This Saturday marks the first anniversary of the Whanganui Riverbank parkrun with the first official run being held on Saturday, July 4, 2020.
Organiser Judy Mellsop's perseverance in establishing the Whanganui Riverbank parkrun, finding a suitable venue and negotiating the many administrative hoops, not to mention persuading a team of volunteers and key personnel to regularly help every week, is to be applauded.
Although Saturday marks the first birthday for Whanganui, it was a far from easy birth. The trial event had been held towards the end of March 2020 before the full Covid lockdown.
That March trial had been the culmination of a long search for a suitable park venue for the event which like all of the other 2000 locations in more than 22 countries must be run in a park on a Saturday.
Covid has suspended most events in other countries, but more than 6 million runners have registered worldwide.
Two further alert level 2 periods meant suspensions of the event but, apart from Boxing Day and a clash with the Cemetery Circuit motorcycle racing, 43 events have been held on Saturdays over the past year.
The attractive and fast course along the riverbank, from its start opposite 282 Taupo Quay, turning on the boardwalk at the David McCracken steel sphere "Bearing" by the Riverside market close to the Waimaire berth, before returning on the same route has proved popular.
There have been close to 1600 finishes from more than 500 participants. The Whanganui Riverbank parkrun was the 30th in New Zealand.
There are now 33 with a 34th starting this Saturday on the Sherwood Reserve on Auckland's North Shore. Weekly there are 4000 participants and 400 volunteers at these venues each Saturday.
The weekly parkrun suits a wide range of ages and abilities and is inclusive. Participants can walk, run, jog or all three at their own pace providing a fun, low-pressure way to get fit on our stunning riverbank.
Running has tended to flourish where parkrun has been held with more joining Harrier and Athletics Clubs rather than being a threat to traditional sport. One of the largest numbers running at Whanganui was when a group from Palmerston North decided to use the Whanganui event as a warmup for a harrier event later in the day.
As a coach, I have found the event useful as part of the preparation for major coming events as well as an opportunity for some of the less gifted athletes to participate. The week before New Zealand Secondary Schools, for example, some used the Whanganui Riverbank parkrun as their final preparation.
A week later, George Lambert finished fourth in the senior boys and used parkrun as a solid tempo run with the kilometre markers providing valuable progress feedback. Senior girls, who had only raced over 3000 metres until then, found the 5000m Riverbank run useful in preparation for the 4000m national event. A week later, Lucy Monckton ran so well in Hawera and was rewarded with a personal best parkrun on the riverbank course.
Registration is easy and is free through the New Zealand parkrun website. A personal barcode is provided that must be brought to the run with performances each week appearing on the website not long after the completion of the event. Newcomers receive a special briefing along with visitors.
This one registration allows participation worldwide for similar volunteer-run events. Children under 11 are welcome to participate with an adult within arm's reach, one dog on a short leash or buggy per participant.
However, no wheels allowed. Participants set their own goals whether improving fitness and their times, catching up with friends or visiting other parkruns.
Many runners, walkers and volunteers record milestones earning tee shirts for 25, 50, 100, 250, 500 times with under 18s eligible after 10; parkrun tourists often stay to enjoy Whanganui attractions such as the market and glassworks.
This week's anniversary has an optional blue themed dress with cupcakes at the finish and organisers are looking to a large anniversary turnout in hopefully fine conditions.