. It was a smaller group than I expected for a city as large as Richmond. But I kind of liked that it was more intimate and not so overwhelming. I should have known not to worry about fitting in because their website even says “We’re friendly”. And they were! I told everyone that would listen that I was from the Charleston, WV Parkrun and invited them to come visit us. The organizer, Nicole, was in London on vacation. But the co-organizer, Greg, was there and very welcoming. We did get to meet Nicole’s dad, “Peet-ah”.  He’s from South Africa. Peter was super sweet and it was his 70th birthday! Kathy and I said hello to several other people. John was another “stand out”.  Very friendly and had his young daughter with him (she didn’t run). He was celebrating his 50th Parkrun.  Another great lady, Nancy, was celebrating her 100th. I can’t wait to get to those levels. I am really close to 25 and I’m excited to get to that first level.

When it was time to ask if there were any visitors, I quickly and proudly raised my hand and announced where I was from.  That was greeted with claps and a chorus of “welcome”.  There were 2 other visitors who received the same reception.  Jim was from just outside Detroit and another lady was from the UK. But I didn’t get her name. After all the announcements were made, it’s GO TIME!

The field of 38 takes off into the woods on a paved path.  The park is well attended as we pass others and offer a smile and a nod. I was told in advance there were hills. And there were!  Our route is flat, which is ironic for West Virginia. But onward I go. I tried to keep my sight on a few people in front of me. They had volunteers along the route and great signage. It was very easy to follow and my concerns about getting lost were unfounded. As I start to relax I am taking in the sights and sounds of this beautiful park and thinking if I lived here I would definitely take advantage of all it offers.

I passed a couple of people. There was one man that we kept going back and forth.  He was doing a run/walk. At one point I was right on his shoulder for awhile and I said, “I’m not trying to be annoying. It’s just when I get into a pace I tend to stay there.” He said it’s no problem, you do you. As we approached the last quarter mile, I passed a lady but she turned it on at the last minute and ran passed me.  When we were done she thanked me for pushing her and commented on how fast I walk. At the finish line, everyone was cheering for each other and giving encouragement, the heart of what Parkrun is all about.

After catching our breath for a few minutes it was time for coffee, my favorite part.  They meet at a local Dunkin Donuts. Kathy and I got there first. Then the other visitor, Jim, shows up. But none of the locals had arrived.  About 15 minutes later I was worried we were at the wrong location. But the three of us got our coffee and goodies, grabbed a large table in hopes others would show up and got to know each other. Just when I thought it was just going to be a party of 3, the locals started shuffling in. Only about 10 people showed up. But the conversation was easy, like we had always been a part of the group. I kept checking my emails to see if the results were in, just like I do at home. When I did get the results, I was pleased to see I finished 29th out of 38 and had a pace of 13:01. I considered that a win considering it was a new route and there were hills.

After about 20 minutes of lively conversation, we all went our separate ways. On the drive back home, Kathy and I reflected on everything and how much we enjoyed it. It was an experience I won’t soon forget. I am looking forward to visiting Deep Run again and finding other Parkruns to visit as well.

Whatever your interests are, my advice is find your people. When you do, you will be so fulfilled with having those relationships and you’ll wonder what you did without them.

#WalkFiercely my friends.

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